Probably the most famous of all the carrier pigeons was one named Cher Ami, two French words meaning "Dear Friend". Cher Ami several months on the front lines during the Fall of 1918. He flew 12 important missions to deliver messages. Perhaps the most important was the message he carried on October 4, 1918.
Mr. Charles Whittlesey was a lawyer in
On October 3, 1918 Major Whittlesey and more than 500 men were trapped in a small depression on the side of the hill. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, many were killed and wounded in the first day. By the second day only a little more than 200 men were still alive or unwounded.
Major Whittlesey sent out several pigeons to tell his commanders where he was, and how bad the trap was. The next afternoon he had only one pigeon left, Cher Ami.
During the afternoon the American Artillery tried to send some protection by firing hundreds of big artillery rounds into the ravine where the Germans surrounded Major Whittlesey and his men. Unfortunately, the American commanders didn't know exactly where the American soldiers were, and started dropping the big shells right on top of them. It was a horrible situation that might have resulted in Major Whittlesey and all his men getting killed--by their own army.
Major Whittlesey called for his last pigeon, Cher Ami. He wrote a quick and simple note, telling the men who directed the artillery guns where the Americans were located and asking them to stop. The note that was put in the canister on Cher Ami's left leg simply said:
"We are along the road parallel to 276.4.
As Cher Ami tried to fly back home, the Germans saw him rising out of the brush and opened fire. For several minutes, bullets zipped through the air all around him. For a minute it looked like the little pigeon was going to fall, that he wasn't going to make it. The doomed American infantrymen were crushed, their last home was plummeting to earth against a very heavy attack from German bullets.
Somehow Cher Ami managed to spread his wings and start climbing again, higher and higher beyond the range of the enemy guns. The little bird flew 25 miles in only 25 minutes to deliver his message. The shelling stopped, and more than 200 American lives were saved...all because the little bird would never quit trying.
On his last mission, Cher Ami was badly wounded. When he finally reached his coop, he could fly no longer, and the soldier that answered the sound of the bell found the little bird laying on his back, covered in blood. He had been blinded in one eye, and a bullet had hit his breastbone, making a hole the size of a quarter. From that awful hole, hanging by just a few tendons, was the almost severed leg of the brave little bird. Attached to that leg was a silver canister, with the all-important message. Once again, Cher Ami wouldn't quit until he had finished his job.
Though the dedicated medics saved Cher Ami's life, they couldn't save his leg. The men of the Division were careful to take care of the little bird that had saved 200 of their friends, and even carved a small wooden leg for him. When Cher Ami was well enough to travel, the little one-legged hero was put on a boat to the
Back in the
The racing pigeon returns to the owner who gave her away TEN years ago...
By David Wilkes
Last updated at 1:59 AM on 19th June 2008
She is no spring chicken, and appears to have spent a few years roosting rough. But Boomerang the pigeon has lost neither her homing instinct - nor her sense of occasion. After ten years away, she suddenly turned up at the home of the man who raised her. And on Father's Day, no less.
Loft and found: After ten years of cooing and fro-ing, Boomerang flies back. At first, Dino Reardon thought the bedraggled bird running towards him at his home in Skipton,
'I checked the tag and nearly collapsed when I saw who it was,' he said. I just couldn't believe it. She could barely stand up and couldn't even make it into the aviary, she was just exhausted. I spent all Sunday feeding her glucose and honey to try and get her energy back from the journey.'
Her return was not completely unexpected, however - as her name suggests. Boomerang's homing instinct is the stuff of legend among pigeon fanciers. The 13-year-old bird first made headlines back in 1998, when Mr Reardon gave her to a friend in
Pigeons have a lifespan of three to five years in the wild, but live to around 15 in captivity. Boomerang's return has attracted interest from breeders as far afield as
How to Breed Good Pigeons by: Ad Schaerlaeckens
It doesn’t matter which animal or species you are talking about nutrition is one of the most important variables in the overall care and health of that animal. Nutrition, genetics, breeding, health, conditioning and your own loft management skills will determine your lofts performance and without proper nutrition the other five mean nothing. Pigeons are grain and seed eaters and just like any species including humans they perform their best when provided with a balanced diet.In order to determine the correct diet or feeding rations for any species, professional nutritionists start by identifying their needs and requirements throughout their life cycle. Different stages in a pigeon’s life call for different requirements of nutrition as shown throughout this guide. Unfortunately there has been little scientific study devoted to the nutritional requirements of the pigeon. The reason for this is that there are simply not enough economic incentives for feed companies and universities to devote the necessary resources to an in depth study of pigeon nutritional requirements. Based on some studies from feed companies as well as knowledge from other related species and experience from pigeon fanciers around the world you can be confident that the pigeon feeds sold by reputable manufactures will do an excellent job for your team.
There are many different types of feed mixes available today.
