Jul 22, 2010

Virtual Loft: A Home for Your Homers

Your pigeons will obviously need a place to stay and although you don’t have to build them a Columbarium (the Parthenon of pigeon lofts) you don’t want your pigeons living in a cardboard box either - and as stated in the last post on predators, it should be able to protect them. In this post, we will not only look at affordable housing options for your birds, but the history of pigeon living conditions from pre-domestication to modern times.  Finally, I will post photographs from an actual loft that I visited myself.

Cro Pige-nons

What did the earliest modern human and pigeons have in common?

Hint: they are not called Rock Doves for nothing.

Above:  Rock Dove in natural habitat on cliffs Hunstaton, Norfolk, UK.  Copyright  Andrew Dunn        Creative Commons License.

Cro-Magnon man liked to make his home inside the rock shelter of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in the southwest of France (amoung other places), the Rock Dove was fond of using cliff ledges along the coasts of Asia as you can see in the photo above.


The Columbaria was the name for the pigeon farms of ancient Rome.  These rounded underground structures had their interior coated with white marble.  Usually made out of limstone, it was possible to etch thousands of holes, which in one a mother to raise two squabs.  Although the latin term is used, they actually originated in ancient Israel.  You can see pictures of remains of these ancient structures here.  It was the Romans that brought these structures to the conquered areas, including France (called pigeonnier or colombier).


The earliest dovecotes were believed to be in Upper Egypt and Iran.  Pigeon droppings were a hot commodity in these arid regions.

Loft Clothes and other precautions

When visiting the loft of my ‘Pigeon Liaisons’ Nick and Enna, they advised me if I ever visit a loft or have my own, to invest in a set of clothes for your loft, including shoes. Enna prefers a pair of Crocs, easy to slip on and easy to wash.

You should read up on biosecurity measures. If you are in Ontario, a package can be sent to you free of charge thanks to the Ontario Poultry Council.

How to Take Care of Your Loft

There is much to be said on this topic, but for a brief excellent overview you should consult with  the Beginners Guide to Pigeon Racing available for download in .pdf format on the CRPU website.

Not only is it fairly quick and easy to build (the site promises 1 weekend), it can be done for around $500. Best of all, the instructions are completely free and available on the website (click on links at bottom of the main page).

It also contains samples of various lofts from various pigeon racers.

I recently visited the loft of my Pigeon Racing Liaisons Nick and Enna.  It is quite a nice loft, and fairly large.  It is about as big as a small house.  Its sits on top of a hill overlooking their home.  The entrance is to the right in the photo, as you can see in the image below, you have to walk up a flight and a half of stairs to reach it, making it fairly predator proof.

 The aviary is attached to the garage of their house.  I was standing on the hill in front of the loft when I took this picture.
Below, the aviary up close.

On the right, is a view of the corridor when you first enter the loft:

Nesting Boxes:

Notice there is two pigeons per box.

My Pigeon Liaison is showing the Escape Door - which is used to let pigeons out.

Typical feeding tray up close  and   sneakers of the Future Champion Flyer.

Ventilation system - next to predator proofing, getting adequate air circulating through your loft is of the up most importance.

Coming Soon - Is it a Pigeon, or is it Superman?  The extraordinary abilities of Pigeons.

Jun 23, 2010

The Pigeon World's Least Wanted

This week we are going to look at the Top Ten Things (in Canada) that are going to either eat or infect your pigeons.

This list is presented in no particular order because the level of hazard could vary from region to region.

I have included some other threats to pigeons that are more common elsewhere in the world, and a few general tips to prevent your loft from becoming a smorgasboard for predators.

and other pets
Yes, unfortunately your pet pidgie could end up a meal for Fluffy or Fido.

"Phew, I have no pets, no need to worry." 

 Think again.

Chances are there could be a neighbour with pets.  Or there is always the possibility of feral or wild cats and dogs. Although you have more to worry about from cats, as they are a bird's natural predators you should nevertheless keep an eye on your dog, ferret, and anything that might have a taste for feathers.

