Latest news and undeveloped photographic film frequently are rushed from the scene of a big event to Japanese newspapers by pigeons. The birds have been found a handy substitute for telegraph and telephone, being sent winging to headquarters with the latest scores of games or news bulletins. This flying messenger service has been operated successfully between Yokohama and Tokyo. Exposed film is placed in a case resembling a fountain pen and attached to the bird’s back, while news reports are carried in aluminum capsules fastened to the bird’s legs.
Its the biggest race of your life. You've done everything to create the perfect bird. You put Mendel to shame with your genetic prowess. The body and feather of your entry has been created for this exact race. You know exactly what type pigeon it will take to conquer this terrain, distance and the weather that's likely to be encountered. Moult, your bird makes Mona Lisa frown. Psychology, you are the father of Freud.
How smart are you about condition? A genius. Assuredly.
Maybe there's another way of thinking. Thinking not new. Thinking you would have been exposed to if you were a collegiate athlete in swimming or track. Thinking that involves more than physiology. Thinking that's been adopted for training thoroughbreds. Training quite the cup of tea for any animal on a given day.
What is it like to walk one mile or swim 100 yards? If you do it over and over what happens to your body? What happens to your mind? What if you decide to run one mile or that 100 yards?
What is the best way to be your best?
Is your pigeon a pigeon?
Freud's father was never advertised for being too smart. But then, he might've been smarter than the ever so many genius' roaming within our sport that look upon a poor pigeon as some kind of locomotive constant. Something you can train over and over at the same distance. Your little locomotive.
That pigeon ain't no pigeon?
To get the best from a racing pigeon it should have that perfect body, feather, eye and disposition. Oddly enough, the same can be said for humans.
If you are in some sort of training schedule and you run a five miles every day or if you are a pigeon and home 100 miles every day you may eventually be great at what you do but when can you be your very optimum best?
Strange and mindless. I suppose sums up humans. Freud concerned himself over such. When it comes to racing pigeons, it shines.
A pigeon is decidedly not a pigeon.
After you turn that pigeon into your artistic F-15 how can you get it to do its absolute best?
Of course. But you need to have an edge over love. Love can move mountains but it might not win a race.
Somewhere down the line you have either developed a sixth sense about pigeons or you haven't. Unfortunately, most of the fanciers I've stumbled upon do well to have five senses, let alone this sixth.
If you are a sheik and come to America and buy the best yearlings down from Seattle Slew, Alyadar, Unbridled, Curlin and company, and think that's all it will take to win the Kentucky Derby--- that and locomotive training, then you will sadly learn as so man sheiks have already experienced, it ain't that simple.
Are you one of those fliers training birds 20 to 100 miles every day believing that doing such will have your birds perfect come that one great race?
That kind of thinking and that kind of psychology puts Freud's father a genius in comparison to your wretched brain.
There is a method of training called, tapering. Tapering is not a method wherein a human or pigeon is trained to do the same thing over and over day in and day out and on any given day be its best. It is in fact a method that explores and utilizes a certain discipline and understanding of all things possible. And in this understanding, if done just so, you actually do have a given day or a given time frame wherein you or your pigeon can be at your optimum best.
And yes, there are exceptions to everything. I suppose, even exceptions to tapering. On given events, I've observed humans, horses and pigeons winning and in review of their training there was no tapering involved.
But then, that same person, horse or pigeon may well have done even better than it did if it had been tapered just so.
In something physical you need to build up to that point you are hoping to achieve. This involves a gradual increase going from a beginning to that pinnacle of where you want to go. I was a distance swimmer in college, training with 15 ALL AMERICANS for four years. I was as green as grass when I came there. Didn't know a thing about tapering.
But my swim coach, Don Combs, the son of Earle Combs, the famous Hall Of Famer that batted third on MURDERERS ROW for the NY Yankees after Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, for some reason, probably because I was a poor hillbilly like him, took me under his wing and after four years, instilled within me a seasoned knowledge of what tapering was all about and how it had no human boundaries.
I've also been around thoroughbreds for some fifty years and by some nefarious design fell into wagering on them. There was a point in my poor life where I thought I had a real handle on all there was to know about race horses. I can still remember betting $4,000 on Alyadar in The Kentucky Derby. Losing that bet was an expensive education.