The basic nutritional requirements of the pigeon are protein, energy (the best sources are fats and carbohydrates) minerals and vitamins. All of these nutrients are found in all of the grains used for pigeon feed but the difference is in the amounts used. The general rules are that pigeons have a higher protein requirement during breeding season; they have a higher energy requirement during work periods such as training or racing. You will find that commercial pigeon feed have a feed tag on the bag. This tag lists the percentages of protein, fat and fiber in that feed, the tag also should list in rank order the major ingredients of that particular mixture. The protein content has become a quick reference for choosing a feed mix, for example a 16% feed refers to one that has a crude protein content of 16% You will sometimes see references to “heavy” feeds or to “light” feed mixtures. “Heavy generally means that the feed mix is higher in energy, the “light” generally means lower in energy and higher in fiber. Some of the best energy sources are corn, milo, safflower Feeding, Fuel For Champions 4 www.pigeonelite.com and when used sparingly raw peanuts. For protein various varieties of peas have been found to be outstanding for use in pigeon feed mixes. Barley is a grain that is moderate in most nutrient levels but is high in fiber making it a great versatile feed ingredient as well as one of the most important grains for conditioning and performance in pigeons. Fortunately
balance diet, a balanced diet is achieved by variety. Even though a mature pigeon could survive on a diet of nothing but wheat for example, it will thrive on a diet of assorted grains. This is extremely important in the high physical demands of training and racing as well as the rearing of young pigeons.
As your breeding pairs have been mated and the hatching of eggs comes closer you should have your pigeons on a high nutritional plane. Most experienced pigeon flyers like to feed their breeders a ration of protein in the range of 16-18%. If the mix available to you carries a protein level of 14% lets say then it is recommended to add supplemental peas to the ration. The levels fed would be approximately 1/5 peas and 4/5 mix in this example. The rapidly growing youngsters place huge demands on the breeding pairs so it is important that they be on full feed, meaning they have access to feed at all times during the daylight hours. When the youngsters reach about 18 to 21 days of age, many pigeon fanciers place small containers of breeding mix in the nest box. This serves as a supplemental feed source for the parents and also eases some of the demand placed on them. Even more important this practice helps the young to learn to eat grain on their own, thus reducing the stress that weaning places on them. Pellets, which are grain parts that are compressed, are a very popular option with many pigeon fanciers, especially for breeding. Feed manufactures are able to provide a balanced diet right out of the bag. This seems to have a greater payoff in the rapid development of young in the nest. The downside of using pellets is
in looser droppings. Your breeding pairs, as with all pigeons in your loft, must have access at all times to clean, fresh water and fresh grit. Pigeon grit contains additional supplements including calcium, oyster shell, salt and minerals. Pigeon grit also aids in the digestion of feed. Feeding, Fuel For Champions 5 www.pigeonelite.com
Moult & Off Season
The fall season is when the pigeon moult or looses its old plumage and trades it in for new. Moulting carries with it the need for a fairly high nutritional plane, but since the birds are not racing or training the energy requirement is reduced. Most pigeon fanciers feed a diet of 16% protein with barley being a significant ingredient in the range of 20- 25% of the ration. The same approach to limited feeding, consumption in fifteen minutes and twice a day is preferred by most fanciers.
The fall season is when the pigeon moult or looses its old plumage and trades it in for new. Moulting carries with it the need for a fairly high nutritional plane, but since the birds are not racing or training the energy requirement is reduced. Most pigeon fanciers feed a diet of 16% protein with barley being a significant ingredient in the range of 20- 25% of the ration. The same approach to limited feeding, consumption in fifteen minutes and twice a day is preferred by most fanciers.
You will want to have the breeding mix readily available to youngsters in the first few days after weaning, this is not yet the time to limit feed. Also a four week old youngster though almost at it’s mature size still has some developing and growing to do. As the young birds begin to fly around the loft remember never to feed before they are let out for exercise. As they complete their exercise and you call them in for feed (using whistle, feed can or other sound), put down some feed for them to find when they enter the trap. A good rule of thumb is to only feed the amount that can be consumed in 15minutes, dump any leftover feed. Exercised and fed mornings and evenings you will see this approach will give you the makings of a healthy, disciplined young bird team. The young team basic ration is a commercial racing mix or one that runs approximately 14%-15% crude protein. As the youngsters begin to leave the loft for extended periods when exercised, this would be a great time to consider adding supplemental barley to the mix. This “lighter” ration should contain roughly 20% barley. You will find that your birds will eat the barley last, or reluctantly, persevere by adjusting the total amount of feed fed as barley is an excellent ingredient. During heavy training and racing you should reduce the amount of barley in the feed. Fat pigeons cannot perform well but remember that heavy work burns a ton of energy (calories). In order to perform at peak performance your birds must have adequate reserves to meet the demands of a 200 or 300 mile race. This doesn’t mean to put your birds on full feed but they should continue to feed twice a day and only what they can
Consume in 15 minutes. Road training is an excellent time to evaluate the body condition of your birds. Feeding, Fuel For Champions 6 www.pigeonelite.com
If you are comfortable with feeding both your breeding pairs and the youngsters, then you should find the old birds a breeze. The role of nutrition in the performance and health of the old bird team is every bit as important as it is with the youngsters. Controlled feeding is very important, do not overfeed your old birds and be sure not to cut them short as well you should adjust the diet to coincide with the workload.
