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Dear readers,

I want to thank you for all your support and interest in the years I’ve been posting stories, photos and videos of Georgie and Elmo pigeons. I really appreciate the comments, photos and stories you’ve shared with me.

It has been an experience living with such wonderful birds and I am delighted that I’ve been able to portray this to others and to also help a little in dispelling the myths about pigeons. I expect that my life with Georgie and Elmo will still be filled with wonder and suprises, however, I sadly haven’t got the time to write about them as in depth as I would like anymore.

I shall continue to post photos and videos of my pigeons on Pigeons as Pets Facebook and YouTube pages, so please continue to follow their story.

You can find all the posts from the beginning (Jan 2010) in our Archive folder above if you want to revisit (or visit for the first time) the adventures Elmo and Georgie have had.

Once again,

Thank you!!


It is not often that you see a pigeon of this colour:

2014-06-24 12.46.55

2014-06-24 12.47.21

This poor roller pigeon was found in a garden and brought to my work (a veterinary practice) for assessment. As soon as I saw him I could see that he was very thin and needed care. We placed him in a warm cage with food and water, and left him to settle. The pigeon perked up after a while but was too weak to be interested in the food and water. I dipped his beak in the water to tempt him and he took the most pitiful little sip. My heart was breaking. I willed him to stay strong and survive his ordeal.

After examining him I found him to be in sound condition, no breaks or injuries, but simply extremely thin as if he had been lost for a while and unable to find any food (I’m not a vet, by the way, but I have worked with wildlife casualties, especially birds). It is a miracle that this pigeon wasn’t caught by a predator – his colouration making him an easy target (but I guess that some predator species do not see the same colours we do). The heat pad did its magic and the pigeon started eating a bit and looked livelier, however, it will take some time for him to regain his health and have strength to fly.

2014-06-24 12.47.06

The unusual thing is that this pigeon doesn’t have a metal identification ring on, only a plastic ring (ok, the second most unusal thing about him after being pink). I assumed that all fancy pigeons were ringed after they hatched so that their owners or breeders could identify them. So finding the owner of this pigeon will be impossible as the plastic ring hasn’t got any identification numbers on it.

I did manage to speak to someone at a roller pigeon club and they told me that roller pigeons are sometimes dyed different colours so that the owners can tell them apart when they are flying and doing their acrobatics. So that explains the pink dye.

We will have to find this pigeon a new home since he’s not a feral pigeon and won’t survive out in the wild. I shall keep you updated once I have more news on his progress.

2014-06-24 12.46.49

Previous posts about painted pigeons: Painted pigeons – is it right?, Pretty in pink?, and Promoting feral pigeons – by painting them?

26th June UPDATE:

“Pink” pigeon has gone to Blyth Wildlife Rescue for long-term care and rehabilitation. He is now in an aviary with other pigeons, settling in well, although looking the odd one out. :) We are grateful for everyone at Blyth Wildlife Rescue for taking him. Please visit their website and Facebook page to support them.

 


The subject of predators is always a touchy one. Many people don’t like to see animals being killed by others, especially when it isn’t a quick, clean kill. However, the fact of life is that there are species born to be predators and species born to be their prey. And pigeons and doves are definitely a prey species.

Witnessing the attack, or aftermath of an attack, of a predator on a pigeon is traumatic, especially if it is one of your own. No one wants to lose their pigeon in such a horrific manner. When I worked at a wildlife rescue centre I saw the results of such attacks, and thankfully we were sometimes able to mend and rehabilitate the victims. But each case was heartbreaking and people would often say to me how cruel predators are. I actually disagree. I don’t see animals as being cruel to one another when they are hunting for food. They do what they have to do. Doesn’t mean I like to see it happen (or the results of an attack), but I don’t hate predator species.

