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pigeon Training Delinquent Young Bird Kitspigeons
By: Cliff Ball

Following the critical stages of pairing rollers to impart the necessary genes for performance, breeding them, weaning and trap training squeakers, comes the thrill of getting them in the air to develop the quality spin that can be so elusive. While training a kit of young birds, among the most frustrating of problems that can develop, is the tendency to fly in a pattern of tight, fast circles on one wing. With each season of new recruits coming into training, the Internet sites abound with roller men looking for solutions. Our objective is, of course, a kit of young rollers that will fly slowly in a figure-eight pattern, which appears to be the most optimum for the development of the highest number of quality spinners available from the pairings we made in the breeding loft. Slow flying is important for rollers to have the opportunity to develop spin. The development of a pattern of flight in fast, low, tight and circles on one wing can ruin more kits and bring about the demise of greater numbers of rollers than any other developmental issue, including rolldowns and stiffs. It is not uncommon to see the culling of entire kits for the development of this problem. Rollers that fly in this flawed pattern of flight have no opportunity to develop the roll, whether it is due to the speed of flight or the bank-angle of the tight circles of flight.

Several reasons have been proposed for the development of this type of flying. These include the possibility that it merely represents a normal stage of development, flying young birds in winds in excess of 15 mph, feeding too much, feeding too little, too much protein, not enough protein, the presence of trees, especially a solitary specimen, adjacent to the loft in the flight pattern of the birds. Though they may be valid causes, the problem is that the alteration or the removal of these factors does not appear to eliminate the frustrating habit and return the kit to a proper flying pattern in most cases.

With the onset of fall several years ago, while driving along the interstate I watched a flock of blackbirds flying in a cornfield next to the highway as a red tail elevated from the field, after having finished a likely meal. The flock seemed to function as an individual unit, almost as a living thing, as they wheeled and banked in tight circles, winding it’s way across the cornfield and finally settling for a hopeful meal of their own as the hawk moved off. The pattern of flying that they exhibited looked all too familiar to me, because I had two kits of my seven kits of rollers that had developed a similar pattern of flying. Each of the individual black birds had instinctively given up its ability to function as a unique individual in its flying pattern…. for the sake of the flock…perhaps for the sake of its own protection. I wondered if this same instinctive mechanism played any role in the flight pattern of my “delinquent” kits of rollers. Perhaps the roller men were correct when they had advanced the theory that the undesirable flight pattern is merely a stage of development. It is perfectly logical to deduce that this flight pattern may represent a basic instinct that sets up a “flocking” or “schooling” dynamic, designed to protect the birds in the flock by confusing predators, for the purposes of migration, and to direct the flock to a food source such as I had witnessed in the cornfield. This is, in fact, a well-documented phenomenon in schools of fish and in flocks of birds, it turns out. In both cases, the unique characteristics of the individuals in the group are sacrificed for the greater good of that group; be it a flock or a school. The instinct is so powerful that the individuals in the group seem to be powerless to strike out on their own; to take any individual control that might alter their pattern of behavior (flight) in any way. Thus a kit that has developed this annoying (to us) pattern of flight will not be likely to yield birds that are able to act as individuals to develop their own genetically endowed ability to spin. Whether it is the speed of flight or the steep bank angle in tight circles, and it is likely both, that is counterproductive to the birds developing spin, there appears to be some basic instinctive mechanism that takes control of these kits that is capable of superseding the impulse to roll. Is this some basic instinct for survival designed by nature to protect the young flock (kit) by confusing predators…or for the purposes of gathering numbers for the trek south…or perhaps to guide the flock in settling down to a potential source of food? Similar to the schooling of fish, the unique characteristics of the individuals in the group appear to be given up; sacrificed for the greater good of the group.