Some preventative measures including putting a bell on your pet's collar, keep cats indoors from dawn to dusk, and any other times birds are most likely to be fed.  You should refrain from putting the birds' food on the ground.  Other people's pet are of course mostly a concern if you live in an urban area.

RACCOONS and other urban threats

The omnivorous raccoon will eat just about anything - including pigeons. With their hyper sensitive front paws and the ability to stand on their hind legs, they can open latches to lofts or pull birds through aviary wire.  Lock your loft and make sure the wire is no bigger than 1/2" by 1/2".   The little masked bandit is mostly active at night, but make sure your loft is secure for all predators at all times. 

Squirrels, which are typically diurnal, have been known to eat birds' eggs; although, this is quite rare and will usually happen in times of dire starvation, like in the dead of the winter.

Skunks - are becoming more common in urban locations, are also omnivorous.  They are more slow moving and are more likely to be a threat to pigeons on the ground.

"Awwwwww. How cute! Something this adorable could not possibly hurt my pigeons!", you might be thinking.


This slinkly little ball of fur is a PIGEON KILLING MACHINE.  Mr. Weasel will decimate your colony of cooing cuties in one night!  Other rural predators include martens, fishers, minks, opposums and rarely, foxes and coyotes.

"So does this mean everything that's going to eat my bird is going to be on four legs?"

No, no, no, no, NO!

Arguably, your pigeons most notorious nemesis is that darling of the conservation circles....

The average speed of Falco peregrinus is 40 to 55 km an hour. But when chasing prey, this 'cheetah of the skies' can reach speeds of up to 112 kilometres per hour.
Their mating ritual consists of spirals, deep dives and other feats.  In a single migration, they can travel up to 25 000 km.
Most impressive of all, this acrobatic artist formerly known as the "Duck Hawk" can stoop up to one kilometre in the air and then make a hunting dive to swoop down on prey at speeds up to 320 kilometers an hour.

So if your beloved rock dove descendent runs into Perry is that RIP for Mr. Pidgey?


There is not really much you can do.  Except prayer.  If you happen to witness it with children around, you have about ten seconds to blurt out, "well honey its the food chain" or other circle-of-life feel-good phrases before your little ones burst into tears.  Some have tried drawing eagle eyes on the pigeons feathers, or decorating them with sequins, other than make its loft mates demand an encore of "Rocket Man", these silly tricks have not really done much to protect it.  There was even an attempt to make the pigeon taste bad in hopes the peregrines would develop a conditioned taste aversion (kind of like birds and milkweed eating monarch butterflies).

"So, if there are no Peregrines in my area, my birds are safe right?"


Unfortunately, the peregrine itself can be prey to.....


Not all owls and hawks are bird eaters, and do not have the peregrine's abilities.  Hawks to watch out for include Sparrowhawks, Cooper Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Goshawks.  Other bird of prey that like to snack on pigeons include Golden Eagles and Kestrels.   Unlike the peregrine, hawks and owls will use short bursts of speed and rely on a surprise attack, or will even follow your bird into the loft.  Owls, will do this at night, so that is why it is best not to let your owl out in the evening.  Always have your loft shut, and even locked (more on this later).    Some people have taken to trapping Peregrines and Sparrowhawks. DO NOT DO THIS. Unless you want to be the Endangered Species-killing pariah in your community.

"Is there anything I can do?"

Oddly enough, the old adage "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" is true also in the Pigeon World. Crows and Ravens, although these birds themselves might pick on the weak or injured members of your flock, they also happen to be the natural enemies of hawks and owls. Keeping a few around your property will drive away them and other animals even cats. Crows and Ravens are immensely territorial. One person I know will use unwanted eggs to lure the crows into a nearby field and away from the loft. The Crows are kept away from the loft, and also have kept a local hawk away.

"Well, now I know what to look out for...."

Think again.  Not all threats are something you can SEE.

You also need to protect your bird against....


