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Pigeon Mating

An adult female pigeon is called a hen and an adult male pigeon is called a cock. Cocks strut, coo and spread their tail into a full half moon shape and often turn a full circle when they do; females will swell their crops with some air but usually stand at a more upright angle (45 degrees or so) when they do it, as opposed to the cock who almost bows to the floor. Sexually active birds, usually cocks, frequently clap their wings together in a sort of advertising flight, and may combine the claps with an ostentatious glide, with wings held in a "V" and tails spread. On the ground, a cock "drives," or chases, his mate away from other prospective suitors. A cock then struts around the hen, eventually standing up, spreading his tail, and bowing to coo at her. Other intimate pigeon behavior includes billing, often a prelude to mating, when the hen sticks her bill down the cock's throat and takes an offering of regurgitated food (right picture). This is a part of the courtship and mating rituals of pigeons and billing can be followed by an allo-preening, when pairs lightly preen each other's heads. If you spend few more minutes watching them after billing, you'll likely witness the behavior leading to copulation (left picture).

Once paired, pigeons mate for life unless they are seperated by death or by humans. The domestic pigeon normally reaches sexual maturity at about five to six months of age. Depending on the local temperatures and food supply, they may breed all year round. Many fanciers, however, prevent them from breeding continuously - either by separating the sexes, or by letting mated pairs sit on wooden (dummy) eggs. Once mated, the male (cock) will begin to hunt for a suitable place to make a nest and rear young. Domestic pigeons do not nest in trees as do many other doves. They are descendants of a cliff dwelling species and prefer their nest to be on a solid surface. Most fanciers (breeders) also provide a nest bowl and some nesting materials (pine needles, tobacco stems, etc.) for the birds to use. The nest bowl helps to ensure that the eggs do not roll out from under the pair and chill.

New Eggs

When pigeons start mating, hen lays her first egg 8 days later and the second egg 2 days after the first egg. The first time they lay, young hens often lay smaller than average eggs. The pigeons usually lay two purely white eggs, in confinement sometimes only one egg is laid, but never more than two, unless, from the absence of a sufficient number of male birds, two hens pair and make a nest, when four eggs are laid, which of course are sterile, and after being sat upon for the usual period are deserted. It is their reproductive strategy insuring at least one baby would survive, but not too many mouths to feed. The first egg is usually laid in the evening between 5 P.M. and 7 P.M. Because one of the hen's ovaries never develops, hens can only produce one egg at a time. It takes about two days for the second egg to develop in the ovary after the first is laid and has cleared the oviduct. The second egg is usually laid in the afternoon between 2 P.M. and 3 P.M. It is suggested that the breeders should take the first laid egg away from the parents and not let them start the incubation process.

Otherwise, the first laid egg will hatch 36-48 hours earlier than the second. This will cause the first baby to be nearly twice the size of the newly hatched second chick. The parents may choose to neglect the second chick as they may think survival chance of the first and bigger chick is greater than the younger and the weak chick. As you will notice in the pictures below, I do not remove the first egg so that both chicks can hatch in the same time. I give my breeders more than enough food to feed their off spring and I never had any problems with this. I also try not to handle the eggs or disturb the parents during their incubation. The developing embryo is very fragile at this time and just a little shaking can cause its death. Also it is more sensitive to chill.

