The breeders' dedication made possible the appearance of different and sophisticated pigeons. It's worth getting to know them.
Imagine a pigeon with an exotic combination of colors. Or an individual whose feathers around the head, remind you of an incredible hair-do. Or yet another, with the such an arched chest it really looks like an arch. These are some of the surprises the breeding of pigeons reserves for us. Motivated by the variety of breed, easy importation and development of national techniques for breeding according with Brazil's climate, there has been a growing interest for pigeon breeding in the last few years. The hobby, which includes two major categories of pigeons - ornamental (also known as domestic) and wild - demands dedication for the many details envolved, but gratifies the breeder both in the aesthetic aspect and the financial one; the rarest species may be very costly (up to US$ 5,000).
Anyone who intends to start breeding these birds may choose from these categories, both of which with individuals from several parts of the world. The ornamentals, derived from the same species of ordinary pigeons we see on the streets, have gained noble characteristics in plumage, colors, and size, due to the genetic work done. They may be kept in captivity or not. The different species of wild pigeons, on the other hand, in their different colors, sizes and habits, must all be kept in captivity.
It is important to remember that the pigeon breeder should only purchase species from other countries, and this for two reasons. First, the Brazilian law does not allow anyone to keep the national species without authorization from IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment). The second reason is that the few Brazilian varieties found in nature (Asa Branca, Azulona), are not colorful enough to attract the interest of breeders and buyers.
It is also important to read good books about pigeons as well as consulting experienced breeders. In fact, whatever your choice is, a good tip is starting a colection with a couple of a non-expensive species.
Another important issue is sanitation, once many urban centers have pigeon overpopulation problems. Loose on the streets, they eat almost everything, even garbage. Contaminated, and many times ill, they transmit diseases to man. This is not the case of the ornamental or wild pigeons, which are kept in good hygiene conditions, and are fed select and fresh food.
All breeds come from the Columba livia, European bird which was spread around the world hundreds of years ago, and has grown used to living with man, mainly in the cities, where it is fed, and lives on roofs and house breeches.
The noble breeds have appeared after several breedings with certain characteristics, and from then on families were formed, with some traces being isolated in mating. That is how the pure-bred pigeons emerged. This designation is given when all the ascendents (grandparents and parents) and descendents (sons) maintain the desired characteristics.
Ornamental Pigeons can be divided in ten major groups, each with different characteristics. But there are more types of pigeons, and the potential breeder should look for more information before deciding which type to start working with.
Generally very sweet, the ornamental pigeons may be bred in cages, open aviaries or dovecotes. Normally, they know the house, they fly out for daily flights, and return to eat and to sleep. They usually stay close to the house, but to raise them freely, it is necessary to undergo a period of adaptation. As soon as they are purchased, they should be kept in cages during 15 to 30 days, according to the race. At the end of this period, all the owner has to do is to open the aviary, and without scaring them, let them fly out naturally. This rule does not apply to the Carrier Pigeons, who are able to return to their place of origin even months after reclusion.
Their varied colors make them stand out among other pigeons. But the several sizes in which they can be found also distinguish them: their spread may be from 10cm to 45cm.
Coming from different countries, the wild pigeons can be bought from importers, breeders and pet stores. The beginner may choose the cheaper species. Among the Brazilian breeders, these pigeons are known by genus or by the name in English, but some have already received a name in Portuguese. There are several species in each genus.
They can be divided in two groups. The frugivorous, which feed basically from fruit. They are more colorful and also more aggressive, more difficult to breed and more expensive. The other group is formed by the granivorous, who eat mainly grains. These are more resistant, docile, and the most indicated for beginners.
Feeding: Granivorous - They eat an average of
45g once a day. Give them a mixture of dried grains such as corn, wheat, sorgo,
peas, coated rice, and barley in equal parts, and in a smaller quantity add
sunflower and soya beans.To avoid the lack of minerals, add a portion of
pelleted hen food. Frugivorous - give them chopped ripe fruit twice a
day (basic fruit is the banana). Mix with bird food so that all the pieces of
fruit are "dipped" in it, and don't stick to each other. In a separate
bowl, put just bird food.
Housing: Ornamental pigeons - 80 x 80 x 80cm cage for one couple, or 2 x 2 x 2m aviary for up to 6 couples, with front side turned to direction of sun rise, all covered. In the dovecote, shelves with 30cm wide divisions, each compartment 60cm wide x 30cm deep. Make a small pond for bathing on the floor, which should be sand. Wild pigeons - aviary according to size of bird (it can from 1,5m deep x 2m wide x 2m high, to 4 x 1,5 x 2,5m). Part of it must be covered; the other part is exposed to sun, so birds can sun bathe, and also bathe in the rain.
Equipment: Ornamental pigeons - perches cannot be round because they press feet flat on surface. Food and water troughs should be on the floor. Wild pigeons - round perches, distant from each other, so birds can exercise (2 higher and 1 lower, used specially by female in case she is beaten by male). Fix iron brackets up to half the height of the aviary, with space for landing and for food and water bowls. A lot of vegetation, so they can build nests. Choose plants with very resistant big leaves, or smaller ones such as Ficus benjamin(avoid the toxic plants). Sand floor, and straw.
Breeding: Pigeons are usually monogamous; after the couple is formed, they don't separate anymore. Reproduction lasts from May to January; in February, March and April, moulting period, it is advisable to separate couples. They may bear up to 6 litters each year, and incubation lasts from 17 to 19 days. Male and female hatch eggs: male during the day, and female during the night. Both look after the babies; she feeds them. Ornamental pigeons: couples stay in ordinary aviaries. They lay 2 eggs per bearing. Wild pigeons: when they start fighting in the colective aviary, this means mating period is starting. Separate couples in individual aviaries. In the case of frugivorous pigeons, put the female in the aviary 40 days after the male has been placed there. Female lays 1 or 2 eggs per bearing.
Nest: Granivorous - 25 x 25 x 8cm boxes for each couple, with straw, sand and tinder. Frugivorous - a ready-made nest (small straw basket in size that fits pigeon well).
Special care: Change water everyday. Do not ignore hygiene: avoid accumulation of fezes, and, in order to prevent lice, spray pigeons with a non-toxic powder found in pet stores (in Brazil, a good brand is Bolfo). Put some of this product in the nest before the female lays eggs. Ornamental pigeons - they adapt well to any climate. Give them vermifuge 3 times a year. Wild pigeons - Ideal temperature of aviaries should be between 18° and 28° C.
For more information: Brazilian Association of Bird Breeders, tel. (011) 864-2899; Wild Life (importer) tel. (021) 220-9729.
Reading Material: Encyclopedia of Pigeon Breeds, Wendell M. Levi (Sterling Publishing, NY, USA). Pigeons and Doves of the World, Derek Goodwin (British Museum of Natural History, 1970 - Stapels Printers, St. Albans, Herts, Great Britain).
We would like to thank breeders Lino Marques Simão
from Chácara Primavera (011) 262-0199 (domestic pigeons); Salvador de
Oliveira Porto Filho (021) 796-2031 and Sinésio Calori (imported wild
pigeons). Tecnical editing: Denise Monsores, biologist, head of the bird
division of the Rio de Janeiro Zoo Foundation.
Research and text: Ana Martins. Text editor: Bernadette Siqueira Abrão
Picture: Fernando Torres de Andrade
Owner: Pedro Narkelli