There are many species that predate on pigeons and doves. Birds of prey, such as peregrine falcons and sparrowhawks, are the main ones, however, domestic cats, foxes, rats, corvids, snakes and dogs can all do their fair share of harm. If you have an aviary that isn’t predator-proof, then you only have yourself to blame if a predator gets in. It is the responsibility of the animal carer to ensure the safety of their animals. So please don’t blame the fox when it breaks into a flimsy chicken wire cage and kills all your chickens or pigeons. By containing birds in a small enclosed space you’re essentially taunting the predators with what they must view as a box full of goodies. Of course they are going to attempt to eat those goodies. Predator proof your aviary!!

Of course, many will state that most domestic cats don’t kill to eat anymore and therefore are cruel, however, cats are still a predator species. They may not have the need to kill for food, but most cats definitely have the urge to hunt. It is in their DNA. Simply domesticating a species doesn’t necessarily change that. However, for some reason cats often get off lightly when they kill birds. Is it because so many people love cats and have them as pets? Sparrowhawks, on the other hand, are usually the target of hatred, particularly here in the UK and certainly amongst the pigeon racing clubs.

Last week I watched in horror as a sparrowhawk chased a feral pigeon in the air, catch it then drop to the ground right in front of me! I was in my car, driving slowly down my street, so when this happened I stopped. The sparrowhawk and I stared at each other for a second. Before I could get out of my car the sparrowhawk released the pigeon, who flew away quickly. He didn’t look injured but I knew he would have some painful puncture wounds on his body from the hawk’s claws (I’ve held sparrowhawks before and had one sink its claws into my hand so I know from experience how painful it is), and it upset me that I couldn’t help the pigeon further. I have to hope the wounds heal quickly. The sparrowhawk flew away too, most likely to hunt another bird.

Now, I’ve never actually seen the chase and capture before so it was a shock to witness it (both birds flew incredibly quickly). There was no way I was going to allow the hawk to rip open a pigeon right in front of me. I know that it has to eat but I don’t want to see it happen. I will always stop it from happening if I can – and I’ve interrupted a few sparrowhawks from killing pigeons and doves in the past (there was one that visited the rescue centre every now and then to have a go at the local birds) – but it doesn’t make me hate sparrowhawks. Even after everything I’ve seen from injured birds, I still don’t dislike birds of prey. They are beautiful, skillful and amazing birds. They are built for speed and agility. And do you know what? Pigeons are also built for speed. Pigeons are amazing flyers and can escape from the chase of a sparrowhawk. In fact, predators usually have to hunt many times a day in order to get just one kill. Most of their prey escape, therefore predators have to try harder.

Of course, certain domesticated pigeons, e.g. fancy pigeons, do not stand a chance against predators, what with their unusual feathers or body shape. Erecting a pretty white dovecote with pretty white fantail doves in the garden is simply asking for trouble. Fantails are not good flyers and will be easily killed by most predators.

Free flying pigeons are also going to be targets of predators. Hand-reared tame pigeons are more vulnerable because many lack an awareness of the threat of predators (especially if they have been hand-reared with dogs and cats). So if you let your pigeon fly freely then you have to accept the fact that a bird of prey may one day attack. It will be up to you to decide whether the risk is minimal compared to the gains and joys of freedom and make the choice that you feel comfortable with. My choice is easier to make since both my pigeons cannot fly properly anyway, so they stay indoors and any time outside is heavily supervised.

I have hand-reared, cared for and rehabilitated many bird and mammal species at the wildlife rescue centre, both predator and prey species. I have fallen in love with the warning clicks of a baby owl, the adorable look of a baby magpie, the insistent squeaks of a baby pigeon, as well as the stubborn, defensive glares of a sparrowhawk chick. Ultimately, all baby species are adorable so for me it was inevitable to fall in love with them. :)

A few photos of sparrowhawks cared for at the wildlife rescue centre I worked at. They have piercing stares, even the juvenile one!

