Even before the dawn of history the breeding of fancy and racing pigeons
was one of the favorite pursuits of man. Wherever historians delve and
archeologists dig they find evidence of the interest of men of olden days
in pigeons. That interest, in our own age of steam, electricity, and
chemistry, seems to be growing.
There is a fascination about these birds that makes it possible for men and
women in all stations of life to enjoy them. To some persons the breeding
of pigeons opens the road along which to pursue an ideal, the ideal of beauty,
in one of its highest forms.
Not all of us are artists, capable, by the use of brush and palette, of catching
for a moment impressions of personality and of atmosphere which impregnate
great canvases; but those of us who love pigeons have an opportunity to create
something essentially satisfying through the infinite variety in which their
colors may be blended.
Two hundred varities of fancy pigeons are bred today
No one knows how many varieties of pigeons are being bred in the world today,
or how many have been bred and abandoned in the past, but it is estimated
that of the fancy birds alone there are upward of 200 distinct kinds, and
it is known that many of these have innumerable subdivisions, where the type
is the same but the coloring of each is different.
In addition to fancy pigeons, where type and color make the variety and its
subclasses, there are racing pigeons (Color Plate
and utility pigeons. The latter are reared in large numbers,
principally for food purposes, although during the last few years breeders
have discovered that a purely utilitarian bird may be bred for beauty.
Finally, there are the Common pigeons, to be found in barn lofts, church
steeples, and public parks
(Color Plate II)
The Mosque of Doves: Constantinople
The popular name of the mosque of Sultan Bayezid II is especially fitting,
though numbers of these birds flock around all the mosques. Moslems,
in their preservation of the ancient Oriental reverence for pigeons do not
disturb any bird that nests about the holly buildings.
The great square in Venice in front of the Cathedral of Saint Mark, which
is dominated by the Campanile and flanked by the Palace of the Doges, is
perhaps the most celebrated public square in the world for its pigeons. In
the snapshot album of nearly every tourist who has visited the City of Canals,
there is a picture of the traveler feeding these birds before
. Pigeons Of Saint Paul's Cathedral Make Friends With A Young Visiter: London
These birds, as internationally famous as those of Saint Mark's in Venice,
are now in disgrace. Their continual pecking at the mortar between
the stones of the cathedral has endangered the safety of the portico of the
building, and city authorities plan to destroy all except a few, which, for
reasons of sentiment, will be allowed to retain their old lofts. Since
Parliament has long protected these pigeons, a special act is necessary before
their numbers can be legally reduced.
Madison Square, New York; the steps of Saint Paul's Cathedral in London from
which an effort is now being made to bar these birds, and Lafayette
Square, in Washington
, are other famous
congregating centers for the world's pigeon population.
The Luncheon Hour In Lafaytte square, Washington D.C.
In this famous congregating center for the Capital's pigeon population, children
with their nurses vie with retired admirals of the Navy and generals of the
Army for the attention of these trusting birds. Their tameness and iridescent
colors make these pets generally beloved.
Many Poets Have Sung Of Pigeons
It is difficult for a pigeon fancier to analyze and describe the reasons
for his strong attachment for these birds. The writer still recalls
his first impression of them, nearly thirty years ago, when he saw the timid,
white creatures, their dainty red feet folded back under their breasts as
they flew overhead, in an old country woodshed.
From that moment birds of all kinds, but pigeons more especially, have held
a place of deep affection in his heart.
This sentiment is far from unique. Wordsworth experienced it one day
while walking through his favorite forest. A dove was singing to its
mate. The great poet of Nature paused to listen, and then in the spirit
of the moment, recorded his thoughts:
I heard a stock-dove sing or say
His homely tale, this very day;
His voice was buried among trees,
Yet to be come at by the breeze;
He did not cease, but cooed and cooed,
and somewhat pensively he wooed:
Slow to begin and never ending;
Of serious faith and inward glee,
That was the song, the song for me.
But Wordsworth was not the first poet to write of his love for pigeons.
The Psalmists sang of them; Anacreon sang of them; Juvenal, Shakespeare.
Mrs. Browning, Moore, and many others have recorded their love of pigeons
in verse that will endure for all time. Some of the most charming strains
of Liza Lehmann's song cycles are those which seek to convey through music
the sheer beauty of pigeons.
Arabian Legend Explains Pigeon's Red Feet
Literature, legend, and history are rich in pigeon lore and in all the records
of warfare, there is nothing more stirring than the accomplishments of our
own little feathered warriors in the great World War.
In legend, there is nothing more beautiful to a pigeon fancier than the story
of the dove which brought to Noah the message that the great flood had subsided.
According to the Arabs, this bird, after carrying to the Ark the olive
branch signifying that the waters were falling, flew away on a second trip,
from which it returned with traces of red mud on its feet, thereby proving
that it had been able to alight on the ground; and, as a result of this
information, Noah prayed that the feet of these birds might forever continue
of that reddish color. Noah's prayer must have been heard, for the
feet of all pigeons to this day are red!
We learn from Xenophon's "Anabasis" that the love of pigeons was widespread
in those parts of the world which the Greek army traversed. We also learn
from the great Roman historian and naturalist, Pliny, that ancient Rome was
as keen about these birds as is modern Belgium.
Pliny tells of Lucius Axius who was celebrated because of the quality of
his birds and also for the high prices which they commanded - often as
much as the equivalent of $75 a pair.
That price seemed high to Pliny, but a few months ago a Racing Homer brought
more than $1,300 at auction in England. Since that time an American fancier
imported a black Tumbler cock for which he paid $1,000, and I myself have
paid more than the old Roman's price for a pair of birds, and have also refused
more than six times his price for one of my own breeding.
England's King Is A Pigeon Fancier
Probably the best-known pigeon fancier in the world today is King George
of England, whose lofts at Sandringham contain the finest racing specimens
obtainable. From those lofts birds have gone into many humble English
homes, accompanied by the sovereign's best wishes there to produce winners
for their modest owners. His Majesty's grandmother, Queen Victoria, was also
an ardent fancier, visiting pigeon shows whenever possible and spending many
hours in her aviary.
King George's Pigeon Loft At Sandringham, England
It is feeding time and the birds are waiting for the "dining hall doors"
to open. Although the Old World's love of pigeons goes back to prehistoric
times, these birds were not used as couriers until the First Crusade, when
Christian commanders found the Saracens employing them to convey information.
