Advancing Into the World of Pigeon Farming
Learn Pigeon Basics and Breed Differences for Success.
Reading Time: 10 minutes
by Armani Tavares
There are thousands of different breeds for pigeon farming. Of course, I couldn’t go through them all in this article, so I will attempt to narrow it down to some of the most common and unique ones.
We’ll start with the flying breeds. The most popular breed of pigeon falls into this group, the homer. Homing pigeons, (a.k.a. just “homers”), are very special birds. Many have been recognized as “heroes,” pulling off great feats while serving for our country in the military. Such as one bird that successfully delivered an important message despite it being shot and severely wounded by the enemy. As implied, they will return home when released elsewhere, and depending on the bloodline, may return from up to 1,000 miles away!
The homers vary a little in form, but usually look like your typical wild pigeon, although often a little larger, more tightly-feathered, and more muscular. An interesting fact: the birds used for “white dove releases” in weddings, funerals, and other events are usually white-colored homers. However, some inexperienced people actually use white doves, which don’t have as developed a homing instinct as the homers. These doves usually face a bleak future trying to survive after the release and should not be used.
The homing instinct in pigeons has been researched extensively, and it’s still not completely understood. Some say they use the Earth’s magnetic fields, moon, and sound or smell…or all of those. Either way, every pigeon has a homing instinct but due to that trait not being selected for, some breeds can’t find their way home if they fly too far off and lose sight of their loft and familiar surroundings. The homers we have today have been stringently selectively bred in years past, and still continue to be, in order to retain and develop this unique and powerful homing instinct that allows them to “home” from so far away.
The racing competitions flown by homers: There are different types of races, distinguished by the distance being spanned, and whether the birds being flown are “young birds” (birds bred the same year) or “old birds” (birds bred at any other time than the year in which the race is being held). You may also fly only one bird or a hundred-plus (however, you probably wouldn’t want to fly less than three for competition’s sake and to compensate for possible losses), which at times proves an unfair arrangement. Flyers usually ship their birds to a club location (check with your specific club). From there the birds are all loaded into a modified truck with individual holding compartments. The birds ride to the area of release and are then all let out together and they “race” back home. When the bird(s) make it home, the handler takes off a special band, which was previously put on before the release, and inserts it into a device that records the time. These times are reported to the club, and although there’s a little more complicated scoring system, basically, the bird with the fastest time wins. Pigeon racers are a very dedicated set of fanciers, and most take their sport very seriously.
Homers are one of the hardiest and most prolific breeds. But they do have one downfall, they will return to their original owner’s place after you bring them home and let them out to fly. After all, they are homers! As I will explain, this pigeon fact may be remedied by only buying very young birds, unflown, that have just come out of the nest, or keeping an adult pair or two as “prisoners,” breeding them, and then only flying their young.
Another flying breed that I have seen growing in popularity is the highflyer. These birds are bred for high and long endurance flights.
They are truly amazing, flying simply for the love of it. On they go, go, and go for hours. Round and round, right above the loft.
Therefore you have the option of competing with hundreds of other fanciers, the world over, right from the comfort of your own home and without dealing with any form of transportation for the birds.
Highflyers are a family/group of breeds. Some specific pigeon breeds in this group are Tipplers, Serbian Highflyers, Danzig Highflyers and Iranian Highflyers. Most get their names from the country of origin, and most Highflyers are from the Middle East, as many pigeon breeds are. Some have crests on their heads and others may be muffed (feather-footed). As with most breeds, these are hardy and will breed without a problem.
The competition should be very easy and inexpensive to join. There are a few competitions held throughout the year. After conditioning your flyers, you just need to be assigned a judge by your club to take record of your bird’s flight. Among other things, the most important factor in judging is the time that the birds stay up and flying.
Many of the breeds in this group are flying pigeons, but with a special surprise. They do rolls, twists, and dives in flight. It’s very entertaining! As the homing instinct, the rolling trait has also been studied extensively. It’s argued that the action is involuntary; maybe that’s the case in some breeds, but I favor the side that says it is an intentional and learned act. I witnessed my rollers first learning to roll, and then improving and expanding their skills as they gained experience.
