The very first racing pigeons I ever took care of were blue barred and black checkered. As I delved deeper into the hobby, I began to appreciate the variety of pigeons’ colors and patterns. Black checkered, solid black, and solid white were the most common; while off-colors, such as pied, red, and grizzled, were less popular because they were thought to have slower racing speed. Of course, it was just a myth, but I believed it then because I really liked blue barred pigeons.
It wasn’t until I saw a solid orange colored pigeon, actually known as yellow pigeons, that I knew I was going to have a new favorite. By saving my school allowance, I was able to bring one home. Decades have passed and my fascination for the yellow pigeon remains. Now, my new goal is to expand the yellow pigeon flock that I care for to eight to twelve members.
A few years ago, I wrote an article about basic pigeon breeding. Here are some excerpts on breeding fundamentals, with additional tips that I discovered along the way
Common terms used
Cock – male pigeon
Hen – female pigeon
Squab or squeaker – a fledgling bird about four weeks old; not yet able to feed on their own
Young bird – able to feed on their own; almost all feathers have grown in and ready for flight training
Ring band – generally made of aluminum and coated with resin plastic; contains a serial number, year, and club name
Banding – the placement of a ring band on a squeaker – a ring band becomes the lifetime identification of the bird once it grows.
Pedigree – ancestral record of an animal
1. Breeding enclosure – This should have a minimum dimension of 30 in x 18 inches x 16 inches. Standard enclosures with a divider is ideal. Anything smaller makes it uncomfortable and stressful for the mated pigeons.
2. Nest bowl – This is an inexpensive clay pot from any garden store. Some fanciers use plastic basins or biscuit containers and these work well for them. I personally wrap the clay nest bowl with old newspaper so that the dirt doesn’t stick to the porous clay pot and will be easier to clean.
3. Fine sand – This is found in local hardware stores. They are the same sand used in building construction and make for an inexpensive and effective nesting material. Make sure that the sand is dry.
4. Feeder and drinking bowl
5. Food – Pigeons are grain eaters. Most poultry stores have a pre-mixed feed called breeder mix. Pigeons need clean water, feeds, and grits daily.
Pairing and conditioning
1. Courtship chase. Notice the cock’s tail sweeping action.
2. Pigeon nesting at midpoint of breeding cage.
3. Kissing during mating period.
4. Cock jumps on top of hen during mating
Place the nest bowls inside the breeding enclosure with fine sand. Some fanciers place the nest bowls in the middle of the enclosure, in case they decide to continue breeding for the second clutch. The squeakers are to be placed on the floor for them to learn to eat. It is also around this time that another set of eggs is normally laid. The squeakers will not be able to disturb the nesting hen or cock.
Females lay their first egg about 10 days after mating, usually in the late afternoon or early evening. A second egg is laid after 2 days. Two eggs are the normal clutch size. Incubation commences with the laying of the second egg.
Both parents will take part in the incubation. The cock usually sits on the eggs from 10 AM until 5 PM, while the hen sits the rest of the time. Avoid disturbing the birds during the incubation and rearing period.
Hatching normally occurs 18 days from the start of incubation. Both parents feed the squeakers. They feed their young via a glandular crop secretion called pigeon milk. They continue to feed their young until the latter learn to eat by themselves, at around three weeks of age. When this time comes, check if the wings of the birds are complete and fully grown – this means they are now ready for the next chapter: flight training.
Once the pigeons reach about five to six months of age, they will be ready to mate. There is no sure way to identify a pigeon’s gender, but there are many indicators that may help. Through experience, a fancier can easily identify a cock or hen.
Cocks are generally bigger than hens. The head of a male pigeon is bigger, too. During courtship, the tail of the cock will drop down and move like he is sweeping the floor with it. His head bows down and up, and moves in a circle. He creates a cooing sound, louder than a hen. Sometimes, he charges and pecks the hen to show authority.
Hens are smaller in stature. They are timid. If she intends to accept the male, she will walk in a graceful manner.
If you decide to pair up your pigeons, it would be best to separate the cock and the hen. This lessens the aggressiveness of the cocks and prevents stress for the hens. Spaces are maximized, since paired pigeons tend to be territorial. Upon pairing, put the hen and cock in the enclosure with the dividers. The cock can see the hen and will start courtship. Deworming at this stage is advisable. After three to five days, if the birds show interest, they will try to be together, even with the dividers – and this is the time to remove them. If the cock pecks and puts too much pressure on the hen, they are not ready to mate.
Both pigeons make kissing gestures. The hen lowers herself to allow the male to jump on top of her.
When both are in the nest bowl, the cock positions his head towards the hen’s vent region. He also creates a wooing sound. This indicates that he is calling for the hen to lay eggs.
They start picking hays or twigs as nesting material. It is a beautiful sight to see. I suggest using half an inch of dry, fine sand.
Common breeding concerns
The second birds are often smaller, and they sometimes die because of their larger nest siblings. These can be avoided if the parents are bred at the right age and are healthy. Some birds have low parental instinct, and should not be mated. If you want to get the bloodline of the bird, use foster parents.
Squeakers are prone to canker disease. To prevent this, make sure all dishes, water, and food are clean.
Other birds bully squeakers who are only beginning to learn to start feeding themselves. This happens in a breeding colony set up. The single breeding enclosure eliminates this behavior.
Notes for efficient pairing
1. Food – I use the standard breeder mix available at the local poultry supply and add good quality pigeon pellets. The result is great; squeakers are all healthier. Because pigeon pellets easily soften, it helps the pigeon parents feed their young without much effort.
2. Nesting area – It’s a challenge to grow out the squabs to their full, healthy size.
Since the second egg hatches two days after the first, the second squeaker is usually smaller and will eventually have a hard time competing with a bigger and more robust older sibling. Most hobbyists will take out the older squeaker and let the parent feed the smaller one. Once fed, they will bring back the other squeaker. I find this method tedious and time consuming. Instead, I thought of placing the squeakers in two separate nesting pots.
Place them in two separate pots when they are around 12 days old.
3. Floor substrate – Bird droppings give off a heavy smell and contain high amounts of harmful ammonia. I use fine gravel sand aggregates bought at our local hardware store. They are inexpensive and very useful. The sand clumps and quickly absorbs unwanted moisture while lessening odor. I bought a simple kitchen sifter to easily separate the clump from the fine sand.
4. Food dish and drinker – I purchased online a simple plastic device that converted our regular one-liter bottled water into a high quantity water drinker. It’s a great tool for parents when feeding their young – they need a constant supply of clean water. Empty a one-liter water bottle container and use it as a DIY food dish (see picture). Another advantage of using this design is that it prevents birds from becoming too picky with the feeds. It also prevents bird droppings from soiling the food.
A dream to fulfill
I plan to care for eight yellow birds and give them as much freedom as I can by having them fly around my loft. I can imagine that it will be a great sight to behold!
For questions, please email [email protected]“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 ESV