There are a few other things you should practice when it comes to feeding your team, your feed should be as clean and dust free as possible, make sure rodents never come in contact with the feed as well. Feed should be taken out of the loft at night and stored in rodent proof containers if possible. You should never give feed that is wet, damp or has been wet to your birds, damp feed is just as bad as a damp loft Addition of supplemental vitamins and minerals via water has been a common practice among pigeon fanciers, and can help during times of stress and heavy demands on your birds, but moderation is recommended don’t over do things.
(Photos courtesy of C.P.F.A.
Cause: a small, one-celled, microscopic parasite called Trichomonas gallinae. The same organism causes a disease called frounce in birds of prey. In pigeons, there are strains of this organism that range from very mild, relatively innocent types through to those that are very deadly.
Occurrence and Signs: Canker is probably most important in young birds, but it can also be a serious threat to old birds as well. The commonest form of the disease in youngsters is a yellowish lump in the mouth or throat area. It may also affect lower areas such as the crop or liver where it would not be visible to naked eye inspection. "Going light" is one of the first signs of illness if there is no visible change in the mouth or throat, although canker is not the only cause of "going light".
The disease may affect the liver severely, especially when one of the more deadly strains is involved. Here, "going light" may be the first sign of illness. Another important sign when the liver is severely involved is a puffiness in the abdomen, which can be detected by examination of the area between the keel and the vent bones. The mouth and the whites of the eyes may also have a yellow discoloration in this situation. It is common for involvement of the liver to occur in youngsters in the period soon after weaning when stresses are very high. At that time, depending on the strain of organism involved, one or more youngsters in a group of recently weaned birds may be affected. They go off feed, are listless and sit in a hunched posture with feathers ruffled. Droppings may have a yellow discoloration that is most commonly visible in the white portion.
Treatment: A commonly used drug in
One problem is that Emtryl can be poisonous. Commonly, birds are overdosed during hot weather or when they are raising youngsters, or both, because of their greater need for more water. In my experience, this tends to happen when fanciers leave Emtryl-treated water before the birds 24 hours a day in hot weather. One of the dramatic side effects is to see Emtryl-poisoned pigeons flopping upside down on the floor of the loft, with the remainder of the birds in the loft terrified by this aberrant behavior. Other, more subtle nervous signs of poisoning can be detected by the observant fancier. If these signs occur, simply remove the treated water and replace it with fresh, clean water, and affected birds will often recover in a day or so.
Fanciers may attempt to compensate during hot weather by cutting the dosage. However, such an approach (as well as putting Emtryl on the end of a toothpick and dropping it into the mouth of a bird -- avoid this procedure) opens the door widely to the development of resistance by the canker organism, and since there seem to be fewer and fewer effective anti-canker products on the market, it is important not to squander perhaps one of the few remaining arrows in our quiver, so to speak.
Luckily, there is a practical solution that should avoid both lower dosages and the possibility of resistance. The practical answer is one that was proposed by an Australian fancier. Having tried it many times, I am convinced that it works, and works well. Here is what the Aussie report recommended.
At the evening feeding, make up the correct dosage of Emtryl in the drinking water, that is, about 3/4 teaspoon of Emtryl per
I have often modified this procedure in my own loft by leaving the treated water in the loft over night, and haven't had any problem even with small youngsters in the nest. Note that the company recommends avoiding treatment if the adults are feeding small youngsters. Caution: if the weather is extremely hot and humid, as it can be in southern
Sometimes during the racing season, performances will fall off and birds are no longer at the top of the sheet, even though they continue to look good. One possibility is that during the stresses of racing, the immune system of the birds is weakened, and canker organisms have begun to multiply. If you examine the mouths of these birds, you may see marked reddening of the tissues and excess stringy, even dirty, mucus in the back of the throat. It is possible that canker organisms have begun to multiply into the many hundreds of thousands to cause irritation of the throat. To protect the throat from the irritation and to soothe the surface, glands in the area pour out a thick mat of protective mucus . When swabs of this mucus are examined under a microscope, the material is seen to be teeming with many tumbling, wriggling canker organisms.
For those who like to medicate against these canker organisms for one or two days at the beginning of the week, every 2-3 weeks during the racing season, it would seem advisable to use the correct dosage, that is, at the rate of 1 level teaspoon per gallon of water. Like others, I have some concerns about these short one or two-day treatments, because of the strong possibility of resistance developing in the organism as a result of the short treatment period. However, to treat for a full five days could throw the birds completely off form, so the short term treatment period may well be the lesser of two evils. The company producing Emtryl also recommends that you do not inhale the dust, and if you get any of the powder on your hands, wash it off immediately.
Ridzol is another product that can be used in pigeons in the treatment or prevention of canker. According to Dr Kevin Zollars, the correct dosage is 1 to 2 teaspoons per gallon for 5-7 days. Ridzol is reported to be far superior to any other drug in the
It is likely a good idea to change drugs each time you feel birds need to be treated, say, Emtryl for one 5-7 day treatment period, and Ridzol, for the next one, etc., all at the correct dosage. This procedure may help to avoid the development of resistance to these drugs by the canker organism -- and all drugs have to be used at the correct dosage.