Queen Victoria prized the Jacobin (Color Plate IV)
above all other varieties and made a point of obtaining outstanding specimens
from time to time to improve her own birds. She did not compete in
the shows, but Jacobin fanciers sent some of their best birds to her lofts
and frequently received for their own even better individuals, produced under
the Queen's loving supervision.
Thousands of years before the days of King George, another king, Rameses
III of Egypt, gloried in his donations of pigeons to the temples of Thebes,
Heliopolis, and Memphis. Since his time, down to the present, the Orient,
especially Mohammedan countries, has regarded pigeons as sacred. Only recently
a riot occurred in Bombay because some Europeans killed the revered
pigeons in one of the city squares.
Pigeons Feeding Before The Post Office In Bombay
Mohammedan reverence for these birds is so great that two European boys nearly
provoked a riot in Bombay recently by ignorantly killing some street pigeons.
The stock exchange and general market closed and workmen threatened
a widespread strike. In remote parts of the Mohammedan world the birds
have almost come to be worshiped, and at the pigeon shrine of Kaptar Mazzar,
in Chinese Turkestan, good Moslems are supposed to dismount and approach
the spot reverently.
Pigeon Racng Is Belgium's Sport
In Belgium, pigeon racing is the national sport, in which as many Belgians,
in proportion to the country's population are as keenly interested as are
Americans in baseball, football, golf, or horse racing. The Grand National
of Belgium, in which pigeon fanciers from all parts of the country participate,
provokes far more interest there than a world's series in baseball, the Kentucky
Derby, or a Harvard-Yale football game excites in the United States.
Every village has its Homing Pigeon club, and throughout the racing season
thousands of birds are shipped to France and other adjoining countries each
week for the fly back home.
So keen is the interest in these races that some clubs now employ airplanes
to carry their birds to the releasing station, thus reducing the time they
are enroute and thereby giving them additional strength for the flight.
The Origin Of The Domestic Pigeon Is In Doubt
Naturalists look for the original stock of all domesticated pigeons in some
wild variety, but they are not in accord as to whether it is the Stockdove
(Columba anas) or the ledge-roosting Blue Rock Dove (Columba livia), varieties
of which are found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The more general view
inclines to the latter, for when domesticated birds are bred promiscuously,
without regard to type or color, their offspring will revert rapidly into
birds of the type of the wild Blue Rock Dove.
The love of pigeons is universal. It is older than the love of flowers, and
certain varieties of pigeons shown today probably have been distinct in color
and type characteristics longer than the most distinct varieties of any other
domestic bird, flower, or highly bred animal now known.
Common pigeons are found everywhere
look after themselves, with only incidental attention from men, and while
they are inhabitants of cities and smaller urban communities, their lives,
in so far as selective breeding is concerned, vary not at all from the lives
and existence of wild birds generally. This article deals only with
the domesticated birds.
Pigeon Lofts Are Found From Cellars To Skyscraper Roofs
The house in which pigeons are kept is called a loft, a name probably
derived from the fact that the Common pigeons usually nest in the highest
parts of buildings.
Lofts are of various kinds and sizes. In New York there are lofts on
top of some of the tallest skyscrapers, but across the river, in Jersey City,
a Racing Pigeon enthusiast for a time kept his birds in the basement and
actually flew them from his cellar window. In Belgium many fanciers
use the top story of their homes, and in England breeders utilize attic and
outdoor lofts, as well as housetop lofts.
Contendted inmates of a loft at the Naval Air Staion, Anacostia, D.C.
In the loft each pair of pigeons has its individual nesting compartment,
as shown on the left, where the male assumes the family duties during the
day and the female from late afternoon to mid morning. There should
also be perches or stalls for those off home duty, as on the right. The
proprietary instinct is strong in pigeons. and once a nest or perch is taken
by a male, he will defend it against intruders and, if assistance be needed,
his mate will join in the defense.
The chief essentials of a loft are light, air, cleanliness, and plenty of
room. It should be protected from drafts and secured against such natural
enemies as rats and snakes.
In the loft, the domestic life of pigeons is similar to that of men. The
birds mate in pairs, and unless separated by man they will remain loyal until
death. Unlike practically all other birds and contrary to an old
superstition that they will not breed in February, they will breed the year
No fancier, however, who is striving for improvement in his variety will
permit his birds to breed continuously, as the parents are weakened thereby,
resulting in defective young. To prevent this the fancier usually mates
his birds in February or March and separates them in July or August, keeping
the cocks and hens in different lofts over the autumn and winter months.
If satisfied with the results of his breeding operations in one season, a
fancier may remate the same birds the next season. If not satisfied, he will
change mates, but to be successful he must keep the broken pair separated;
otherwise they will go back to each other.
The Male Pigeon Selects The Home Site
When the birds are mated the male selects a nesting place and immediately
drives his mate toward it. Both share in the work of building the nest,
and the first egg is laid from 8 to 10 days after mating. Until this
egg comes, the male bird never ceases in his attentions to his mate, and
fights off any other male which approaches her.
Pigeons lay but two eggs (sometimes only one), about 48 hours apart. The
young, if all goes well, hatch 18 days after the second egg is laid, and
reach full size in four weeks, when they are weaned. Before that time
the mother lays another pair of eggs, and thus begins rearing a second family
before the first is grown; The female pigeon sits on the eggs from late afternoon
until mid-morning. The male bird assumes the responsibility for the
After the young come the male parent is by far the best provider. The
squabs are fed in a most unusual way. The parents eat first, digest
the food, then regurgitate it for the young. At first this food looks
like milk, and is often called "pigeon milk," but as the squabs grow older
their food hardens, and just before they leave the nest, whole, undigested
grains are fed to them. Pigeons should be fed hard, whole, dry grains,
and grit and fresh water should be kept before them constantly.
In warm weather they should be given baths. No matter how hot or cold
the weather may be, pigeons will bathe every day of the year if the facilities
are provided; but winter bathing should be carefully regulated, so that the
birds will not remain in the water too long and take cold. My birds
are never given a bath in winter except on bright, sunny days, and even then
the water is left before them for a few minutes only.
Pigeons are long-lived. Some are said to have been bred at 16
years, but usually before that time such improvement has been made that the
fancier has discarded them for younger specimens.