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Juvenile sparrowhawk

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Adult sparrowhawk

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Adult sparrowhawk


How to stop a pigeon from laying eggs

As a proud owner of a female pigeon there is one subject that crops up nearly every month, and that is the subject of egg laying. More specifically, how to stop a pigeon from continuous egg laying. As any person who owns a female pigeon will know, pigeons are prolific egg layers. They don’t need to be mated in order to lay eggs. They just need to feel it is the right time and that they have the right mate and nesting area (although the latter isn’t always the case – many of us have seen photos of pigeons who have laid an egg on the exposed floor!). The right mate can indeed be human. Many pigeons will bond with one human in the household and will court and try to start a family with that human. This behaviour may amuse us, but it is serious business for the pigeon. They want to have babies and will go through all the feelings, hormone changes, and behaviours associated with breeding and nesting. A lack of result, e.g. no babies, may be frustrating or even sorrowful for the pigeon.

So what should we do about this? Do we find a pigeon mate for the pigeon and let them breed? (This won’t solve the problem of chronic egg laying but may help the pigeon psychologically.) But what will happen to the babies? Considering the breeding efficiency of pigeons, you may soon be overrun with their offspring.

In general, feral pigeons can breed throughout the year, as long as there is enough food and shelter for them to do so. Some pigeons take a break during the winter months, some don’t. Feral pigeons will lay two eggs at a time. They incubate for about 18 days, then the squabs will be fed by both parents until they are ready to leave the nest when they are 30 days old. By this time the parents may have already produced another clutch of eggs (at around day 20), and the cycle continues.

So after considering a pigeons breeding efficiency your pet pigeon could be laying 24 eggs a year! (at least!) All this takes a lot of time and energy, and the female pigeon will need to be well fed and have access to calcium and vitamin D for egg production and laying (calcium is taken from the body to create the egg shell). Too many eggs without enough calcium will cause egg-binding or deformed eggs (see photo below for a smaller sized egg my pigeon once laid).

P1100176Left: normal sized pigeon egg. Right: deformed smaller pigeon egg

Chronic egg-laying can cause a number of serious health problems for birds, and can ultimately lead to the death of the female if left untreated.

“Chronic egg-laying in the pet bird poses a significant threat to the health and behavioral well being of many pet birds. When a hen lays repeated clutches or larger than normal clutch size without regard to the presence of a normal mate or confined breeding season, a myriad of secondary problems can follow. Ultimately, functional exhaustion of the reproductive tract poses risk of metabolic and physiological drain on the bird, particularly on calcium and energy stores. All of these ultimately predispose the hen to egg binding, dystocia, yolk coelomitis, oviductal impaction, oviductal torsion, cloacal prolapse and osteoporosis.” Ask an Expert: Chronic egg laying by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM

“Chronic egg laying will deplete calcium, thus causing myriad health problems. One of which is the condition known as hypocalcaemia – With calcium at a low level, the uterine muscles are unable to contract and push the egg out resulting in egg binding. Hypocalcaemia can also cause seizure-like activity and brittle bones, which can be easily fractured. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to prevent excessive egg laying. The first step in treating chronic egg laying is to put your bird on a complete diet. A bird that is on a balanced diet is in little danger of the health problems associated with chronic egg laying.” From: http://www.avianweb.com/egglaying.html

The following article has good advice about egg-binding:

“Calcium is used by the body to not only form the shell of the developing egg and maintain strong bones, but is also crucial in the proper functioning of the muscles. While it does take a large amount of calcium to form an egg shell, the hen also needs calcium for the muscle action needed to expel the egg.

“Vitamin d3 is crucial in the absorption of calcium. Without it, all that good calcium we offer our birds passes right through the body without being absorbed. In outdoor flights, our birds are able to produce d3 via a chemical reaction to sunlight. In indoor flights, they are unable to do this. Sunlight through a window is not sufficient. The ultraviolet light needed does not pass through window glass. Full spectrum lights can help but some studies have shown that the ultraviolet is only at sufficient levels at less than one foot from the light source. For inside birds, a d3 supplement is almost always helpful.” Egg Binding by Carol Heesen

The solution

In order to help reduce the strain egg development and laying causes the female pigeon, it is probably a good idea to discourage egg laying altogether. There are different thoughts on this and some methods may work for your pigeon, while for others it may not. It is up to you to ensure that your pigeon is healthy physically and mentally. Please read the following recommendations:

All about reducing the laying of eggs by the racing pigeon

Diet

Seed availability in the wild is generally only high during breeding season, so an abundance of seeds in the diet is a stimulus to breed.