Resistance to Canker: one of the great problems faced by fanciers everywhere is resistance of the canker organism to a variety of treatments available to us. This problem has developed because fanciers routinely underdose their birds (witness the use of Emtryl on the end of a toothpick, or rubbing a canker lesion with a solution of Emtryl). The answer lies in treating with the correct dosage of drug for the required number of days.
Another important issue is the matter of the resistance of pigeons to the canker organism. To begin this subject, it is a well-established fact that mild strains of the canker organism will protect birds against a deadly strain, an important point that we can use to advantage in the loft. This fact was established about 50 years ago by Dr Robert Stabler who worked with the canker organism in
2. Paratyphoid Infection
In pigeons, this bacterial disease is caused most commonly by Salmonella typhimurium variety
can also cause infection in pigeons. If there is any good news about variety
One of the best if not the actual best is Baytril. The second best product is either Cephalexin or Amoxicillin. Treat for a minimum of 10 days with any of these products, and at the same time, it often helps to vaccinate during treatment. Avoid training for at least a week during these treatment periods, and don't race your birds while they are infected. It is immoral and very unsportsmanlike to transmit his infection to your competitors.
Paratyphoid disease is usually spread in the droppings of actively infected pigeons or in the droppings of birds that are silent carriers of the infection. It can also be spread through the egg as a result of infection of the ovary of the hen. Rats and mice are obvious culprits in the spread of some types of paratyphoid. According to Dr David Marx, it is a rare loft that doesn't have infected birds, a finding that may surprise many scrupulously clean fanciers who consider their lofts to be paratyphoid-free. It is a common finding that newly introduced, healthy looking birds may be a source of this infection -- which is why wild pigeons or strays from another loft should not be allowed into your loft. Naturally, it is always possible that your own race birds may have been exposed to one or more paratyphoid-infected birds during shipping, so racing is always a risk, not only for paratyphoid infections, but others as well -- E. coli, coccidiosis, paramyxovirus, etc..
Outbreaks are common during the breeding season, especially later on in the season after the parents have had to rear several rounds on their own. In this situation, they are severely stressed, and their resistance is down. At this time there has also been quite a drain on the immune system of the parents, because their bodies attempt to include protective substances (antibodies) in the yolk of the eggs and in crop milk. This process results in lowered antibodies in the parents, and they become very susceptible to infections such as paratyphoid.
According to Dr Marx, classical paratyphoid is common in breeding cocks which can become sick and die very quickly -- the bird is fine one day and dead the next. Hens can become sick in the same way, but this form is more common in cocks. In hens, paratyphoid is a more chronic disease in which the affected hens often have severe weight loss ("going light"), sticky droppings containing a lot of mucus, swollen wing joints and affected livers. Another clue to paratyphoid is eggs that turn black and appear rotten. Such eggs were once fertile, began to develop, and then the embryo died of the infection. (If eggs are infertile in the first place, they stay clear for the whole incubation period.) The organisms can contaminate the surface of the egg as it is laid, or it can be incorporated in the egg as it was being formed in an infected ovary (same with E. coli infections). Another key characteristic of paratyphoid infection is youngsters that begin to hatch but die in the shell. Diarrhea, dehydration and death in 7-10 day-old youngsters in the nest can occur. Often, only one of the two will get sick and die.
Sore joints in the legs and wings ("wing boil"), with or without swelling of these joints, can occur. Characteristically, the elbow joint is often affected, producing the "wing boil" just mentioned. Tilted heads and twisted necks as the result of infection of the brain can occur in paratyphoid infections, but are more commonly associated with paramyxovirus infections. Both paratyphoid and paramyxovirus infections can cause birds to pass a lot of fluids. In paratyphoid infections, the fluid is from a true diarrhea because it comes from the intestines and contains a lot of mucus, possibly some small gas bubbles, and even blood, and may have a detectable odor. In paramyxovirus infection, much of the so-called diarrhea is actually clear fluid coming from the kidneys which are often severely affected by the virus. There is a pool of fluid, in the centre of which is a small "snake" of normal droppings.
Whenever you are faced with an outbreak of paratyphoid infection in your birds, the first thing to avoid is the use of lime or any other alkaline substance on floors or perches. Reason: paratyphoid bacteria (and E. coli) like alkaline conditions which actually favor multiplication, something you want to avoid at all costs. Floor dressings such as sodium acid bisulfite create acidic conditions that these bacteria don't favor for reproduction. To prevent transmission through drinking water contaminated by droppings, you can add a teaspoon of Javex to a gallon of water to kill the bacteria.
Another approach is to make use of "friendly" bacteria. There are commercial products available for pigeons, as well as capsules of these bacteria for human use. One inexpensive source is plain yogurt. This approach of using "friendly" bacteria is based on research conducted by a scientist named Esko Nurmi in 1973. Working in
The means by which this protection against salmonella and other disease-producing bacterial organisms is accomplished are not completely understood. However, there are two known mechanisms that operate to protect birds against disease when the principle of competitive exclusion is applied. Firstly, the "good" bacteria in the normal droppings seem to form within the intestine, a physical barrier that may be 10-12 bacteria deep. These protective bacteria actually bind to specific sites on the inner surface of the intestine, and by this means, prevent contact by Salmonella sp. with the inner surface of the intestine, and so, prevent these disease-producers from breaching the wall of the intestine and entering the bloodstream.
