Dove Release Wedding Ceremony Explained

Every couple wants a wedding that fully represents their beliefs, values, and preferences as a couple. More than a tapestry of love and shared emotions, couples want a gesture that shows their unity and commitment to one another.

Releasing doves at a wedding symbolizes partnership and togetherness, welcoming a new chapter of the newlyweds’ lives. The ceremony can also represent the support and love the newlyweds have from their friends and families. 

Below is a more in-depth exploration of what this ceremony means and what it signifies. A step-by-step guide for planning a dove release ceremony at a wedding is then provided. Some tips and alternatives for the tradition are also given.

What Happens at a Dove Release Wedding Ceremony 101

As its name denotes, a dove release at a wedding entails letting doves fly away into the sky during the ceremony. As such, this ritual is only performed at outdoor weddings—the ethereal backdrop provides plenty of space for the birds to soar.

Throughout history, doves have symbolized peace, love, joy, and good fortune. White doves, in particular, represent purity and the start of something new. Doves are also known to mate for life, which mirrors your commitment to each other.

Couples usually release two doves together. This act signifies their partnership and unity. However, it is not uncommon to see a flock of doves—up to 20 of them—released in one ceremony, symbolizing the fact that they have a supportive and tight-knit community behind them.

You can perform the dove release at any point during the ceremony. With that said, many couples prefer doing it after they exchange vows or after the kiss at the pronouncement.

These doves, often white homing pigeons, can find their way back to where they were raised. They work together to figure out the right direction. Figuratively, this represents the teamwork necessary to create and maintain a healthy marriage.

Planning a Dove Release at Your Wedding: Step-by-Step Guide

two white birds standing next to each other

Step 1: Find a Wedding Dove Supplier

It is important to find a reliable and experienced vendor for your dove release ceremony. A professional bird handler can ensure that the doves—or homing pigeons—will be able to return safely.

An experienced supplier and handler can also work with your planner, coordinator, and photographer to get the timing right. Their smooth collaboration is necessary to get stunning pictures of the ceremony.

Step 2: Get the Necessary Permits

Regardless of whether you are having a local wedding or a destination ceremony in another country, you may want to check local laws and policies first.

In some areas and jurisdictions, you might need a permit to release doves—or any animals for that matter—on the premises. Some venues and locations might prohibit the ritual altogether.

Step 3: Scope Out the Venue and Schedule

Your venue must not have any obstacles that will make it challenging for the doves or birds to fly home. Examples include overhead electrical wiring and the presence of other wildlife.

Bird handlers and dove suppliers will also refuse service during inclement weather. Research the climate of your area; if it is likely to be foggy, rainy, or windy, then it might not be best to have a dove release wedding ceremony.

Likewise, many dove suppliers will not let you release doves around sunset. They might ask you to have the ceremony around two hours before sunset. This ensures that they will find their way home safely and efficiently.

Step 4: Fine Tune the Logistics

three white birds perched on a man

A dove release requires careful planning in terms of logistics: where will you release them? What time will the ceremony take place?

This way, you can also prepare for any contingencies. For instance, the doves might not fly away immediately. In case this happens at your wedding, you know what to do and will not panic that the ceremony is going wrong.

Step 5: Determine How You Will Release the Doves

Some couples prefer a more hands-on approach—literally. They can hold the doves themselves and release them at the prompt of the handler or officiant.

Other couples can ask for a decorative cage or basket. The birds will stay there until it is time for them to fly away.

You may need to decide quickly and inform the suppliers as soon as possible.

Step 6: Determine How Many Doves You Want

As mentioned above, couples usually release two doves to symbolize their partnership and commitment. However, other popular options also include three, five, and seven white doves.

On the one hand, this depends on what you want the wedding dove release ceremony to signify. Beyond representing your relationship, adding more birds can be a touching way to honor your friends and family and their unwavering love and support.

On the other hand, this also depends on the availability of doves from your chosen supplier. Talk to them about this matter as soon as possible.

Step 7: Come Up With Blockings

You may want to take extra time planning where your guests, photographers, and videographers will stand during the dove release ceremony.

You can do this during the rehearsal dinner. It does not need to be highly specific; as long as you get a general idea of where everyone needs to be, you are all set.

Dove Release Wedding Ceremony: Tips and Alternatives

white doves in flight

Consider Incorporating Readings During the Dove Release

You can ask your officiant, a relative, or a friend to share a reading that ties into the symbolism of a dove release. You can do this before, during, or after the doves have flown toward the sky.

Book Well In Advance

Similar to any wedding vendor, you may want to find bird handlers for your ceremony as early as 6–12 months before the big day. They may have a lot of clients, or there are few competitors in the area.

Customize the Basket or Cage

If you opted for having a basket or cage for the doves, spend some time personalizing the container. Tie it in with your overall wedding theme and color palette. Afterward, it can be a wonderful and unique keepsake from your special day.

Clean As You Go

Do not forget to bring cleaning supplies for bird feathers and droppings. Be mindful of your waste and what you are leaving behind.

Tell Your Guests About the Dove Release

It is a great idea to spend some time telling your guests about the dove release before it is performed. You can have your officiant prepare a short speech, telling them about the ritual’s symbolism and importance.

This way, they can appreciate its meaning, be touched by its significance, and prepare their phones if they want to take pictures or videos. 

Alternatives to a Dove Release Ceremony at a Wedding

Dove releases are performed at weddings worldwide—in Armenia, the Philippines, the United States, and the list goes on. However, the tradition has become less popular over the years. Animal lovers and activists alike consider this ceremony to be unethical, especially if the bird provider is using doves and not homing pigeons.

If you want a different tradition that still contains the same symbolism, here are some alternatives you can consider:

  • Have your guests blow bubbles.
  • Shower the newlyweds with flower petals.
  • Open a bottle—or several—of Champagne and spray the venue.
  • Hold sparklers for a magical effect.
  • Give your guests small bells they can ring in celebration.
  • Ask your guests to fold paper planes and launch them together.
  • Blow on dandelion puffs.
  • Plant a tree as a couple to symbolize the growth of your relationship.
  • Instead of releasing the doves from a cage, you can place them in ornamental cages throughout your venue. However, this is only available for a short time.
  • If you love animals and want to incorporate them into your ceremony, consider having your wedding at an animal sanctuary.
  • Give your bridal party a color powder cannon or a colorful smoke bomb. You can choose a specific color for everyone, follow your overall palette, or assign a color to each person for a rainbow effect.

Other unity ceremonies, such as the sand ceremony, the wine ceremony, or the cord of three strands, can also be touching alternatives. You can also go with a culturally significant ceremony in lieu of a dove release.

Final Thoughts

A dove release ceremony is one of the many traditions that represent your love for and commitment to each other. It is as captivating and picturesque as it is symbolic and sentimental.

You and your partner can incorporate this ceremony into your special day if it feels right to you. However, there are also more ethical alternatives that carry the same symbolism but without using animals as ornaments or means to an end.

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