Not only do you have to predator proof your loft.  You must also keep it clean from BACTERIA and PARASITES, and vaccinate your pigeons against VIRUSES.  There is a misconception that pigeons are dirty creatures that spread disease, however, generally, most viruses are pigeon specific.  Pigeons have a higher body temperature than humans, and we can't get their diseases and vice versa.  As for diseases that are known to infect other birds like West Nile and Avian Influenza, pigeons rarely contract those diseases.

For a fact sheet on pigeon diseases and how to prevent and treat them - click here.

For General information on keeping your loft clean and preventing outbreaks, and to order your own guide, please visit this website on Biosecurity. 

Except for rats, mice aren't really much of a lethal threat, the main problem to be concerned with: rodents contaminating your birds living quarters with their feces, and eating your pigeon out of loft and home.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, pigeons,  both domestic and feral, face danger from the biggest pest of all....

Homo sapiens....

specifically three subtypes...

Homo sapiens birdnappus (THIEVES)
This happens more often in Europe than in Canada. It could be because Pigeon Racing is more popular there, nonetheless, locking a loft can be a common sense prevention technique. Keep a look out for unfamiliar people that hang around your loft. In a string of cases last year in the UK, the targets were high profile fanciers with the birds being sold in the East European markets.

Read here for a case that happened recently in the UK.

Homo sapiens bigguns  (POACHERS)
Are also technically, thieves, however, the pigeons that are birdnapped from the streets of New York City are not only the feral variety, they taken for different purposes - either as food or to serve as unvoluntary participants in live pigeon shoots in rural Pennsylvania.

The New York Times recently published an article about this unfortunate phenonmenom. Click here to read more.

Homo sapiens mischiefkids (VANDALS)

Recently, two boys, not even teenagers were arrested for breaking into a loft and going on a pigeon killing spree in Sumter, South Carolina.

Well, hopefully, I did not scare you too much.  Now as you race to Canadian Tire to purchase hundreds of dollar of surveillance equipment, I will remind you, that the above cases are rare, and a simple padlock can probably deter most thieves and vandals.

Coming Soon:  History of Lofts and How to build a simple loft.

Photo Sources:
Peregrine in Flight:
Kevin Cole from FlickR

Peregrine: Tom Curtis

Cat:  Luigi Diamanti

Red-tailed Hawk:  Liz Noffsinger

Mouse: (John Good, NPS Photo)

Owl:  Tina Phillips


Raven:  Rick Leche

Short-tailed Weasel (Ermine)
Birdfreak.com  from FlickR

Jun 2, 2010

Virtual Loft: The Pigeons Come Home and the Race Results

They say Pigeon Racing is the sport with 'one starting line but a thousand finish lines'.

In my previous post on the Shipping Night, I mentioned how the birds would be shipped to a location and released the next day (usually Saturday for the Tillsonburg club).  Although I was unable to go to the Release myself, here is a clip that shows what a typical pigeon release is like, although this release is with thousands, not hundreds of birds:

Once released, the birds then fly anywhere from 100-700 km home, depending on the race.  There can be more than one race a week.  In this case the two locations were Stouffville and Fowler's Corners - avg 115 km-As the Crow er Pigeon Flies.  Some races can go as far as St. Jerome and Grande Mere in Quebec, 600 and 740 km respectively. 

I went to Nick, my Pigeon Liasion's Loft to watch the birds come home.  While there, I took some pics of his loft; I will post these in my upcoming post on building and starting a loft.

Waiting for the pigeons to come home is an anxious process.  Every robin, sparrow and blackbird you see is a pigeon at first glance.  I even saw a bird of prey circling - I asked Nick if he thinks it would be a threat; he wasn't worried - the bird, some kind of hawk - has always left his birds alone.

To record their finish time, the birds land on a sensor antenna below the landing platform.  This senses the microchip in the band.  A close up of the device is on the right.
The 'finish line' aka 'Bucking Bars' stops the pigeon from escaping the way they came in. 