The basis for my hypothesis has come about from my observations and experiences with the training of my ’06, ’07, ’08, and ‘09 young bird kits. I raised and flew six to eight kits each year. All the birds in the kits were bred from the same breeding stock. All the kits were fed the same diet and ration consisting of a breeder ration of a standard pigeon mix and pellets, 2/3 to 1/3.; and weaned onto a mix of wheat and Austrian peas 75% to 25%. My kit boxes are located adjacent to a pasture with the nearest tree line 75-100 yards away; no individual trees to entice a kit to fly circles around. Each of the six kits is comprised of same-aged birds based on hatching date. Bred from the same family of birds, there is a relative degree of consistency in size and type among the birds in each kit and between the different kits as units. The only significant variation between the kits is the month of the year in which they were hatched, weaned, and started in flight, which I do not discount by any means. Kits weaned and flown in cooler months did not appear to be as prone to developing the faulty pattern of flying.

Of the kits I raised, about30% of the kits developed the bad habit. They are usually successive kits that were just being settled when the summer temperature change occurred in North Carolina. I do not believe, however, that it was the heat and humidity alone that were the primary cause of this development, because late hatch kits that followed, trained in more severe heat and humidity, did not develop the problem, and retained a nice slow figure-eight (sometimes!) pattern, meandering over the sky and developing spin nicely. So it appears that a significant change in the weather, in this case a significant increase in heat and humidity, at a critical stage in their development, may have played a role.

Handling the individual birds in each of the kits revealed that the kits with the bad habits were, indeed, heavier than the other kits; same number of birds, same ration, same feed, same activity, yet heavier. I am at a loss to explain this development. However, these birds were certainly no heavier or better-muscled than the kits of fellow roller men in the area who had birds of the same age that stayed up for two hours. Each of these kits also had a couple birds that did not appear to compete for food as aggressively and went light, possibly explaining some of the weight gain in their kit-mates who hogged the food. However these leaner birds showed no more ability to initiate individual flying patterns and stayed right with their Arnold Schwarzenegger-like buddies!

Actual flying conditions appeared to have little or no impact on the behavior before or after it developed. All the kits were treated equally and flown in succession on any given day whether high pressure and clear skies, cloudy with light rain, or up to 15 mph winds. (Flying young birds in strong winds, consistently, at the critical stage of development is almost certain to result in this defective flying pattern). But after developing this “survival flight mode” the birds persisted in that pattern in the rain, heat, humidity, clouds, clear skies, or any other weather variable Mother Nature threw at them.

I was impressed by the strength of the dynamic that was negatively affecting the behavior of the birds in these kits. Even when they would happen to elevate above tree level, they would ultimately corkscrew themselves into the ground, with some of the birds almost crashing into the earth in apparent amazement. At other times the entire kit abruptly descended from a pattern of circles at 5 to 10 feet, and landed; all standing around staring blankly at each other in some apparent daze of some kind, seeming to wonder why they had done so. On another occasion one of the kits descended behind a tree line until they disappeared. When they did not reappear, after about 1o minutes, I hiked over to the next farm, only to find the kit grounded; all walking around dazed and confused, seemingly trying to figure out where they were and how they got there; and not even behaving in normal pigeon ground activity! And all the while, the other kits continued to develop normal flying, kitting, and rolling behavior.

By the age of six months, I was attempting everything under the sun to shake the kits out of this flying pattern, because this is a critical period for the development of spin in my family of rollers. I tried more feed, less feed; more protein, less protein; more flying, less flying. Nothing seemed to have any effect on the kit’s flying pattern. None of the birds in these kits were developing any spin. I rarely noticed even the occasional flip to give me any hope; just continuous flying fast in low, tight spirals, at a steep bank angle. I was just about prepared to follow the advice I had received from most guys in the hobby…cull the lot of them and move on with the other kits. But I knew that there were birds in those “bad” kits that had parents that were producing at very high percentages, and I was not ready to throw in the towel on those birds just yet.

