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'Young bird disease' (Part one of two)

It was in the late 70-ies that pigeon sport faced a new ‘health problem’.

In Germany they mention it ‘Jungtauben Krankheit’ (‘young bird disease’) the Belgians and the Dutch talk about ‘Adeno/coli’.

Fanciers in Holland and Belgium were confronted with it first, but that is not real strange. Both the good and the bad things usually come from ‘the roots of our sport’.

Initially it was mainly the young birds that were affected (‘adenoviroses type 1’, that was found in 1976 for the first time, later on also old birds came under attack by a virus related to it (‘adenoviroses type 2’).

So there is a clear distinction between those two types.   

This highly deadly ‘Type 2’ was found for the first time in Belgium in 1992.

As for young birds (‘type 1’) initially it was just a few fanciers in Holland and Belgium that had problems but from the mid nineties it became a real plague for many all over the world.

For some it became such a nightmare that it was reason for them to quit.


‘Type 1’ (the young bird disease) is the most common.

From one day to the other (some) babies have no appetite. When the fancier tries to call them in ‘they do not listen’, since they are not hungry.

In the morning one finds that the food that was eaten the day before has not been digested, the crops are still stuffed with feed that is often vomited out and understandably the birds lose weight.

Affected pigeons sit still and ‘thick’, drink very much with the result that they have heavy watery diarrhoea that is greenish or yellowish coloured with a distinctive odour. 

The general condition is very bad and within 2 or 3 days many babies may be

infected. In most cases only few will die but the recovery may take a week or longer provided they get the proper medication.

As I said ‘type 2’, that hits old birds mainly, is the most deadly one.

The most probable reason is that it attacks the liver cells, with the intestinal system often remaining (at least apparently) healthy.

The mortality rate may be up to 30 %, but there have been cases of 100 % and

pigeons may die real fast.

In practise hens seem to be more vulnerable than cocks but there is no scientific proof nor explanation for this.

As for ‘type 2’ the strange thing is that among the sick birds in the same loft others  stay in perfect health and even perform well.


In fact the real problem is Adeno (a virus), whereas E Coli is an additional secondary bacterial infection. E Coli alone is no reason to worry about. For all humans and pigeons Coli are essential bacteria to stay alive.

But when a bird is weakened by the virus too much Coli may develop which will make things worse.

Hence it is of the utmost importance to treat against Coli as quickly as possible.

As for Adeno no efficient vaccination exists so far but for E Coli there are different antibiotics which are very affective.

One may wonder which are the best?

It seems that there is no ‘best’ since different medicine have different results.

What works for one loft may not work for the other. The most probable reason is different ‘families’ of bacteria.


Since old birds seldom suffer from ‘type 1’ it is clear that lack of resistance causes the problems with young birds. Old birds are stronger and more immune.

For an illness to develop it is not necessary for an infection to be passed from one pigeon to another. Weakening factors within the digestive tract may cause coli bacterium to proliferate widely.

Many blame the existence of the disease on the massive abuse of cortisone (to stop the moult) in the 80-ies, but  this has never been proven and after cortisone were forbidden the out breaks did not stop.

Others blame it on the darkening system but there is no proof for that either.

Stress is supposed to be a factor by many, since pigeons are more vulnerable when young, in over populated lofts, when temperatures suddenly get higher and after the first training tosses.

It is also typical that birds that suffered from ‘type 1’ in their year of birth seem to be safe as an old bird. 


Fanciers often wonder if there is anything they can do to protect the birds and most

unfortunately they think about antibiotics then. 

I use the term ‘unfortunately’ since this is a completely wrong assumption.

Antibiotics are only effective against pathogens that are in the body at the moment the birds are treated.

So what happens is the following thing:

First the adeno virus strikes, it weakens the birds so much that the Coli bacteria develop and the combination of the two sickens the birds.

Therefore the Belgians and Dutch talk about ‘Adeno/coli’.

It should be well known that we cannot fight a virus (adeno) and so far there are no vaccines against it either, as I said.

What (pigeon)vets do in case of a sickness is give antibiotics to kill the bacteria (coli) and once the sick birds got rid of them they are stronger to resist the virus (adeno).


The recovery may take up to a week also after medication, probably because of the slowly recovering liver cells that were damaged by the multiplication of the virus.

Fanciers are often misled since the birds may look good shortly after medication.

They think the birds are healthy again but this might not be the case yet.

Therefore it is to be recommended not to train or race too soon after medication, since the birds should be recovered for 100 percent.

That is why a treatment of at least 5 days is recommended.

Some mean the problems are a matter of heredity but that is not the case.

Any bird, even the best racer or breeder, can get sick and as for ‘type 2’ at any age.

So far a summary of what I experienced myself and at the lofts of fellow fanciers and of what I read about research done by scientists in the USA and Germany.

In the following issue I will deal with the results of their research.

(to be continued)