• Providing a good quality, balanced diet with restricted seed will not only help to reduce laying, but provide better nutrition to keep her healthy and better prepared to lay eggs and fight disease.

Day Length

In the wild, birds generally breed in spring and summer, a time of increasing day length.

• By covering the loft or the windows in the evening at about 6pm, the hormones that stimulate laying will be reduced. As well as reducing mating/egg laying behavior, this will help to ensure a good night rest for your pigeons, which is very important.

Presence of a mate

Pigeons do not need to mate in order to lay eggs. They do usually need to think that they have a partner. A lot of the individual attention the pigeon fanciers will give to the pigeons can be interpreted by them as partner stimulation, and as such it needs to be minimized to the strict minimum.

• We recommend that you don’t cuddle or stroke your pigeons below the neck.

• Training basic obedience and trick training is a great way to interact with your pigeons in a healthier manner.

Nesting Site

Pigeons are more likely to lay eggs if they have a nest. This may be a nest or box, newspaper or material at the bottom of a cage.

• Do NOT provide any nesting material for a pigeon if you don’t want her to lay.

Presence of eggs

• If your pigeons does lay eggs, leave them in the cage for the normal incubation period – approximately 3 weeks for most strain.

• The presence of eggs in a cage stimulates hormones in your bird which decreases the chances of more eggs.

(From: All about reducing the laying of eggs by the racing pigeon)

More information on discouraging egg laying in birds: Egg laying in birds

10 things you can do at home to stop your bird from laying eggs

1. Put your bird to bed early, by 5 or 6:00 p.m. A long day length is one of the most important environmental cues triggering egg laying in birds. By allowing your bird to stay up late, you are mimicking the long days of spring/summer, making your bird think it is time to breed. An early bedtime will help to turn off her breeding hormones. Note that she will need complete darkness and quiet for this to be effective (covering the cage while the radio or TV is on is not adequate!).

2. Keep your bird away from dark, enclosed spaces. Most parrots are cavity nesters, which means that instead of building a nest out in the open they look for dark, enclosed spaces in which to lay their eggs. In order to stop your bird from laying eggs it is essential that she is kept away from such areas. Nest boxes should be promptly removed. Birds can be ingenious when looking for a nesting site (under a couch, behind the microwave, even in the dryer!), so it is important that she is under close supervision when out of the cage.

3. Keep your bird away from other birds to which she is bonded. Having a mate is a strong stimulus for your bird to lay. This mate may be a member of the opposite sex, another female bird, or even a bird of a different species. Separating your bird from the other birds in your household will help turn off her hormones.

4. Discourage breeding behavior in your bird. Some birds will display breeding behaviors with their favorite person, such as vent-rubbing, tail lifting, or regurgitating food. Discourage these behaviors by putting your bird back in her cage for a “time out” whenever she displays them. Don’t pet your bird on her back or under her tail, as this can be sexually stimulating.

5. Remove your bird’s “love-toys”. Some single birds will display mating behaviors with objects in their environment, such as food cups, toys, perches, or mirrors. Mating behaviors include regurgitating food, vent rubbing, and tail lifting. If your bird engages in these behaviors with an inanimate object, that object should be permanently removed from her environment.

6. Rearrange the cage interior and change the cage location. Your bird is more likely to lay eggs in a cage that hasn’t changed in a while. Putting your bird in a different cage and/or changing the cage location can help discourage laying. Changing the arrangement or types of toys, dishes, and perches in the cage can also be very helpful.

7. Give your bird optimal nutrition and provide full spectrum light. Producing and laying eggs robs your bird of the vitamins, proteins, and calcium she needs to stay healthy. It is especially crucial during the breeding season that she is on a complete and balanced diet, which in most cases will be a pelleted diet. A seed diet supplemented with vitamins is not adequate. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a pelleted diet for your bird. Full spectrum sunlight is necessary for your bird’s calcium metabolism, and can be provided by unfiltered sunlight or by a full spectrum flourescent bulb.

