Thursday, June 30, 2011

Deterioration Detour

Occasionally, you will have to bring a bird in to cross with your own family because you have to be on your guard for any deterioration in your own birds. This is usually to be found in a little loss of the original size, often noticeable first in the cocks head starting to look a little on the henny side.

When you think such a cross has become necessary, look for a bird from a similar sort of family that has been created on the same lines as your own, and the owner will probably be only too pleased to exchange a pair of young birds from his best with you. Give these a try and pair them to your own birds, but don't get too involved until you see they are performing alright, then, in any case, breed them out again. They will have done their job and renewed the vigour in your loft.

By R Adair of Adair & Sons
Winners Derwent Valley Federation
Combined Average Trophy 1976, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982
As reported in Squills 1984

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fly Me To The Moon And Let Me Play Among The Stars

"What I most remember about my grandmother were those slow summer days when she and I would walk for miles on a country road. She was a one room school teacher and a devout member of the Audubon Society and when we would see a bird she would stop and tell me every little thing about it. She could never know just how much birds would play a role throughout my life."

A true dream as best as I could recall it.
By No Sweat - November 23, 1963

The thirteen year old Kentucky boy in the eighth grade that lived in the droll apartment by the Kentucky River and flew racing pigeons and played starting forward on his graded school basketball team called "THE GOLDEN EAGLES" was having a quite a strange dream.

And then he suddenly awoke to wipe those tears that he had been crying.

Its wonderful to be awake and know you are awake, or is it?.

The dream that the boy was having was strangely wrapped in the color of green; it was a dream involving a green river that was so very verdant and so were the trees along her banks; those trees seemed sad, leaning out and trying to shake hands with the other trees on the other side; they were all shades of green with gold highlights.

Can it be August in Kentucky, July in Georgia, November in Texas and October in the Argonne forest at the same time?

Can it be 1963 in 1918?

What roamed in the soul of that boy's sleep?

Could the boy somehow be on the Kentucky River and on the sixth floor of a Texas school depository book building and in a ravine in the Argonne forest and in a Macon, Georgia peach orchard and playing basketball against his rivals, the Ravenna Blue Devils, all at the same time?

The dream was who he was.

In his dream everything was possible.

Inside and outside the boy's dream he was simply there.

It wasn't understandable.

But then.


Tick tock.

A Dallas, Texas window sill.

Thursday then Friday.

What was so special about another day?

For the pair of November 22-23, 1963 common pigeons that were roosting so still on the sixth floor window sill of the Dallas school depository book building there was no Thursday or Friday. Why humans divided the days of the week was beyond those two pigeons, one was a sooty black velvet cock and the other, a dull blue bar hen with orange eyes. Humans could look in a mirror and recognize themselves. And these pigeons, well, they were one of the very few other creatures that could do the same. Somehow knowing you existed was more important to them than knowing when or why.

In the boy's dream, he was releasing a homing pigeon along the Kentucky River, watching it fly upwards beyond the haphazard platforms made of sticks, twigs and reeds, writhing and dancing in the light wind, patterned splotched images, unkempt great blue heron nests protruding so grey from the highest and most exposed limbs of three sycamores. In this strange dream the boy's Robert Mitchum looking father told him to climb up in the back of his big fruit truck and count the wood crates full of peaches that the sweating, black pickers were lined up and bringing in from the vast orchard field. The boy itched from the peach fuzz and began stacking the crates. At the same time, somehow, the boy was running and guarding another forward that was on the basketball floor; it was an important game against his arch rivals and the new Converse tennis shoes that he was wearing were squeaking at every cut; that other eighth grader that he was assigned to guard was stronger than him but not as fast. The boy in his new shoes felt faster than his best racing pigeon. Oddly, the other boy had been born on the same day as him. Actually, on the same minute and almost in the same room. Because of that there had always been war.

In this dream there was this blue bar owning the most desperate of expression that suddenly appeared and flew upward towards the grey sky and then three shots signaled. The pigeon fluttered back down. This bird was his last of three pigeons; it was the boy's very best Heitzman Sion. The WW! German snipers now in the dream had managed to shoot the other two pigeons The blue bar was the boy's last hope to save his lost patrol that happened to be his school classmates as he along with his comrades in arms were surrounded by the Germans and the boy's own artillery was unknowingly killing everyone around him; The boy picked up his old blue bar with its heavy wattle and eye ceres. The bird gazed outward struggling in his hands not to be held; that poor pigeon owned such a pair of brilliant red and orange and yellow colored encircled eyes with those black spider-webbed veins coming to the pupil; lighting bolts from from a black heaven. One of the pigeon's wings showed destroyed feathers and the pigeon's sharp keel was much bare, you could see a bruised crease; a bare path over its tight, pink skin where the bullet had followed. One of the bird's legs was completely gone and the blood coming from it was hot and deep a purplish red color. And there was that blood smell of iron. The boy knew that pigeons owned the reddest blood in the world because they were the most innocent of all creatures. The boy threw the bird back up through the branches and could see its aluminum tube that was harnessed across its back; inside that tube there was a desperate message from Col. Whitlesey: "WE ARE ALONG ROAD PARALLEL TO 276.4 OUR ARTILLERY IS DROPPING A BARRAGE DIRECTLY ON US. FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, STOP IT!" For a few moments the blue bar seemed to go nowhere. and then, finding resolve and all that one wing could afford, it neared the great blue heron nests up in the top of the great sycamore tree and disappeared.

One of the heron nests suddenly exploded from the force of one of the bullets and two other bullets " zinged" by so close but missed. By the time more shots were fired the blue bar was gone. It was nearly dark and for a moment everything was hauntingly still. The boy looked onto the river and along the calm surface there were groups of riffles, schools of minnows coming to the surface the way they always did before sunset. Then a heron began to make a sound.that was beyond the boy's imagination; a din of uncivilized noises: skrawking, ex-traneous, ardeid, primordial. There was something vital in the sounds and the boy was spellbound by the way they broke the silence of the universe; To hear the herons converse at roost was to hear the first birds in the world; their sounds were were the coo of a pigeon but made with rocks.

