pigeon milk

Crop milk

Crop milk, also known as pigeon's milk, is a secretion from the lining of the crop of pigeons and doves with which the parents feed their young by regurgitation. Similar crop milk is also produced by flamingos.

The milk of pigeons & mammals

Crop milk bears little resemblance to mammalian milk, being a semi-solid substance somewhat like pale yellow cottage cheese. It is extremely high in protein and fat and contains more of it than cow or human milk . Both male and female adult birds produce crop milk and share in the feeding and care of the young.

Feeding nestlings

Pigeon's milk begins to be produced a couple of days before the eggs are due to hatch. The parents may cease to eat at this point in order to be able to provide the chicks with milk uncontaminated by seeds, which the very young chicks would be unable to digest. The chicks are fed on pure crop milk for the first week or so of life. After this the parents begin to introduce a proportion of adult food, softened by spending time in the moist conditions of the adult crop, into the mix fed to the chicks, until by the end of the second week they are being fed entirely on softened adult food.

Pigeons normally lay two eggs. If one egg fails to hatch, the surviving chick gets the advantage of a supply of crop milk sufficient for two chicks, and by the end of the first week it is almost as big as two "normal" chicks would be.

Hand-rearing pigeon chicks

The very high nutrient concentration of pigeon's milk makes it difficult to devise an artificial substitute for hand-rearing chicks. Various proprietary mixes are available. A good home-made mix can be made from equal quantities of dehydrated dried pure soya protein (with no added salt, flavourings, preservatives etc.) and Soya-based dairy-free butter-substitute (ordinary dairy butter is not suitable, as young pigeons' digestive systems cannot cope with dairy products). This is made into a runny paste with a little water, a tiny crumb of a multivitamin tablet and a tiny pinch of chalk (which is necessary for bone development to avoid splay-leg). The crop should be allowed to empty completely between feedings. With care and gentleness, it is possible to raise a pigeon on this mix from the moment of hatching.

Cultural references

Crop milk has been referenced in pop culture. For example in Animal Crossing: Wild World for the Nintendo DS video game system, a character named Brewster uses it as an ingredient when serving coffee to long-time customers. It is also referenced in the reality TV series Flavor of Love during Season 2, when the father of Deelishis requests a crate of pigeon milk at dinner.


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