Lamberton Racing Pigeons

Loft Management Series

"Racing Pigeon School"


If homing pigeons are not "in racing pigeon school," then they are in the wild - even in a pigeon loft.  If homing pigeons do not continually interact with fanciers on a daily basis (at a minimum), then they are growing up in a "natural" or "wild" psychological environment.  As with all animals, pigeons are born with genetic codes that control psychological predispositions.  Most pigeons' psychological predispositions are not particularly compatible with the domesticated environments found in typical homing pigeon lofts.   The psychological predispositions of all pigeons, including domesticated homing pigeons, are naturally bent towards "the wild."  Homing pigeons are "naturally" suspicious, timid and afraid of anything other than other homing pigeons.  People are strangers that should be naturally feared.  It takes a great deal of time, dedication, patience, and positive reinforcement by knowledgeable and caring fanciers for pigeons to over come these "natural" genetic tendencies and psychological predispositions.  

Every day after young birds are hatched, and certainly after they open their eyes, they should experience some type of "Racing Pigeon School."  Without experiencing the phenomenon of human interaction through a formal Racing Pigeon School, young birds will develop and mature solely in response to their natural genetic tendencies and natural psychological predispositions.  Domesticating, teaching and training homing pigeons to play the racing pigeon game is a process that is in direct contradiction to their "natural" tendencies and predispositions.  Pigeons do not hatch automatically or naturally knowing anything at all about the socially constructed racing pigeon game as it is practiced by fanciers around the world.  Pigeon are hatched with natural tendencies for self preservation only.  These tendencies include the basic components of survival, i.e., eating, drinking, finding shelter, using fear and procreating the species.  Fear is a very important part of the successful survival of wild animals and domesticated animals.  Successfully reacting to fear is the epitome of success for most pigeons.  Fear is a survival tool.   For wild pigeons, exhibiting fear is the primary measure of success.  For champion racing pigeons, exhibiting trust is the primary measure of success. 


One of the primary goals of "racing pigeon school" is to overcome and neutralize the "natural" fear that occurs in the survival mentality of both wild and domesticated pigeons.  Pigeons must be taught and trained to trust their fanciers.  Consequently, a primary goal of "Racing Pigeon School" is to reduce and eliminate fear and to replace natural fear with learned trust.  What is "Racing Pigeon School?"  Racing Pigeon School is a daily process during which fanciers teach and train their pigeons to play the racing pigeon game at the top of the race sheet.  Racing Pigeon School should begin immediately after hatching.  Hatchlings should be gently handled.  Gently handling hatchlings will allow them to smell and touch their fanciers.  They should also hear their fanciers' voices.  when their parents are fed in their nest boxes, fanciers should signal feeding times through voice commands or some other type of artificial instrument like a whistle.  In the rural west, chuck wagon cooks or ranch cooks would use a ringing or clanging signal to communicate to the ranch hands that it was time to eat.  when the dinner or supper signal rang, cowhands briskly headed for the dining table.  It is the same with racing pigeons.  Pigeons learn "to come" during the feeding process.  The natural tendency of pigeons is to move away from fanciers as they encounter them inside or outside the loft.  Using feed as an enticement, pigeons can be taught to move toward their fanciers because they trust them rather than move away because of fear.

Racing Pigeon School varies from fancier to fancier.  Racing Pigeon School varies based upon the likes and dislikes of each and every fancier.  That is one of the great beauties and enticements of the pigeon racing sport.  All fanciers can develop their own management system based upon the social circumstances in which they find themselves, i.e., living alone, family requirements, money constraints, time constraints, work requirements, building codes, city regulations, neighborhood covenants, etc.  Regardless of the Racing Pigeon School that a fancier develops and practices, pigeons should experience Racing Pigeon School every day of their lives.  Animals and pigeons learn optimally through daily repetition.  Repeating the same routine day after day will constantly reinforce the basic components of a fancier's Racing Pigeon School.  Consistency and repetition develop trust.  Pigeons will learn to trust if their expectations are consistently met day after day.

Regrettably, many fanciers will try to teach or train their pigeons on an inconsistent basis - only during specific critical periods.  Many fanciers will ignore their youngsters until they encounter the following critical periods:  (1) banding or ringing; (2) weaning; and (3) training just prior to the beginning of the young bird race series - if the young birds are trained at all.  There are those fanciers who state that they use the races to train their young birds how to return home and how to play the game.

One of the purposes of today's blog is to suggest that a more proactive and thoughtful "Racing Pigeon School" during which young birds learn the fundamentals of a sophisticated loft management system each and every day of their lives is a far superior teaching method than waiting to domesticate or teach young birds anything until they reach one or two critical periods during the first year of their lives.  Many fanciers postpone education and training because they drastically underestimate the true intelligence of their pigeons.  These fanciers do not see a danger  or disadvantage in waiting to train their young birds until some future point in time.  However, good homing pigeons are incredibly smart birds.  They understand and absorb far more information than many fanciers realize.  One negative act can undue weeks or months of positive training.  Why?  Again, because pigeons are wild creatures by nature.  They expect to be afraid.  Consequently, when they are frightened, their natural fears are validated and reinforced.  Undoing negative acts by retraining pigeons to a position of trust takes a tremendous amount of time and patience.