The dream then concentrated on the boy with his father in that hot peach orchard outside Dalton, Georgia. After the the truck was full of crates of peaches the boy told the man who owned the farm, "There's two hundred and thirty seven crates on the truck." The man walked over to the boy's father and got his quarter for each of the crates of peaches. After the back doors on the truck were closed and the vent doors up front were locked open on the trailer the boy climbed up to be inside the cab of the truck to be with the man he adored, his father; Both of them knew there were three hundred crates. They stopped at small place on the side of the road and in the grey light they took a shower, ridding themselves of the horrible peach fuzz. The boy's green and blue eyes looked down at his father's large and scarred hands shifting gears. That stick the boy's father was shifting with became the stick of a heron nest and down the river up in the sky the moon was nearly pink and orange and yellow, all but a ripe peach with no smell.

Danny, the boy's eighth grade classmate and sweet friend, burr hair cutted and blond, so freckled that you could see those million freckles on his scalp, hugged the boy and so did Bill, another of the boy's close friends; Bill had different freckles, fewer and so much larger; Both Danny and Bill thanked the boy for what he had done, saving the entire class. Yes, the blue bar must have made it with the note.

Those freckles were somehow heron nests not up and against the sky but rather on Danny and Bill's faces.

The great blue herons smacked their long beaks together and the beaks turned into hands.

The crowd was clapping and cheering.

The basketball game was so close.

David, the forward that the boy was guarding in the basketball game had the ball and if David made this shot The Ravenna Blue Devils would beat The Irvine Golden Eagles.

The ball hit close but rimmed out.

On the walk back from Ravenna to Irvine the boy's basketball team heard that president Kennedy had been shot. They started running along the sidewalk under the sporadic and spindly shade of so many water maples, some still holding a few stained and golden jagged leaves.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Electrolytes: Do Racing Pigeons Need Them?

Gordon A Chalmers, DVM
Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
As printed in the CRPU Year Book 2010


The addition of electrolytes to commercial products for racing pigeons is likely based on their well-known use in athletic animals such as horses and humans. Both of these species have sweat glands that allow them to sweat profusely as a means of dissipating heat during vigorous exercise. At such times, not only fluids but also electrolytes are lost - and both must be replaced. However, pigeons don't have sweat glands, and because they don't sweat, they don't lose electrolytes in this way.

What should fanciers do instead? Simply this: Before birds are shipped and after they arrive home from any race, allow them ready access to fresh water without electrolytes. As a routine throughout the year, it is obvious that fanciers should also provide daily access to a wide-ranging loose mineral mix from which pigeons are quite capable of establishing normal levels of electrolytes in the circulatory system and indeed throughout the body. As well, since foods of animal origin are usually good sources of electrolytes, the addition of a livestock pellet containing animal-source protein as a portion of the diet is also a good idea.

CRPU Year Books can be obtained through membership of the Canadian Racing Pigeon Union

Monday, June 27, 2011

Be Aware ... of the Late Pox Vaccination

Pigeon Pox Vaccination

Pox rarely shows up in our neck of the woods. However, some breeders take precautions and vaccinate their young birds when only 6 weeks old, followed by a booster. This vaccination program should end at least one month prior to the start of the race season. Beware of the flyer who purposely starts their vaccination program closer to the beginning of the race season. Unaware flyer's who did not vaccinate will learn the hard way and be eliminated from the race program very quickly. Clubs and Combines should discuss and rule on all compulsory and mandatory vaccination programs during the off season. Even if these organizations are unwilling to rule on this subject, at least the uneducated flyer is aware of the risk.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Quality feeders are worth their weight in gold.

Twenty words or less TCC Loft series

The Foundation of Success

The Homing World Stud Book, 1957
By Mr. and Mrs. Neale of Thurmaston, Leicester
Winners 1st Great North Road Combine, Thurso, 1956

"Go to a local fancier who is winning fairly regularly and ask him to sell you three pairs of birds (late bred if possible). Breed from these and race the youngsters - half of them right through the club program, the other half stop after the second race. After the second season you should have enough birds to last you for at least 10 to 15 years before it is necessary to introduce a cross."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Loft Temperature

Those who turn horses out to grass seldom find they catch cold when turned out in the open, but directly they are brought back into the stables, trouble often begins and they want tonics.

Keep the loft as near as possible the same temperature as the air outside and your birds will be all the better for it.

Squills 1910

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Airsac Mite

Airsac mites live in the airsacs and airways, especially the trachea, but may penetrate to the liver and kidneys. They are tiny mites appearing as small white granules in the airsacs and are easily missed on examination. They cause respiratory problems with anorexia, loss of weight and weakness. The birds sneeze and make whistling respiratory sounds. In severe cases the airsacs contain a tacky liquid and pneumonia and aerocystitis result. The diagnosis is made by finding the mite eggs in the faeces, or by demonstrating the mites in the airsacs at autopsy.

Treatment is difficult, but a vaporising dichlorvos bar (Vapona), hung in the loft and giving off miticidal fumes, may be sufficient. Fairly common in poultry and canaries, the airsac mite is not readily found in racing pigeon lofts.

Taken from Fit To Win
The most complete guide to health, diagnosis and treatment of racing pigeons
By Wim Peters

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Racing pigeon escapes Romanian crime gang to fly home

A prize-winning homing pigeon has won the race of its life – by escaping the clutches of a Romanian crime gang and flying back to its owner.

6:34PM GMT 17 Mar 2010
Charville Dan was one of 120 birds taken in raids of the homes of four British breeders last month.

The pigeons, worth up to £30,000 each, are believed to have been stolen to order by a gang from Romania where the sport attracts substantial prize money.

But the thieves met their match with Charville Dan, a former winner of the most testing events in the pigeon racing calendar – the Barcelona International.

Five weeks after disappearing the bird appeared back in his owner's Middlesex loft, a little ruffled but otherwise unhurt.

Ken Hine, 74 from Hayes, said: "I went to check some of the babies I keep in a separate loft – and there he was.

"It's amazing that he's returned home – I thought I had lost him forever. He has some feathers missing, and just by looking at him, it's clear that he has had a good fly."

He added: "I'll be sure to take good care of him and nurse him back to full health and given the travels he's been on, we are thinking of renaming him Romania Dan"

Police in Essex, Kent and London are still investigating the thefts.