8. Avoid removing the eggs which your bird has already laid. Sometimes the easiest way to turn off the egg-laying cycle is to allow your bird to sit on her eggs. If your bird lays a few eggs and then sits on them, leave the eggs in the cage for 21 days or until she loses interest. If however she does not stop at 3 – 4 eggs and continues laying, this strategy may not work, and you should call your avian veterinarian for further suggestions.

9. Ask your veterinarian about hormone injections. In certain cases of excessive egg-laying, your veterinarian may recommend hormone injections in addition to the above environmental and dietary changes. Hormone injections are relatively safe and can help reduce egg-laying in some birds. The effectiveness of hormone injections varies from bird to bird and can not be accurately predicted beforehand.

10. When in doubt, ask your avian veterinarian. If you have questions or concerns regarding your bird’s health, or if the above changes do not stop your bird from laying, please give your avian veterinarian a call.

Author: Hilary S. Stern, DVM

From: http://www.forthebirdsdvm.com/pages/discouraging-breeding-behavior-in-pet-birds


When we first adopted Georgie and Elmo we lived in a flat with no garden. Since both pigeons are disabled we knew they would always be indoor pigeons, however, I felt uneasy about their lack of access to the green green world. A year or so later we moved to a flat with a garden attached and I was able to take Elmo and Georgie outside under supervision. We bought a large rabbit run as well as a bird harness so that our pigeons could be outside safely. (One of the reasons why: Fly, birdie, fly!)

One of the major disadvantages of keeping a pigeon predominantly indoors is the lack of ultraviolet light (UV light) they receive. This is not something to be taken lightly of. Direct sunshine is required for vitamin D production (which helps the absorption of calcium), which is essential for healthy bone growth and strength. It is not enough to simply put a caged bird near a window to receive sunlight since the UV part of sunshine that helps vitamin D production is filtered out when going through window glass and therefore the bird won’t receive the benefits. Since birds can see UV light (feathers reflect it) a lack of UV light can also affect a birds behaviour, particularly its breeding behaviour.

Experts recommend shining a specialised bird UV lamp on an indoor bird for a minimum of 4 hours per day. Never use a reptile or fish UV lamp (or a plant grow light!) as they don’t have the correct spectrum for birds. An avian UV lamp should have 12% UV-a (for behaviour) and 2.4% UV-b (for calcium). Arcadia sell avian UV lamps: Arcadia bird lamp

For more information: The Essential Nutrient Your Pet Bird is Likely Seriously Short On… and Ultraviolet Lighting and Birds

Please watch this video on the subject:

In our past veterinary visits with Georgie and Elmo the vet has always asked, “Do you provide UV light?” So I knew how important it was for our pigeons but I had my reservations about one aspect of it. And it’s this: Georgie hates bright lights. And I mean HATES. Here’s what happened when she met a lava lamp: Explosive behaviour (For those of you who don’t know this, Georgie has distorted pupils and scarring on her eyes so she has limited vision. She can, however, see bright lights and movement.)

As I’ve written numerous times before, if my camera light goes on Georgie will back away. If the flash goes off then Georgie will wing slap me! So what is Georgie going to do with a super bright UV light shining on her?!!

But I had to bite the bullet and implement the light for her own well being. Summers being so wet here in the UK it’s not always possible for me to be outside with Georgie and Elmo – and never for many hours a day – so they’re missing out on essential ultraviolet light from the sun.

So I bought a light and turned it on and Georgie started a war campaign against it! And to be honest, I don’t blame her. The thing is BRIGHT!! Hurts my eyes when it’s on!

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Georgie doesn't like the new light

Elmo, on the other hand, doesn’t mind the light at all.

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Elmo fast asleep

To get Georgie used to the light I have to have her on my lap or shoulder while I sit next to the lamp. (I wonder what health benefits I will get from the bird light?) Sometimes she seems to tolerate it, but mostly she’ll become angry when I turn it on. A minimum of 4 hours is asking a lot for her to tolerate I’m afraid. :( I think I’ll have to build up to that slowly.

