Riddles in pigeon racing

Incomprehensible losses with young pigeons

One of the great riddles in our beautiful sport is the incomprehensible losses of young pigeons.

Of course, young go missing when they don’t fly enough and build up too little experience and ‘orientation’. And if they’re weak, sick or nauseous, it’s easier to lose them. Once they’ve recovered after, for example, Adeno-coli trouble or after ornithosis complex, we have to be careful with how we train them. They have to be fully recovered and want to fly. We prefer to see them fly high and disappear from sight for half an hour and train really actively. You know what I mean, I would call it ‘fanatical’ flying.
The droppings have to be nice and firm, we like to see down and the pigeons have to have shiny, tight feathers around the ears, smooth necks, white noses, pink skin and dry eyes! If you want to race hard with your youngsters you will have to keep them in the dark. That will make a big difference. They stay in feather for longer and that’s what it’s all about. They look like faster older pigeons. We are talking about winter youngsters and early young pigeons.


In the past, a lot of drops were used, for example, Neo Cortef eye drops based on linco spectin with cortisone. Those who first discovered it, were playing out of their skin. This phenomenon originated in Belgium and it spread to Brabant, where a number of fanciers also quickly learned the trick. They were getting chain results especially later in the season at the nationals. So be it. It was a lot of work, a while later once or twice a week a drop went in a drinking pot and the moult stopped. For years, these ‘cortisones ‘ have been on the doping list and so darkening became very popular, darkening and lighting in all kinds of different forms, such as many things in pigeon racing, was invented in Belgium. Often more than 50 years ago.

Incomprehensible losses

I will use the following story to illustrate the incomprehensible losses. A young, good pigeon fancier from Belgium was going to train his roughly 90 youngsters over a distance of 25 km. He had done this a number of times already and everything went well until one ‘bad’ morning he drove again to his usual training spot. He wanted to release them in 3 groups of about 30 pigeons, every 15 minutes. His mother was waiting for them at home to take note of their arrival.
The first group came home quickly in a tight peloton. The second group never arrived, not a feather, never heard of or seen again. The third group, released fifteen minutes later, arrived in closed order! They were all normal, healthy youngsters from one and the same loft.

Did they end up in another group?

I’ve heard many stories like this. Young pigeons are lost while they are perfectly in order, in good health, and have all the necessary kilometres under their wings. There is actually only one sensible explanation for this misfortune. The pigeons have ended up in a different (‘big’) group or release. Due to their perfect condition they have flown happily along until the realisation starts to dawn on them that they are far from home. They get thirsty, get tired, get stressed; some still do get home, but others don’t come home on the same day and by the next day it becomes ever more difficult.

Interplay of factors
In the seventies and eighties, when I was spending a lot of time in South Limburg with its enormous pigeon density and many top players, I was soon confronted with the phenomenon of ‘incomprehensible losses’ with very well-trained and therefore healthy pigeons. I remember very well that my regretful friend, Frits Rennenberg called me and said: “Henk can you please come over soon, today I suddenly lost 40% of my youngsters, just from the loft”. So a few days later I went to Bingelrade, a beautiful village in the beautiful South Limburg. Medically, there was nothing wrong. The pigeons seemed to be in good condition which is something we have also seen over the last 10-15 years. You start asking yourself what the causes could be. If you list everything and make conclusions and deductions, it cannot be due to all kinds of well-intentioned hypotheses like: radiation from transmission masts, genetically manipulated feed, sick pigeons etc. Because when the pigeons are bred in the summer , they get lost much less often, while there are also transmission masts and the feed is the same. I believe in a combination of factors such as early breeding, darkening, a lot of training and getting in top condition early. Then there is the stress of birds of prey, which should not be underestimated. Especially from England and Germany I get a lot of videos of panting youngsters with long necks sitting on roofs staring at the sky looking stressed and nervous. Of course panting pigeons could, besides being stressed or very warm, also have an airway disorder. In that case there are usually many other symptoms!

Identifying and trying to understand the problem can lead to more targeted advice. It would be great if we could follow our faithful creatures ‘live’ on a monitor. Only then, could we gain more insight into what makes them not return home straight away.

P.S. Understandable losses occur when you start teaching ‘sick’ or inexperienced pigeons. Sometimes, for example in an ornithosis complex, the disease might not be visible (it may be latently present). And of course, in the case of Adeno-coli.

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