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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


Last week at work I noticed that one of the disabled pigeons in Dora’s aviary was sitting down a lot and was very reluctant to move about. It was Teresa, an old girl with a broken wing (old injury). After examing her I found that she had hurt one of her legs, however, there wasn’t anything obvious (no breaks, cuts, etc.). She was just reluctant to use it. So I took Teresa into the intensive care unit (I.C.U.) to receive the care and bed rest she needs.

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Teresa in a hospital cage

Teresa is still in I.C.U. on medication (pain relief, etc.) and bed rest, and she’s eating lots and her droppings are normal. I’m hoping she’ll be on her legs and back in the aviary with her friends soon.

In other news, we have two new resident pigeons to join Dora and the gang! :)

Burko

Burko, a tame feral pigeon

Burko is a grey checker feral pigeon that was found on the ground in February. He was healthy but was simply not flying. It is thought that he had just fledged and maybe got dazed and confused. After a bit of care Burko started flying again.

Tux

Tux, a tame feral pigeon

Tux is a black and white pied feral pigeon. She was found in March, all wet and oily with a damaged left wing. The wing healed within a few months, by which time Burko had wooed his way into Tux’s heart, since the two had been living in the same house together (with a few cats too). Both are a bit too friendly towards people and cats so they cannot be released and were brought to my work for rehoming.

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Burko and Tux in their new home

Tux and Burko settled in fine in Dora’s aviary and I’m sure they’ll be sitting on eggs soon (fake ones when I sneakily replace them). I cannot wait to get to know them better. When they were in the isolation pen Burko kept attacking my fingers in a playful manner, so I can see he’s a very feisty pigeon, however, Tux was not so keen to interact with me. I think she’s a bit more timid and may take a while to get used to me and her new surroundings.

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Some of the pigeons in Dora's aviary

Remember Birdie girl? Unfortunately, she hasn’t chosen a mate yet. Neither Button or Davey have stolen her heart. :( I’m afraid she may never choose a pigeon mate, rather preferring a human companion. If she seems unhappy I will have to rehome her to a loving home, however, at the moment she doesn’t seem unhappy with the pigeons. I will keep an eye on her and assess the situation later. On a happier note, Birdie’s feathers are growing back so she should look like a proper pigeon soon. :)

List of all the current resident pigeons (fancy or disabled) at my work:

  1. DORAfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Pidge)
  2. PIDGEmale - feral pigeon (paired with Dora)
  3. GERTIEfemale - racing pigeon (paired with Marmaduke)
  4. MARMADUKEmale - Archangel breed (paired with Gertie)
  5. FLEURfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Marmalade)
  6. MARMALADEmale - Archangel breed (paired with Fleur)
  7. MADDIEfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Lord Nelson)
  8. LORD NELSONmale - West of England Tumbler breed (paired with Maddie)
  9. PEACHESfemale - fancy pigeon (paired with Stanley)
  10. STANLEYmale - feral pigeon (paired with Peaches)
  11. SPECKLESfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Horatio)
  12. HORATIOmale - Highflyer/Tippler breed (paired with Speckles)
  13. LUMIfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Turk)
  14. TURKmale - Turkish Takla breed (paired with Lumi)
  15. MOUSIEfemale - racing pigeon (paired with Rudderford)
  16. RUDDERFORDmale - feral pigeon (paired with Mousie)
  17. TERESAfemale - feral pigeon (single)
  18. DAVEYmale - feral pigeon (single)
  19. BUTTONmale - feral pigeon (single)
  20. BIRDIEfemale - feral pigeon (single)
  21. TUXfemale - feral pigeon (paired with Burko)
  22. BURKOmale – feral pigeon (paried with Tux)

I’ve talked about Elmo’s balance problems before and we’ve noticed that he finds it hard to stand on one leg and stretch out his other leg and wing at the same time (in the normal pigeon way).

One day Richard held Elmo on his back and touched his legs and Elmo stretched them out with full force and freedom! He loved it!! Finally, Elmo can have a proper stretch (with a little help from us)! :)

Here’s a short clip to demonstrate:

At work we had a surprising new arrival: A silver baby!

He was found on the ground, unharmed but not coping. He’s such an unusual colour. He’s so pretty. I’ve never seen this colouration in feral pigeons before. Maybe he’s a mix?

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And we’ve added a new pigeon to Dora and Pidge’s aviary. He came to us unable to walk and although he’s recovered from his original illness and injury, he’s permanently damaged – incapable of lifting his tail feathers and therefore unable to perch. He has to stay on a level surface.

I cannot think of a name for him. He’s a lovely blue bar with tatty tail feathers. Any suggestions?

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New resident pigeon