I still love thoroughbreds. I still swim. And I still dwell at the track and breathe that same air that I did over a half century ago. I still read the form. And because I do study the form so closely, I've noticed several things regarding thoroughbreds that have evolved over the past fifty years. One is that now the breeding of thoroughbreds is centering far more on line-breeding than it ever once did. In years past, you rarely saw such concentration on certain blood. And two, its become obvious that many of the trainers are beginning to employ variations of tapering.
Mark Spitz could tell you about tapering. So could Michel Phelps. Both used tapering to win to make them the best swimmers in the world. The way they handled tapering put them at their very best for a given time. They beat every swimmer in the world. It was no accident. It involved much preparation. And certainly, they were not locked into some mindless training wherein all they did day in or day out was the same routine.
Tapering is complex when studied on all fronts as it must encompass everything around you as well as the basics.
Basics is the nitty gritty. For racing pigeons, tapering could apply differently depending on when and what you want to achieve. Tapering could take on several faces. But allow me to explain some simple arrangement of understanding of tapering. Let's say there is going to be a 300 mile young bird race of great importance in November. Its that race you've known about for a year and would love to win. You know how to conquer all the issues of breeding, moult, etc but you really don't know anything about tapering.
To begin, you would want to circle the date of the race in your mind. If the race is on November 15Th you will have to time your training and tapering for that exact date. At some point you will have taken your young birds out for their first training toss and as time has gone by you will have them out as far as 100 miles, possibly farther. A series of training tosses increasing in distances could vary. For the sake of argument and a simple example allow me to hypothesize a basic outline you would want to employ. Let's baby these birds and take them on this toss-training-tapering schedule as best we can: 1st toss: 1 mile. 2nd toss: 5 miles. 3rd toss: 10 miles. 4th toss: 20 miles. 5th -- 6th toss: 30 miles. 7th toss: 20 miles. 8th- toss: 50 miles. 9th--10th toss: 60 miles. 11th toss: 20 miles. 12th toss 100 miles.
This is just one hypothetical schedule that starts out using a tapering training program to begin to get your birds in superior condition. You could adopt nearly any manner of distances you feel that are best suited for you just so long as you employ the basic theme of what tapering encompasses.
First, the basic concept involves gradually building your birds up by increasing distances. Sometimes you may want to stay at those distances to make certain that you are very strong at that level. Then, at some point, you will want to regress and go back, decreasing the distance. Alot happens when you do this. But basically it will normally cause the animal to have a little less pressure placed on it that day, Less energy output. And in the doing will cause a rather wonderful expansion in psyche and muscle development. Its almost the same principle in a round about way as your employer telling you that he's giving you a paid month's vacation and when you come back he expects you to tackle some tough assignments. And the truth is, it works. Surveys have proved that people who work four ten hour days are happier and more productive than people who work five eight hour days.
When it involves racing pigeons, what you must learn about tapering is how to build up to a distance, maintain that distance, come back down from that distance and then go on farther with the distance. Continuously building up and going back at all sorts of levels. Slowly but surely reaching new levels of endurance. Its a matter of timing and understanding and with racing pigeons you must always be astute, carefully handling and watching each bird. If a bird becomes weak or is in a heavy moult you must note such. If the sky turns dark and there is likely to be a downpour on a training day you have to back off and re-think your strategy.
Freud's father, Jacob, was a wool merchant. He lost his business because of the economic crisis of 1857. A crisis that led to our Civil War. A great many events led to this crisis. Events beyond Jacob's control. And yet, history records Freud's father at being basically unsuccessful.
Maybe Jacob would have done better if he had understood tapering.
But then, Jacob, in his despair, would've confessed, some pigeons are pigeons.
One of the favorite tactics that race horse trainers employ is to have their chosen horse that has been racing at 11/8 mile races on a regular basis to drop down in distance to a mile or even a six furlong race for a given race. As a handicapper, you must always pay careful attention when a trainer does this as so many times such a horse will win this shorter race. This all comes back to tapering. Even when trainers are aiming at The Kentucky Derby they will work their entries previous to the races with all manner of workouts and so many are either in the building up stage or the tapering down stage. Both involving the principles of tapering.
So what about that big 300 mile bookoo race that is going to put your handsome face on the cover of The Racing Pigeon Digest and have your racing pigeon soaring in every fancier's imagination?
