Overview of “The Homing Pigeon” Technical Manual

a pigeon standing on top of a red object

This manual, published by the US War Department in January 1945, provides comprehensive instructions on the breeding, care, and training of homing pigeons for military communication. It covers all aspects of pigeon management, from loft construction and sanitation to the selection and mating of breeding stock, detailed training methods, and the handling of pigeons for messenger service. The manual emphasizes the importance of proper breeding, physical condition, training, and gentle handling to maximize pigeon efficiency.

The text details various aspects of the pigeon’s biology, highlighting its unique anatomical features that enable long-distance flights, such as its highly developed respiratory system with multiple air sacs and its strong, muscled body. It also addresses the challenges faced by pigeons in carrying messages, including adverse weather conditions, darkness, and injuries, offering solutions and strategies to mitigate these factors. The manual further provides practical guidelines for loft management, including recordkeeping, equipment, and the use of message holders for carrying messages. It concludes with a detailed section on diseases and medicines, emphasizing preventative measures, proper diagnosis, and treatment options for common pigeon ailments.

Facts from “The Homing Pigeon” Technical Manual:

  • Homing pigeons are a distinct variety created through careful cross-breeding for maximum distance and speed. This was achieved by blending several existing varieties, like the Smerle, Horseman, Cumulet, Dragoon, Carrier, and Owl.
  • The pigeon’s homing instinct is based on its natural urge to return to its home loft. This is driven by hunger and the strong reproductive urge, as pigeons are monogamous and highly attached to their mates.
  • The pigeon’s ear seems to play a crucial role in its sense of direction. While the exact mechanism is unknown, the sensitivity of their ears likely enables them to perceive magnetic and atmospheric changes to determine their direction.
  • The pigeon’s respiratory system is highly developed. Air circulates through its lungs and nine air sacs, which act as a lift and force pump, renewing air during sustained flights of 12 to 15 hours.
  • Bloom or milt is a white, chalky powder that protects feathers from moisture during flight. The absence of bloom indicates poor health in a pigeon.
  • Molting is the process of shedding and replacing feathers. A complete molt indicates good health and is essential for maintaining a perfect coat for the following year.
  • Feathers are shed in a specific order. This starts with the primary flight feathers, followed by neck and shoulder feathers, then tail feathers, concluding with body feathers.
  • The primary flight feathers are crucial for flight. They overlap, creating a solid surface during the downbeat of the wing, providing lift and propulsion.
  • Pigeons have four types of feathers: contour feathers, hair feathers, fluff feathers, and down feathers. Each type serves a specific purpose in maintaining the bird’s insulation, appearance, and flight capabilities.
  • Pigeons drink water like horses. They place their bill in the water and take long, deep drafts.
  • Pigeons should not be overfed. Overfeeding can lead to sluggishness and listlessness, hindering their performance.
  • Pigeon feed must be of specific grade and mixture to ensure proper growth and health. It should be sound, free of impurities, and contain specific percentages of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats for optimal nutrition.
  • Grit is essential for digestion. It acts as a mechanical grinder in the gizzard and assists in the assimilation of food.
  • The annual allowance of feed mixture for a pigeon is 52 pounds, and the annual allowance of grit is 6 pounds.
  • Bathing is crucial for maintaining cleanliness and preventing parasites. Pigeons should be allowed to bathe regularly, especially in warm weather.
  • Catching and handling pigeons must be done with great care. Awkward handling can damage their feathers and affect their flying ability.
  • Each pigeon is identified by a metal leg band. One band indicates the pigeon’s origin and the other is removable, indicating the pigeon’s ownership.
  • Training pigeons begins at an early age and is progressive and constant. This includes settling, conditioning, and directional training.
  • Settling involves conditioning the pigeon to return to its home loft. This is essential for establishing a reliable homing instinct.
  • Pigeons can be trained to fly in a specific direction. Directional training enhances speed and reliability by focusing the bird’s homing instinct on a specific route.
  • Pigeons can be delivered by parachute. This method, using specialized equipment, allows for the rapid deployment of pigeons to isolated forces.

