Page images
[graphic][merged small]

CONTENTED INMATES OF A LOFT AT THE NAVAL AIR STATION, ANACOSTIA, D. C. In the loft each pair of pigeons has its individual nesting compartment, as shown on the left, where the male assumes the family duties during the day and the female from late afternoon to mid morning. There should also be perches or stalls for those off home duty, as on the right. The proprietary instinct is strong in pigeons, and once a nest or perch is taken by a male, he will defend it against intruders and, if assistance be needed, his mate will join in the defense.

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

This is a familiar sight on Boston Common every morning at 9 o'clock, where this bird lover has fed the pigeons every day for 10 years. They gather by the thousands and wait

for him.

love-making is all-engrossing. It is also inadvisable to fly either a male or female for several days after the eggs come, as the birds do not settle down immediately after the hen lays.

On the longer courses pigeons usually terminate their race during the evening, so the female with eggs is anxious to get home to her nest and flies hardest to get there. If there are youngsters to be given their evening meal, the male bird strains every muscle and nerve to see that they do not go hungry over night.

On clear, quiet days pigeons fly high in the air, almost out of sight; when wind, rain, fog and clouds are against them, they fly close to the ground to take advantage of any chance shelter.

In well-bred pigeons the instinct for home is so strong that birds sold to other cities have been known to return to their old lofts upon being released several years later. Some of mine have returned from North Carolina to Washington six months

after being shipped south. Others, which were never trained on the road, but were reserved for breeding, have returned to their homes after being shipped to distant points.

On the other hand, fine Racing Pigeons have been made so happy in their new homes that they could be settled and flown from them with complete success.

Pigeons will fly in any month of the year, but the old birds' racing season coincides with the period during which their owners allow them to breed-from March to July (see, also, text, page 77).


"They came in a ship to Dundee." That brief sentence sums up the entry into Anglo-Saxon countries of many of the most beautiful birds in the whole realm of the fancy-pigeon world. From Calcutta, Bagdad, Hongkong, Archangel, Bokhara, Constantinople, Asia Minor, and

[blocks in formation]

these orchids of the bird kingdom reached Dundee. From there they were distributed throughout the British Empire and America. Notwithstanding man's love of pigeons, little is known of the origin of many highly treasured varieties. In London, as long ago as 1676, the ornithologist Willughby published in Latin a treatise on pigeons. Two years later he translated it into English.

Sixty years later John Moore, a London apothecary and celebrated worm doctor, wrote a history of tame pigeons, and his descriptions of ideal birds, penned nearly 200 years ago, would fit well into our standards of to-day, although such tremendous strides in breeding have been accomplished since that time that the birds of his day would not be recognized by their present descendants.

Photograph by Gilbert Grosvenor


The Fantail is a bird of curves, distinguished by an enormous fanshaped tail. Its beauty, grace, and spirit long ago won the affection of hosts of fanciers. It originated in Hindustan from unknown stock and arrived in Europe via "a ship to Dundee" (see, also, text, below).

The Carrier, the Tumbler, the Pouter, the Barb, the Fantail, the Runt, the Jacobin, and the Nun, all prized varieties of to-day, were favorites with Englishmen in the time of Willughby and Moore. Yet none of these birds originated in England. Pigeon clubs and columbarian societies flourished then, and many importations from the Orient were first seen at the meetings of these clubs.


Of the ancestry of the Carrier, the Pouter, and the Tumbler we know little. The Fantail originated in Hindustan. But even as late as 75 years ago a ship

[blocks in formation]

International Newsreel


Every day at noon hundreds of pigeons gather in front of the Public Library, at Fifth Avenue and 42d Street, and the 12-o'clock loungers on in the neighborhood. the benches throw them stray crumbs from their luncheons. The close of the noon hour sees the flocks of birds winging their way to nests and nooks

stands on its toes and holds its tail erect, the bird's chest, and not the head, should be directly over the feet. The neck is long and fine, curved down and backward, and the head rests on a cushion at the base of the tail. When viewed from the front, the head cannot be seen.

In other words, the Fantail is a bird of curves, whether one looks at the beautiful, circular tail, whose ends almost meet at the bottom, or at the body. When moving about the loft, it fairly quivers with excitement and dances blithely on its way about its business.

This description would have fitted Willughby's and Moore's ideal of a Fantail, which in those days was also called the "Broad-tailed Shaker." But English breeders for a number of years concentrated on tail quality and forgot other properties. The result was that they produced birds with perfectly enormous tails, but coarse in all other respects.

Then another ship came to Dundee, and on it were Fantails with small, round bodies and fairly large tails. The Scotch fanciers at once began to ignore everything but body conformation, and the English everything but tails.

Meanwhile the Fantail established itself in America, where fanciers were quick to see that the ideal bird combined the good qualities of both a small body and a large tail. To-day this country has many glorious Fantails with bodies even smaller than the old Scotch ideal and carrying large circular tails.


The Barb (see Color Plate V), a pigeon beloved by Shakespeare and by Mary, Queen of Scots, who pined for it while in prison, is rarer to-day than 300 years ago. It originated in northern Africa so long ago that all traces of its early history have been lost.

It is a small bird of the toy variety and is the only square-headed pigeon known. It has a short, stout beak, like that of a bullfinch, and is also distinguished by an eye cere, or wattle, which covers almost the whole side of its head. As the bird grows older, another heavy wattle appears on the upper and lower parts of its beak.

The usual colors in Barbs are beetle

green black, red, and yellow. The wattle, being of a flesh color, forms a pleasing contrast against the body color.


The Carrier (see Color Plate V) has for centuries been regarded as the king of pigeons. It is a large, bold bird, which probably got its name from its aggressive carriage and not from its flying ability. Like the Barb, it has both an exaggerated eye and nose wattle. The latter is so large that when the bird is fully matured, at three or four years, it has the appearance of having shoved its beak through a beautiful white rosebud.

The Carrier is the most quarrelsome of pigeons and will fight upon the slightest. provocation. When he cannot find anyone else to quarrel with he may beat his wife. For this reason Carriers are usually bred in individual compartments, for in their constant conflicts they are apt to ruin their rose adornments, their chief claim to favor.

Of later origin than the Carrier is the Dragoon (see Color Plate V), a noblelooking bird with a bold head and eye. The Dragoon has well-developed eye and nose wattles, but they are not so large as those of the Carrier.

Another bird of like type, the Horseman, was much fancied centuries ago, but has now practically disappeared and its place given over to the Racing Homer.

Jacobins and Nuns, two very old varieties, wholly dissimilar in appearance, are shown in Color Plate IV. The Jacobin has a hood which, in finely developed specimens, makes it almost impossible to see the head. Nuns have only a small hood, called a "shell crest" in pigeon terminology.

The Jacobin comes in solid colors, such as red, yellow, and black, with a white tail and white flight feathers on the wings. The Nun has a pure-white body and crest, with colored head, tail, and flight feathers. Nuns come in several colors, but black is most favored.

Queen Victoria of England kept many varieties of pigeons, but her favorites were the Jacobins (see also text, page 64), and many a prize winner ultimately found its way into the Royal lofts, from

« PreviousContinue »