If it were me, I would build the bird/s up to 100 miles something like I've mentioned. Then,depending on what the race schedule happened to be. I would employ that schedule to my design. If the race schedule didn't fit my plan, I would train the birds on my own at the distances and times that best benefited them. Once you reach 100 miles many things are possible. You might want to continue several tosses at that distances. You may want to go on up to 150 or 200 miles. You may even want to fly a 300 or a 350 or a 400. Flying a 300 prior the race and then tapering back down with ample rest would be an ideal situation. Tapering down before that bookoo 300. And throughout this tapering down, you would also want to assure that your birds were beautifully content and in love with their home. I would take up residence in the loft watching their every move, psychoanalyzing their every coo. During this tapering you would want to employ all your knowledge regrading the right types and amounts of feed, the right amounts of light that the birds should have while roosting-- controlling the darkness of the a loft in harmony with tapering can help achieve superior contentment of the birds as well as condition.
If tapering didn't produce winning results, athletes and thoroughbred trainers wouldn't use it. It remains rather amazing that so many racing pigeon fliers still own no concept of tapering and how to use the method. Locomotives may be locomotives but pigeons ain't pigeons.
Iron crystals in their beaks give birds a nose for north.
It's official: homing pigeons really can sense Earth's magnetic field. An investigation of their ability to detect different magnetic fields shows that their impressive navigation skills almost certainly relies on tiny magnetic particles in their beaks.
The discovery seems to settle the question of how pigeons (Columba livia) have such an impressive 'nose for north'. Some experts had previously suggested that the birds rely on different odour cues in the atmosphere to work out where they are. But the latest findings suggest that they are using magnetic cues.
The idea that pigeons' beaks contain tiny particles of an iron oxide called magnetite is not a new one, says Cordula Mora, who led the latest study at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. But the particles themselves are likely to be only a few micrometres across, and no one has ever seen them under the microscope.
Mora's behavioural experiments therefore give the best indication yet that pigeons are aware of Earth's magnetic field. She and her colleagues taught the pigeons to discriminate between magnetic fields by placing them in a wooden tunnel with a feeder platform at either end and coils of wire around the outside.
The pigeons were trained to go to one end of the tunnel if the coils were switched on, generating a magnetic field, and to the other if they were switched off, leaving Earth's natural field unperturbed. "I was pleasantly surprised. The pigeons were very fast learners," says Mora, now at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Their skills were impaired, however, when the researchers attached magnets to their upper beaks, and also when the upper beak was anaesthetized. This suggests that their ability is down to the presence of magnetically sensitive material in this area, the researchers report in this week's Nature.
The team then set about seeing how these magnetic signals might be transmitted to the birds' brains. When they severed the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve, which leads from the upper beak to the brain, the birds were unable to distinguish between natural and perturbed magnetic fields. But when the olfactory nerve, which carries smell signals, was cut instead, the birds performed fine, dealing a seemingly fatal blow to the idea that they navigate by relying on odours.
Nose for navigation
The results sit well with previous studies of another impressive navigator, the rainbow trout. The species both seem to have a system in which signals from magnetite particles are carried from the nose to the brain by the trigeminal nerve, says Mora. This is not surprising, she says, as iron-containing materials are common in many animals' bodies.
So why has nobody seen the particles? Other researchers are looking for them, Mora says. But the problem is that even though we know where to look, they are elusive because of their small size and the fact that many other biological materials, such as blood, contain iron.
The particles are small because there's no reason why they should be any larger, Mora adds. "You don't need a large receptor structure like you do for the eye, because the magnetic field permeates everything," she says. "It's like a needle in a haystack."
1 Mora C. V., Davison C. V., Wild J. M. & Walker M. M. Nature, 432. 508 - 511 (2004).
It's enough to ruffle the regal feathers - one of the Queen's racing pigeons has gone missing.
The bird, known somewhat coldly as GB02ER41, vanished on a training flight for the pigeon-fancying community's contribution to the Golden Jubilee celebrations.
The event - billed as the One Loft Race - will see birds flying from York to Cheltenham on 21 August.
The Queen originally had a brace of birds scheduled to start the race, organised by the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA), of which she is the patron. Now she has only one, GB02ER34, a yearling known to her manager as "Queenie".
So far the association has not officially informed Her Majesty of her loss. Nick Orchard, loft manager at Cheltenham, says: "Lord Vestey, who has pigeons racing with us, told me he was having dinner with the Queen and asked me if he should break the news to her. I said, 'If you do, do it gently.'"