The Barcelona International, which Charville Dan won in 2007, attracts tens of thousands of competitors from around Europe. The bird which flies back home from the Spanish city at the fastest average speed is named the victor.

Read more ...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Best Way to Lose a Widower

The best way to lose a widower would be to send him to a long distance race after he had thrown his flight the Saturday previous to the race.

Taken from The Secret of Speed
by E. J. Sains

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Task execution is difficult when not feeling well. Suspect respiratory if your birds continue to circle at training liberation site.

Twenty words or less TCC Loft series

Friday, June 17, 2011

Keep The Birds Fit

After the training of my young birds up to distances of 100 miles has been completed, there is usually a week's rest as the next toss is at 150 miles. The same procedure is followed in subsequent flights. Then 200 and 300 miles are the distances for the ensuing jumps. Beyond this point a jump to 500 miles is possible. During these rest periods of a week. I believe in four tosses of 30 miles to keep the birds in absolutely perfect physical condition and toned up for the race itself. Also, exercise them around the loft early in the morning.

Care should be used to select fine clear days for these tosses as a disastrous flight in stormy or foggy weather may upset a pigeon so badly as to take it out of any race for some time.

Young Bird Training Methods
by Chas. Heitzman

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Look Homeward, Angels

The New York Times
Published: December 9, 2007

JUST before midnight on Nov. 3, a white truck pulled up to the Frank Viola Homing Pigeon Club, on a dark and quiet stretch of Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island. The air was cold and smelled faintly of the sea. Two men hopped out of the truck. One opened its rear doors. The other approached a handful of older men who were standing in the street. “How many you got tonight?” the man asked.

Fourteen crates, came the reply. The crates, which were stacked near the curb, held hundreds of pigeons.

It was race night at the Viola club, and for a few hours, the club’s pigeon fliers had been tagging the birds’ feet with electronic bracelets and scanning the information on the bracelets into a master clock in preparation for their 300-mile overnight journey to the town of Somerset in southwestern Pennsylvania. There, half an hour after sunrise, at a truck stop just off Interstate 76, the birds would be released to race back to Brooklyn, with the earliest arriving back in early afternoon.

Homing pigeons may be icons of the city, with rooftop bird coops a familiar image like the skyline, but the sport has been in decline for the last half century. Although only a couple of hundred pigeon fliers remain in New York, however, that small band, organized into a half-dozen or so clubs like the Viola, forges on, participating in races that span hundreds of miles and conducting hundreds of races each year.

The races are divided into two formal seasons — one in the fall and one in the spring — with prizes awarded both for weekly races and season-long performance.

The Somerset race was the last of the fall season for the Viola club, and a crucial one for John Fasano, a 75-year-old retired roofer who began racing pigeons in New York when he was in his teens. Before the start of this race, Mr. Fasano led the club’s rankings for the season’s best overall average speed, an award that is the closest thing the sport has to an annual championship.

Mr. Fasano was feeling optimistic when he checked in his birds at the Viola club earlier that night.

“I wish I could fly this good every year,” he said. “I’d like to finish with a bang.”

As the drivers loaded their cargo into the back of the truck outside the clubhouse, the soft chatter of the birds could be heard through the wooden slats in the crates. The fliers said their goodbyes. “Guys, I’ll see you tomorrow,” David Kurtz, wearing a heavy flannel coat and a black baseball cap, said to his birds. Then the truck let out a low rumble and disappeared into the darkness.

New York’s pigeon clubs, loosely organized by geography and custom, are a cross between an urban sportsman’s lodge and a time capsule of immigrant, working-class New York. Even as recently as a generation back, fleets of racing pigeons swirled above New York like pulsing gray clouds, but the numbers of racers and birds have thinned, with not enough new fliers to replace the old.

Yet the dynamics of a pigeon race have remained mostly the same. The birds are trucked to a central “liberation point” anywhere from 100 to 500 miles from the city, where they are released so they can fly home. The birds’ owners sit waiting by the coops on their rooftops, or in their backyards. Most birds return within several hours, but some take days or even months. Others never come back.

Homing pigeons start their training a few weeks after birth, which, for birds that will compete in the fall season, means sometime in early spring. After the young chicks learn their way around the coop, racers start taking the birds on training flights, first carrying a crate of young pigeons down the block, then driving them to New Jersey or Pennsylvania and releasing them so they can fly home.

Longtime fliers say they can spot a winner by looking at a bird’s eyes, its plume, the white of its beak. Homing pigeons are members of the same family as common street pigeons, Columbia livia, but the two classes of birds have little else in common.

“It’s like comparing a Lamborghini to an old pickup truck,” said David Martinez, a New York police detective who is a member of the Viola club.

Pigeon fliers, whose flocks usually number 40 to 80 birds, do indeed treat the birds like fine automobiles, feeding them a careful tonic of antibiotics and vitamins, and birdseed blends with names like Tipple Mix and Vinny’s Candy. Steroids are forbidden, and there is random drug testing at many larger races. A champion pigeon can fetch several thousand dollars at auction, with the hope that it will breed future generations of winners.

“It’s like having your own sports team,” said one Viola club flier. “And you’re the owner, the trainer, the doctor.”

In the early 20th century, matters were a bit less elaborate. The city’s pigeon fliers raced by paying a railroad conductor a couple of dollars to let the birds out when a train bound for Pennsylvania reached Erie. In those days, training meant riding the Staten Island Ferry for a nickel and releasing the birds on the other side. The only supplement a racer might use was a rusty nail placed in the birds’ water dish, to give his pigeons an extra boost of iron.

If there were a commissioner for pigeon racing in the five boroughs of New York, in recent years that title would have gone to Frank Viola. Mr. Viola, a slight, white-haired man from Bath Beach, Brooklyn, founded his namesake club in the early 1990s and ran the Frank Viola Invitational for the last 16 years. With 1,500 birds, the race became one of the largest in the city, the Kentucky Derby of the pigeon season. This year, the Viola Invitational was scheduled for the first Saturday in October.

However, two nights before the race, when the city’s pigeon men would ordinarily have been readying their birds for the trip to the starting point in Cadiz, Ohio, they were gathered at Torregrossa and Sons funeral home in Bensonhurst. Mr. Viola had died the previous day at age 87, and the pigeon men had come to pay their respects.