A pigeon with a Chinese Whistle
To learn more about Chinese Pigeon Whisltes Visit the Whistle Page.
The whistles are of two types, one consisting of bamboo tubes placed
side by side, the other based on the principle of tubes attached to a gourd.
Though they look clumsy, they are very light, and are attached to the
tails of young pigeons by means of a fine copper wire. When the bird
flies, the wind blows through the whistles and sets them vibrating. The
Chinese explain their love of this aerial music by saying that the sounds
keep the flock together and frighten off birds of prey.
Beaux And Politicians In The Pigeon World
For sheer magnetism and intelligence, pigeons are equaled by no other bird.
There are politicians among them, just as among men. Any loft
of Pigmy Pouters gives one an impression of visiting a dignified conclave
on a gala debate day. One will see a lordly little fellow holding his
place in disdain of the goings on around him. Close by, a strutting cock
parades up and down, bowing and scraping, preening himself, and eying the
gallery all the while. If the slightest attention is given him, he
will strut and blow all the more.
There is also sure to be a quarrelsome chap, who delights to upset the reserve
of the dignified gentlemen and to trip up the grandstander on his parade,
while up in the nesting compartments will be interested observers.
The scene in a loft of Carriers, where the birds are not penned in individual
compartments, will often suggest a veritable battle royal in the prize ring,
and one peep at dainty little Fantails at play stirs the imagination to visions
of Colonial days. of the minuet, hoop skirt, and crinoline. Every variety
has its distinct characteristics; every bird has its personality.
I's my turn
Beauty of form and coloring, but especially their simple confidence and gameness,
give pigeons an undeniable charm for persons in all stations of life. They
have enriched literature legend, and history, and they provide mankind with
food, amusement, and a reliable means of communication. Their record
of sheer grit and brilliancy of performance with the Allied troops during
the World War is a striking story.
While pigeons have been used in war since the siege of Troy, not until the
World War was widespread interest focused on these little feathered soldiers
of the air.
The modern Racing Pigeon was developed in Belgium, probably in Antwerp, within
the last century; but this racing specimen is entirely different from the
birds used to carry messages in the olden days. Whatever the earlier varieties
of Racing or Homing Pigeons may have been, that now used for racing during
times of peace and for communication during periods of war is one of the
most marvelous results of selective breeding accomplished by man in any line
of naturalistic endeavor.
The modern Racing Homer weighs about 16 ounces. It may be blue, blue
checker, black checker, black, red, red checker, mealy, silver, dun, and
splashes, since it is not bred for color, but for type and racing ability.
The best fanciers of Homing Pigeons seldom mate two birds of the same color,
since emphasis of color breeding is believed to minimize strength and racing
Finding comfort in numbes: Boston Massachusetts
These birds, huddling beneath a tree on Boston Common during a severe blizzard,
look after themselves, as a rule, but their friendliness causes them to respond
readily to incidental attention from man.
Pigeons Outo Fast Trains In Speed
Racing pigeons are flown successfully from distances of 1O to 1,OOO miles;
but, as with race horses, different types are used for the various distances.
There are sprinters among pigeons, just as among men and horses; there
are also distance birds, just as there are Marathon runners from Finland
and Derby horses from England.
Light birds make the sprinters, but the big ones go the route. They make
various speeds, according to weather and atmospheric conditions. A
good average speed under fair racing conditions, is a little more than 1,200
yards a minute.
Pigeons are capable of thirteen hours' sustained flight, and can fly as far
as from Chicago to Washington within that period. This means that they travel
more swiftly than our fastest trains.
It takes the Capitol Limited, the crack train of the Baltimore and Ohio,
3 hours and 29 minutes to travel from Cumberland to Washington; but a pigeon
from my loft, several years ago, flew practically the same distance through
the air in one hour and 54 minutes. Yet this pigeon did not win his
race, because birds from other lofts made even better time!
The sport of racing pigeons was revolutionized coincidentally with the revolution
in transportation, beginning in the early days of the nineteenth century
with the progress, first, of the steamboat, then of the railroad, and still
later of the airplane. Where formerly pigeons were raced only short
distances from 10 to 30 miles they are now flown from 500 to 1,000
Until about twenty years ago, Racing Pigeon breeders believed that their
birds would fly to a fixed loft only, and that if either the loft or the
birds were moved, flying days were over. During the Russo-Japanese
War, however, the pigeon service of the Japanese Army used mobile lofts,
which kept pace with the troops; and the same was done in the World War.
The discovery of the mobile loft resulted from a very simple observation.
A Japanese officer had noticed that practically all sailing craft in
the Orient had pigeons on them and that the birds, if released in the morning,
would return to their own ship later in the day, irrespective of the distance
it had traveled. He therefore experimented with racing birds in movable
land lofts and found that they would do the same on land as at sea.
Pigeons Performed Brilliantly During World War
Pigeons are naturally much afraid of gunfire; yet, for sheer grit, brilliancy
of performance, and consistency in results accomplished, their work in the
recent world conflict was astonishing.
The first extensive use of birds in battle by the American Expeditionary
Forces, according to data compiled by the U. S. War Department, was during
the Aisne-Marne offensive, when mobile lofts were used. Due to the rapid
advance of the American troops, the front line was constantly changing, yet
the Army reports show that of 72 birds used during this action not a single
one failed to return with its message bearing on the military situation during
the advance! A total of 78 vitally important messages was carried by
When one stops to consider that pigeons were used only under the most
extraordinary conditions, when it was impossible to employ any other form
of communication, this record of accomplishment needs no further comment.
In the Saint-Mihiel drive, notwithstanding fog and rain, constant use of
gas, artillery, shrapnel, and machine guns, 90 important messages were delivered
by pigeons from the front line of the American Army to the General Headquarters.
In this offensive, 24 out of 202 birds used in the tanks were either lost
or killed in action, but not a single message failed of delivery, as the
precaution was taken to send messages in duplicate by two birds.
The speed of these birds averaged a kilometer a minute, despite flying conditions
that were the worst imaginable.
When the Meuse-Argonne offensive was determined upon, only five days were
allowed for the training and settling of Homing Pigeons in their mobile lofts,
yet the 442 American birds used delivered 403 messages safely, and the distance
flown constantly changed with the advance of the American troops, varying
from 12 to 30 miles. The Army estimates that less than 10 per cent of the
birds were lost or failed to return to their lofts by reason of the short
period of training!