Peter Bryant, RPRA general manager, sheepishly adds: "We don't inform owners if their birds are lost. But we post results of training races on our website, so members can follow their birds' progress."
With a moment's pause, he adds: "I suppose there will be no knighthood for me this year."
The Queen is not alone in her loss. A thousand birds, all only a couple of months old, were introduced to the Cheltenham loft as their "home" in May, and some two-thirds of them have gone missing in training flights over gradually increasing distances since.
"That's the enigma of pigeon racing," says Mr Bryant. "Some birds, for some bizarre reason, don't come back."
Explanations for the disappearances range from the usual suspects - cats, foxes, electrical wires and cars - to a more modern threat to nature, the mobile phone. "Mobile phones give out microwaves and we do know they can affect the birds' homing instinct," adds Mr Bryant. "Some research was done into the subject by a Swiss university."
There is a chance GB02ER41 is still out there, waiting to be pointed towards home. Many birds are found and returned, although GB02ER41 is only distinguishable from others by that serial number, including the regal ER, on the ring around its leg. "It was a blue bar, a common or garden-looking pigeon," explains Mr Orchard.
Mr Bryant adds that royal endorsement does not increase the bird's worth. "The record price for a bird was £106,000," he says. "But these are only young ones and because they're not very experienced, it's probably worth about £400 or £500."
There is no reward offered: not even chicken feed. "If the bird were returned, I'd sent the finder a thank you note," says Carlo Napolitano, the Queen's loft manager at Sandringham. "But I don't think they'd get a personal note from the Queen."
Mr Napolitano says that, although the Queen takes a great interest in her birds, she last visited him "for a chat" in the winter, before GB02ER41 was born. So, for now, Buckingham Palace's hopes in the race rest on "Queenie", assuming she makes it through today's 140-mile training flight from Doncaster to Cheltenham.
In the Queen's case, the RPRA waived the £100-per-bird entrance fee for the race but, if Queenie wins, there is the matter of the £20,000 prize money. "If she did win," says Mr Bryant, "I'm sure the money would go to charity."
Perhaps to an organisation that helps lost and confused homing pigeons.
E. Coli is a bacterium that is usually present in the bowel of pigeons. With stress, it increases in numbers. It can invade the bowel wall, causing an enteritis (leading to loss of tissue fluid and an interference with nutrient absorption) and the development of green watery droppings. It also produces a toxin, which makes the birds feel unwell. It is often associated with high humidity (which in itself is an acknowledged stress in pigeons), which keeps the droppings damp in the loft. If this is coupled with poor hygiene or poor watering and feeding practices, this leads to a high exposure to the organism.
Taken from The Flying Vet's Pigeon Health & Management
SHIRLEY— LESS than 70 miles from New York City, where pigeons are widely regarded as feathered rats, fanciers gather to haggle over the price of thoroughbred racing pigeons.
Every week, on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, as many as 60 people crowd into the back room of the Pigeon Store at 60 Northern Boulevard in Shirley to discuss breeds, eat doughnuts and occasionally buy a bird.
''Pigeons are a big deal around here,'' said Joan Schroeder, who works at the store and breeds her own birds. ''I nearly couldn't squeeze into the auction room last week there were so many people.'' Auctions are also held at the Pigeon Store's second location, in Lindenhurst.
On Long Island, an estimated 2,500 pigeon owners breed, fly and race more than 300 types of birds. The Nassau-Suffolk Pigeon Fanciers Club, which has about 100 members, holds three shows and a swap event each year at the Holtsville Ecology Center. Its biggest event, to be held on Nov. 15. this year, showcases about 2,000 birds, none of which would be found on a city street corner.
''The general public will always assume the pigeons we breed are the same as the ones they see in the park,'' said Deone Roberts, the spokeswoman for the American Racing Pigeon Union in Oklahoma City, a national organization that promotes pigeon racing. ''But that's like comparing a thoroughbred to a plow horse, or a champion show dog to a street mutt.''
There are some 1,000 pigeon clubs in the United States with membership ranging into the tens of thousands, the racing union estimates. Although no organization keeps track of the exact number of clubs, fanciers with decades of experience estimated that there are 12 to 15 on Long Island alone. Some towns on the Island require licenses for pigeon lofts, but fanciers said that that stipulation was honored mostly in the breach.