The different breeds are bred in pigeon farming for different flight styles, for example:
Birmingham Rollers: These are probably the most popular breed of roller pigeons. They are a smaller, plain breed. They should fly in tight kits (a group of pigeons that fly together and in unison) and roll simultaneously. The tighter and more unified they roll, the better they will be judged. They should look like a big ball of feathers falling from the sky. They are among the easiest rollers to keep and train and are a good choice for pigeon farming beginners with no special considerations to note. (http://nbrconline.com/)
Flying Oriental Rollers (FOR): FORs are a little larger-sized roller breed, with an interesting set of large, low-held wings and more tail feathers than other pigeons. They also lack an oil gland; this, however, does not negatively affect them. FORs do not tend to fly in as united a kit as do the Birminghams and others, but they have a greater array of acrobatic maneuvers, dives, twists, loops, and rolls. They also usually fly at a higher elevation. FORs are also known to be great at evading most hawks and other birds of prey, something that can often prove to be a serious problem with us flyers. Many people have had to stop flying birds because of problems with raptors. They are a little harder to get up and rolling then the Birminghams, but are certainly worth the effort. Unfortunately, they are also a bit rarer in pigeon farming.
There are many kinds of “tumbler” pigeons, but most no longer retain the ability to roll or tumble! Except for just a few, most are now strictly show breeds.
Coop Tumblers: These are nice little birds as some are shown, but some still perform. They remain more of a group rather than a specific breed, showing a variety of ornamented and plain breeds. There are some pure, rare ones that will still perform, such as the Syrian Coop Tumbler. Be aware, however, that some “Coop Tumblers” are often just a fancy show breed crossed with a rolling breed and the resulting offspring that still retain some ability to tumble are sold as “Coop Tumblers.” I suppose they’ll still make fun and entertaining pets!
The last roller-type breed I will list here is the Parlor Roller: These birds are unique in that, once mature, they completely lack the ability of flight. But they make up for it by rolling on the ground in a series of flips! These are also very easy to raise and train and would make a good sport for the pigeon farming beginner. The competitions are based on birds that roll the farthest. These are also small and plain, bred primarily for performance rather than show.
There are a few different breeds for pigeon farming that are very much performers, but different than the rollers.
Voice Pigeons: These may be raised for show, but their main special attribute is their “voice.” All pigeons coo and grunt but, these do it much louder and longer, in addition to some other unique sounds. When many unite, it can be quite a spectacle. These aren’t very common, not many voice pigeons are, but a couple to look for would be the Thailand Laughers and Arabian Trumpeters. Both will prove to be good birds, regular sized, plain, and don’t need any special considerations.
Thief Pouter Pigeons: Pouters are a group of breeds that inflate their crops with air, and include other breeds that are not thieves. Now, these are unique! They were developed to go out and seduce other pigeons back to their own home. It is a sport, but some used to use the captured pigeons as sustenance. In the sport, two or more fanciers fly their birds and let them “work” each other, the birds coo, grunt and dance around aggressively. The one that gives in and follows the other bird home loses.
A variation, played solely with Pica Pouters, is called “La Suelta,” originating in Spain, where many cocks, which are all distinctively painted by their owners with special paint, are let out after a single hen that has a white feather tied to her tail. Different moves are appointed a certain amount of points. But the closer a cock can get to the hen the more points are appointed him.
“Thieving” is not a very popular sport in the United States, other than in a few locales, a very popular one being south Florida. Groups of both Spanish and English origin played this sport, with their own special breeds and variations. Most of the breeds now available are Spanish Thief Pouters (a group of breeds) but there are the increasingly popular Horseman Thief Pouters (that’s a breed!), which has an English ancestry. The Thieves are a very entertaining set of birds, as they think very much of themselves and when let out to fly will constantly be putting on a show, clapping their wings in flight and dancing around other birds.
A few specific breeds of Spanish Thief Pouters are Picas, Moroncelos, Jiennenses, Balear, and Morrilleros. Although most breeds are used for both showing and flying, there are a couple Spanish Thief Pouters typically used solely for showing. They are naturally tame, lacking any natural fear of humans. With minimal handling, they become just like puppies.