The outstanding fact to be noted is that not a single important message entrusted
to pigeons in this vital action went astray or fell into the hands of the
Preeminent among the work of the birds was that performed by "Big Tom." Released
at Grandprë at 2:35 one afternoon, this bird had to make his flight
during intense machine-gun and artillery action; yet 25 minutes later he
delivered his important message at a village 24 miles away!
When examined, it was found that one of the bird's legs had been shot away
and a part of his breast ripped open by a machine-gun bullet, which was still
lodged there. The message tube, intact, was hanging by the ligaments of the
" was hit by a machine-gun bullet which
destroyed one eye, yet he homed in record time on the morning of September
12, 1918, carrying with him a message giving the location of several heavy
German batteries which, at that time, were doing terrible execution on advancing
American troops. This information thus conveyed enabled the American
artillery to silence the enemy's guns within 20 minutes.
"The Spike," another Homing Pigeon, was more fortunate than "Big Tom" and
"The Mocker." During American offensives he made 52 trips from the
front lines to his loft without being touched, and every one of the messages
which he carried contained vital information.
"President Wilson" was a bird used at first by the Tank Corps, but was later
transferred to the Meuse-Argonne sector. Like "The Spike," he made many important
trips from the front to headquarters.
On the morning of November 5, when the situation in his sector was desperate,
he was released with a message, the delivery of which probably meant success
or failure to his command. There was a heavy fog at the time, and in
addition to the difficulty of flying through it, constant artillery and
machine-gun fire had to be encountered on the way home. This bird lost one
leg in flight, but he brought the message through, after which he was sent
to the hospital for treatment.
The French and the British during the war decorated some of their birds,
but the American pigeons could not receive medals of honor or distinction
because Congress had not authorized an award for heroism to any but human
beings. The accomplishments of pigeons on land were equaled by those
of pigeons at sea. Every allied aviator carried these messengers with
A winged messinger is fast off from a navy plane
At the time of the World War armistice the forces of the United States and
Allied armies had approximately 320,000 pigeons for use in emergencies as
a means of communication when all other methods failed.
Releasing a pigeon from a navy plane during flight
The Navy birds taken to the Arctic by the MacMillan Arctic Expedition (see
the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for November, 1925) were especially selected
and trained for their arduous work in the Far North. A special loft
was constructed for their use and a large quantity of pigeon feed was provided.
Unfortunately, all but four of these birds were killed by Arctic falcons
during their first flight in Greenland.
The British, French, and Belgian governments commandeered the services of
every Homing Pigeon in their respective countries. Even the Royal loft was
taken over by the British Navy, and the king's birds were assigned to trawlers,
scout ships, and other craft in the North Sea, from which they carried many
important messages to Sandringham.
Racing Pigeons Train Early For The Race Course
Racing Pigeons have pedigrees like racing horses, and they are bred and trained
with care equal to that bestowed upon their equine brothers. The enthusiast
watches the feeding of his young birds from the moment they leave the shell.
Four weeks later, when they leave the nest, fully feathered, he takes
particular care to see that they do not go hungry while their parents are
After they are weaned, the birds are placed in a separate loft, where they
soon learn to know that the approach of their owner means food, water, or
kindly attention of some sort. From the young bird loft they are given
their first flying experience.
A Racing Pigeon loft is equipped with a window made of wires which are easily
pushed in, but not out. These permit the bird to enter the loft, but
prevent his exit. Outside of the window is a landing board, on which the
birds alight when returning from a spin through the air.
"Bill", of Atlant Wins an aerial derby
A bird is not considered "home" until it passes through the window of its
loft, when the owner removes the leg band and puts it into an automatic clock
to record the time of arrival. Racing Pigeons are flown successfully
from distances of 10 to 1,000 miles, and a good average speed for distances
birds is 1,200 yards a minute.
After the youngster is happily settled in his loft, his first experience
outside comes some morning when his owner, before feeding him, places him
on the landing board. Food is then scattered on the loft floor, and
the "young man," before he realizes what he has done, pushes a wire to one
side and comes in for his breakfast.
Three Lids Protect The Pigeon's Eyes
After two or three repetitions of this first lesson, the bird wakes up some
morning to find that the window has been removed during the night. Out
he goes and up into the air, but before long, he becomes tired, he hears
the familiar call for breakfast. Down he comes in a hurry, scampering
over and among his comrades, as all try to get inside at once. For several
weeks he makes these early morning turns in the air; then in the evening.
When the bird is from nine to twelve weeks old his hard work begins, preceded
by a careful physical examination. The head is examined first. It
should be strong and powerful in appearance, with plenty of room between
the eyes for a keen brain. The eyes, covered by three lids, should
be prominent and bright and should look straight ahead. When flying conditions
are normal, all lids are open, but in bad weather the bird can close one
or two lids and continue flight with protection to the eyes.
The wings are the most essential part of a Homing Pigeon's body. When these
are spread, the feathers should overlap each other without any breaks. Good
length and breadth of feather are desirable, and at full spread the wing
should look like an inverted letter V.
Each wing contains twenty feathers, ten primary at the outer edge and ten
secondary on the inner side toward the body. The Homing Pigeon's tail, which
is its rudder, is also important. It has twelve flight feathers in two sets
of six each When the bird is at the top of its flight the tail has
the appearance of containing but one feather.
Pigeon flyers watch the molt, or changing of feathers, closely. When
a bird is six weeks old it begins to drop its nest feathers and its first
set of adult feathers begins to appear. It should never be flown while in
The new feathers, if food and housing conditions are satisfactory, will all
be in within eight or ten weeks from the start of the molt. When the
molt is sufficiently advanced, the youngster's training on the road begins.
After the birds grow familiar with their surroundings they are taken a mile
or more from home in a basket and released. The distance is increased from
day to day up to 25 miles. When this stage is reached, instead of being released
in a group from the basket, they should be single tossed that is - one
bird should be taken out at a time - and there should be a delay of two
or three minutes before another bird is freed.
This single-tossing process, repeated many times, puts the individual bird
on his mettle. It also trains him to fly from a given point to a given
point, notwithstanding the number of birds in a flock at the time he is released
in a race, or the number he may meet flying in an opposite direction.