Foster parenting

If you are a pigeon breeder, at some point you will want to switch eggs under foster parents for one reason or another and replace it with other eggs from other parents. This is usually done because you want more babies from one pair and you donít want to wait 2 months for 2 babies. Instead, you want to foster the eggs under other pairs so that the pair you are trying to get off springs could lay their next round of eggs in 10 days to raise you more babies. Foster parenting is very common when breeding pigeons. This is easily done, but the timing of incubation with both pairs needs to be similar. Usually, if the sets of eggs are laid within 3 days of each other, the switch goes successfully. If it is more than that, the babies will either hatch too early and that will cause babies to perish because the foster parents will not have sufficient crop milk. On the other hand, if they hatch too late, the foster parents may desert the eggs or already be on the downside of crop milk production. Every time my breeders lay eggs I write down the date. This allows me to know when the babies will hatch. It also helps me to achieve the proper timing for foster parenting. Eggs can be easily held for 3 to 5 days at room temperature, before incubation has started, and placed under foster parents when the timing is right. Eggs held in the hydrator drawer of a refrigerator can be held somewhat longer. If you decide to pull the first egg from the parents, make sure to keep the egg in a cool, dark place on a layer of soft tissue paper until the next egg is laid, and then return it to the nest. To avoid soft shells, which can be caused by poor nutrition, diet or deficiency of calcium (grit), give your breeders a lot of grit and more than usual food. I have noticed some of my breeders don't incubate steadily on an egg until the second egg is laid. This is why, many times both eggs hatched around same time.

Incubation

The parents take turns keeping their eggs warm (incubating). Incubation is not equally shared, since the hen does most of the work on each day. Only when she leaves the nest, the cock assumes the duties. Cock usually stay on the nest during the day and hen takes over after 5 P.M. until late morning. If an egg cools down too much after incubation has started, the egg will not develop and hatch. The parents need to keep a steady temperature of about 102-105 degrees F 24 hours per day for the embryo to properly develop. Hen or cock will get off the nest when the nature calls, eat and drink but will resume incubating right away, not letting the egg lose its temperature. After the five days the eggs may be inspected to see if they are fertile. It's easy to inspect an egg; just hold the egg in the bright light. If the egg is fertile you can see the blood vessels through the thin shell. If not fertile, the eggs will look clear inside. After the fifth day inspection, try not to handle the eggs or disturb the incubation for the remaining of its process. 

Hatching

Under normal circumstances, the first egg will hatch after 18 days and the second egg after 19 days, If parents started to incubate when the first egg was laid. Otherwise, they will both hatch on the same day. The hatching process takes from 15 to 30 hours. The newly hatched pigeon is called a hatchling. During hatching, you should NOT help a baby out of an egg. The baby develops the muscles in his neck, legs, and body as he pushes out of the egg. This may take 24-36 hours or longer from the initial pip until the baby is out. If you interfere with the egg, you will most likely cause the baby to bleed to death. There are many tiny blood vessels lining the egg. Breaking these will kill the bird. If you allow the bird enough time, the blood vessels will dry and the bird can hatch. The baby depends on nutrients available from the yolk; these are absorbed into the baby's belly. It is also very important not to move the egg during the few days before the bird hatches. The baby will orient himself inside the egg so that his head is at the larger end of the egg near the air sac. The baby pips his way through the shell using the edge of his beak. Once a hole is made, the baby needs to rest for several hours and acclimate his lungs to the outside air. The baby should not be disturbed during these critical phases. The baby will turn inside the egg and continue to struggle until he's out of the shell.

When they get out of the shell, they will be wet and exhausted and will usually lie still. After some time they will begin to perk up. When the chick have hatched and have dried, they are fed within the first hour by their parents. Try not to handle hatchling as they are very fragile and need protection and warmth from their parents. Parents should be provided food and drinking water to produce pigeon milk for the hatchlings, Unlike mamals, both sexes produce the crop milk in pigeons.

