Friday, August 28, 2009

Homing Pigeons

The ancient sport of racing pigeons was first mentioned in literature as a sport by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle who lived in Greece between 384 and 322 BC. the Sultan of Baghdad had the first pigeon messenger service mentioned in 1150. Ancient Roman towers attached to dwellings had Cotes (aviaries) that could house over 5,000 birds. All pigeons are descendants of the wild rock dove (Columbia livia). Starting with a pair of racing pigeons the first egg is laid but not set upon until a day later when a second egg is laid and then the hen sets on it between 4 PM and 10 AM when the cock sets until 4 PM. After sharing the brooding for 17 or 18 days the eggs hatch by the chick pushing it's beak with what is called a beak tooth through the shell to start the process of emerging. It is a great treat to see this bit of so undeveloped protoplasm with big eyes and a head flopping from side to side while muscles are adjusting to life and the parents treating it so delicately while delivering the first food. The first food is called pigeon milk and offered in small amounts by both parents. Every child should have the thrill of observing this wonder of nature. The chicks grow even while watching them so that they double in weight in 24 hours. Both parents share the feeding until about the 14 to 17th day when the cock takes over exclusive feeding. The partially digested food is regurgitated into the ever ready young. By 32-35 days the chicks are covered with feathers and attempting to flap their wings and may be placed in a young bird enclosure where there seems to be a good natural camaraderie with no disagreement while learning to fly. The enclosure is then opened and there it is interesting to see the youngsters considering flying in the great outside. One after another try with all sorts of results. Some fly a few feet and back for a clumsy landing immediately and some fly straight away until landing in a tree and gathering their strength to fly back to the loft. In a few days when released they all seem to rush for the outside where they are air borne immediately. After a week or so of getting familiar with the immediate area around the loft the birds are crated and taken to a point in sight of the loft and released. They take off as a flock and often fly, circulating at a greater an greater distances for sometimes 10 minutes before returning. There are many formulas for training. I usually take the young birds a mile away for 3 times and then 3 times 10 miles away followed by 50 miles and more as time permits. Training your own birds has a disadvantage as you never see the birds return as they are home long before you. The object from this point on is to give the birds the opportunity to develop to their potential as athletes to compete in races. Of course it is not the birds that compete but the flyer of the birds. It takes three ingredients to have success in pigeon racing. First the genetic material must be present. Second the husbandry including feeding and caring for them and third, proper training.
A few days after hatching a permanent band unlike any other is placed on one leg of the hatchling. A list of birds being entered in a race is created with the band number and the crated birds are presented the night before a race at a pigeon club. Each bird has a temporary band placed on a leg to be removed when the bird arrives home when it is removed, placed in a capsule and placed in a timing clock for a committee to consider in determining the place among all the birds in the race. The one with the shortest time is the winner. Today with electronics advancing as they are the registration as to the time the birds return is done electronically. Racing is exciting waiting for the birds to return and finding one bird arriving many minutes before expected and wondering if that bird is a winner. From personal experience I can attest to the fact that pigeon flying and racing is an interesting and exciting sport that is often a family affair that rivals most family endeavors. This is a sport that gets little publicity but there are pigeon flyers in most communities. Search for someone in your community with a loft for personal advice. Phone a veterinarian's office for an address of one or a feed store who sells pigeon food for a contact. With the sport comes a financial incentive for some as there are many dollars rewarded for first prize money in many races. Such as from one to 50,000 dollars. In clubs there is prize money for different categories and races. A 100 mile race is considered a short race and a 400 or 500 mile race is considered long. On returning from a race the birds strut around as if kings or Queens of the loft and if your bird is a winner you qualify to do a little strutting yourself. A comment I think is important is that pigeons rarely pass excrement other than when perching and save most of it for statues and fronts of buildings. Seagulls on the other hand- well enough is enough.

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