What does it take to make a racing pigeon a winner? What makes a racing pigeon a champion? Ask racing fanciers, and you will get different answers. Each will have their own experiences to share.

Common differences in fancier styles are:

• Scientific system versus gut feel and luck.

• Modern supplements formulated with chemicals versus all-natural supplements like garlic and herbs.

• “Force flying” versus voluntary flying

• Open loft versus closed loft

• Inbreeding versus cross breeding

• The belief that males are better flyers compared to female birds With each different point of view, almost all agree that the following are major factors needed by a champion bird:

1. Food: A combination of carbohydrates, protein, and essential fats. Some fanciers provide different mixtures for their breeders and flyers; others use the same mix for both.

Popular mixtures contain:

• Corn

• Wheat

• Peas

• Beans

• Sorghum

Supplements include:

• Multivitamins

• Glucose

• Grits

2. The loft and its management

• Location – The best place for one is in an elevated area such as roof decks and other open spaces

• Size – Bigger lofts are better for daily exercise

• Ventilation – The adequate flow of air greatly improves the respiratory condition of a bird, which is a major factor in its performance.

• Stock density – An overpopulated loft causes additional stress to birds

• Perches – An inverted V perch and nest boxes provide stability for each individual bird to settle inside the loft

• Cleanliness – A clean loft is always beneficial both for the bird and the fancier

• Loft material – Steel and metals are popular, followed by wood and cement.

3. Training

• Regular loft flying – Most fanciers agree on giving birds loft flying time two times a day in the morning and afternoon; the minimum would be once a day.

• Self tosses – This is when the fancier brings training birds on an interval distance release from 2-5 kilometers. This method is used to prepare the birds for club training. Self tosses are important as the fancier will be able to study well the bird’s initial performance.

4. Foundation bird

Genetics: In pigeon racing, we hope to breed for different traits such as better racers in terms of speed and distance, perseverance, ability to withstand diseases, and more; hence, we keep track of each breeding.

5. Vaccination

One of the most deadly diseases for which there is a vaccination is PMV or paramyxovirus. It is a viral disease that does not affect man or other animals, but a human who handles a pigeon with PMV or the live vaccine can develop conjunctivitis. This disease causes the pigeon to lose its balance; it can also wipe out your whole bird stock. You should also considering vaccinating against other diseases such as pigeon pox, especially in other countries.

6. Mentors

For me, this is a major factor in creating champions: having the support of sincere fanciers who are willing to assist you and who give advice based on their experiences. A true mentor-mentored relationship will eventually lead to lifelong friendship.

Other Factors To Consider: 

1. Probability based on the number of birds entered: Two fanciers can both have good lines. The difference lies in the number of pigeons entered.

2. North race and south race: A fancier can have more champions than other fanciers, but the type of race is also considered as many believe that south races are more difficult.

3. Obstacles: Three major factors determine this:

• Hawks and other predatory birds

• Bad weather

• Man-made net catchers (in Tagalog, ‘manlalambat’): These people place high nets in a particular area where pigeons normally fly past; they are then instantly caught and the catchers will sell them, cheap. Can you imagine the time, money, and effort invested in the bird by the hobbyist—only for things to end up this way? Different clubs are joining together to raise funds for awareness campaigns in order to prevent of this practice.

EXPERT OPINIONS: I had the privilege of being given the chance to ask respected fanciers about what factors they considered important, and they were generous in giving their advice.

Rudy Tan (Burlington Loft), Philippine Homing Pigeon Association, Inc. (PHA) member, competing for 20 years

Three major reasons why a South race is harder:

• Total distance is longer

• Need to cross the sea

• Need a long distance strain or better bird

Ranking of the most important factors (with the first being the most important)

• Fancier

• Foundation bird

• Loft management

• Food

• Training

Most memorable race

• 1996, first Tacloban champion

Edwyn Chua, PHA member who has been competing for 15 years

Three major reasons why a South race is harder

• Interval of the distances is bigger

• South races are held at the start of summer

• The wide water area, around 80 kilometers long

Ranking of the most important factors (with the first being the most important)

• Fancier

• Foundation bird

• Loft management

• Food

• Training

Most memorable race

• PHA 1st North Overall

Tommy de Vera (Honey Bee Left), Founder of PSP racing club, now competing One Race in Canada (known as The Maestro)

Three major reasons why a South race is harder:

• Longer race distances

• They also have to fly across the seas and the wind direction through most of the races is westward, which would bring them to more islands to fly through.

• It is common for them to experience flying through the extreme heat of the sun, as well as through the rains from different regions they will pass through.

Ranking of the most important factors (with the first being the most important)

a. The fancier

b. Foundation birds – you will not have consistent good results without good birds. But you need to breed them selectively using their progenies’ performances as a harderguide in future pairings.

c. Loft management – Because their health is important, controlled humidity, cleanliness, and keeping the loft dry and free from rats and insects help keep the birds disease-free.

d. Food – balanced feed mixtures are now readily available from poultry supply shops, but during the longer races, they need more safflower (rich in fats) and brown rice. Grits, minerals, and vitamin supplements will help them recover quickly, or prepare them to go through long and hard races.

e. Training – this may be placed last but is still very important like the others. Just like athletes, the birds have to be trained properly to get them in top health condition. They should also be trained to trap/timed (go inside their loft) quickly in order for them to win. Races are usually won by a few seconds, so a bird that stays by the roof or landing board loses.

Most memorable race – 1999, when “Double Frisco” (PHA-96-61504) won the PHA San Francisco, Leyte race (673 kilometers). Not just because the race was so hard that only 3 birds clocked, nor because she won by more than 2 hours, but because it was an unprecedented feat (to this day), to win it for two consecutive years—so she was named “Double Frisco.” Having a bird clock in that race is already quite a feat, but the same bird doing it twice is quite remarkable.

Key to a champion bird – Partnership between the fancier and the bird!

This story appeared in Animal Scene’s December 2015 issue.