Pigeons with messages arriving at the Anacosti Naval Air Station
Racing Pigeon fanciers usually like to have what is called an "overflight"
loft, or one at a greater distance than the average to be covered between
starting point and home terminal, because a bird flies fastest when it is
near home, and the overflight lofts, under normal conditions, usually produce
the race-winners. But under bad conditions the short loft has the
advantage. Its birds can better fight wind, rain, and darkness and
may get home at the close of a hard day, whereas the birds from the overflight
lofts may have to wait until the next morning.
From the 25 mile stage a jump may be made to 50 miles, usually the last training
stage for a young bird. The next step is ordinarily the 100 mile race,
where the bird gets his first test for speed and endurance.
The racing of pigeons is unlike any other sport, in that the birds start
from a given point, but finish at different points. When they are shipped
to the race, a countermark, or small band, with a secret number is placed
on the leg of each contestant. When the bird reaches its home, it should
go into the loft without delay, where its owner removes this band and
puts it into an automatic clock, which records the time of arrival.
The distance to each loft from the starting point is measured, and the winner
of the race is the bird which flies the greatest number of yards per minute.
Parental Instinct Plays Part In Racing
When old birds are raced, the hen flies best when her eggs are from eight
to ten days old, and the cock when their young are from ten to twelve days
old. While the cock is driving his hen, neither bird can be raced
successfully, as the spirit of love-making is all-engrossing. It is
also inadvisable to fly either a male or female for several days after the
eggs come, as the birds do not settle down immediately after the hen lays.
On the longer courses pigeons usually terminate their race during the evening,
so the female with eggs is anxious to get home to her nest and flies hardest
to get there. If there are youngsters to be given their evening meal,
the male bird strains every muscle and nerve to see that they do not go hungry
On clear, quiet days pigeons fly high in the air, almost out of sight; when
wind, rain, fog and clouds are against them, they fly close to the ground
to take advantage of any chance shelter.
In well-bred pigeons the instinct for home is so strong that birds sold to
other cities have been known to return to their old lofts upon being released
several years later. Some of mine have returned from North Carolina
to Washington six months after being shipped south. Others, which were
never trained on the road, but were reserved for breeding, have returned
to their homes after being shipped to distant points.
On the other hand, fine Racing Pigeons have been made so happy in their new
homes that they could be settled and flown from them with complete success.
Pigeons will fly in any month of the year, but the old birds' racing season
coincides with the period during which their owners allow them to
breed - from March to July.
Bostons's pigeon man
This is a familiar sight on Boston Common every morning at 9 o'clock, where
this bird lover has fed the pigeons every day for l0 years. They gather by
the thousands and wait for him.
Orchids Of the Bird Kingdom Scattered From Dundee
"They came in a ship to Dundee." That brief sentence sums up the entry
into Anglo-Saxon countries of many of the most beautiful birds in the whole
realm of the fancy-pigeon world. From Calcutta, Bagdad, Hongkong, Archangel,
Bokhara, Constantinople, Asia Minor, and the Barbary Coast these orchids
of the bird kingdom reached Dundee. From there they were distributed
throughout the British Empire and America.
Peking merchants display their feathered charges in
the pigeon market
The Chinese are devoted bird fanciers, and a corner of many a city is given
over to an interesting bird market, where several varieties are sold.
Nearly every home has at least one bird, and pigeons vie in popularity
with parrots, pheasants, and canaries. Pigeon eggs are also a prized
article of food. Peking manufactures many of the ingenous pigeon whistles. The Lucknow dove-seller does not lack customers:
The "orchids" of the bird kingdom originated in the Orient, but there, as
elsewhere the more humble types are still popular.
Notwithstanding man's love of pigeons, little is known of the origin of many
highly treasured varieties. In London, as long ago as 1676, the
ornithologist Willughby published in Latin a treatise on pigeons. Two
years later he translated it into English.
Sixty years later John Moore, a London apothecary and celebrated worm doctor,
wrote a history of tame pigeons, and his descriptions of ideal birds, penned
nearly 200 years ago, would fit well into our standards of today, although
such tremendous strides in breeding have been accomplished since that time
that the birds of his day would not be recognized by their present descendants.
The Carrier, the Tumbler, the Pouter, the Barb, the Fantail, the Runt, the
Jacobin, and the Nun, all prized varieties of today, were f avorites with
Englishmen in the time of Willughby and Moore. Yet none of these birds originated
in England. Pigeon clubs and columbarian societies flourished then, and many
importations from the Orient were first seen at the meetings of these clubs.
The Fantail Fails From Hindustan
Of the ancestry of the Carrier, the Pouter, and the Tumbler we know little.
The Fantail originated in Hindustan. But even as late as 75 years ago
a shipment of these graceful little dancers, arriving in Dundee, completely
revolutionized the Fantail fancy and started a war between Scotch and English
breeders which ended only upon the outbreak of the World War. The English
first saw the birds in the showroom, where they were exhibited by their Scotch
competitors. From that moment the battle of styles was on.
Pigeons decorating the garden of Dr. Edwin A. Grosvenor, of Amherst College, Masschusetts
The Fantail is a bird of curves, distinguished by an enormous fan-shaped
tail. Its beauty, grace, and spirit long ago won the affection of hosts of
fanciers. It originated in Hindustan from unknown stock and arrived in Europe
via "a ship to Dundee".
The Fantail is a small, round-bodied bird which carries an enormous fan-shaped
tail frequently having more than 30 feathers
(Color Plate III
). As it stands on its toes
and holds its tail erect the bird's chest, and not the head, should be directly
over the feet. The neck is long and fine, curved down and backward, and the
head rests on a cushion at the base of the tail. When viewed from the front
the head cannot be seen.
In other words the fantail is a bird of curves, whether one looks at the
beautiful, circular tail, whose ends almost meet at the bottom, or at the
body. When moving about the loft, it fairly quivers with excitement
and dances blithely on its way about its business.
This description would have fitted Willughby's and Moore's ideal of a Fantail,
which in those days was also called the "Broad-tailed Shaker." But
English breeders for a number of years concentrated on tail quality and forgot
other properties. The result was that they produced birds with perfectly
enormous tails, but coarse in all other respects.