First 30 days

The young pigeons are born in a most immature and helpless condition. The young are usually covered with long yellow down, but in those domesticated varieties that have certain colors this down is absent, as in the silver and dun birds. Thus, it is easy to distinguish between a young dun and a black in the same nest, the one being naked, the other covered with profuse yellow down. A young pigeon until the age of 30 days is called a Squab. Squabs are fed by a special substance called the pigeon milk during their first week of life. Pigeon milk is made in a special part of the bird's digestive system called the crop. To feed their young, pigeons do something almost no other parents can, they both nurse their young. They produce high power milk that is so nutritious the squabs can double their size in just 48 hours. The pigeon milk is a super charged food with more proteins and fat than cow or human milk. Although it's high in fat, to help the young squabs develop fast, it's also packed full of antioxidants and immune-system-boosting proteins. (Considering pigeons spend their entire lives in urban squalor, they must have incredible immune systems.) Pigeon milk fuels the most explosive growth rate almost any animal on the planet. Squabs eat almost as much as their own weight of pigeon milk every day. In just two weeks, they become half the size of their parents.ter 25 days they are nearly fully grown and can feed themselves. After 35 days, they leave home. When hatchlings are about fifteen days, they are being fed on a straight grain diet. Pigeon babies require parental care for several days after hatching. Most pigeon breders band their birds with seamless band (ring) and the time to do so is between five and twelve days, depending on breed and speed of growth. After about two weeks the chicks are left alone in the nest for longer periods as the parents, especially the hen will start ignoring the chicks as the pair is  preparing for next round of eggs. After 14 to 18 days the cock pretty much cares for the babies alone. The youngsters are weaned by about 30 to 35 days, but at about 21 days most parent birds will have already gone to nest again. They should have another nest bowl and nest area (it can be the other end of their nest box) available to them. Most hens will stop feeding the young once they lay again and the cock bird wil bear the brunt of feeding the babies until their final weaning. A young bird who is learning to eat and drink on its own is called a squeaker. When a young bird is ready to fly is called a fledgling and when the young bird is flying but is less than 6 months old is called a juvenile. Pigeons normally don't reach maturity level to breed until they are 6 months old.

There are a lot of different ways pigeon breeders use to sex the young birds. One of the ways that I used and find it very accurate most of the time is measuring their toes. When banding the babies, looking from the underside of the foot, lay the three toes straight alongside each other. Leaving the middle and longer toe in the middle, and align the other two next to the middle one and compare the outside toes against each other. If one of the outside toe is longer than the other one, the youngsters are cocks. If they are in equal length, then the youngster is a hen. The difference in length in the cocks is about 1/16". This method can be used with pigeons up to one month old, as the feet after that cannot be relied on, as the feet alter shape when the bird has been walking on them for some time.

Correcting Splay Leg

Some baby pigeons develop splay leg, a condition in which one or both legs stick out to the sides and the bird is unable to stand. This problem might be caused by improper bedding in the nest (the surface is too slippery), or by a disturbance (the bird is shaken or thrown), or by poor nutrition (lack of calcium in the diet). Sometimes, only one egg hatches in the nest. When that happenes, I leave the unhatched egg in the nest for 10 more days for the hatched baby to lean on to prevent splay leg.

Splay leg can be corrected but it is very important to start the rehabilitation as soon as you are aware of the condition. To correct splay leg, you will need to secure the legs in their natural position. The most effective way is to use a small sponge. Make two slits in the sponge using the end of a scissors point. Turn the scissors to make a hole somewhat round. The two slits should be just wide enough that the legs will go straight down from the body. Don't put them too close together as they will tear into each other. You have to find a balance here. You don't want to harm the bird's legs by overforcing it, but you will have to pull on them a bit to get them properly situated.

You can also use vet tape (self-adhesive gauze). Place the legs under the bird in their natural position (about one inch apart), and run the tape around the legs. You might need to lay the baby on its back to do this. You can wrap tape around the section between the legs to keep the legs apart. Alternatively, you can use any kind of soft material (gauze, sponge, cotton) between the legs. Be very careful that you do not cut off circulation in the legs. You will want to check the bird regularly and change the tape when it gets soiled.

The bird will be very clumsy at first, but it will soon learn to stand with its legs in their correct position. The time needed for healing could be one to three weeks. If you do not see improvement, you should take the bird to a rehabilitator or avian vet.

Day to day pictures of a baby Turkish Tumbler development

The following pictures are day to day development of my Turkish Tumblers that I took approximately the same time everyday for 30 days. You may click on each picture to enlarge it.

