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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


Birdie

Birdie girl

We want you to welcome “Birdie girl” into Dora’s extended family.

Birdie girl, as she’s named by her carers, was found as a baby last spring and was hand-reared. She seemed to be a slow developer or maybe she was simply so happy with her carers, but she only started eating for herself after 6 months of being hand-fed!! She then began making nests and laying eggs in the usual female way and seemed quite happy in her home, however, a month or so ago Birdie became stressed and started to pluck out her feathers. Her carers thought that it may be a lack of a mate that was stressing her so they contacted my work to see if we could find her one.

Birdie is too tame to be released, and since there are two single males in the resident fancy and disabled pigeon aviary at my work, we decided to give her a home with the hopes that she will pair up with one of the single boys.

And here’s the two boys, Davey (the white pigeon) and Button (the grey feral), cooing and dancing to Birdie on her first day in her new home (the boys stop when Birdie comes close to me):

I hope Birdie likes her new home and finds either Davey or Button a suitable match. I’m sure both the boys will prance about like little clowns to attract her attention. I’ll keep you posted if I see a romance blossoming. :)

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Pigeons eating


We had some lovely visitors the other day – much to Elmo’s delight! He couldn’t get enough of them. Cooing and dancing around their feet and outstretched hands, Elmo entertained them and I hope captured their hearts! :)

George was mostly silent and let Elmo do his thing. She’s shy.

It was so nice to meet new people who love pigeons, so thank you J and M for popping round! :)

In other news, Elmo’s white wing feather has fallen out! Oh no! I’ll have to record how quickly it grows back because I’m not sure how quickly feather growth occurs. It will be interesting to find out.

Elmo has been very angry at me lately, constantly following and trying to attack me. I don’t know what I’ve done to piss him off but I’m trying to keep out of his way so he can settle down and not fret about me.

Also, Elmo has taken a shine to Richard’s Dremel case. It’s big, it’s blue and by all accounts Elmo should hate it but for some bizzare reason he doesn’t. Elmo has been standing on it and cooing to it and I think he tried to mate with it at one point. … What a confused boy!

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I tried sneaking a photo of Georgie but she reacted too quickly for me, so here she is not in the relaxed mode I wanted to show you but with her hackles raised!

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Some interesting and very beautiful finds. If I had any natural talent or inclination I would be an artist. I will be eternally jealous of those who can create. (I thought I had already posted these links but I hadn’t, so here there are now.)

Here are some links to artists who create on feathers, with feathers or with eggs:

JBW Studio – Little worlds inside real eggshells

Feather Art by Ian Davie

Feather Art by Brandy Davis

Incredible Feather Art by Kate MccGwire


At work at a wildlife rescue centre I see a lot of injured, ill and often very scruffy looking pigeons – ones that have come in after having escaped the clutches of a sparrowhawk and have injuries and many missing feathers, or ones that are very thin and weak. So I am somewhat surprised to see my sleek and shiny girl when I return home. I forget how healthy Georgie is, and although she’s not as heavy as other pigeons, she’s still got a nice layer of muscle and fat on her.

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"Don't point that camera at me!"

I have George on my lap at the moment – she’s kicking out her feet in attempts to mould my body into a nice comfy nest. Once she thinks she’s made her ‘nest’ suitable she’ll settle down for a snooze. We still have no eggs and I’m starting to think that Georgie has given up on the idea. … She’s only 3 years old and so still has many more years of egg laying if she wants to start up again.

When she’s all snuggled up like this I can have a closer look at her and admire the tiny feathers around her beak and eyes. She’s got a few white ones there, small delicate little feathers. Very pretty!

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Earlier on Georgie modelled her take on the ‘feather hat’:

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I think she pulls it off better that this lady:


On Elmo’s right wing he’s got one pure white primary feather – I think it’s the sixth one in but cannot get close enough to check (gotta watch out for that beak of his!!). He doesn’t have any other white feathers on his wings so this one is a bit special – a little quirky feature of his.

I love the feather and whenever Elmo goes through a moult and drops it, I miss it. I’ve kept one in my Pet Pigeon Book (where I have Georgie’s and Elmo’s health records, weight charts, egg laying info, etc.). I eagerly await the return of Elmo’s White Wing Feather and am very joyful when I see it peaking out amongst the other primary wing feathers as it grows. … Yeah, I’m a bit of a dufus.

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A very tatty looking boy!

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Elmo's special white wing feather!

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Where's the feather?!


Today there was a cooing contest between Elmo and Georgie – both calling to me! I had a half day at work today so I returned home early to do some much needed housework, all due to the fact that Elmo and Georgie are routinely pulling out their feathers in another one of their contests: Who can shed the most feathers in one sitting?! The slightly bald, pin cushion look must be in fashion this season. (Don’t be alarmed – they aren’t feather picking in the sense of captive parrots, rather just removing loose feathers during their moult.)

Anyway, back to the housework and a freshly clean home – a task not liked but a sight and smell much loved. So there I was with a duster in one hand, vacuum cleaner in the other (don’t you just wish you could extract an extra pair of arms when needed?), the washing machine on with its second load, the tumble dryer on with its first – and above the noise of all this I could hear both Elmo and Georgie cooing loudly in their spots on the sofa, stubbornly ignoring the fact that I was preoccupied and not available to cuddle them.