Then another ship came to Dundee, and on it were Fantails with small, round
bodies and fairly large tails. The Scotch fanciers at once began to
ignore everything but body conformation, and the English everything but tails.
Meanwhile the Fantail established itself in America, where fanciers were
quick to see that the ideal bird combined the good qualities of both a small
body and a large tail. Today this country has many glorious Fantails with
bodies even smaller than the old Scotch ideal and carrying large circular
The Barb Is A Native Of Nortern Africa
The Barb (Color Plate V)
, a pigeon beloved by
Shakespeare and by Mary Queen of Scots, who pined for it while in prison,
is rarer today than 300 years ago. It originated in northern Africa so long
ago that all traces of its early history have been lost.
It is a small bird of the toy variety and is the only square-headed pigeon
known. It has a short, stout beak, like that of a bullfinch, and is
also distinguished by an eye cere, or wattle, which covers almost the whole
side of its head. As the bird grows older, another heavy wattle appears on
the upper and lower parts of its beak.
The usual colors in Barbs are beetle-green black, red, and yellow. The
wattle, being of a flesh color, forms a pleasing contrast against the body
The Carrier, King Of Pigeons, Looks For Battle
The Carrier (also Color Plate V)
has for centuries
been regarded as the king of pigeons. It is a large, bold bird, which probably
got its name from its aggressive carriage and not from its flying ability.
Like the Barb, it has both an exaggerated eye and nose wattle. The
latter is so large that when the bird is fully matured, at three or four
years, it has the appearance of having shoved its beak through a beautiful
The Carrier is the most quarrelsome of pigeons and will fight upon the slightest
provocation. When he cannot find anyone else to quarrel with he may beat
his wife. For this reason Carriers are usually bred in individual
compartments, for in their constant conflicts they are apt to ruin their
rose adornments, their chief claim to favor.
Of later origin than the Carrier is the Dragoon (also
Color Plate V)
, a noble-looking bird with a bold head and eye. The Dragoon
has well-developed eye and nose wattles, but they are not so large as those
of the Carrier.
Another bird of like type, the Horseman, was much fancied centuries ago,
but has now practically disappeared and its place given over to the Racing
Jacobins and Nuns, two very old varieties, wholly dissimilar in appearance,
are shown in (Color Plate IV).
has a hood which, in finely developed specimens, makes it almost impossible
to see the head. Nuns have only a small hood, called a "shell crest" in pigeon
The Jacobin comes in solid colors, such as red, yellow, and black, with a
white tail and white flight feathers on the wings. The Nun has a pure white
body and crest with colored head, tail, and flight feathers. Nuns come
in several colors, but black is most favored.
Queen Victoria of England kept many varieties of pigeons, but her favorites
were the Jacobins, and many a prize winner ultimately found its way into
the Royal lofts, from which in turn its offspring went back into the showroom
and out into the fancy. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was another pigeon
fancier who frequently urged her friends to take up her hobby and share her
pleasures. A proof of her friendship was a gift of a pair of her favorite
The Pouter Is The Aristocrat And Buffoon Of Pigens
The Pouter (Color Plate VI)
is not only the aristocrat
but also the buffoon among pigeons. There are eight or ten varieties of pouting
pigeons, but two the English Pouter and the Pigmy Pouter, have outstripped
all others in popularity.
The former is a tall, thin-waisted bird some 18 inches in length, and stands
on long, thin, storklike legs completely covered by stockings of feathers.
He resembles a man wearing a full-dress coat with close-fitting white
satin breeches and white spats. At his throat there is a crescent of
white like an old-fashioned cravat. The wings are often colored black,
red, yellow, and blue, with rosettes of white splashed on each shoulder
There are also pure white Pouters, but only during the last few years have
they approached the colored birds in perfection of type.
The name of this variety comes from an ability to inflate its neck into a
large circular globe, which, in poor specimens, is most grotesque, but in
good ones exceedingly attractive. The name has no bearing on the bird's
personality, for the Pouter is a jovial chap, who can assume instantly an
air of solemnity and dignity. He is never out of sorts, and if shown
the slightest attention will strut and blow for all he is worth.
As may be expected, such a fellow is not a good husband or father, and a
Pouter cock is always ready to neglect his home duties to go philandering.
Consequently, Pouter fanciers must maintain a loft of auxiliary parents
in order to insure the rearing of the young.
The Pigmy Pouter is a miniature, in every respect, of the English Pouter.
While the latter has been known for centuries, the Pigmy is a creation of
the last century. Originally it came from continental Europe and was
not related to the large English Pouter. During recent years, however,
Pigmy breeders have out-crossed and inbred on the English Pouter, so that
today the only difference between them is not one of type, but of size.
The Tumbler (Color Plate IX)
has more friends
the world over than any other variety of fancy pigeon. Man's affection
for it has lasted more than three centuries, although the prize Tumbler of
25 years ago is entirely different from the accepted type of today. If
the old favorites of 1676 and 1736 should put in an appearance now, they
would be driven out of the lofts of modern Tumbler fanciers as aliens.
Ancestors Of The Tumbler Were Acrobats
This pigeon derives its name from the ability of its ancestors to turn
somersaults while flying through the air. There are still Tumblers which
perform, but they are not the ones seen in the showroom. The acrobats
themselves are divided into many classes, some of which make but one turn
at a time, others two or three, still others side dips, and yet others which
fly high in the air and descend (sometimes to an untimely death) by a series
of backward revolutions.
In addition, there are Parlor Tumblers and Parlor Rollers, which cannot fly
at all but perform on the ground. The single and double Tumblers can
be trained to stand perfectly still until a signal is given upon which they
will make their turn, come to attention, and wait for the next signal before
turning again. The Parlor Rollers turn a series of backward somersaults
along the ground. Those that roll the farthest are the best.
The Hindus originated the performing Tumbler, and in addition to the varieties
known in this country, they have another called the Lowtan, which will not
perform; until it is shaken up rather roughly several times in the hand.
The old-fashioned Tumbler was a plain-headed sort, but the modern bird has
a large, broad, bulging forehead, the broader the better, and the beak should
be set on at an almost direct right angle to the head. All other things
being equal, the Tumbler with the best head wins today.
Tumblers are known as clean-legged and muffed. The former have no feathers
on their feet; the latter have a profusion of feathers, and the longer and
more profuse they are, the better (Color Plate IX).