Parents Parents Parents Parents
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8
Day 9 Day 10 Day 11 Day 12
Day 13 Day 14 Day 15 Day 16
Day 17 Day 18 Day 19 Day 20
Day 21 Day 22 Day 23 Day 24
Day 25 Day 26 Day 27 Day 28
Day 29 Day 30 Day 31 Day 32

Training Young Performing Birds

There are many different ways and styles to train young performing birds and you can use the same methods to train any other breed. I would like to share how I train and fly my performing breeds like Turkish Tumblers, Iranian High Flyers and Birmingham Rollers. I use the same method for all of them and it works for me.

The young birds should be separated from their parents when they are about 30 days old. By that time, they are able to eat and drink on their own and get ready for their flight training. Training for flights is essential to keep a young bird from becoming too fat and lazy. It is important to mix the young ones with rest of the birds as soon as they are old enough, so they can learn a lot of different things from the adults. By watching the adults, young ones know where the water and food is, how to get in and out of the coop, etc. In addition, the young birds get used to breeders movement and the distinct sounds when he/she calls them.

I always use a distinct whistle and shake my food can before I feed my birds. As soon as they hear that sound, they know it's time to eat. Most of them even know and get excited when I get near the food containers as they can predict that I am about to feed them. This is very important for young birds to learn and follow for the future. I fly and feed my birds once a day. My flying birds know that they only get to eat after they fly. This discipline gives me total control over my birds. This way, I can call them anytime I want by making my distinct sound and use their hunger to my advantage. The last thing a breeder would want is to see his/her birds to land else where than their own coop. When flown hungry, the birds will not land else where or even if they did, they will not stay there long as they know, that they will be fed soon. If I see a bird that does not land on my coop and does not come after I call all my birds, I don't feed that bird that day. By the time the bird comes to my coop, there is little or no food left and that teaches the bird a hard lesson not to be late for dinner again. Believe it or not, this works. Management of feeding pigeons should be the way the fancier make his/hers birds obedient. However, this does not mean starving them into submission, but rather instilling in them the knowledge that they will get fed after they fly and trap in unhesitatingly.

After I separate the babies from their parents, I wait about a week for them to get used to living a life without their parents' guidance and protection. They get to learn where the water is and when the feeding time is, as well as how to get out of the coop and come back for safety. They are reluctant and afraid to go out in the beginning, but they get used to it very quick. Then, I start using them as my droppers. When I want my flying birds to land, I let my breeders go out and I make my distinct noises letting them know that its time land and eat. When I start training the young birds, I use my young birds as droppers instead of the breeders. This gives young birds a chance to observe the flyers and watch them land. This goes on about a week and during that time I observe my young birds. Young ones take off and start flying and landing with the adults. This is how I know if young birds are ready to fly and trained.

Once the young birds start showing interest in flying by circling over the roof couple of times, it is time to train them with the adults. It is very important however not to release the babies with the adults in the same time. Otherwise, the adults will take them very high up in the air and babies will get tired. This will make them get lost or land somewhere else than the coop, which is a bad habit to learn in the early ages of the bird. Because of my work schedule, I trained my birds to fly about an hour. When I am training young birds, I start flying the young birds when the adults are about to land. At first, about 5 minutes before my adult flyers land, I release the young birds in training. In couple of days later I start flying them last 10 minutes and increment their flying time little by little everyday. Eventually, the young birds will have built enough chest muscle and endurance to fly the same amount of time as the adults. Depending on the breed and family of the bird, as young birds start flying longer and keep up with the rest, they also start tail riding and eventually tumbling or rolling. They get better performers and reach their performing potential in a year.

Early training of a young performance breed bird is very important and should be done as soon as they are able to fly. As the young birds continue to grow, it is important for their chest muscle to be developed during flight to take a different shape, which will allow them for their vertical climbs for tumblers and summersault  for rollers.

Copyright 2011 by Arif Mümtaz. All rights reserved.

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