A group of fliers stood in the hallway at the wake, telling their best Frank Viola stories. Remember how his birds flew missions for the Army Signal Corps in World War II? And how about the time he turned down $20,000 from a Taiwanese breeder for one of his champion pigeons?

Mr. Viola’s nephew Peter, who in recent years has taken on a larger role in running both the club and the race, decided to cancel the Viola Invitational in light of his uncle’s death. “He held everything together,” Bobby Presto, a retired New York police officer and pigeon flier, said of Mr. Viola. “He was like the godfather.”

It was a cold fall afternoon, a week after Mr. Viola’s funeral. The sun was starting to dip behind the Coney Island parachute jump, and a 44-year-old flier named John Mantagas was waiting for his birds to return. Mr. Mantagas had entered 10 pigeons in a contest called the Main Event that is sponsored by a club in the Westchester Square neighborhood in the Bronx. The birds, 600 in all, were flying back that day from Weston, a small town in West Virginia.

Mr. Mantagas was sitting on the roof of his two-story house in Coney Island, the ground floor of which he rents to the Viola club. Of the 10 pigeons he entered — most fliers enter 5 to 20 birds in a race — he was favoring a blue bar hen wearing the band number 511.

That bird, he said, had been “sitting on eggs,” a strategy that involves putting a handful of fake plastic eggs in the nest of a female pigeon in the days before a race. If a bird thinks it has been separated from its unborn chicks, the theory goes, it will fly back faster to the coop.

Nevertheless, no one is exactly sure what gift of biology allows pigeons to navigate their way home from a far-off, unfamiliar place. In studies in the 1960s and ’70s, scientists at Cornell University said that pigeons use the earth’s magnetic fields as a guide. Other research has pointed to the birds’ heightened sensitivity to low-frequency sounds. A group of Italian researchers suggested that the birds navigate by smell; in Italy, birds travel south toward olive groves, or north toward garlic fields.

In Brooklyn, meanwhile, the sky grew darker, the air cooler. “All I want is one,” Mr. Mantagas said. “Just give me one bird.” By around 4 p.m., his cellphone started ringing. Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens — they all had birds. Vieni Benedetto, a flier who lives in Bay Ridge, called to say he got one, too.

“Benny, you got a good one!” Mr. Mantagas said.

“You might be buying us all dinner,” he added with a deep, raspy laugh. “We want linguine with clam sauce and fried calamari!”

He shut the phone and went back to staring at the sky. As a seagull streaked past, Mr. Mantagas started talking about family. “My kids love the birds,” he said of his children, ages 2, 3 and 11. “But I don’t know if the sport will be around when they’re older.”

These days it can cost several thousand dollars a year to raise and train racing pigeons. Not to mention, Mr. Mantagas said, all the other distractions of modern life with which pigeon racing must compete.

A minute later, a dark gray bird started a sharp dive toward the roof.

“Thank God!” Mr. Mantagas said, popping out of his chair.

“That’s her!”

His hen was home. Inside the coop, she drank greedily from a water dish. Although the bird had returned too late to place among the top winners, Mr. Mantagas was happy. “You made it,” he said, picking up the bird and giving it a soft peck on the top of its head. “And here I was, thinking you’d never come home.”

A little after noon on Nov. 4, just 12 or so hours after the white truck had left the Viola club and headed for Pennsylvania, Mr. Fasano — the flier who had a good chance to snare top honors for overall average speed — was pacing on the roof of his house on Avenue Z in Gravesend. Mr. Fasano was waiting for his birds to return. This season would be his last, he had decided, and he wanted to go out a winner.

Soon his favorite bird, a blue-checkered cock, appeared on the horizon, its wings pumping. Mr. Fasano reached into a crate at his feet to grab a chico, a bright white, non-racing bird that fliers use like a flare to attract the attention of incoming pigeons, and threw it into the air. Noticing the chico, the cock flew toward the roof and landed on the edge of the coop, a few feet from the electronic timer that would record its return.

Mr. Fasano took a few gingerly steps toward the bird, shaking a plastic tub of birdseed. “That’s a baby, go inside,” he said softly. The timer beeped, registering the bird’s arrival. 13:02:11. A little more than five hours from Somerset. It was a good time, maybe a winning one. After a few more birds returned, Mr. Fasano jumped into his car and set off for the Viola club, a few exits down the Belt Parkway.

The Viola club’s quarters are about the size of a studio apartment. One wall is lined with pigeon crates; on another is a faded-green chalkboard for posting race results. Mr. Fasano and the other fliers had gathered at the club to hand over their clocks to Peter Viola, who was entering the times in a computer. “Going out a winner,” Mr. Fasano muttered to himself. “That’d be something to talk about all my life.”

Although the club was full of loud talk and pigeon stories, the mood, in the absence of Frank Viola, was different. The place felt totally empty, his nephew said.

In recent years, as his uncle’s health declined, Peter Viola helped him train his birds, and the two men would drive 70 miles into New Jersey for practice flights. “We’d load the birds early in the morning,” Mr. Viola said, “stop at a bagel joint off Route 22, get some bagels and coffee, go sit up by the lake, release a few birds at a time, just sit and talk.”

After Peter had entered all the times, the results were posted. Mr. Fasano had come in second for the day’s race, beaten by a few yards by another Viola club flier. But his finish was strong enough that Mr. Fasano would earn the trophy for the year’s best overall average speed.

“Congratulations,” Mr. Viola said to him. “You did it!”

Mr. Fasano shook hands all around. Winning would get him a plaque, maybe a short article in The Racing Pigeon Digest. The Viola club used to hold an end-of-the-season awards party, but the event was canceled a few years ago. “These guys are interested in pigeons,” Peter Viola explained. “They ain’t interested in dancing.”

By 5 p.m., the men had filtered out onto the street. A few climbed into their cars to drive off; others came up to Mr. Fasano to offer their congratulations. The Viola club would miss him, they said.

“Oh, I’ll still be in the coop every day,” Mr. Fasano said as he lingered for a moment by the club’s open door. “I can’t stay away from the birds.”