As I’m typing this I have looked over to the sofa and seen Georgie settled down for a nap next to the lamp. Success!! Maybe she’s realised that the lamp is doing her good. :)

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Georgie and Elmo and the UV light


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.

.

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


I often get asked what many might view as a simple question:

“How can you tell if a pigeon is male or female?”

Telling the sex of a pigeon is actually quite difficult. Even with years of experience people can still get it wrong. However, there are two methods that give good results.

One is to have the bird DNA sexed (from blood, feathers or the eggshell), which I believe is a safer and less intrusive option than surgical sexing. For more about DNA sexing please visit these websites: http://www.avianbiotech.co.uk/dna_sex_testing.asp and http://www.dnasexing.com/index.html

The other method is even less intrusive: Simply wait to see if your pigeon lays an egg! :D

I’ve had a look through the few books I have about pigeons and found this about sexing fancy pigeons (not ferals):

“Sexing young birds with any certainty is 50-50 at best. … Older birds of some breeds can be more reliably sexed, once you gain a little experience. In most breeds, the male’s head is fairly round, but the top of the hen’s skull will typically have a flattened area. In some birds this can be quite pronounced, but again, this is not true in all breeds. The only surefire way to tell a bird’s sex is obvious – the one that lays the egg is the hen, for sure!” (Vriends and Erskine, 2005, page 11 and 14)

“With pigeons the difference between males (cocks) and females (hens) is difficult to see. Sometimes the cocks are a little bit rougher around the edges and a little heavier. The head also offers some clues when trying to determine the gender. This however does depend on breed. The real difference can only be determined through their behaviour. A cock only shows that he is a male when he becomes an adult.” (Rijs, 2006, page 48)

Many people will tell you their method of sexing pigeons is the way to go, such as checking the shape of the head, tipping the bird onto its back (please check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5I4iU4KTJRo), checking the length of the toes, etc., however, I believe that there is no real science behind those methods and you may get an incorrect answer. This is obviously bad if you’re trying to buy a mate for your single pigeon.

Generally speaking male pigeons behave differently than females. When they become sexually mature they’ll start to look for a mate. Hinsaw Patent (1997, page 39-38) has this to say about feral pigeons in the city: “Almost any time a flock of pigeons walks about on the sidewalk pecking up bits of food, at least one male bird will be trying to impress a female. He puffs out his neck feathers so they gleam in the sunlight, and he coos softly as he struts about. The females are just as likely to ignore him as to pay attention.” Sound familiar? :)

Males will do their strutting dance to females, so if you see the dance, it’s usually a male pigeon. For illustrations and videos of the courtship dance, please visit: Pigeon courtship – romance is alive!

However, just to confuse you, I have found that tame/imprinted female pigeons will behave like males towards humans. So you may think you have a tame male pigeon who is cooing to you and dancing about, but in fact it may be a female pigeon who’s trying to get your attention. And since you’re obviously not giving her the right pigeon mate signals, she’s taking on the male role to ensure the relationship is going ahead.

If you have a tame pet pigeon who thinks you’re his or her mate, they will soon want to mate with you and, if they’re female, lay eggs. From my experience with tame pigeons, if the pigeon mates with your hand or an object (by rubbing its vent against you or the desired object) then the pigeon is male. If, when you pat its back, the pigeon crouches down and presents its vent to you (flattening its back and moving its feathers away from the vent) then you have a female pigeon.

Example of female presenting (0:08 and 0:34):

Example of male mating (Elmo isn’t too good with his balance so he cannot actually rub his vent against us – which is good for us!):

And of two pigeons mating (0:29):

Did you notice the male pigeon crouch down (0:42) when the female was walking towards him as if he was presenting himself? Interesting behaviour from a male.

