|About the Loft|
The White Dove, also known as the Rock Dove, is from the order Columbiformes, which includes doves and pigeons. Scientifically, there is no distinction between doves and pigeons, and the names are often used interchangeably. For the most part, "dove" is used to describe the smaller bird, and "pigeon", the larger. The smaller bird has no "homing" instinct, and cannot be trained to return to its loft once released. Thus, the larger Homing Pigeon with its strong instinct to return to its loft is trained for releases and races.
Doves and Pigeons mate for life. During mating season the male bird, the cock, encourages his mate, the hen, to nest. We provide nesting bowls that are placed in individual nesting boxes, or compartments, that are 2 feet wide by 1 ½ feet deep. The birds are able to come and go freely to exercise in the loft and aviary, and to eat and dink at community feeders.
The eggs are pure white in color. The first egg is laid 10 days after mating has occurred, usually in the early evening. The second egg is laid mid-morning approximately 45 hours later. Incubation occurs after the second egg is laid as this is nature's way of assuring both eggs hatch at the same time. Both the cock and the hen incubate the eggs. The hen usually sits at night until mid morning when the male takes over.
It takes 18 days for the baby, or squab, to hatch. As a rule one squab is male and the other is female. During incubation, both the cock and the hen form "pigeon milk" in their crops, which is the squab's only diet until the fourth day when grain is added. The pigeon milk dries up by the tenth day when only solid grain is fed. Interestingly, unlike most birds, the baby pigeons put their beak inside the parent's beak to receive food.
By 4 weeks the baby's are weaned. Once they are eating well on their own we move them into our loft that houses the birds we use for our releases, our flyers. After a few days of adjustment we place the babies in a special cage outside the loft. One side of the cage is open-ended. This side is attached to the entrance of the loft where the birds are able to come into the loft after daily exercising flights and releases. It is called the "trap", and it only enables the birds to enter to loft and not leave the loft. Here the babies have a chance to look around at the outside world. When the babies become hungry they push through the trap and come into the loft where their food and water await them. The babies quickly learn how to "trap in" in a matter of days. They are now ready to be released outside the loft to exercise and learn their way around.
The training process can be compared to the athlete who is preparing for competition. The youngsters are not strong enough to fly great distances and are trained slowly to build up their strength and endurance. At first they will fly short distances only with birds their age. After they have gained enough experience and time in the sky circling the loft and our 32 acre farm, they will be released with the next older generation of birds whose strength allows them to fly further from the loft before returning. In time the babies build up their endurance and are released to fly with our older flyers. These birds are released from the loft on a daily basis, weather permitting, and can be gone flying out of sight for long periods of time before returning home. When the babies can comfortably fly with the older birds they are ready for short "tosses", meaning, they will be put in crates and driven out 5 miles from the house. Here they will be released or "tossed" into the air as they are strong enough to fly home. In short order the birds are released further and further from their loft.
No one really knows how the homing pigeon knows how to find their way home when they are released out of site of their loft. Properly trained homers can be released as far as 500 to 600 miles from home after only being taken on 25 to 50 mile training tosses.
There is a lot of work involved in the raising and training of birds. The birds must be homing pigeons as other birds in the pigeon/dove family do not have the instinct to return home and will get lost and likely die from thirst and starvation in the wild. Releasing an untrained or poorly trained homing pigeon is no different than releasing a bird which was not born with the homing instinct. It too will likely get lost and die. Because of this, it is very important to go through all the steps of training before releasing birds. Young birds are not taken on tosses until they have the strength and endurance to fly back home. Waiting too long to train an adult bird may also result in lost birds.
Special care is taken to insure the health of the birds. Lofts must be cleaned daily and disinfected on a regular basis. The birds must always have fresh water and be given clean, dry grain. Lofts must be built so that the birds have adequate protection from the weather, yet open enough to where they have good air circulation.
Training and flying birds for races and ceremonial releases is a full time job at our loft, not just a hobby. The work is never ending and time consuming. However, for the pigeon fancier it is a definitely a rewarding experience and well worth the work and time put into the training. Each release is amazing. Each release is beautiful. Once released the birds circle the skies. They join together in a spectacular display as they circle the sky getting their bearings before they return home to their loft where they were born and raised.