The second process that occurs is an actual chemical alteration in the intestine. The "good" bacteria in clean droppings are anaerobic species (an = without; aerobic = oxygen), ie, they are able to live and reproduce in an environment in which levels of oxygen are low. In such a situation, the life processes of these bacteria are completed in an anaerobic state. In such an anaerobic environment, these organisms produce and excrete lactic acid as one of the by-products of their life processes. In turn, the lactic acid that is excreted by the bacteria into the surrounding environment of the intestine, creates a shift from a normally alkaline state to a more acidic condition in the intestine.
The importance of this fact needs to be re-iterated: many disease-producing bacteria like Salmonella sp. and E. coli, for example, like to live in a slightly alkaline environment -- such as the intestines -- where they can reproduce well. In an acidic environment, they are prevented from reproducing, and their numbers drop dramatically, in some cases by 97% or more. One of the many "good" bacteria present is the Lactobacillus sp. that we also find in yogurt and similar products used for human food.
Other "good" bacteria that are also present in yogurt include two species of lactic acid-producing Streptococcus, among others. The Lactobacillus sp. bacteria not only colonize the intestines, but they also attach to the wall of the crop, and are mixed with food that has just been eaten. As the food moves into the proventriculus and gizzard, and then into the intestine, the "good" Lactobacillus sp. bacteria move mechanically with it and multiply in the intestine. However, scientific information obtained from experiments using several pure cultures of Lactobacillus sp. in chickens showed that this organism alone was not capable of conferring on chickens, the desired resistance to Salmonella spp.. Additional methods had to be incorporated along with the use of Lactobacillus sp..
A few basic products incorporating these ideas of using "good" bacteria to combat Salmonella sp. infections have been examined in the poultry industry. One of these products is called "an unidentified culture". In this situation, intestinal contents from chickens known to be salmonella-free are incubated in a warm, anaerobic environment. The bacteria that are grown in this way are not specifically identified, but this culture is then fed to the birds. The second of these products is called "a defined culture", meaning that specifically identified bacteria from a culture of intestinal contents of normal chickens are included in a mix of bacteria that may contain up to 50 different species of bacteria.
There are also products called "probiotics" which are cultures of only a very few kinds of bacteria, ie, for example, the kinds that are found in yogurt. One such starter product for preparing yogurt at home contains a Lactobacillus sp., as well as two identified species of Streptococcus. One species of Streptococcus, that produced lactic acid, for example, was found to inhibit the growth of 75-85% of disease-producing strains of E. coli, but only 45% of livestock varieties of Salmonella spp..
In poultry, only the "unidentified culture" appears to be effective against salmonella organisms. "Defined cultures" and "probiotics" are more effective against disease-producing strains of E. coli, for example.
A fairly recent development is a mix of 29 bacterial types that is sprayed on newly hatched chicks. The birds pick at their down and of course, swallow the bacteria sprayed on them. These bacteria reproduce in the intestines and block the attachment of Salmonella spp.. It is possible that this spray could be helpful in pigeons as well.
In the poultry industry, these types of products have been used in at least three situations:
1. They are given to day-old chicks to allow the rapid colonization of the intestine with "good" bacteria which protect against infection by Salmonella sp..
2. In mature breeder chickens, these products are used if there has been an outbreak of salmonella infection. Birds are first treated with an appropriate antibiotic, after which they are given the "unidentified culture" to prevent re-infection.
3. At times of stress, these products are given to increase the numbers of "good" bacteria that, in turn, will increase the acidity of the intestines, and thereby decrease the risk of an outbreak of intestinal disease.
For pigeons, you can buy often expensive commercial products that are said to contain "friendly" bacteria said to be derived from pigeons.
These products are alive, ie, they contain live bacteria, and in order to be useful, the bacteria have to remain alive. So, exposure to sunlight or heat during periods of storage will adversely affect these cultures. They must not be mixed in water that contains chlorine, iodine or other disinfectants, simply because these chemicals will kill the desirable bacteria in the culture. Similarly, they can't be used when there are antibiotics in the water, for the same reason.
To further assist the "friendly" bacteria, you can add some whey (from a milk or cheese-producing company) to the drinking water. Whey contains the sugar lactose which these bacteria use a source of food, and from which they produce lactic acid to acidify the intestines.
On an equally practical level, some fanciers feed their birds, especially youngsters, right on the floor of the loft, so that they pick up cultures of normal "friendly" bacteria from their own environment. A similar approach would be to sprinkle fresh droppings from old birds that are known to be clean, on the floor of the young bird loft. There are obvious risks to these procedures, especially if the weather is damp and the floor tends to stay wet: in the dampness, worm eggs and coccidia are able to reach a stage of development that allows them to infect the youngsters. Disease-producing bacteria, including E. coli and paratyphoid organisms can begin to multiply in the billions and become a threat to the youngsters.