Statistics from “The Homing Pigeon” Technical Manual:

  • A cock pigeon weighs from 14 to 17 ounces, while a hen weighs from 13 to 16 ounces.
  • Pigeons can fly continuously for 12 to 15 hours.
  • The annual allowance of feed mixture for a pigeon is 52 pounds, and the annual allowance of grit is 6 pounds.
  • During training, flight speeds average 30 miles per hour from distances of 13 miles or more.
  • After completing training, pigeons can fly at speeds faster than 37½ miles per hour.
  • Birds exceeding 40 miles per hour on their first training flight from release points of 13 miles or more may be failing to observe variations in topography.
  • A second liberation is recommended for birds returning at speeds less than 20 miles per hour.
  • The incubation period for pigeon eggs is from 17 to 18 days.
  • Pigeons can be launched safely between altitudes of 200 and 1,000 feet with airspeed not exceeding 125 miles per hour.
  • Pigeon flies can deposit larvae in or around the nest bowl, nest box, or around the loft.
  • Newly deposited pigeon fly larvae turn from white to brown and then to jet black within a few hours.
  • Young pigeon flies emerge from their shells in about 30 days.
  • Adult strongyles can be found as far up as the crop of a pigeon.
  • Female strongyles can deposit as many as 12,000 eggs per day.
  • Infective strongyle larvae can hatch, molt, and become infective within 5 days.
  • Adult tapeworms can reach lengths of 6 to 8 inches.
  • About 30 percent of young pigeons bred in any one season are normally under the physical standard and should be culled.
  • From 20 to 30 percent of the remaining stock may be expected to be lost during training flights, as a result of disease and injury, or through additional culling.
  • The lifespan of tuberculosis germs in soil is estimated to be 2 years.

Terms from “The Homing Pigeon” Technical Manual:

  • Homing Pigeon: A distinct variety of pigeon bred for its innate ability to return to its home loft, even when transported long distances.
  • Loft: A building or vehicle specifically designed and equipped for housing pigeons.
  • Trap: An opening that allows pigeons to enter but not leave the loft, used for catching and managing pigeons.
  • Settling: The process of training pigeons to recognize their home loft and return to it when released.
  • Conditioning: A process of building the health and strength of a pigeon for sustained flight, preparing them for messenger service.
  • Training flights: Flights undertaken at varying distances and directions, designed to enhance homing instinct and speed.
  • Directional flight: A training method that focuses on pigeons returning to their loft from specific directions along a designated course.
  • Nondirectional flight: A training method where pigeons are released from varying points of the compass to develop their ability to navigate in various directions.
  • Combat loft: A mobile loft used during combat operations to establish immediate pigeon communication.
  • Remobiling: The process of retraining pigeons to become accustomed to a mobile loft after they have been settled in a stationary location.
  • Culling: The process of eliminating substandard pigeons, usually by destruction, to maintain a healthy and efficient flock.
  • Pox: A common infectious, contagious disease of pigeons, marked by wartlike swellings on the skin and mucous membranes.
  • Paratyphoid: A devastating bacterial disease of pigeons, often mistaken for other illnesses, which can affect various organs and cause death.
  • Trichomoniasis (canker): A common disease caused by a one-celled organism, characterized by cheesy yellow or white lesions in the mouth, esophagus, or crop.
  • Tuberculosis: A highly contagious infectious disease caused by a resistant germ, characterized by nodules in various organs and a rapid decline in health.
  • One-eye cold (Conjunctivitis): An inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye.
  • Sour crop: A condition caused by damp or mouldy grain, impure water, or lack of grit, leading to indigestion and discomfort.

Examples from “The Homing Pigeon” Technical Manual:

  • The manual uses the example of atmospheric disturbances causing pigeons to temporarily lose their way to support the theory that their ears help them navigate.
  • It explains the use of a settling cage to train pigeons to trap by confining them but allowing them to familiarize themselves with their surroundings.
  • The manual describes how to use a 10-bird training cage (PG-50) for preliminary training and then allows them to emerge of their own free will.
  • It provides specific examples of pigeon equipment like PG-103/CB and PG-105/CB used for training pigeons to carry messages.
  • The manual explains how to repack parachutes used for dropping pigeons to ground troops, providing detailed instructions for each step.
  • The manual provides examples of different pigeon colors and markings, including Black Checker, Blue Checker, and Grizzle with blue wing markings.
  • The text highlights the importance of observing the birds’ actions to determine their sex, such as the cock’s chasing and cooing behavior towards the hen.
  • It cites examples of how to treat injuries like cuts and wounds using boric acid solution, sutures, and proper splinting techniques.
  • The manual discusses the example of using a mixture of iodized oil and sulfanilamide powder for treating trichomoniasis (canker).
  • It provides examples of common external parasites like lice and red mites, describing their life cycles, methods of identification, and strategies for treatment.

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