Would you book doves for your funeral?

Charles 18 Comments


Posted by Richard Rawlinson

I’ve always associated the ritual of releasing white doves with Hello!-funded weddings between footballers and the singers in girl bands. They make a cute photo-op as they flutter from their gilded cage, perfectly colour-co-ordinating with the bride’s gown. They may symbolise love, peace and faith but, at a funeral, might they may be more distracting than moving?

The White Dove Company, which operates across Greater London and the Home Counties, charges £80 for a single dove, £100 for a pair, and then £10 each for additional birds.

It assures concerned customers that its homing doves are fed like prize athletes and undergo training to help them to navigate back to their loft, which can be up to 150 miles away. It also puts minds at rest that the doves will not crap on guests as they ‘like to perch before they mess’.

However, the company warns against releasing doves in fog, rain and sub-zero temperatures. It also berates some rivals for using untrained birds which cannot find their way home.


  1. Charles


    (Beautiful creatures, fill of symbolism, but for me, no connection with mourning and celebrating. I suspect sentimentality rather than deep feeling – but as always, if that’s what you want, that’s just fine. But not for me:)

    Hell, no.

  2. Charles

    We had doves for a funeral at a family’s request and it worked well – When they arrived at the office I decided to give them some bird food as I thought they loked hungry – until my colleague berated me saying – they are hungry so they fly home !!!! Which of course I didnt realise – three fat doves took off happily fed and probably had a sleep on the way home !

  3. Charles

    I wouldn’t want doves – pretty, but the symbolism just doesn’t work for me. A single dove always stood for the holy ghost and – even in my disbelief – would feel presumptions. Lots of doves mean what? A flock of spirits?

    I also worry about their place in the ceremony. In a crem at least they often feel like an afterthought, a sort of whimsy (it would be interesting to hear about really successful dove releases).

    No, if I was going to have involve birds at all I’d simply play the sound of skylarks singing. Blithe spirits if you must – for me, though, their song would be the best reminder that even in death earthly ecstasies persist.

  4. Charles

    I have to disagree in part (though I agree totally on the mind boggling expense – I may come back as a white pigeon owner)

    I’ve had families use them a couple of times after crematorium services. One was at the funeral of a murdering drug addict who hadn’t been seen by his parents for several years. They were strongly advised against seeing his body, and so releasing the doves was a real physical clean thing that they could somehow ‘hold’? ‘let go’? I don’t know what, but it gave them a release that day that was unbelievably powerful. Sometimes people just need a picture – there isn’t always time to give them salvation.

    The other occasion was intended to involve grandchildren who were not ‘allowed’ to attend the ceremony. At the reception afterwards they each released a white bird (Are they doves??)They loved it, the widow loved it.

    It was certainly better than the family who let go of their helium balloons under a tree….

    For me personally? I wouldn’t want a bird anywhere near my deathbed and subsequent goodbye party. Birds should be flying about freely or being chased by cats.
    But then again, it’s not about me is it?

  5. Charles

    Richard, I have looked doves up on Wikipedia, where else, and it says they are not carnivorous.

    I am all for doves. Not for me, as it happens, but for those who like em, let there be doves, as many as they please, a skyful.

  6. Charles

    The Co-ops near me seemed to promote these heavily for a while but I’ve not seen them recently. They are usually rock-doves, in other words, white-ish pigeons!

    The motivation for my local Co-op could have been that our local dove releaser was a former funeralcare employee 🙂

  7. Charles

    Charles, I tested Wikipedia’s outlandish misinformation while sitting in the park this lunchtime eating a chicken sandwich in the sunshine. Pigeons, not distant cousins of homing doves, were all too happy to accept scraps of meat – and poultry from the bird family to boot. Ergo, doves are omnivores, just as a sparrow will enjoy a balanced diet of both worm flesh and seeds.

  8. Charles

    I’m informed by my local ‘dove’ lady that the birds she uses are white homing pigeons. She explained that doves are not homing creatures, and it would be a rather expensive venture with new birds each time.

    Vale, there can be moments of great meaning with a release of a bird – I know of the great pleasure which a very elderly lady found when she released a bird at the end of her husband’s funeral. She shyly enquired if she was allowed to hold the bird herself, which of course she was, and the look of sheer delight when she let it go was wonderful. When I spoke to her several weeks later, she told me this was the most beautiful part of an otherwise pretty grim day for her.

    As ever, horses for courses.