3. Respiratory Disease.
Respiratory diseases, including one-eyed colds in pigeons, are associated with various bacteria, Mycoplasma spp., Chlamydia spp., and viruses, including herpesvirus. Other important factor in the development of respiratory disease is poor ventilation, and by extension, crowding. Never mind the "overcrowding" we read so much about all the time. Do those who talk so constantly about overcrowding mean that if overcrowding is very bad, crowding is better or just a little less bad?? What nonsense! Avoid crowding, and NEVER allow overcrowding!! The stresses and social tensions associated with crowding, plus the reduced amount of oxygen available to birds in a poorly ventilated loft, can set up birds for any number of diseases and problems, including fly-aways. The old saying that there should be a perch for every bird, but there should not be a bird for every perch, is well worth heeding.
Respiratory signs can vary from a very slight "teary" appearance of the eyes to marked inflammation and fluid discharge from the eyes, accompanied by sneezing, head-shaking, dirty, greasy cere, the discharge of mucus from the nostrils ("snots")., and excess mucus in the throat. In these cases birds don't tolerate exercise very well, and may actually refuse to fly. Be aware that birds with excess stringy, even dirty mucus in the mouth and throat may not have respiratory disease at all, but instead may be affected by increasing numbers of canker organisms that irritate the tissues and result in an outpouring of protective mucus. In such cases, swabs of the mucus will likely reveal the presence of many canker organisms.
Viruses (eg., herpes) that may be involved in respiratory disease problems aren't affected by antibiotics, so the use of these products is to treat the chlamydia, mycoplasma and bacteria that may be contributing to the problem. A combination of a full dose of Terramycin plus a full dose of Tylan in drinking water is an excellent treatment for respiratory disease. A veterinary friend who is also an excellent fancier, finds that Aureomycin plus Tylan together seem to be an even better treatment. Doxycycline, another powerful drug in the same family as Terramycin and Aureomycin (the three of them are called tetracyclines), is also highly effective -- if you can get it. When using any member of the tetracycline group, you should remove the grit and oyster shell, because the calcium in grit and oyster shell ties up these antibiotics and prevents the birds from making use of it.
There are two major species of worms that cause problems in pigeons: roundworms (Ascaridia spp.) and threadworms or hairworms (Capillaria spp.). Roundworms live free in the intestines and threadworms bury their heads into the wall of the intestine.
i) Roundworms -- these worms are fairly large, and measure 1 1/2 to 2" or more in length. They are believed to compete with the pigeon for nutrients in the intestines, so in heavy infestations, roundworms can be another cause of "going light" because they absorb nutrients that the pigeon needs. In light infestations, these worms tend to gather in the upper part of the intestines, close to the proventriculus and gizzard. In heavy infestations they spread out along the entire intestinal tract and may even be found in the droppings. In large numbers roundworms can effectively block the intestines, and food has a very difficult time passing through.
Female roundworms lay many thousands of eggs regularly, so it doesn't take long for the loft to become heavily contaminated. Soon after they are passed in droppings, eggs aren't able to cause infection in pigeons, even if they are picked up from the floor and swallowed. The eggs need time -- about 2 weeks -- in damp, cool conditions for a young worm to develop. At this stage, if droppings containing eggs have contaminated feed or grit, or if birds are just picking on the floor and swallow eggs, the young worm hatches in the intestines, and over time, becomes an adult -- and the cycle repeats. If loft conditions are too dry, the thick wall of the eggs protects them from dehydration, and they remain dormant until conditions for development are more favorable. They can live in this way for years if necessary.
The only truly effective way to break the cycle after you have eliminated the adults from the intestines is to burn all floor surfaces with a torch. Hot lye (i small can of Gillett's lye to 5 gallons of very hot water) also works but there is always the risk of alkali burns to yourself or your birds when lye is used. If you use lye, all surfaces that it has touched have to be well flushed with clean water after the lye has had a chance to act.
Treatments include the old drug piperazine, but it is only 60-80% effective in killing worms in the intestines. According to Dr Marx, Tramisol, Ivomec and Telmintic are still 80-90% effective, even though worm resistance to Ivomec is developing.
ii) Threadworms (Hairworms) -- these worms are very small (up to 1/4 " long) and very thin, so seeing them in the intestines is very difficult, and requires special techniques. Because these worms bury their front ends right into the wall of the intestines, they cause tissue damage and irritation that can result in hemorrhage, diarrhea and loss of weight. Like roundworm eggs, those of the threadworm are not infective when they are passed in droppings, but need about a week in damp, cool conditions for the development of a young worm. Piperazine and Tramisol aren't effective against these worms. The best drugs continue to be Ivomec and Telmintic.