As with horses, the variety of pigeon breeds seems endless, but at the Pigeon Store's auctions, homing pigeons -- birds capable of returning to their home lofts from after journeys of thousands of miles -- constitute the largest number of sales.
Then there are the tipplers, or birds that can stay aloft for more than 15 hours; fancy birds, the result of crossing different breeds to create rare and elegant strains; and rollers, or pigeons that tumble as if shot in midair, only to spring back to life and surge skyward.
At a recent auction, iridescent green and gray homing pigeons fluttered nervously in their cages. As big-band music filtered through overhead speakers, a handful of men, mostly elderly and white, appraised the birds, preparing to stock up for the fall racing season, which runs from Labor Day to early November. Some unsentimental fanciers even buy large homing squabs for the dinner table.
The average price for a racing pigeon is about $5, but the cost of a bird with a champion lineage can rise into the hundreds, if not thousands.
On the day before a race, which may range from 100 to 800 miles, fanciers gather at their local club with the birds they plan to register. They load the birds onto the club's trailer for the trip to the race's starting point, called the liberation site. For Long Island fanciers, the sites are usually somewhere in Pennsylvania, Ohio or New Jersey, depending on the race mileage.
At dawn the next morning, club representatives release the birds and watch as they wing their way eastward. The bird that flies at the fastest average speed, measured in yards per minute using Global Positioning data, from the liberation site back to its home loft, is the winner. Most of the birds fly at speeds of 35 to 60 miles per hour, depending on the wind direction and velocity.
''Racing pigeons are little athletes,'' said Ms. Roberts, the racing union spokeswoman. ''They're racehorses with wings.''
Some fanciers have equipped their lofts with high-tech clocks and electronic landing pads that read transmitters on their birds' leg bands and automatically clock them in. The owners then take a printout of the times to the club sponsoring the race.
Tradition-bound fanciers do all this by hand. They wait for their birds with string paddles, or poling sticks, which resemble lacrosse sticks and are used to capture the birds when they arrive. The owners remove the leg bands and put them in capsules, which are placed in the slot of a time-stamp clock. When the fancier turns a crank, a capsule is stamped with the arrival time. Capsules are held in the clock's innards until the clock is opened at race headquarters.
But sometimes the birds don't come back at all. Predators, power lines, storms and strong winds all take their toll. ''You hate to lose them, but you can't beat nature,'' said Val Matteucci of Hicksville, a fancier for 40 years and the secretary-treasurer of the International Federation of American Homing Pigeon Fanciers, organized in 1881. ''If they stop in a tree or hit a wire and fall to the ground, they can become prey very easily.''
Humans have used homing pigeons for more than 5,000 years to send messages over great distances. The United States Army used tens of thousands of birds in both World Wars and in the Korean War when radio silence was necessary or when communications had been disabled. Now pigeons are used by the military as a double-check on chemical-weapons sensors, much as canaries were once used by miners.
Scientists still don't know how homing pigeons find their way, but they believe that the birds pick up cues from the position of the sun and from geomagnetic fields.
In Europe, pigeon races often carry six-figure cash prizes, and each year, the Million Dollar Pigeon Race is held in South Africa. In the United States most fanciers compete only for diplomas and trophies, although the Snowbird Classic, which is sponsored by the Fernando Valley Club of Sun Valley, Calif., is expected to offer $100,000 in prize money for the first 10 finishers. The race will next be run on Nov. 20, 2004.
Gary, a fancier from Mastic Beach who insisted that his last name not be printed because he did not have a license for his 350-bird loft, said that feeding pigeons has some fringe benefits.
''Their droppings are the best fertilizer,'' he said. ''You scrape it up and throw it in the garden. In a few days, it pushes up tomatoes like forget about it.''
There are an estimated 2,500 pigeon fanciers and 12 to 15 clubs on the Island.; For the East Meadow club's 300-mile race last month, pigeons were transported in crates to the starting point in Somerset, Pa.
Bred by Noel PEIREN, Imported by Claude Rothgiesser, Son of "Red Pau Cock" which scored 3 times in Pau (600 Miles) Nationals and daughter of "Barcelona 136 Cock" who scored 5th Barcelona National. Good breeder including 1st Open Matheson Y/L, 4th Longlac, 3rd Latchford, 4th Smooth Rock Falls, 4th Open AU Band Race Y/B Smooth Rock Falls, 3rd Burks Falls, 2nd Estaire, 1st Matheson, and 1st Latchford