Read more ...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The dreaded 'flyaway' is a first and direct symptom of over-crowding. If you investigate reports of 'flyaway' you will find they always occurred at a time when the fancier's loft was housing its biggest numbers of birds, swollen by the youngsters he had bred.

Taken from The Ailments & Diseases Of The Racing Pigeon
by Old Hand

Monday, June 13, 2011

Indications of Form

Some indications of form are as follows: the eye sparkles and the eye sign or circle of adaptation or correlation or whatever you want to call it becomes more pronounced. The wattles become snow white and seem to extend further on to the bird's head. The feathers are tighter and shine, the skin is clear and a healthy color, not blue. There is no scale present on the skin, and, in fact, you can see the veins through the skin.

In the loft your widower will lie quietly in his next box resting on one wing with perhaps his tail trembling a little. Walking around the loft his tail will also tremble a bit and his movements are quick and alert. Out of doors he flies with the others but will break away from the others for short trips on his own. He may dive down to his loft only to take off again seconds later. He flies quietly and effortlessly excepting, of course, when he bangs his wings deliberately. He is full of life and can't stay still excepting when resting in his nest. Above all he is calm and becomes tamer that usual. He will fight you when you put your hand in his nest. In the basket he gets into a corner and minds his own business, the cock that coos and drives and fights in the basket is seldom one to put your money on, make notes of this you will see that I am right.

A pigeon in form has full elastic pectoral muscles. He seems to have no weight, he feels corky. Beware the heavy laden pigeon, he will waste your money. I don't say anything about size, good ones can be enormous pigeons or they can be tiny ones and form comes to them all, but I repeat, beware the heavy ones. No matter how big if they are well balanced and well built and in form they should feel as if they weighed nothing.

Other signs of form are clean feet with no scale, they are red and even feel warm, there is an oily spot at the end of the flight feathers and the keel has the well known blood bubble...

Taken from Widowhood Flying
by Mark Gordon

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Change The Water

Chas. Heitzman changed the young birds drinking water twice a day in the summer heat.

Twenty words or less TCC Loft series

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Moult of Widowers: Indication of Form

The moult of the widowers may also be regarded as a reliable barometer. Generally the widowers who did not breed, make a good start and then get a relapse a little before, during and after they have cast their first primary. Once it has started, the moult of the widowers must progress very regularly. Without any doubt, we all know that a bird in super form may keep this form for some time whilst a primary is growing and the casting of the following flight is delayed but generally successes will always be more regular with pigeons having a very regular moult.

Taken from The Practical Side of Pigeon Racing
by Leon Petit
Published May 1952

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Beersel Journal; A Pigeon King Watches His Flock, and His Back

The New York Times
Published: August 20, 2001

Correction Appended
BEERSEL, Belgium, Aug. 18— The boys down at the Beersel pigeon-racing club were not happy Thursday evening when Eric Limbourg strolled in -- late, as usual.

It wasn't just the clothes, though he did stand out. The club, the back of a bar at an RV campground, makes most dog tracks look like Ascot on Derby Day, and a T-shirt over a beer belly passes for evening dress. Mr. Limbourg wore an orange polka-dot shirt, a blown-dry coif and a gold chain.

Rather, it was the pile of pigeon panniers he was packing, and the wad of cash.

Mr. Limbourg entered 25 flying nags in Saturday's 250-mile race from Vierzon, France, and bet 25,000 Belgian francs -- about $600 -- on them.

Afterward, he dismissed it as ''just a training race'' to keep his yearlings in shape. He's bet as much as $5,000 on one race, he said, and has won up to $16,000.

But since the night's typical pigeon owner -- mostly retirees and blue-collar workers -- had laid down between $15 and $115 on his or her stable, Mr. Limbourg's entry skewed the pool.

So did the intimidation factor.

''Now none of us have a chance,'' grumbled one member at the registration table. ''He's the champion.''

Indeed he is. Belgium's 60,000 breeders in a population of 10 million make it the Kentucky bluegrass country of pigeon racing, and Mr. Limbourg, 43, is the big Colonel Sanders of squab-on-the-wing. Known as Wonderboy since he began winning trophies in 1977, he says his best birds sell to Taiwanese and Japanese buyers for up to $90,000. Others say he's being modest for tax reasons; top birds fetch double that.

In the suspicious world of pigeon fanciers, when a man is that kind of kingpin, one word comes to mind: dope.

''Who knows?'' said Philippe Matton, the bar owner who has run the Beersel club most of his life, shrugging. ''Maybe he's got something they can't find yet.''

Mr. Limbourg vociferously denies it. He wins consistently, he said, because he has good blood lines and training techniques, and he cleans his coops himself. He spends eight hours a day on his 350 birds, keeping his bank job to forestall the tax man from treating them as more than an amusing hobby. He divulged one secret: he keeps his newborns in the dark for four months (simulating winter stimulates feathers).

It's such calculations that set Roger Arnhem, secretary general of the Royal Belgian Society for Bird Protection, against the sport.

''Sport?'' he said dismissively. ''The bird is the athlete. The breeders are not all bad men -- but they're interested in money. There's no love for the animal.''

Pigeons were used as newsboys by the ancient caliphs and pharaohs. The names of some gallant World War I messengers are still recorded in histories of Belgium, above whose fields they soared -- or fell to the other side's shotguns.

But in top-level racing, money corrupts such purity of heart. There are so many ways to cheat that the Olympics and Tour de France look clean by comparison.

It's the rare weightlifter, for example, who quaffs cortisone against late-season moulting. It's the rare gymnastics coach who tries to pocket his tiny protégé and substitute a lookalike. And a bike racer who scammed in a few miles by car at night would probably be noticed.

The sport has remarkably rigid rules and arcane gear -- all aimed to keep owners honest.

There is, for example, a special machine just for slipping on numbered rubber leg bands. The sealed clocks each owner takes home -- into which his birds' leg bands must be inserted as soon as they arrive -- are set to a radio signal beamed from Frankfurt.

For a Saturday race, the birds must be turned in at local clubs in midweek.

That allows transport time, but also renders stimulants useless. When their panniers -- the baskets they travel in -- burst open, some contenders have been found drumsticks-up from caffeine overdoses.

After banding, they go into special baskets, which go on special trucks, which go on special trains. Owners are kept away. Race officials on the trains may secretly re-band the birds or write code words under their feathers. A contestant calling in a winner may be told: ''Lift his left wing and read me what you find there.''