Coccidiosis is mainly an important infection of youngsters after weaning, likely because their immune system is not yet as fully developed as it will be later. Like worm eggs, the coccidial form (called an oöcyst) that is passed in droppings isn't yet at an infective stage, and requires, cool, damp conditions for development to the infective stage. Depending on the species of coccidia, microscopically, an oöcyst looks very much like a boiled egg cut in half or lengthwise. Under ideal conditions for the species of coccidia involved, the oöcyst undergoes what is called sporulation, to produce 4 or 8 banana-shaped structures called merozoites.
If a pigeon picks up a sporulated oöcyst and swallows it, within the intestines, these 4 or 8 structures break out and each one enters a cell where it divides to produce more merozoites, that in turn, break out of the cell and enter more cells. This process of repeatedly entering and breaking out of cells causes in the intestines, a great deal of damage and irritation that results in diarrhea. At some point, the process just described changes a bit, and the result now is the production of many oöcysts that break out of cells and pass out with the droppings, ready to start the whole cycle again.
In the past, the common treatment of coccidiosis was the use of sulfa drugs, notably Sulmet. One of our modern drugs, also a sulfa-based product is Vetisulid which is useful against coccidia and bacterial infections as well. One of the best modern drugs to use is Amprol (Amprolium). Another very effective drug is Baycox. After using Amprol (not while you are using it), give your birds a day or two of a multi-vitamin mix in the drinking water.
6. E. coli Infections
E. coli (short for Escherichia coli) is a very common bacterial organism in the intestines of humans, birds and animals and can be cultured from droppings almost all the time. For this reason, the isolation of this bacterium from a sample of droppings sent to a laboratory should not be surprising. If a culture of droppings reveals many E. coli, it is possible that these increased numbers may signify a problem. If the sample was fresh and held chilled until it reached the laboratory, high numbers of organisms are likely meaningful, especially if there was a related history of illness in the birds the sample came from. However, a high count may mean little if the sample wasn't refrigerated right after collection and wasn't sent chilled to the laboratory. Under conditions of little or no refrigeration, bacteria begin to multiply in the warmth, and can create a false picture of events happening in the birds. So don't read a lot into culture results that show high numbers of E.coli, unless you can eliminate warm shipping conditions, and can tie these high numbers to an illness that is compatible with E. coli infection.
If a post mortem examination and culture of a number of organs from sick birds reveals a high number of E. coli in these organs, these E. coli are likely to be significant in terms of the illness occurring in the birds. Also, if sick birds are vomiting, have mucoid diarrhea that has an odd odor, such findings are highly suggestive of a significant E. coli problem. E. coli can complicate other diseases by moving in as secondary invaders, a common finding in adenoviral and other infections, for example. Sometimes pathogenic strains can invade the bloodstream and, like the paratyphoid organism, can result in infections in joints, testes and ovary (which can produce dead-in-shell embryos -- black eggs), "going light", sudden death in youngsters or old birds, etc..
Some of the more useful treatments of E. coli infections include Baytril, amoxicillin, cephalexin, and trimethoprim/sulfa. Vetisulid seems to be much less useful than it used to be, likely because of overuse.
7. Paramyxovirus Infection
This infection is caused by paramyxovirus-1 (PMV-1), an agent that is very closely related to the virus that causes
Last year in the CU yearbook, there was a good article on paramyxovirus in pigeons. Because of certain recent developments on this disease, I would like to update the subject with some new pieces of information that has come to light on this and one other disease.
Firstly, since January of last year, there have been outbreaks of PMV in lofts of racing pigeons in individual lofts in some cities in western
The controversial parts of this situation are that, firstly, according to some producers of oil-based vaccines, only vaccines developed from the virus cultured from PMV-infected pigeons provide 100% immunity -- and there seems to be a lot of truth in this statement. Secondly, for professional, ethical reasons, practising veterinarians are often reluctant to recommend the use, in one species, of vaccines prepared specifically for use in another species. When there is such use, it is known as "off label" use of a product. In the case of PMV, the use in pigeons of an oil-based vaccine prepared specifically for injection into chickens for the control of Newcastle disease, when that vaccine hasn't been specifically tested in pigeons, is "off label" use of the product. For this reason, some veterinarians are recommending only the use of the appropriate vaccines developed from outbreaks of PMV disease in pigeons -- such as the vaccine developed by Maine Biologics in the USA, or the product known as Colombovac.
Why don't the big poultry vaccine companies that prepare these vaccines for use in domestic poultry, also have them licensed for use in pigeons? The reason is that it is time-consuming and expensive for producers of these vaccines to seek federal approval for their use in species such as pigeons, because of the relatively minor market that pigeons provide in this country. So these companies avoid the time-consuming research and expense of developing these products for pigeons, and concentrate their efforts on the more financially important domestic poultry industry.
A good but lesser example of this type of situation was the availability at one time, of small, convenient packets of Emtryl for pigeons. Several years ago, the company producing Emtryl sold it for use in pigeons in small packets (they called them "sachets") that contained the correct dose of 3 grams (1 level teaspoon) to be used in one Imperial gallon (4.55 litres) of drinking water for 5-7 days. Since the market for this 3-gram packet of Emtryl was very limited, the company eventually discontinued production of these packets. (Too bad because in my experience, fanciers too often underdose their pigeons with Emtryl. If these packets continued to be available to us, it seems to me that lower-than-desirable doses might be largely avoided today. Final point: the dosage of Emtryl recommended in the veterinary formulary published in the yearbook a few years ago is far too low. Use the correct dosage given earlier in this paragraph.)