Tumblers come in solid colors of red, white, blue, black, yellow, and silver.
There are also birds with colored bodies and white wings, called "whitesides,"
and birds with mottling on the wings. One of the most fancied subvarieties
is the "baldhead," which has a pure white head, wing flights, and tail, with
a colored body.
For many years the Almond, or short-faced Tumbler, was the most popular of
these birds, but of late its vogue has declined. This pigeon, as its name
implies, is of an almond color, interspersed with beetle-green black. By
some it was called Ermine because of its color shading. During the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England, good Almond Tumblers frequently
commanded as high a price as a good horse.
A Public square in which Cleveland pigens get their midday meal
The statue is that of Tom Johnson, one-time mayor of the Ohio metropolis.
Tumblers Taught Aviators To Loop The Loop
Pigeon fanciers believe that the pioneer aviators learned to do many of their
stunts, such as side dips and looping the loop, from their observations of
Tumbler pigeons in flight. The Tumbler and the airplane loop the loop
in exactly the same fashion. Both point their noses upward and fly
gradually toward a vertical position; when they reach it, both cut off all
power, apparently, and, with wings out-spread, turn over backward, catch
themselves, and begin flying again.
Among pigeons, as among men, there are long-nosed and pug-nosed individuals.
One of the most popular groups of fancy pigeons is made up of the
"pug-noses," or so-called "short-faces," which includes the Turbits, Owls,
and Oriental Frills among its favored members. Formerly they were
unrelated, but during the last 50 years discriminating breeders have so crossed
them upon one another that today, notwithstanding marked differences in color,
structure, and feather properties, these birds may be grouped together.
The longest-nosed pigeon is the Scandaroon, which originated in Bagdad centuries
ago. It is a large bird, with colored body and white wings, a long, Roman-curved
beak, and a disposition compatible with its ferocious appearance. The
Scandaroon still has many admirers, but its most valuable use has probably
been in the crossing into other varieties where bold head appearance was
The Turbit is the oldest-known member of the short-faced family. He
is a small bird with white body, wing flights, and tail and colored shoulders.
The favorite colors are black, blue, silver, red, and yellow.
The start of a pigeon derby in Great Britain
Five thousand birds have just been released from five railway cars.
Although the first regular pigeon races did not begin in Great Britain
until 1881, the birds have long enjoyed the affection of British fanciers.
When the weather is clear and quiet, pigeons fly high, almost out of
sight, but during wind, rain, and fog the birds stay close to the ground,
to take advantage of any chance shelter.
The Turbit's outstanding feature is his head, which should be large and bold,
with a bullfinch beak and a small peak crest. There should be an unbroken
curve from the tip of the beak to the crest. The eyes, instead of being
set in the middle of the head, are placed well forward. Down the breast
is a roselike frill of feathers. .The feet are free of feathers.
There are three varieties of Owls, so named for their resemblance to the
nocturnal bird. They have no crests and their heads are more nearly
round than the Turbits'. As in the case of the latter, the stouter
their beaks, the more highly are they regarded. They come in solid
colors and have no feathers on their feet.
The African Owl is the smallest the English Owl the largest. The Chinese
Owl, the rarest of these birds, is between the African and English in size
and carries a double rose frill on his breast, which in good specimens extends
up around the neck on each side of the head. This group comes in standard
colors, and also in exquisite powdered blues and silvers, wherein they have
been bred to greater color perfection than any other variety.
The accouterments of a pigeon messenger
Left, the capsule containing the message, which is attached to a leg of the
bird, center, the loft and squadron numbers stenciled on the wing feathers;
right, an identification marker.
Oriental Frills Are Peerless birds From Asia Minor
Oriental Frills (Color Plate XI)
, regarded by
their owners as gems of the Orient, were introduced into England about 75
years ago by H. P. Caridia, a former resident of Asia Minor. There
this variety was originated hundreds of years ago and held sacred for centuries.
The Orientals have outstripped both the Turbit and the Owl in the race for
popularity, and, without disparaging the others, appear to be entitled to
the esteem they have won. In them the fancier has pigeons with at least
three different shades of color on one feather; pigeons which come from the
nest with one group of color tones and which assume an entirely new group
on reaching maturity. The four subvarieties in greatest favor are the
Satinette, the Blondinette, the Bluette, and the Silverette.
The Satinette has a white body with penciled or laced wings. The penciling
may have the appearance of blue, black, dun, sulphur, or brown tracing, and
the outspread wings resemble a fine piece of iridescent lacing. The
blue-laced Satinettes have blue tails, with a white spot or moon, near the
tip of each feather. In the others the tails are laced like the wings.
The Blondinettes are colored or laced all over. The Bluettes and
Silverettes have white bodies and blue or silver wings. A peculiarity of
their marking is that the bars of their wings are white edged with pink and
not black, as in other varieties.
The heads of Orientals should resemble those of Turbits, but the Turbit peak,
although desired, is not required, and a good plain-headed specimen will
defeat a poorer bird with a peak. The legs and feet are covered with
short, thick feathers, resembling the stockinged feet of a grouse.
The coloring on Orientals is so rare that many fanciers of other varieties
have tried to introduce it into their birds, but, so far as is known, without
success. On the other hand, if Owl or Turbit blood is introduced into
the Orientals, the structural properties sought therefrom have been obtained
and the pure Oriental coloring regained within a few generations
They are always hungry
The gentleness of these birds makes the Dove (or Pigeon) an appropriate symbol
of peace in Christian lands. The Japanese, on the contrary, consider it a
messenger of war.
The Russian or Bokhara Trumpeter is the greatest talker among pigeons. He
is a heavy, booted fellow, with a rose crest, and, while busy about the loft,
sounds like a trumpeter at practice with a low-pitched horn. There
is another variety, now almost extinct, called the Laugher, whose cooing
resembles a human chuckle.
Two gold star mother pigeons whose children never came back from the war
These birds were also couriers during the European conflict and might properly
wear service stripes as well as stars. They, like many other Homing
Pigeons, were entrusted with vital messages which they carried successfully
throughout artillery barrage and machine-gun fire from the front-line trenches
to headquarters during history-making offensives.
Short-faced Pigeons Require "Wet Nurses"
It is impossible to describe all the varieties of fancy pigeons seen at shows.