The coop of a consistent winner like Mr. Limbourg will be visited by veterinarians who will corner some of his champions, do whatever it takes to get them to turn over feces samples, seal the evidence in a sterile container and speed it to a lab.

A confirmed positive means a three-year suspension. (For the owner. The athlete may fare worse -- see below.)

Mr. Limbourg said his coop has been ''controlled'' 10 times. He failed once, six years ago, but beat the rap in court, arguing that a jealous rival could have slipped a mickey into the basket watering troughs at the club. He suspects eyedrops with banned anti-inflammatories.

Though amiable, he is a wary man. ''It's possible,'' he admitted Thursday night, that he had deliberately waited until the last minute to register.

''He's smart,'' said Mr. Matton, 70, the bar-owner/president, who was racing only two pigeons that night. ''He knows other people will leave if they see him.''

And Mr. Limbourg, despite brooding stares from the bar's other benches, didn't leave for two hours, until only Mr. Matton was left, waiting for the truck.

''Keeping an eye on his birds,'' Mr. Matton said, pulling down his own eye for emphasis. ''He's nervous, that one.''

By 1 p.m. on Saturday, race day, Mr. Limbourg, back home in Brussegem, north of Brussels, was showing all the sideline cool of Bobby Knight.

He paced the balcony of his coop, which is two stories tall and as long as a nine-car garage. A rival 15 miles to the south had called at 12:59 to brag that his first bird had landed. But the winner is the one showing the highest average speed, so Mr. Limbourg could still take the prize.

Hunching his shoulders, grimacing and clenching his fists, he scanned the sky as if he was expecting incoming mortar rounds, not birds.

Visiting pals, also top breeders, who had arrived in a Jaguar and a BMW, waited well back on the lawn for fear of spooking arrivals.

When one appeared overhead, Mr. Limbourg clucked ''Come, come, come, come, come!'' into the heavens and rattled a food pan. The first bird alighted casually at the coop at 1:16. Mr. Limbourg stalked it in stiffly, averting his eyes and keeping his arms out to prevent second thoughts about freedom.

Moments later, he shouted out the leg number to an uncle booking them in.

(Later, he would grumble that better clubs use microchips that would save him 20 seconds.)

Back on the balcony, he switched to swearing when a bird decided the roof was close enough to consider home. He threw other birds out to encourage it to quit dawdling, and swore louder as it hopped around, mulling it.

After half an hour, with 20 birds in, he calmed down. Calling other rivals, he estimated that he had taken second place and that his first 15 birds might each win something from the betting pool.

As for the missing five? Well, that can be a sad story.

Mr. Limbourg said his would just show up later. But Mr. Arnhem, of the bird protection society, said his workers are often called to pick up exhausted racers that drop into fields and gardens.

When they trace the owners through the leg bands, ''we get the same answer every time,'' Mr. Arnhem said. ''They say, 'It lost, it's no good, we don't need it. You can just do this . . .' '' (he twists his fists saying ''krrriiik'' -- the unmistakable sound of bird-neck-wringing) ''and make a soup, with petits pois.''

Photos: Eric Limbourg, a champion pigeon breeder and racer, holds one of his birds at his coop in Brussegem, Belgium. Pigeons burst from baskets on a truck near the French border during a race on Saturday morning. (Karim Ben Khelifa for The New York Times) Map of Belgium highlighting Beersel: The pigeon-racing club in Beersel, Belgium, is in a campground bar.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why aren’t more squawking about the poisoning of our rock doves?

By Paul Terefenko
Now Toronto

Pigeons are the victims of bad PR by pest control companies cranking out propaganda

You probably didn’t see many pigeons this week as wintry blasts sent a blanket of snow over city streets, but the tenacious feathered omnivores remain here, huddled furtively under rooftops.

Not that their presence gladdens absolutely everyone.

The reality is, there’s a megabucks industry in Toronto with unrestrained rights to poison the creatures and the ecosystem – and nature lovers can’t figure out why no one’s squawking.

It doesn’t help that pigeons, sometimes called rock doves, just can’t get good PR. There’s even a name for the disgust they engender: “peristerophobia,” or fear of pigeons. Certainly, it’s hard to earn a noble perch when munching on our discarded pizza crusts and half-eaten doughnuts. But to be fair, they only have 37 taste buds – with our 10,000 we should really know better. And they’re keeping our rotting trash off the sidewalk.

Finding folks who want to get rid of them is eerily easy. At the mild end of the anti-pest continuum is Christian Szabo, owner of Pigeon Busters. He tells me he has products that protect window sills, ledges, store signs – non-lethal electrified or spiked strips aimed at deterrence. “An electrical track shocks them and teaches them to stay away,” he says.

It gets much worse, though. If you’ve see a bird flipping out on a Toronto sidewalk, the culprit could be a poison like Avitrol. This odourless chem, mixed with corn, is banned in most of Europe but still legal here.

Not that exterminators aren’t sensitive about laying poisons about. Julian Compton, service manager at huge multinational Rentokil, says his company generally tries to steer clear of chemicals because birds are “prettier than rats and mice, so in the public eye you have to be a damn sight more careful.”

That said, there are occasions when the company still uses Avitrol, even though Compton has some doubts about its effectiveness. What it does, he says, is induce fear in other birds when some of them start convulsing. What he doesn’t mention is the fear it should induce in all vertebrates. It can mess with our nervous systems, too.

Another chemical used in the war on pigeons is Ornitrol, which suffocates developing bird embryos, though it’s also only partly effective.

So who’s monitoring these nasties? Toronto public health spokesperson Susan Sperling says it’s not her department and refers me to higher powers.

At the Ministry of the Environment, spokesperson John Steele tells me only licensed exterminators are permitted to use Avitrol. Label directions, in accordance with Health Canada’s pest management regulations, he says, indicate proper use so non-target birds, pets and children don’t come in contact with the poison.

Ultimately, those concerned with easy pigeon control will reach for their guns, says Compton. “There are laws against the use of guns in Toronto,” he says, but there are air rifles that are legal for use on private property.

