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I discovered a useful and insightful website by Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) about the genetic welfare problems of companion animals: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/geneticwelfareproblems.php

UFAW is a charity dedicated to promoting and developing improvements in the welfare of all animals, mainly through scientific and eductional activity.

The website is an information resource for prospective breeders and pet owners, and highlights which breeds of domestic animals have genetic welfare problems. Included in their list is a selection of fancy pigeon breeds: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/PIGEONS.php

The two main issues with fancy pigeons they write about is Abnormal Feathers and Rolling and Tumbling behaviour.

The website is worth a read to understand the problems these fancy pigeon breeds have and what are the welfare implications. You will find information on the clinical and pathological effects of the condition, the intensity and duration of welfare impact, number of animals affected, diagnosis, genetics, how to determine if an animal is a carrier, as well as methods and prospects for elimination of the problem.

Abnormal Feathers

Breed examples: Bokhara Trumpeter, Dresden Trumpeter, English Fantail, English Pouter, English Trumpeter, Ghent Cropper, Hungarian Giant House, Indian Fantail, Jacobin, Lahore Pigeon, Old Dutch Capuchine, Old German Cropper, Reversewing Pouter, Saxon Fairy Swallow, Tiger Swallow, Trumpeter

Condition: Abnormal Feathers

Related terms: feathered feet, hoods, fantails

Outline: Various breeds of pigeons have been selected for a range of plumage abnormalities: abnormalities of feather size, position and number. Examples include: a hood or mane of feathers covering the head and eyes, feathered legs and feet (“muffs” or “leggings”), and fantails. These variously compromise capacities for locomotion (walking, perching and flight), for mating and rearing young, for feeding and probably also for maintaining thermal comfort. The effects these have on the birds’ quality of life is difficult to assess but it seems likely that they are negative.” (From: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/ABNORMALFEATHERS.php)

The extreme feathering on some pigeon breeds interferes with their normal behaviour. Fantails, for example, have tail feathers that are held constantly fanned out which severely affect the aerodynamics of the pigeon, compromising their ability to fly and escape predators. Breeds with hoods or manes are often unable to raise their own young, which have to be fostered by pigeons with normal plumage. Long leg and feet feathers interfere with normal walking, perching and flying (by acting as aerial brakes during flight). Abnormal feathering can also become more easily soiled and lead to disease and parasites if the pigeon is unable to keep its feathers clean.

The below photo is of a rescued Indian Fantail who has broken tail feathers from improper housing. He was rehomed but has difficulty preening and often his tail and leg feathers have to be washed by hand to keep them clean.

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Indian Fantail

The below photo is of a fancy pigeon with extra long leg feathers which restrict his movement and perching abilities, as well as being easily soiled. Another problem with such feathering is the danger of them becoming damaged or broken, which can lead to bleeding if a blood feather is broken.

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Notice the long white feathers on this pigeon's feet.

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Rolling and Tumbling

Breed: Roller and Tumbler Pigeons – For example: Armenian Tumbler, Australian Performing Tumbler, Berlin Short-Faced Tumbler, English Long-Faced Tumbler, English Short-Faced Tumbler, Iranian Highflying Tumbler, Komorner Tumbler, Parlor Roller, Parlor Tumbler, Syrian Coop Tumbler, West of England Tumbler

Condition: Rolling and tumbling

Related terms: backward somersaulting, rolldowns

Outline: The roller and tumbler breeds of pigeon have been selected for tumbling behaviour in flight, to the extent that some tumblers can no longer fly but, instead, tumble as soon as they intend to take wing. (This abnormal behaviour is exploited in competitions in which owners of these pigeons compete to find whose bird covers the most ground by tumbling over it.) The consequences to the birds are difficult to assess but are clearly adverse when they lead to injuries due to hitting the ground or tumbling over it.” (From: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/ROLLINGTUMBLINGPIGEONS.php)

 

More videos of this behaviour and activity: Video Friday: Rollers and Tumblers

Besides the obvious welfare issues of injuries caused by tumbling and rolling behaviour (e.g. from collisions with the ground or objects), it is also disturbing their natural desire to fly normally, especially as a flight response to danger, thus possibly being a cause for fear-related stress and distress.

Below is a photo of Turk, who we believe to be a tumbler pigeon, possibly a Turkish Takla. I have witnessed him do backflips in the air when he tries to fly down from a perch to the ground in the aviary where he lives. Each time his behaviour indicates that the backflips are not voluntary and seem to inconvenience him. He always hesitates each time he wants to fly down. An indication of a lack of desire to fly because of how the backflips make him feel? This may be my subjective point of view but as pointed out on the website, it may be a source of frustration if the pigeon is unable to control the tumbling behaviour.

Turk

Turk, the Turkish Takla pigeon