There is, for example, the great class of German toys, with more than
twenty subvarieties, including Swallows (Color Plate
, Frill Backs (whose feathers grow the reverse of those of all other
birds), Helmets (Color Plate IV)
, and Priests.
There are the Magpies (Color Plate XII)
beautiful birds with wild magpie coloring, only richer; the Hungarians,
parti-colored birds bred for centuries; the Mookees, Suabians, Sherajees,
Chinese Dewlaps, Starlings, Modenas (said to come in sixty or more colors),
and numerous others.
Fancy pigeons mate like the Homers and, as a rule, are good parents. The
short-faced birds, however, need assistance to bring up their young, and
unless "wet nurses" are provided, valuable youngsters may be lost.
Fanciers who like several varieties can solve this problem by transferring
the eggs from short-faced to long-faced birds and vice versa, for the
short-faces, while apparently unable to rear their own young, are able to
feed those with longer beaks.
If a fancier belongs to a pigeon club he marks his birds with a registered
seamless band, which is placed on one leg when the baby pigeon is about five
Pigeons are exhibited as youngsters and as old birds. Some, such as
Carriers Barbs, and Orientals, do not appear at their best until they are
from three to five years old. Others, such as Pouters and Fantails,
coarsen with age.
The world's champion utilty pigeon and some of the 75 cups he has wond: A California product
In England pigeons are judged both in their single coops and in walking pens,
and are marked on the double showing. In the United States only the
walking pen is used. In this every bird has to display himself before
the judges, just as a horse or dog performs in the tanbark ring.
The Family Tree Of A Silver-colored Fantail
Up to ten years ago, American Fantail breeders had striven in vain for good
silver-colored birds. In 1916 a pair of my blue Fantails hatched a
beautifully colored silver sport, which, upon maturity, proved to be a hen.
The next season the parents were remated, but produced only ordinary
young and no silvers. Then a mating between the young silver hen and
a blue cock of good type and light color gave me two blue youngsters, both
cocks. The following year a mating of the better-colored of these two young
cocks back to his mother gave two young, both silvers and both hens.
One of those hens has yet to be beaten in the showroom, and last season one
of her sons was a champion silver and a grandson won first in his class.
In 1919 the process of inbreeding continued, the old hen being remated to
her son, who had produced two silver hens, and the better young silver hen
to her blue half-brother, who was also her uncle. These matings resulted
in all silvers, both cocks and hens. Since then these birds have been
inbred, line bred, and out-crossed (but only on the original family of blues
), and today the silvers are among the best in my large family of Fantails.
My success in producing this winning strain of silvers was due to several
factors. One was the abandonment of the original parents and failure
to use the old blue father with his silver daughter. Another was that,
thanks to a brother fancier, the very best blues of that time were obtained
for use. A third factor was that mere perversity caused me to reject
completely the stock scientific formula that yellow mated to blue would give
The offspring produced by this experiment were not only numerous after the
second year, but of high quality and resulted in fine silver males which
today, if bred to blues, produce more silver than blue youngsters.
Regressions constantly appear in the best of pigeon families. A strain of
blue Fantails first utilized ten years ago has been bred ever since, with
only two out-crosses, one on silver and the other on white. All of these
birds were clean-legged, as Fantails are supposed to be; yet last season
an excellent young blue hen with grouse-feathered feet appeared.
Also, Fantails are supposed to have fine smooth heads, with no sign of peak
or crest, but a pair of birds whose ancestry was known for more than five
generations produced a crested Fan.
With regard to breeding for color, yellow saddleback birds have produced
reds, blacks, and checkers, but no yellows; red saddlebacks have given not
only reds and blacks, but pure whites.
Last year, in an effort to improve blue saddles, a mating between a saddle
cock with a solid-blue hen gave a pure white youngster which proved good
enough to, win at a Fantail club meet.
The question naturally arises as to what one is to do with these sports and
throw-backs. If they are outstanding in good quality, they should be
kept and bred, as they possess dominant natures and will as a rule, influence
their descendants for years to come. If bad, even though unusual, they
should be killed, for breeding from an inferior causes birds to deteriorate.
A white pigeon takes part in a mourning procession: Persia
The Moharram, first month of the solar year, is sacred to Shia Mohammedans,
who dedicate the first ten days as a period of mourning. Street processions
and Persian passion plays increase the religious fervor of the zealous natives.
Mohammed claimed that the dove, which he taught to perch on his
shoulder and to pick seeds from his ear, imparted to him the counsels of
Pigeons For Pie
Pigeons are good to eat, and if one breeds only from the best, there are
certain to be plenty for the pot.
There are several varieties of pigeons bred mainly for the table, including
Runts (the largest of all pigeons and one of the oldest), Carneaux, Kings,
Mondaines (Color Plate VII)
, and Working Homers.
The French were the first to rear squabs for culinary purposes, but
within the last 25 years squab-breeding has spread over the world.
The young pigeon is heavier at four weeks, when it is just ready to leave
the nest, than at any later period of its life. It is fat and soft
and makes one of the finest delicacies served today, being especially good
for convalescents and children. Squab breeders work the year round
and are not separated in winter, as are the fancy and racing birds. If
not crowded, they produce from 1O to 14 young yearly. The most profitable
squab plants are those operated by workmen as a side issue, after regular
hours, or one-man plants where the owner does all of his own work. Labor
and building costs are so high that the expense of additional help and housing
above the one-man plant size is almost prohibitive.
Not all lovers of pigeons are so situated that they can exhibit their birds;
but while the showroom and race course provide the final test of a breeder's
accomplishments, one's real pleasure and lasting delight are to be found
among the birds in the loft. Formal exhibitions are soon over, but one's
own aviary furnishes a constant display of beauty and affection, and the
fancier's presence is always welcomed most heartily by his feathered friends.
The pigeon's hour at the New York Public Library
Every day at noon hundreds of pigeons gather in front of the Public Library,
at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, and the 12-o'clock loungers on the benches
throw them stray crumbs from their luncheons. The close of the noon
hour sees the flocks of birds winging their way to nests and nooks in the
Many thanks to National Geographic for the wonderful article. I have
edited it only slightly to take advantage of the unique properties
provided by web browsers. Any errors or omissions are uniquely mine.