    And as for skylarks, I’ve recently been using quite a lot of locally recorded birdsong in ceremonies. It is extraordinarly beautiful, especially as people gather before the ceremony starts – it has a noticeably calming and relaxing effect on people (including me!) and seems to engender an all round feeling of well-being.

  9. Charles

    A father chose birdsong as the opening and closing sounds at the funeral of his son recently.

    The son had loved the woods and a lot of time was spent listening to different recordings of birdsong to get the ‘right’ songs.

    Looking out through the big picture windows of the crematorium and listening to the song was poignant, very lovely and, more than anything else, brought a sense of something beyond ourselves.

    Thank you all very much for the thoughts about good dove releases too. As so often reading this blog I feel I have a deeper understanding now.

  10. Charles

    You can see why those who depend on homing pigeons for their livelihood refer to them as doves. ‘Dove’ rhymes with ‘love’ and pigeon with smidgen – although a modern poet or rapper might force it to rhyme with words like ‘children’, ‘kitchen’, ‘insulin’ or ‘addiction’.

    Some working animals are given adjectives to describe their role such as ‘war horse’. Other times, they have a dedicated name such as ‘retriever’, which sounds more effective on a pheasant shoot than soppy labrador.

    In the case of homing pigeons, interested parties opt for the soppy connotation. Even though the ‘homing’ adjective implies a special skill, the name ‘pigeon’ is associated with pests.

  11. Charles

    To meander on…

    Some see pigeons as an infestation of vermin to be controlled by shooting in the country and poisoning in town. Personally, I’m unperturbed by them whereas I’d certainly be alarmed if the same number of rats was scuttling around in the square in front of my flat. However, I can’t say I approve of the old dear I see from my window who habitually encourages them with breadcrumbs. Her favoured feeding spot is filthy as a result.

    Walking to work one morning, I was somewhat traumatised to see a mortally wounded pigeon, one if its wings completely ripped off. I dialed 118 118 on the mobile and asked to be put through to the RSPCB. I was told they couldn’t be called out for such cases and it was suggested I put the poor thing out of its misery by stamping on its head. Even though I was wearing Gucci loafers, I heeded this advice. Crunch.

    As a pre-teen I once borrowed my old brother’s air rifle and, much to my shock as a poor marksman, shot and killed a blackbird in the back garden. This act literally haunted me for decades, so much so that I repented in a confession as an adult in the hope the regret would be lessened. The priest must have thought I was odd but he’s no doubt heard odder things.

    Leaving home today, I caught the caretaker rushing across the communal hall to the street entrance, his hands cupped in front of him as if in prayer. ‘I’ve no idea how a bee found its way into the lift,’ he said in way of explanation as he released the bee into the sunny morning air. ‘Well caught and well done for risking a sting rather than opting to squash it,’ I thought. I probably appreciated that small gesture more than I would the releasing of doves from a cage as part of a ceremony.

    We all learn about life and death from our relationship with animals. Meat is murder for some, and those of us for whom it isn’t might nevertheless wince over our steaks after watching a full day of slaughter in an abattoir. War is deemed just or unjust, amounting to survival instinct for some, genocide for others. Human euthanasia is also fraught with complex problems, and abortion would surely be unacceptable if we hadn’t been brainwashed to conveniently wipe its meaning from our collective conscience.

  12. Charles

    A tale of celebrity perks: how it might have been for one high profile dove booking:

    Courtier: Hello, I’m Ferdinand Fortesque calling from the Queen Mother’s office at Buckingham Palace. We’re planning Her Majesty’s centenary celebrations and thought it might be a nice idea to release 100 doves in Hyde Park to mark the occasion.

    White Dove Company rep: Oh well, how flattering of you to call us. An hundred doves comes to £1,080. That’s £100 for a pair and £10 for each after that.
    Courtier: [silence]

    WDC: Oh well, as it’s such a special occasion, and it provides such wonderful publicity for us, we might be able to strike a deal. How about a 50 per cent discount making the charge just £540.

    Courtier: [cough followed by silence]

    WDC: Er, come to think of it. We’d be honoured to play a part in Her Majesty’s centenary celebrations. We’d like to offer 100 doves for free.

    Courtier: Too kind. Thank you so much. My people will be in touch with delivery details. [Puts phone down]. Oh, how I loathe vulgar money talk.

    WDC [once phone down]: Right, we need to order some more doves.

  13. Charles

    A little bit late for this, but what a brilliant post and comments attached to it, very interesting and entertaining! Thank you Richard et al.

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