“If you shoot a handful of birds, you get rid of the problem in a short time. It’s basically the most efficient way,” he adds. He’s not talking deterrence here – he means efficiently dead.

“It’s really a licence to print money,” says Merchant. While killing part of a pigeon population gives the impression that their numbers are reduced, he says in reality it increases the culled population by 15 to 30 per cent.

“If contractors kill, for instance, 50 per cent of a flock, they go into breeding overdrive,” he explains. Other flocks also see bird movement to the newly available food sources, and breeding increases in those vacated flocks as well.

Exterminators know this, Merchant says, and capitalize on it. “Companies are killing birds for their clients on the understanding that the problem will be resolved, when in reality their practices are simply further entrenching the problem. They provide themselves with a job for life.”

It makes sense. We haven’t seen a marked decrease in pigeons, and contractors I talked to said the situation is stable. Not one of them could give me any numbers on population decline.

And this creates another circular problem – there’s always an abundance of pigeons, and most people are only moved to defend rare birds. Liz White of Animal Alliance explains the dilemma: “If there are too few of a species, we love them. If there are too many, we try to get rid of them.”

But, she says, “we have produced, as a society, a carrying capacity that pigeons can survive in.”

So what exactly is the downside of sharing the city with pigeons who use our buildings as if they were mountain ledges. Well, their acid guano does accelerate the erosion of building materials, while interfering with the aesthetics of our edifices.

But Merchant has spent 35 years fighting to clear the air on the most potent charge against them: that their poop can make people sick. Mere pest industry hype, he says.

“There is a far greater likelihood of someone catching a disease from eating factory-farmed chicken,” he says.

He goes on to enumerate the ways people have traditionally relied on pigeons: for food, for communication (Reuters used them for news, the Rothschild family for financial communication) and to save lives in wars.

“As soon as we don’t need them any more, because technology takes over, we wipe them out. If anybody’s to blame for pigeons overpopulations,” says Merchant, “it’s people who feed them and the pest control industry.”

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Girl with a mission homes in on pigeon show

The Guardian,

It's always lonely being a teenager, but it's even more wretched when you're a teenage pigeon fancier. Just ask 16-year-old Stephanie Langley, secretary of the Young Fanciers Pigeon Club of Great Britain. Though more than 100,000 people in the UK share her hobby, most live off pensions rather than pocket money, and with just seven members left, the future of the YFPC is in the balance.

But the A-level student isn't going to let the 21-year-old club die without a fight. On the weekend she had travelled with her mum to Blackpool from her home near Liverpool to go on the offensive, 25,000 fanciers were expected at the Winter Gardens for the 36th annual British Homing World Show of the Year, and she was pulling out all the stops to persuade anyone aged seven to 17 to join her coop.

She had revamped the club's website, printed jazzy fliers and posters advertising her internet forum, Fancy Pigeons 4U, and was looking terribly official in a white lab coat with her name embroidered on the back. Helping her on the recruitment drive were two-sevenths of the club, Geordie sisters Rebecca and Samantha Meikle, 15 and 10.

"I think a lot of young people think all pigeons are like the pigeons you see on the streets - you know, flying rats spreading disease," said Rebecca, who won a trophy for "best juvenile fancier" on Saturday. "But they're not. I've got 18 and they're all really sweet and they are fun and cute, just like any other pet."

The Royal Pigeon Racing Association could do with more Meikles: the organisation haemorrhages 1,500 members a year, according to general manager Peter Bryant, who organised the two-day symposium. In other words, huge numbers of fanciers are dying off. "It's very difficult to get youngsters into the sport. It's a very much full-time commitment looking after birds, and when you've got Sony PlayStations it's difficult to try to get kids to focus on just one thing," he lamented. Looking slightly mournful manning a stall was 17-year-old Brindley Axe, from near Scunthorpe, whose grandfather Ian Axe is a famous "master breeder". But even direct connections to a pigeon breeding titan isn't enough to hook in this young chap. "I did have a loft but I got fed up of mucking it out and all that," he said.

Given the near-deserted ladies' loos at the Winter Gardens, it was clear that it is not just the young who aren't into pigeons, but women as well. "It's a shame there are so few women, but isn't it nice not having to queue for once?" said one older lady, who was accompanying her husband to the event.

Recruitment isn't the only problem plaguing the pigeon community: the arrival of bird flu in Britain has been painful too. After the outbreak in November on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs slapped a national ban on bird gatherings. No sooner was that lifted than H5N1 was discovered in three wild swans in Dorset this month. For a while it looked as though Defra could ban all pigeons from the show, which Bryant admitted would have been "a bit of a blow".

But the show went ahead, and there was plenty for pigeon fanciers to spend their money on, from probiotic feed to posh mahogany lofts, plus enough pigeons to send Ken Livingstone into apoplexy. The best were being auctioned off in the opera house. Last year one cock of particularly superb stock reached £14,000. On Saturday the top bird was a mealy pied hen called Goddess, which reached £1,900.

The only kind of pigeon you couldn't buy at Blackpool was a cooked one, though top fancy pigeon breeder Hayden Bogle said he did once receive an offer from the former Two Fat Ladies chef Clarissa Dixon Wright to supply her with pigeons for a friend's restaurant. "But I couldn't do it," he said. "I could never eat a pigeon: they're my friends."

Just fancy that

A DVD stall at the Winter Gardens was doing a brisk trade in documentaries about pigeons in Flemish. Belgium is regarded as the world centre of racing, with an estimated 60,000 pigeon fanciers in a nation of 10 million people. Modern pigeon racing originated there in the mid-19th century. Britain caught on in 1886 when King Leopold II gave the royal family some breeding stock. The Queen still keeps lofts at Sandringham.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Make it a Rule

Chas. Heitzman never raced a bird with a small flight still filled with blood and beginning to bud out.

Twenty words or less TCC Loft series

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pigeon racing enthusiasts keep disappearing pastime alive

VPR News
Vermont Public Radio
Steve Zind - Williston, VT
Thursday, 09/13/07 5:33pm

(Host) Today take a glimpse at a disappearing pastime: the sport of pigeon racing.

"What's with the birds?"Well they're messenger pigeons. I'm going to release them and whichever get home first I'll enter in the county fair." "Pigeons, huh?"