Back to PMV. When the western fanciers who experienced the outbreaks of PMV vaccinated their birds, I mentioned that most apparently used an oil-based vaccine, one called Newcastle K, since the formerly used Newcavac-T was no longer available. Several months later, I spoke personally to some of the fanciers involved in these outbreaks and learned that spread of the disease in their lofts came to a halt within a relatively short time after vaccination with this product, and they haven't had any more problem with PMV. Hence, my belief in vaccinating birds in the face of an outbreak. This belief is also based on the fact that PMV tends to spread relatively slowly through a flock of pigeons, a point that allows a fancier a window of opportunity to vaccinate, and save many birds in the loft.
For those who are adamantly opposed to vaccination or treatment of any kind, at the least consider this: at the minimum, protect your valuable stock birds (some of them irreplaceable) by vaccinating them each year. In this way, if your unvaccinated race team is virtually destroyed by the disease, you can produce another generation of racers from your routinely vaccinated stock birds. My recommendation would be to vaccinate all of your birds, old and young, before the race season each year.
Avoid the use of the live, water-based LaSota-type vaccines used in domestic poultry as protection against
Now, another important development for us. Apparently in recent months in the
Because the two agents are similar, in
When the disease that occurs in the inoculated chickens is a little more severe, with increased signs of disease, the virus is considered to be a "medium strength" virus, and is designated as a mesogenic strain of
To date, most of the strains of PMV isolated from pigeons have been considered to be the lentogenic or the mildest strain of
Having said the foregoing, however, I believe that it is important to recognize and acknowledge the fact that the poultry industry in North America is very powerful, and if this industry gets on a campaign to wage war on pigeons and pigeon racing because it believes that pigeons, including racing pigeons, are the cause of outbreaks of Newcastle disease in poultry, we could be in trouble. The poultry industry is not likely to let a few thousand pigeons or fanciers adversely affect or appear to adversely affect the goals of this mega-industry, without a vigorous reaction.
For this reason, it is highly important for the future of the sport that individual fanciers accept their responsibility and vaccinate their birds annually against PMV. Vaccination is both good public relations and good protection against this disease. To go a step further and for the protection of all of us, in my opinion, it should be CU and club policy that all members must vaccinate their birds annually with an appropriate vaccine in order to compete in races. If this is done and vaccination records are kept up to date, we can point with confidence to the fact that our birds were NOT the source of the infection if the disease breaks out in nearby poultry operations.
The Association of Pigeon Veterinarians in
This disease in chickens could result in serious problems for the sport because of the potential implications for the poultry industry, which is worth multi-billions of dollars. We have to protect the sport and the birds in our individual lofts, by getting on the vaccination bandwagon. Just as importantly, we also need to let the poultry industry know that vaccination programs for our birds have been well under way for these many years -- since the mid 1980s -- and that the practice continues to this day.
We also need to make a strong point that the most likely source of the virus for chickens is feral pigeons that sit on public and privately-owned buildings, including those housing feed companies. The virus has likely now infected a number of populations of feral pigeons all over
8. Avian influenza
Another viral disease of poultry, and is one that can cause devastating losses in infected domestic chickens. It has caused interruption or cancellation of racing schedules in the
Several scientific studies (including at least one in this decade) conducted over several years by respected scientists in the USA and Canada have shown that pigeons are not infected by this virus (not even by the North American strains that are most deadly to poultry), that they don't carry it, and that they don't transmit it to domestic poultry. On the other hand, wild waterfowl are intimately associated with a number of strains of the influenza virus, and are likely the major source of virus for the poultry industry.
9. Pigeon Pox
This is another viral disease that has posed some problems for fanciers over the years, especially in the summer time when flies and mosquitoes are abundant. The characteristics of the disease are wart-like growths on the side of the beak, nostrils, ceres around the eye and beak, feet and skin (dry pox). Occasionally, it will cause problems inside the mouth (wet pox) and may be confused with canker in this location.
The disease is readily preventable by proper vaccination, which should be done several weeks before training and racing begin. As the vaccine is alive, the idea is to pull a few feathers, usually from the area of the outer thigh, and with the use of the stiff brush provided, rub the brush that has been dipped in vaccine, into the exposed feather follicles. Avoid using the skin of the breast as a vaccination site to prevent any damage to the underlying muscles of flight. If there has been a "take", the early signs are swelling of the empty follicles at the vaccination site, followed in a few days by scabbing of the area. If scabbing doesn't occur, the birds haven't been vaccinated. It is a good idea to examine birds 7-10 days after vaccination to insure that there has been a "take". Vaccination in the face of an outbreak can be effective.
There is no practical treatment of pox. The use of flowers of sulfur in the grit container is just not effective. The use of iodine on the pox lesions themselves could help to prevent spread of the virus to other birds, but these pox lesions will take just as long to resolve whether you use iodine or nothing.