Earlier, Elmo and Georgie were ecstatic to have me home early – both singing and dancing in their pleasure (Georgie twirling on the spot, Elmo prancing about). I gave them both individual attention – lots of kisses and cuddles – but had to break away to start the housework. They obviously didn’t approve of this and made it clear by their loud and insistent cooing.

How could I ignore them? How could I be so cruel as to not spend another hour cuddled up to them? … But being the non-domestic Goddess that I am, I knew that if I stopped for a moment in between the housework I’d never start up again. So, I put on my blinders and ploughed through the work until the house was spick and span, after which I treated myself to a drink and snacks whilst watching day-time TV with Georgie on my shoulder snuggled into my hair and Elmo by my side – asleep in his nest – all cooing subsided and fulfilled. Bliss.


P1040522Georgie girl has a fetish for one of my pyjama bottoms. If I’m wearing them and lounging on the sofa on a lazy Saturday morning Georgie will always come over and peck at them for hours. She only does this behaviour to this pyjama, and I don’t know why.

She pecks and pecks and it looks to me as if she thinks it’s edible. If I put her somewhere else she’ll find her way back to me and my pyjamas. Obsessive or what?! :)

Maybe I should make a teddy bear out of them for her so she can have it in her cage for company – seeing as she likes the material so much (is it the pattern? Or the texture?).

In other news, Elmo’s moult has reached his head and he was a bit bald looking for a while. Now new feathers are growing through and he looks like this:

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He looks like a pin cushion!! :D


Those who have pigeons living with them (either in an aviary or in their home) will know how messy and uncontrollable feathers can be – especially during a moult! Back in January I wrote a quick post about Georgie moulting – the fact that her feathers were everywhere! (See Moulting) Having to clean up after a moulting pigeon can be frustrating since feathers have a habit of travelling under sofas and desks and tag along on your clothes as you leave the house all prim and proper. The neighbours must think we have a flock of birds living in our flat!

So what exactly is going on when a pigeon (or any bird for that matter) moults? Why do they do it and how?

Firstly, one must understand how important feathers are to a bird. I think this paragraph sums it up nicely:

“Feathers are unique to birds. Engineered by evolution, their extreme lightness combined with exceptional strength and flexibility makes feathers the ideal flying gear. They constitute a truly multi-functional body-suit that is also adapted for numerous other functions. Feathers may act as hearing aids, water carriers, versatile all-weather gear or as dashing courtship finery. They can provide a camouflaged covering, rendering birds almost invisible, or their bright iridescent splashes of colour can turn heads.” Birds, The Inside Story by Rael and Hélène Loon, 2005

So you get the picture; feathers are very important to birds because they enable them to do what they need to do in order to survive (i.e. fly, hunt, escape, attract, protect, etc.). It is therefore extremely important that birds preen and bathe their feathers – to keep them in good condition. However, preening cannot stop feathers from becoming old and worn through natural wear and tear. Feathers need to be replaced with new, strong ones at regular intervals – and this is called moulting.

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From Pigeons. A Complete Pet Owner's Manual, page 62

There are three main types of feathers (see picture for more details):

  1. Flight feathers – which consist of the wings primary and secondary flight feathers and the tail feathers. These enable the birds to fly.
  2. Contour feathers – these cover all parts of the wings and body with the purpose of streamlining the bird for flight and to help insulate and protect the bird from the elements.
  3. Down feathers – which are numerous and found under the contour feathers. They trap air to insualte the bird.

Pigeons moult every year from mid-July to mid-December (according to Pigeons. A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual by Matthew M. Vriends and Tommy E. Erskine, 2005).

They don’t just drop all their feathers at once – that would leave them unable to fly and leave them exposed to predators and the elements – rather, they first drop their primary feathers, generally two at a time (one from each wing). New feathers grow through and old ones drop out. The tail and contour feathers are also dropped at about the same time as the flight ones. The tail feathers are dropped in pairs. When the primary feathers have moulted through, the secondaries start their moult. The feathers of the head, neck, breast and belly all moult at the same time which can leave the pigeon looking a bit bald in places. The down feathers randomly moult throughout the year. (Info from: Pigeons. A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual by Matthew M. Vriends and Tommy E. Erskine, 2005)

Many things can affect moulting – ill health will cause poor feather growth, as well as poor diet. Indoor pigeons that don’t have access to direct sunlight tend to moult more often (UV light from the sun helps with feather growth).

A word about blood feathers. A new feather needs a blood supply to grow. This supply is found in the shaft of the feather and once the feather is fully grown the blood supply recedes and the follicle closes up. If a blood feather is broken then a lot of blood may be lost through the shaft. Please call your veterinarian for advice on what to do if this happens. If a lot of blood feathers are broken then there might be danger of severe blood loss.

More about feather anatomy at: Bird Feather Types, Anatomy, Growth, Color, and Molting.


  1. the way they dance,
  2. the way they coo,
  3. the softness of their feathers,
  4. their smell,
  5. their amazing feet (the scales and delicate nails),
  6. the beautiful colours they come in,
  7. their loving nature,
  8. their feistiness,
  9. the way they enjoy bathing and sunbathing,
  10. and their amazing resilient character.

There are so many more reasons and things we love about pigeons, and I’m sure I’ll be adding another list later.

What about you? What do you love about pigeons?