Pigeons were used during wartime – past and present
■ Matt McPherson / Columnist
Eddie Verdugo and Donovan White gave a fascinating presentation with live pigeons at the Valle Vista Library June 10. Verdugo and White have been breeding and showing pigeons since the age of 10 (around 1951) and have imported pigeons from Holland, Denmark, Germany and Canada.
Did you know that pigeons were used as communications soldiers for the military? On numerous occasions, pigeons delivered vital information from behind enemy lines that saved entire battalions of soldiers during battle. Pigeon soldiers GI Joe and Cher Ami were decorated for their call to duty and amazing accomplishments during WWI and WWII. To this day, pigeon soldiers are still used in the military. A Racing Homer can travel 500 to 600 miles away to deliver important messages when electronic means can’t be used.
Verdugo and White displayed a large assortment of breeds including Birmingham Rollers, Birmingham Tumblers, Giant Runts, Turkish Tumblers, Racing Homers, and many more.
To train the pigeons to home in on a new location, the trainer withholds food for two to three days, and then gives it a healthy meal just before release. Then the pigeon will return to the exact spot to feed again. Pigeons navigate by using the location of the sun to establish their position. Racing Homers fly very low to the ground whereas Turkish Tumblers tend to fly at higher altitudes.
Verdugo and White featured a variety of different breeds and explained the behaviors and attributes for which they were bred.
Racing Homers are bred for speed and are raced against each other in events all over the world. Turkish Tumblers are famous for their ability to tumble during flight and are identified by a nasal tuft, crest on the back, and feathers on their feet. Another interesting characteristic is their beak, which has been achieved through careful breeding. Different breeders select varying acrobatic behaviors to breed for and these behaviors can vary from town to town throughout Turkey. Cities in Turkey will not let go of their pigeons and shun the majority of outsiders who try to acquire them.
The history of cross-breeding racing pigeons and show breeds began in Great Britain in the 1920s. The origin of all pigeons started hundreds of years ago with a common Blue Bar Rock Dove.
How to hatch a pigeon
An interesting behavior exhibited by pigeons to ensure the hatch of more than one offspring is a behavior of not sitting on eggs, instead, rotating them until a second egg is laid. That way, both are equally incubated and emerge simultaneously. Usually if one hatches first, the second will likely not make it.
From egg lay to hatch is approximately 18 days and then 5 months to a fully grown pigeon. A healthy pigeon can live for 15 to 20 years and they stop breeding at around 17 years. Interestingly pigeons create milk for their offspring by regurgitating digested food for the first seven to eight days after hatching. After that they move on to feeding their young grain. One interesting evolutionary trait of pigeons and doves is their ability to sip or drink liquid without having to tilt their heads back like other birds.
About seven weeks prior to a pigeon show, the trainer will pull feathers so that new, beautiful show feathers emerge at the time of the show. Pigeons recycle every feather on their body about once a year. Verdugo pays $6.50 per bird to show at the competitions in addition to his annual membership fee and catalog he orders.
“It’s an expensive hobby, but it’s very rewarding,” said Verdugo.
He explained a complex point system during the judging of tumblers. The more pigeons you can get to tumble at the same time the higher the points. They also judge on the depth of the tumble and frequency.
Eddie laughed and said, “If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen on fly day,” insinuating that the pigeons sometimes don’t cooperate like they should during competition. Both men usually train with their birds for about five weeks prior to competition and always experience some sort of mishap on fly day. Eddie reminisced about qualifying for the World Cup once and explained just to qualify is an amazing feat.
Pigeon breeding and competition is popular throughout the world, especially in Serbia, England, Holland, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Australia and Ireland.
At the end of the pigeon show at the library, Verdugo and White brought out their docile pigeons for the children to handle and reminded them to pick them up with the tail facing out, to avoid getting pooped on.
If you missed this presentation, don’t fret. Both are members of the Los Angeles Pigeon Club and will be taking their pigeons to the annual Pigeon Show in November at the Ontario Convention Center.
Catch the Valle Vista Library’s next Moments in Time presentation Thursday, July 13 at 4 p.m. when Bob Dunn will recount his fascinating career as an underwater film expert. He worked with Jacques Cousteau and such filmed movies as Titanic and Waterworld. The Valle Vista Library is located at 25757 Fairview Ave. (corner of Fairview and Florida avenues).