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The times they are

The times they are a-changin'


No, the title does not refer to that famous song by Bob Dylan.

In this article I will describe some major changes in pigeon sport in the last few decades inHolland and Belgium.

The greatest difference with the past is the amount of fanciers that went down dramatically.

Take the province of Flanders in Belgium alone.

After World War 2 there were about 30,000 fanciers, in 2000 there were 11,000 and six years later 7,000 were left.

In other areas in Holland and Belgium the situation is just as bad.

I know a little town where there were 6 pigeon clubs shortly after World War 11, now there are only 4 fanciers left.

I mentioned the province of Flanders.

It takes only 45 minutes to cross it by car, so 7,000 fanciers in such a small area is still a lot but the alarming thing is the average age of the fanciers.

Few younger people join while many die due to old age or quit.

Of course the sport is far from dead but the good old days in which you could see a pigeon loft behind nearly every other house will never come back.

The positive news from Europe is that this sport is getting more popular in countries such asPortugal, Poland and Rumania.

When I was having a seminar in Rumania I heard that every year 500 new fanciers join which is a great contrast with Belgium where yearly 1,500 fanciers quit.



Not only the amount of fanciers is a big change, also the sport itself changed and even the pigeons did.

The pigeons we had when I was a kid (in the 60-ies) were bigger than those we have now.

The cocks were real masculine with big rounded heads and big nostrils and the hens were bigger as well.

But a selection based on the results throughout the years resulted in a smaller type of bird. You do not see those big and thick pigeons any more, they are more like canoes and also those big nostrils have become real rare.

Apart from the size also colours differ from the past.

In the old days we had pretty many reds, mealies, grizzles, dark checkers, and splashes, white or completely black pigeons.

The majority of the birds that we have to day is blue bars or checked.

Especially red pigeons have become rare.

And you know what is kind of strange?

The greater part of the pigeons that perform well to day at short and middle distance are blue or blue checked, many birds that are good at 2 day races (1,000 kilometres or more) are darkly checked or splashes.

We see a similar peculiar thing with the eyes.

Many (not all!) good birds for short and middle distance have so called glass or yellow eyes, many long distance aces have eyes that are richly coloured and pretty dark in many cases.

I discussed this matter with scientists but they do not have an explanation.



So the number of fanciers declined dramatically but they have far more birds than in the past.  

In the old days few fanciers had a special loft for breeders; most of them had two lofts only, one for the old racers and one for the youngsters.

Most of them had just one basket, since they did not need more.

Since fanciers have far more pigeons now they understandably have more lofts, bigger lofts, more baskets and some even have a special car for the pigeons.

Why do fanciers in Holland and Belgium keep more birds to day one may wonder?

One reason is there are far more races.

Furthermore some race many birds to enhance chances for lucky winners which is good for their propaganda since potential foreign buyers see results but they do not see how many pigeons a fancier entered.

If a fancier's name is 12 times mentioned in the first 100 of a resultsheet from a race for which 1,000 birds were entered this looks pretty good.

But it is not good at all if he alone had entered 150 pigeons.

If somebody's name is mentioned only 3 times his result looks pretty poor.

But it is not poor at all but super if he only entered 3 pigeons total.

Furthermore some need more birds in order to be able to practise different systems.

As mentioned before in the past they raced natural or widowhood.

To day some race hens on widowhood, plus they practise double widowhood (both hens and cocks) plus regular widowhood.

Long distance and young bird racing became more popular which was another reason to keep more birds.

In the past there were only two 2 day races in one year while to day it happens that there are two 2 day races on one day!

Racing old birds was the name of the game in the past, youngsters were just basketed to prepare them for their future career.

Since the 1980-ies young bird racing became very popular though..

From then on youngsters were not basketed to pick up experience but to win.

For National Orleans, which was the BIG race in Holland in those days, it happened that over 200,000 birds were entered.

A reason for the growing popularity of young bird racing was also the fact that people learnt to control the moult by darkening, thus they could race birds that did not moult every week.

Recently some also darken their old birds but that is another story for another article.

It stands to reason that the possibility to time the birds electronically also enabled fanciers to race more birds.



A great difference with the past is also the money,

In my childhood it happened that fanciers pooled their weekly wages on pigeons and some even borrowed money,

But gradually less money was in the races.