About to cross the finish line... 

Two across, one still outside.

This clock is connected to the sensor antenna and records the time the bird entered the loft.  Clocks can be expensive, so that is why the CRPU has the Loan-A-Clock Program for beginners.  Most clocks are Unikon brand clocks - click here for more info on Unikon.

The module on top of the clock is brought back to the Club House, with this club it is usually on Sunday, but that can change if the race was delayed due to inclement weather.

The modules here are from various race participants.

They are placed in a clock and the results are tabulated on the computer using specific software.  The Fowlers Corners race consisted of 195 Birds from 12 lofts, with 182 birds clocked.  A total of 66 prizes were awarded (top 1/3 of the birds).  The winner is the bird with the fastest speed in metres per minute. The Stoufville race consisted of 89 birds from 8 lofts, with 81 birds clocked.  A total of 30 prizes was awarded.  At the banquet at the end of the season, there will be an award ceremony with the winners will be bestowed a plaque.
Coming Soon: How to Start a Loft and the Pigeon World's Most Least Wanted: The Top 10 Pigeon Predators and Pests

May 26, 2010

Virtual Loft: Old Bird Shipping Night

To find out a little more about the Pigeon World, I attended an Old Bird Shipping Night a few weeks ago.
I arrived early, around 6:30 pm on a Friday Night.  Friday is when the birds are shipped out, depending on the weather.  Nick, my liasion into this unique subculture had me help him carry in his pigeons.  I cringed as I forgot to wear my grubby clothes.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the bottoms were covered and no chance of pigeon poop making onto my clothes.  The baskets were not that heavy, but kind of awkward if you never carried one before.  They come in various styles:

This by far was the most popular model of carrier.  With wooden dowels at the top, and mesh side that allow for optimum ventilation, it's favoured by both pigeon and racer alike.
This similar model below was also popular, although the ventilation was not as great.

This model on the chair, is made from Aluminum.  It was not as common as other models.  To me it kind of looked like a 'paddy wagon' for birds.
I looked, but there was no 'Brinks' logo ;)

As the pigeons came in they would set the baskets down on chairs, like the one above.  Nick, meanwhile, set up the equipment that would register the birds in the race near the back of the clubhouse.

The Instrument below on the left is used for registering the birds.  The one on the right records the information.
After the birds are registered, they are loaded into a basket.  Which one depends on their gender, or what race they are flying in.

Next the birds carried out to the trucks waiting outside.

When the trucks were all loaded up they would travel to the 401 to meet a transport that was meeting other trucks from other clubs in the Combine.  Birds are usually raced Saturday morning, except in cases of inclement weather.  However, the day could be different, depending on the Club.

Coming Soon:  Waiting for the Birds to Come Home, and going to a Clock Off to find out the winner.

May 17, 2010

Who Wants to be a Pigeon Racer?

So you've become interested in racing pigeons.

Whatever the reason - you've always had a fascination with their innate homing abilities and incredible speed.  Or perhaps a friend or family racer races.  Or, you've driven by a loft and thought it looked neat.  Or could it be you heard of Mike Tyson's upcoming reality show on racing pigeons.

However you heard about it, your interest is piqued and you want to learn more.  Before you go nuts and starting building a loft ask yourself - am I the right kind of person for this?  What do I need to do?  How can I find out more information?  What are the benefits?


What Kind of Person Does it Take?

It helps if you like birds, especially pigeons, since that's the only bird that is raced in Pigeon Racing.  (In case you are wondering, it is one particular species - the Racing Homer (Columba livia).)

Most pigeon racers are pretty competitive.  It also takes some dedication, and hard work.  A positive attitude helps too - you can't be a poor sport, because odds are if you are new, you won't win right away.

Most importantly, you must like to keep pets and be a pretty responsible person - its going to take some work, but the rewards are going to be great.

What are the Benefits?

One of the common responses to this question is - seeing your hard work pay off. When you do start winning some races, the fact that something you raised, feed, cared for and trained has won, is a feeling of great satisfaction.

