THOUGHTS ON SELECTION
By Dr Colin Walker BSc, BVSc, MRCVS,
MACVSc (Avian health)
Pigeons have been actively raced now for in excess of
150 years. Given a steady rate of improvement pigeons raced today,
compared with those of 25 years ago, should be approximately
20% better. I would suspect however, that the best birds, 25
years ago, would still be capable of winning today. Why is this
so? Part of the answer may be our method of selection.
Through most areas of Australia, and (apart from a few specialist
clubs on the Continent) the rest of the world, the best fancier
is deemed to be the one who wins the aggregate. Flyers commence
a season with a kit of birds with which they aim to complete
the entire season. With this type of selection we are selecting
for an ‘all rounder’ type of pigeon rather than
one which would excel at a particular distance or velocity.
This makes the selection for genetic characteristics that enable
certain birds to excel under particular conditions difficult
and has probably contributed to slow progress in our genetic
Basically there are two groups of characteristics that we
are selecting for, namely mental characteristics and physical
characteristics. Physical characteristics refer to all visible
traits such as wing shape, eye colour etc and also some non-visible
characteristics such as stamina. While mental characteristics
refer to those unseen characteristics such as determination
and orientation ability.
Classified on this basis, pigeons can be divided into four
groups. These groups can be schematically represented as follows:
Is there a physical type that is optimal in pigeons for all
distances and velocities? When one extrapolates from the differences
found in human sprint and marathon competitors and also in
race horses (where distance race horses are more angular and
leggy than sprint horses), the answer is probably not.
It is probable that the correct characteristics are likely
to be determined by the type of race we want the birds to do
well in. We still have much to learn here but as an example
it does seem that distance birds need to be longer in the body
and leaner, with longer wings and longer primaries, with the
outer primaries tapering to a finer point. Sprint birds; on
the other hand are often very full chested and muscular with
shorter wings and shorter flights. Perhaps the mental characteristics
required for a good sprint bird should be a manic desire to
get home, while for a long distance bird to be successful,
it may be calmness under adverse conditions and a reasoning
intelligence that are required. What many fanciers regard as
the ideal is probably the body of the “all-rounder”,
i.e no extremes in body shape or flight length. Identifying
both the physical and mental characteristics required to perform
under certain conditions and then being prepared to just send
these birds to the races that they have been selected for,
may be the way to create this century’s superbirds.
Birds that are mentally capable but have physical faults – most
are eventually lost. Many pigeons fall into this category.
The temptation is to breed from these birds.
Often a fancier’s favorite. The good-looking bird that
fanciers regret to lose that is just not mentally capable.
They are lost as soon as they face a significant test.
Lacking both characteristics. Are lost very early.
Birds with both good physical and mental characteristics.
The type we should aim for. Very few birds fall into this category.
Ideally all birds retained for breeding should be in this group.