Finally, out of sheer frustration, I boxed up the kits and hauled their butts up the road a half-mile or so and released them. To my amazement, the kits flew ‘round and ‘round in the same tight circles on one wing, elevating just enough above tree height occasionally to find their way home! On the verge of following the advice to cull both kits, this is about the time that I saw the flock of blackbirds in the cornfield and began to develop this theory of flocking behavior. I decided to try one last remedy. I boxed the birds up and took them about a half mile away, to the top of knoll, where I could still see my kit boxes. Here, I released a small group of three, and observed their flight with binoculars until they landed on the kit box. Miraculously, their flight pattern changed. Behaving more like individual rollers once again, they began to elevate, ranging across the sky flying in different directions, flying more slowly, and on different wing. Wing clapping, tail setting, and flipping that had been so absent up to this point began to appear! On a few occasions, I became impatient and released the second kit of three before the first had trapped in. When I did so, invariably, the six birds would join up and resume their old defective flight pattern, ‘round and ‘round in circles until they exhausted themselves and landed. In groups of three, they actually flew like rollers. If any more were released at the same time, they returned to their bad habits. So three appeared to be the magic number.

It was a major pain in the butt, but I have done it religiously when it developed over the summer months; hauling them half a mile away; releasing and observing them three at a time; and charting the progress of each bird. I never let them fly as a kit again. Well, actually, I tried it once or twice, thinking they had “un-learned” their bad habit. But no, they backslid every time. They could not be trusted together as a group any more. Flown three at a time, their individually endowed impulse to roll begins to assert itself. By observing each bird and logging its progress, I am able to separate the faulty kits into groups: a) completely stiff fast flyers, b) wing clappers, sailors and tail-sitters, c) flippers, and d) 10 ft. spinners.

The delay or stunting in the development of the roll was readily apparent as some birds, with each fly, moved quickly through the groups to the next level of performance. Some birds leapt forward, skipping groups; flipping one week, rolling 5 feet the next and 15-20 the next. A few eventually became roll downs. (I have always wondered if they would have become roll downs if I had left them in the defective flying pattern and never allowed them to develop in the roll.) For other birds, I ultimately pulled them into my A-kit where they have matured into excellent kit-birds as of today. Others made the B-kit. Most, about 60%, developed in the 5-10 ft. range. And, of course, a few of the rest were culled for fast flying, poor or non-performance. It is very interesting that this was very similar to the average production rate for the breeders in the other “normal-developing” kits.

I consider my effort with this technique to be a huge success in salvaging the performance of some of the birds in these kits. To be honest, I was expecting a much poorer rate of improvement, because every other remedy that had been recommended and tried, had failed. This is the only technique that I have had any success with at all, over the past several years. It is logical to assume that early detection and immediate attention in applying the remedy are essential. The sooner the delinquent kit gets the attention it needs (perhaps at the first sign of the development of this dynamic) the higher the rate of success that we can expect. Different families of birds may also respond differently, depending on when they come into the roll. But changing the amount or quality of feed appeared to have little lasting effect. There are no solitary trees or towers, so this can be ruled out as a cause or correction that is needed.

Was this strictly a simple matter of a stage of development in these birds? Could we have expected them to mature into normal development without any intervention at all? I would say, probably not, based on my observations of the intensity of the faulty flying pattern in my particular kits. Based on the number of questions posted on internet roller sites about the problem, from a wide variety of families of rollers, this appears to be a pervasive problem in the training of a kit of rollers, the most common solution for which, has been culling. I suppose we may never know for certain, like so many issues in the breeding and flying of rollers. Is this primarily a weather-induced phenomenon that would have corrected itself with the approaching cooler temperatures of fall? Maybe…..but I seriously doubt it. It is possible that the development of this protective flocking instinct and pattern of flying may, indeed, be precipitated by immaturity, by hot and humid weather, by the presence of an isolated tree or tower nearby, by flying in high winds, or by overfeeding a kit. But once the pattern is learned, it is not so easily remedied simply be removing the precipitating factor, as suggested by some. Active intervention to alter the way these birds are flown, is your best chance to provide the best opportunity for each roller to assert and develop the individual inherited performance characteristics that influence its flying and rolling.

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