The topic of sexing pigeons is discussed at length in this forum: http://www.pigeons.biz/forums/f5/can-you-tell-male-from-female-5146.html

And the wonderful people at Pigeon Angels suggest presenting a mirror to the pigeon to see if they coo and dance to it (male) or if they ignore the mirror (female): http://www.pigeonangels.com/t2254-how-do-i-tell-the-sex-of-my-pigeons

I’ve not tried the mirror method with my pet pigeon, Georgie, because she cannot see properly anyway – and we know she’s female already because she lays eggs. Elmo ignores the mirror but we know he’s male, so you can take what you want from all of the sexing methods. If in doubt, DNA sexing is your best bet! :)

I love what this man has written about the subject – point three is excellent! – but I don’t suggest the first method at all:

Pigeons, Sex and Investing

Posted by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten on Apr 15, 2007

It is very difficult to determine the sex of a pigeon. There are three ways to do it:

1 – Check their reproductive organs

Not the outer ones but the inner ones. Pigeons genitalia all look alike so you will have to cut them open to actually see what you want to see.

2 – See who goes on top

There isn’t much variation in the sex life of a pigeon. Males go on top. No Kama Sutra here. Fortunately all they do is eat and, well you know, so you won’t have to wait very long to see that happen. But you do need 2 pigeons and some patience.

3 – look at their faces

Yes, pigeons have faces just like humans.

Pigeons hugging

It takes years to be able to read the face of a pigeon. I kept up to 30 pigeons as a kid so I can tell the sex of any pigeon just by looking at it for 2 seconds. Just like with most humans. Humans have the added benefit of clothing, hair and breasts (or not) but even without that a face looks feminine or masculine.

I thought about that as I was watching the Dutch version of Dragons Den. The investors try to look under all those feathers but up close all excel sheets look the same. They try to see who goes on top but then you would have to wait until the entrepreneur meets an actual client.

But once you have met enough starting entrepreneurs one look at someones face is usually enough. You know what you have got and who is a good bet and who isn’t.

Just like with pigeons.

From: http://bomega.com/2007/04/15/pigeons-sex-and-investing/

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REFERENCES:

  • Vriends, M.M. and Erskine, T.E. (2005) Pigeons. A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual. Hauppauge: Barron’s
  • Rijs, A. (2006) Fancy Pigeons. Prague: Rebo Publishers
  • Hinshaw Patent, D. (1997) Pigeons. New York: Clarion Books

I know I cannot avoid it, I know it will be upon us, but I’m mostly uninterested in the upcoming Olympics. However, one piece of news about the 2012 Olympics caught my eye:

London 2012: Olympic dove plane unveiled

3 April 2012 Last updated at 15:34

British Airways has repainted the first of nine A319s with a dove design to mark the London 2012 Olympics.

The artwork by designer Pascal Anson was the result of a contest run by the company and judged by artist Tracey Emin.

It will be seen for the first time on BA’s 1420 Heathrow to Copenhagen flight on Tuesday.

From: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-17600839

The designer Pascal Anson, says that “He chose the dove because as well as being a symbol of peace and social unity, it was used in ancient Olympics as a messenger to send Games reports to outlying villages, and the bird also played a role in Olympics ceremonies such as that at the last London Games in 1948.”

In the video the reporter states that “They’re calling them celebratory aircrafts for the London 2012 games, describing the dove as ‘sweet, lovely and peaceful’.” (Then he ruins it by saying, “Would you agree?”)

It’s nice to see the dove is still being championed as a symbol of peace. Since there is no scientific difference between a dove and a pigeon, will we be able to convince the masses to view the feral pigeon the same as the dove? :) Maybe we should rename all pigeons as “doves” and peoples perception of them will change? What do you think?

More about the new dove planes:

3 April 2012 Last updated at 12:50

London 2012: British Airways Olympics dove plane unveiled

By Michael Hirst
BBC 2012

BA plane painted with London 2012 dove design
It took a 10-strong team 950 man hours to paint the A319 – which carries 132 passengers and is one of the smaller passenger planes in BA’s fleet

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well, actually, it’s a plane painted to look like a bird.

British Airways has repainted the first of nine A319s with a dove design to mark the London 2012 Olympics. The artwork by Brighton-based designer Pascal Anson will be seen for the first time on BA’s 1420 Heathrow to Copenhagen flight on Tuesday.