Meet new people - some if not all clubs have a clubhouse for socializing and there are events held around the country that you can travel to.

Teach responsibility, learn breeding techniques, how to care for animals. If you are a parent looking for an activity that would provide your child with some or all of those opportunities, it can be a great sport for the entire family to enjoy.

Research, Research, Research
Look more into the sport to know what to expect.

CRPU Website
American Racing Pigeon Union Website
Ad Schaerlaeckens
Racing Pigeon Digest
Racing Pigeon Mall

Check out the sidebar for some other informative links.
Ok, I'm still interested, how do I start?Still interested?  Phone Monik at the Canadian Racing Pigeon Union Head office 1-866-652-5704.  She's really nice and will be happy to answer all your questions!

Coming Soon - How to join the CU and a Pigeon Racing Club.

May 11, 2010

I Don't Know Squab

So what's my expertise in the pigeon-verse?

Virtually none.

The only thing I knew about pigeons before my gig as the CRPU's Special Events Coordinator, was that Pigeons were a pretty intelligent bird, forming the trifecta of animal behavioural research subjects (along with primates and lab mice).

In the past weeks, these are the most interesting things I learned about my new feathered BFFs:

Pigeons and Doves and Dodos, Oh my!

Pigeons belong to the family Columbidae which also includes Doves and the exinct Dodo bird. For more info on the family tree click here.

They have been used since ancient times

They are said to be the first domesticated bird.  Although there are disputes on the exact date, they may have been used for food as far back as 3000 BCE.  Click here for more info on pigeons in antiquity and other historical uses. 

They are war heroes

Although most think of GI Joe as a line of action figures, it was also the name of a carrier pigeon in the United States Army Pigeon Service that saved over one thousand lives.  For this he was awarded the Dickin Medal.  Click here for other famous War Pigeons.

Frequent Flyers

Although there is a discrepancy on the exact speed, homing pigeons can fly up to 95 km/h (59 mph), and average a speed around 48 km/h (30 mph).  Pigeons races are usually in kilometres between 150-250 (short) , 250-350 (medium) ,400-600 (long).  Although distances of up to 1000 km have been covered.

All the News that's Fit to Fly

New service Reuters used carrier pigeons to close the gap in the telegraph line between Brussels and Berlin in its early days.  This was not the first time pigeons have been used, to carry news.  Click here for a history of the pigeon post.

They have the world’s weirdest celebrity entourage

Noah, was a pigeon fancier of biblical proportions.  Even Royalty is a fan of our feathered friends.  Queen Elizabeth II, reigning monarch of England and the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley kept pigeons.    And, probably the biggest pigeon fan of all - former heavyweight champion Iron Mike Tyson, who has a reality show about pigeon racing to debut in 2011.

They produce milk for their young

Pigeons are one of three birds that produce 'milk' in their crop which they regurgitate for their young.  This highly nutritious substance is not like mammalian milk at all in appearance - it is said to more closely resemble cottage cheese. It does however produce sustenance for the young, and includes more fat and protein than human or cow milk.

How moo-ving.

Thank you, thank you, I'll be posting all week =)

Coming Soon:  Joining the World of Pigeon Racers, and Pigeon Terminology A-Z. 

May 3, 2010

Hello Blogosphere!

My first post!

I am relatively new to both the Blogging and Pigeon Racing Worlds.

Each month I will make about 2-3 posts about my new experiences in the Pigeon Racing World. I will also bring you interesting facts about pigeons, helpful links and friendly advice that will hopefully help pigeon racers both new and experienced.

I am going to be running a 'virtual loft' of 10-12 squeakers. I will not be in charge of the pigeons in an operational sense, nor is the loft at my house, but I will be posting my various experiences (banding birds, attending shippings, feeding them, etc).

If you would like to suggest topics or provide some constructive criticism, feel free to in the Comment section.

Coming Soon:

Fun Facts I learned about pigeons

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