Homing Pigeons – Lesson One

IMG_2600I thought I knew a fair amount about pigeons. I had a pet pigeon named Danny while in university in Nova Scotia. He had been found as a squab by a friend of mine who was too busy running a venue to continue caring for him. I took over the duties while he was still pretty young.

I lived in an old house converted into apartments, on the second floor. Danny, once he was old enough, occupied one of my ample bedroom windowsills. Coming inside to be fed, or when it was too cold and free to roam the city otherwise. It should be noted that my roommates at the time hated him and wanted him gone. He was charming though, and would bat his wings like a Mantis shrimp at my cats if they got too close. Definitely as good a pet, if not better, as any canary, zebra or society finch or budgie, all of which I have experience with.

It was always thrilling to have him follow me to school and join me for lunch. A lot of students were shocked to see what looked like a wild pigeon fly down and land on my shoulder while I was eating a sandwich out on the deck.

I also learned from reading multiple online experiments that if you do harm to a pigeon, they will remember your face for the rest of their lives. Only such intelligent, well-adapted birds could have acquired such a bad rap.

Now I have five homing pigeons. I thought they could just live in the coop with the chickens and that was kind of that. I considered the possibility that the moment I let them out to fly the first time they would just return home to the guy I bought them from, but he had assured me they were young, unflown birds and I could probably safely let them out in a couple of weeks. (That means that they’ve always been locked up and haven’t been able to fly around and really “lock in” where home is by taking note of landmarks and such. Some people say that even unflown pigeons know where they are geographically and can find their way back and I tend to agree. Hoping my pigeons will feel spoiled enough to want to stay here though, fingers crossed.) Well, once turned loose in the pen they flew to the highest point on top of the coop and that was that. I set them up with ample food and water and let them be. First mistake.

Apparently a hungry pigeon is a friendly pigeon. After a day or three of pigeons who wanted nothing to do with me, I decided I needed to remove the food bowl and instead feed them once or twice a day and call them to the feed with the same sound every time. This will eventually set me up to be able to let them loose in the morning before they’ve been fed, and hopefully then call them back for breakfast. If I can practice this routine over and over, I can coop train my birds. Then I can slowly progress to taking them farther distances away for flight training. I allow them to free feed for around an hour or so while  I complete the rest of my farm chores. I give them a mixture of wild bird seed, whole grains and laying pellets. The pellets are not a big hit.

Well, it worked. I now have an attentive group of pigeons who are very interested in me and what I’m doing.

Another aspect I didn’t know was that pigeons are extremely territorial, to the point that the nicer the setup they have at home, the faster they’ll race back. Some people suggest nest boxes that are 30 by 24 inches. That’s nearly the size of a rabbit cage! I decided to compromise and made them a six unit plywood nesting shelf with holes that are about 16″ wide by 11″ deep and 12″ tall. I figure they can always claim two if they require more space. I don’t plan to keep a lot of pigeons, so it should do for now.


Waiting for a snack


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