In the 80-ies and 90-ies still up to 20,000 USD could be won in one race only..

But it went down and down and now in most clubs in Holland not one cent can be won.

In Belgium people still pool pretty much but far less than in the past.

This does not mean money is out of the sport, on the contrary.

Now people make money by selling to foreigners mainly.

First Americans and Japanese paid high prices for record birds or name birds with a good pedigree, then came Taiwanese and to day Chinese and also Rumanians (!) are the 'big buyers'.

Furthermore the transport of the birds to the release stations changed a lot.

Long way back the Belgians transported their birds by train.

To day especially Dutch and Germans convey them in modern trucks in which temperatures, humidity, and ventilation and so on are under control.

These trucks (called 'containers') are especially designed for pigeons.

Since a couple of years the Belgians do not transport by train any more, but even to day their means of conveyance are old fashioned.

They have trucks that are used for other purposes during the week and they do not have the commodities as for ventilation and so on that the Dutch and Germans have.

They release the birds by just pressing a button while the Belgians have to unload all the baskets and open them manually.



To day we also have medicine that we did not have before and they got better as well. But the bad thing is that pathogens got more resistant.

In some lofts especially canker and salmonella became hard to suppress.

In the past the traditional diseases were canker, pox, salmonella, worms and coccidioses.

Now we got new diseases such as circo virus, paramyxo, coli, streptococci, Adeno.

Since traditional bacteria got stronger and stronger and no good antibiotics were found recently scientists agree we have to watch out.

The abuse of antibiotics has undermined the immunity of both humans and animals.

Baytril was the latest and probably the best anti biotic but since it is so 'strong' it is also the most dangerous.

'When Baytril does not help any more there is nothing else' vets say.

In the past we did not know about H5N1 and some wonder if it has always existed or if it is new.

It is not a pigeon disease, German scientists even found pigeons can hardly get or spread it but it hindered pigeon sport very much in various countries.

In 2007 three dead swans only was the reason that millions of pigeons in Holland, Belgiumand France could not be raced for one month in France.

It was ridiculous that the Germans did not worry about pigeons spreading H5N1 so the Dutch and Belgians raced from Germany instead of France for 6 weeks.

Apart from darkening electronic clocking was the most sensational change in pigeon sport.

The Germans started first (Tipes), in the beginning there was much opposition, numerous fanciers threatened to quit but now it is generally accepted and considered as a blessing.

Electronic clocking is said to be one of the reasons that people stopped pooling since it is pretty complicated for most fanciers who are older and prefer to fill in papers in case they want to pool.



Another change is the pedigrees.

Especially foreigners attach so much value to it that it became ridiculous.

An investigation in 2007 showed that not even 20 % of the fanciers have pedigrees of their birds but fanciers that sell ALL have pedigrees for the simple reason that they would not have clients for their birds without that piece of paper.

The fact that so many think that a pigeon is good because the origin is good is saddening.

Public auctions became important in this sport as well.

In auction lists much attention is paid to the origin with the result that worthless 'name birds' with a nice pedigree are often sold for much money while there is no interest in real good birds since they have a simple pedigree or no pedigree at all.

Fanciers also use the internet and have their own home page to push their birds but they are a minority. .

Sometimes foreigners ask me what the home page of a champion is. They do not realise most of them are older and do not have a home page or not even a pc.



Another great change is the massive losses of young birds in these days.

In the past no one lost youngsters, to day it is a nightmare for many.

People do not understand.

Long way back they did not even have a car to train them or they just had no time.

To day fanciers do have a car, they do have time, the transport to the release stations has become better, thus birds have more and better chances to pick up experience but nevertheless enormous amounts of young birds get lost.  

A comparison with the past may help to find an answer to the question 'why?'.

- In the past young birds were not darkened.

- In the past they did not get the medicine which is available today.

- In the past we did not have mobile phones, navigators, and internet and so on.

Sometimes young birds and old birds are released from the same station at the same time.

The old birds get home like hell; young birds however do not make it.  

Do they have less immunity due to the use of antibiotics?

Are old birds used to 'pollution' and other shit in the air like internet, mobile phones, and navigators?  

Many people have an opinion, no one has an answer.