The design is the result of a contest, run by the company with the aim of promoting British talent in the run up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Turner prize-nominated artist Tracey Emin was on the judging panel which picked Mr Anson’s design from hundreds of entries last July, and she has mentored the Kingston University design tutor throughout the project.

Inspired by planes he saw flying in and out of Gatwick during his commute, Anson said that as a three-dimensional designer, he wanted to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary, while playing with people’s perceptions of flying objects.

“I wanted to do something that would make people stop and think differently about what they were looking at,” he told the BBC. “I’ve often looked up at aircraft landing and wondered if it’s a bird or a plane, and the idea developed from there.”

Scale of a dove

He chose the dove because as well as being a symbol of peace and social unity, it was used in ancient Olympics as a messenger to send Games reports to outlying villages, and the bird also played a role in Olympics ceremonies such as that at the last London Games in 1948.

Pascal Anton with Tracey Emin Tracy Emin mentored Pascal Anson throughout the project

Although Anson wanted to avoid creating a photographic representation of a bird, he did want the design to be dove-like, which meant BA for the first time has painted the whole of the plane’s livery, rather than just its tail-fin.

This created both design and artistic challenges, in terms of scale – as an A319 is 500 times larger than a dove – and surface, in terms of trying to get the soft lines of the dove’s feathers onto the hard metallic surface of the plane.

He wanted to use a metallic colour but metallic paints are not allowed on aircraft as they interfere with radar signal so a new mica resin was mixed to give the bright gold finish – a colour which the team have dubbed “dove gold”.

BA’s operations manager for external appearance, David Barnes, said the job was the most complex his team had undertaken – both because of the intricacy of the design, and the fact that it encompassed the whole plane.

Emin praised the completed work at the plane’s unveiling on Tuesday, saying she liked the way it “brings back back the excitement of travel”.

“I will constantly be looking up every time I hear a plane fly over,” she said. “You never know, maybe I will turn into a plane-spotter.”

From: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17565838


Humans don’t have the monopoly on motion sickness. Many species can become ill from travelling in a car, something that I never really thought about before – so when my semi-blind pet pigeon, Georgie, started to throw up during car journeys, I was a bit surprised. My poor girl – it must be worst for her since her vision is blurred already from her scarred eyes. (Read up on the causes of motion sickness: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Motion-sickness/Pages/Causes.aspx).

Elmo, on the other hand, is a trouper in the car. Nothing in the car fazed him. When we drove down to Cornwall (a 6 hour journey for us) Elmo was quite content in his travel cage – eating, sleeping and cooing happily. No motion sickness for him. (We didn’t take Georgie with us because we already knew she didn’t like travelling. She had to stay with a pet sitter.)

There doesn’t seem to be much online about motion sickness in birds – only the usual instructions on slowly introducing longer car journeys to help the bird get used to the motion (which I don’t think would work with Georgie because she vomits after 10 minutes of being in a moving car) – and some people suggest giving ginger or camomile tea to sooth the gut. I haven’t tried those on Georgie yet since we haven’t had the need to take her anywhere lately, but one day I’d like to take her on holiday with us so we need to have a plan in order.

I would really appreciate hearing your experiences with motion sickness in birds – particularly pigeons – and if you know more about the science behind it all, please let me know! :)

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Elmo in his travel cage

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Georgie hops into my case when I'm packing


I would like to thank everyone for their amazing support after reading my last post, Under attack.

THANK YOU!!!

You’ve all been wonderful and lovely in your comments and views. The world is a much better place with you in it. :)

While I know in my heart that I’m doing the right thing to provide a safe and loving home for Elmo and Georgie and no one will be able to convince me otherwise, I feel a bit sad that someone else disagrees so much. It’s silly, really, to get upset about it when I know that there will always be someone who will not be able to understand what wonderful creatures pigeons are. When I look at my two darling pigeons I cannot help but think, “Who in their right mind would want to harm them?”

Elmo and Georgie send everyone their love!!

This is one of my favourite photos of Georgie snuggling up to me (photo taken in 2008):

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Revati and Georgie

Elmo has such trust in us that he’ll fall fast asleep without a worry in the world:

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Richard and Elmo