(Host) That's a clip from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Even in the 1930s, Jimmy Stewart's trained pigeons didn't make much of an impression on the city folk. But all these decades later, pigeon racing is still alive and well.

On weekends, a group of Vermont enthusiasts pack up their birds and ship them off to distant locations in hopes they'll return home safely and swiftly.

As VPR's Steve Zind tells us, there's more to the sport than meets the eye.

(Zind) Tell Dick Zutell that his racing pigeons resemble the ones that you see begging for handouts in the park, and he'll give you a tolerant look.

(Zutell) "They look like the park pigeons, but they're not. We could tell you the pedigree and the lineage behind every pigeon, I mean back 50, 60, 100 years."

(Zind) Zutell and a few other racing pigeon enthusiasts have gathered in Williston with their birds in cages. They're being be loaded into a trailer and shipped to New Jersey, where they'll be released to race back to their owners in Vermont.

These young pigeons were born in the spring - breeding them from proven racers is part of the art of the sport. All summer they've been pampered and prodded to fly fast.

Their race from New Jersey is the culmination of a summer of training that involves taking them out daily; first just a few miles from home and then further, to teach them to fly back to the roost. When they return, they're fed and coddled to reinforce the idea that coming home quickly is good, and chillin' with those pigeon n'er do wells in the park is not good.

(Zutell) "If they're going to sit down there and talk to their neighbors, no. We want them to race home."

(Zind) In the parlance of Zutell and his fellow pigeon racers, it's not just the birds who do the flying.

(Zutell) "I started flying in ‘47. I was 13 then. I belonged in a club in New Jersey. There was just a lot of flyers back then, there's not now. It's a dying sport and it's a shame."

(Zind) Zutell says there are just a handful of pigeon racers left in Vermont. Like him, many belong to the Champlain Valley Racing Pigeon Club. The sport probably reached its modern day peak in this country in the 1950s. The birds were used to carry messages during the Second World War and returning soldiers brought home an interest in racing them.

Peter Sapienza is a rare newcomer to the sport. Sapienza says he was attracted by the bond that develops between bird and flyer.

(Sapienza) "It's just a really full relationship with the birds who are coming back to be with you and to be in the loft. One of the things you need to work on is motivation."

(Zind) Motivation. That's where knowing a bit of bird psychology comes in. Pigeon racers fly both the male cocks and the female hens. In the hen, the maternal instinct is strong. Her desire to take care of her eggs makes Dr. Seuss's egg-hatching elephant Horton look like a slacker. To get a hen to fly home as fast as possible, interrupt her egg sitting duties and then send her off to race home.

Sapienza says flyers even try fooling the hen into thinking her egg is about to hatch.

(Sapienza) "People have been known to take little plastic eggs and put a fly in it and put it in the nest under the hen so that it rattles a little bit and will motivate her to come home."

(Zind) It takes about 7 hours for a good racing pigeon to fly the 250 or so miles from New Jersey to Vermont. For the victor, there's no prize money or trophy - just the satisfaction of having raised a winning pigeon, and the enjoyment of the sport

(Sapienza) "What we're out for is because we love the birds."

(Zind) For VPR, I'm Steve Zind.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When Pigeons Flock, Who's in Command?

8 April 2010

That flock of pigeons flying overhead may look like a chaotic cloud of birds, but it's more like an airborne hierarchy. By strapping tiny global positioning system (GPS) backpacks onto the birds, researchers have found that a flock follows several leaders at any given time in flight. But the flock's leadership can change so that even low-ranking birds sometimes get a chance to command. The findings could shed light on how other groups of animals behave en masse, such as herds of wildebeest, schools of fish, and even crowds of humans.

Flocks of birds are one of the most common sights in everyday life, but many aspects of the animals' behavior remain poorly understood. Why, for example, do flocks suddenly change directions and then change directions again within a few seconds? Why do birds in flight suddenly stop to rest on a certain stretch of telephone wire? And lacking any threat or sudden disturbance, why do flocks on the ground spontaneously take to the air?

To find some of the answers, researchers exploited a bit of 21st century technology. A team lead by statistical physicist Tamás Vicsek of Eötvös University in Hungary outfitted a trained flock of 13 homing pigeons with tiny GPS receivers that could determine each individual bird's position every 0.2 seconds. Then they sent as many as 10 members of the flock out on 15 test flights. The journeys included four flights of about 15 kilometers back to the birds' roost and 11 flights roaming freely around their home base outside Budapest. The researchers tracked each bird's directional changes and how often those changes either followed or were copied by its flockmates.

In today's issue of Nature, the team reports that the flight patterns showed a definite hierarchy, with most or all of the birds consistently copying changes in direction by the flock's leaders, which almost always flew in front. If, for example, a leading bird suddenly swerved to the right, its followers copied its move within about 0.4 seconds—an amount of time considered too long to be reflexive.

However, the data also revealed that the leaders weren't always the same, even within a single flight. And sometimes, even the birds at the bottom of the pecking order would lead the flock for brief periods. The arrangement made each flight more egalitarian, but the researchers think the reason might be more evolutionarily than politically driven. It's possible that this type of group decision-making is more accurate or beneficial than others, says zoologist and co-author Dora Biro of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Perhaps the individuals in the flocks stand a better chance of survival if they sometimes participate in guiding the group rather than constantly submitting to a single leader, she says.

Another curiosity was that the lower-ranking birds most often flew behind and to the right of the leaders. The researchers think this relates to the structure of the birds' brains, in which the left side handles spatial tasks and the right side governs social recognition. Therefore, anything the birds see with their left eye (which is processed by the right side of the brain) tends to yield a quicker social response.

"The degree of coordination that flocks achieve is really impressive," Biro says. "We identified a clear hierarchical structure within the decision-making process." She says the team next plans to study flock members in greater depth, including their genders, ages, navigational experiences, to determine "what airborne leaders are made of."

The findings could help explain group behavior of other animals, such as schooling fish, says evolutionary biologist Iain Couzin of Princeton University. There's a "fascinating balance" between democratic and hierarchical control in the pigeon flocks, he says. And this sophisticated study reveals the link between the birds' brain hemispheres and how they gather information during their flights. It achieves "a deeper understanding of coordinated control in animal groups," he says.

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