Between the Marchanero and Gaditano Pouters, the Gaditano is the more popular of the two. These two breeds tend to have some breeding problems, particularly the Gaditanos because of their large crops and the Marchaneros because of heavy inbreeding through pigeon farming. None of the Spanish Thief Pouters, with the exception of the Picas, are the best breeders. They can get along, however, and do best if bred in single-pairs rather than in a community loft. The Horseman Thief Pouters are also good breeders, but they, too, still do best when bred in single pairs.
Show breeds are kept primarily for competing with at the many pigeon shows around the country. Birds are judged by the Standard, and those that comply the best, win, of course. Judging, rather than for performance, is based primarily on form and appearance. They also make good pets, as do most pigeons, with handling, if that’s what you want out of them. Most fancy show breeds should not be let out of their pen to fly, unless you are supervising to protect them from ground predators. With many, the heavy ornamentation inhibits proper flight. But even those that can fly well usually aren’t effective at escaping fast-flying birds of prey. Another note, even breeds originally bred for other purposes, such as the voice, flying/performing and meat breeds, all have bloodlines that have been bred specifically for the show ring, an important point to keep in mind when deciding what exactly you want in pigeon farming and proceeding to obtain them.
Fantail: This is one of the most popular show breeds out there. And many are familiar with their very large, turkey/peafowl-like tails. There are two kinds, the American Fantail and the Indian Fantail. The American is smaller, clean-legged and plain-headed. The Indian is quite large, muffed, and has a crest on its head. Neither may be the best choice for the beginning breeder because they often have breeding problems, mainly caused by the large tails. But of course, this would only matter if you wished to breed them. If you are not very deterred by that and would still like to give them a try, they are known for a great personality.
Modenas: These big, chubby, funny shaped birds are another popular show breed. They are quite a bit larger than a feral pigeon. Unfortunately, they are known for being more aggressive than some breeds, so single-pair breeding is recommended to keep conflicts in the loft to a minimum. Neither are they known as the greatest breeders, but most will get along. I’m not sure I would recommend them as a first choice over some of the other breeds I will list, but they may be what will float your boat! And I wouldn’t discourage you to at least give them a try.
Frillbacks: These fairly large birds have beautiful, curly feathers and are known for being fair breeders, not flighty and have a generally “easy” personality. Not many pigeon farming “cons” on these. They come both plain-headed and crested and they are muffed.
Old German Owls: This breed is a smaller one, with a shorter beak then some breeds, but not so short that it creates a problem with feeding the young.
It is a good breeder, calm and charming. They have a crest and a frill. The frill, which is almost like a “swirl” found in a human’s head of hair, is on their breast.
Classic Old Frills: This breed looks a little like the Old German Owls described above, but are muffed. They have most all the same characteristics, too. They are crested, frilled, good breeders, calm, have charming personalities, are smaller sized, and sport a short beak that gives them a very “cute” appearance.
West of England Tumbler: These are almost strictly show birds, however, they did originate as a flying/performing breed. WOEs are quite a popular breed and have the attributes to make them as such — good looks, fair breeding ability, attractive personalities and without needing any special considerations.
Utility breeds: The utility pigeon farming breeds are bred for squab production. They are not only supposed to be large, but prolific and fairly fast growers. There are many exceptionally large pigeon breeds, but the two breeds that are most popular for squab production are:
American Giant Homers: These birds were created by crossing large homers with a few other breeds that would increase their size and productivity. They are both a show and utility breed. So make sure to get those bred for squab production.
Utility Kings: These birds are usually pure white, where the Giant Homer more commonly comes in a few different colors. They are probably more popular for squab production than the Giant Homer and would be a great choice. Make sure you get “Utility Kings” and not “Show Kings,” as Show Kings have been bred specifically for showing without attention to utilitarian pigeon farming purposes, while the Utility Kings are used strictly for production.
As you see, even in this limited sampling, there’s a special pigeon out there for every taste. And as many different things to do with them!
In the future, I will share some additional, and more in-depth, pigeon farming breed and sport spotlights.
Have you tried pigeon farming?
Armani Tavares lives in the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee, on his family’s small “homestead” of 20 acres, where he is ever trying to move closer to independence and the land.