For those fanciers who have bred winter youngsters, Racing Pigeon School is now in session.  Please do not wait until your young birds are weaned to first handle them; to teach them to come when called; to teach them to eat on their own; to let them sense you through smell and touch as well as sight and sound.  By the time your young birds are weaned,  they should already know how to eat on their own.  They should already know how to come when called; although they might not respond correctly at each and every feeding because they are babies - not adults.  Weanlings should know who you are.  They should have experienced your management and care through as many of their senses as possible: sight, sound, touch and smell.  They are wonderful intelligent birds that should be taught and trained through a formal Racing Pigeon School that you have developed based upon best management practices in order to neutralize their natural tendencies that fostered by fear.

Racing Pigeon School is a twelve month/365 day per year program.  Racing Pigeon School begins each year on November 1st.   Here are a few of the key dates each year for Racing Pigeon School: 

(These dates are approximate.)

  • November 1 - all of the pigeons, especially the breeders, are medicated during the first several months of November.  Breeding pairs are pre-mated during the month of November.

  • December 1 - breeding couples are coupled.

  • December 10 - 14 - breeding couples lay eggs.

  • January 1 - First round of young birds hatch.

  • January 7 - 14 - First round youngsters banded or rung.

  • February 1 - First round youngsters are weaned.

  • February 10 - Second round hatches.

  • March 1 - First round youngsters are training around the loft.

  • March 10 - Second round youngsters are weaned.

  • April 15 - First round begins road training from 1 to 5 miles.

  • April  10 - Second round youngsters are training around the loft.

  • May 15 - Second round begins road training from 1 to 5 miles.

  • June 1 - First and second rounds are combined and continue to road train up to 50 miles.

  • July 1 - Primary race teams (males/females) are selected and coupled with older widowhood mates.  Primary race team builds nests and lays eggs.  Road training continues.  Selected secondary team remains in training loft.

  • August 1 - Race teams' eggs and nests are removed.  Widowhood road training begins. (Race team remains celibate during the week and train home to mates on Friday or Saturday mornings depending upon weather.

  • September - 10 - Young Bird Race Series begins from 100 miles.

  • October 31 - Young Bird Race Series ends.

  • November 1 -  Racing Pigeon School begins again.

Racing Pigeon School has no recess during the summer.  It has no recess for Fall Break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Spring Break.  Racing Pigeon School is a 365 day a year job.  Having made this statement, I am not advocating that fanciers never take vacations or take breaks from the birds.  What I am trying to demonstrate is that in theory, Racing Pigeon School is an annual program that never ceases.  There is something important to do every day of the year.  At a minimum, the pigeons require clean lofts, clean food, clean water, fresh supplements, and regular medication.

Racing Pigeon School is one of the primary reasons that I advocate playing the game with small race teams.  Just as with people, class size is an issue in quality education.  It is a general policy that one teacher cannot successfully manage and teach more than 20 to 25 students in a class.  In graduate school where learning is supposed to be much more intense and rigorous, the number of students in one class drops to 10 to 12 students.  I believe that the same ratios are true for pigeons.  For the best in quality education, race teams should probably be capped at 20 to 25 pigeons unless fanciers have help from partners or other family members.

Racing Pigeon School is a system.  Racing Pigeon School is goal oriented.  Racing Pigeon School involves high quality education -  education during which capable, caring, and informed fanciers teach wild yet domesticated pigeons the basic tenets of a humanly constructed game of which they know nothing about.  Racing pigeons are not typically hatched in the wild on a building ledge or under a bridge.  They are hatched in lofts whose design was constructed by fanciers that they do not know, understand or naturally relate.  Although young birds instantly bond with their parents, everything else in their world is learned.  They learn where the floor is relative to their nest.  They learn where food and water are located.  After they leave the nest, they look for another spot (box or perch) to claim for their own territory.  If there is nothing available, pigeons will claim a spot on the floor for their own.

If young birds are weaned in a different loft from the loft in which they were hatched, they will once again seek to discover the food, water, supplements and a place to claim for their own territory.  when they can use their wings, they will look for a place to escape the loft in order to stretch their wings and learn to fly.

Rather than let young birds randomly try to discover the basic elements of their new world strictly by modeling the behavior of their parents or by trial and error, Racing Pigeon School imposes an educational system that specifically teaches the young birds each of the critical tasks that they must learn during the first few weeks and months of their lives - and continues as long as the pigeon remains in the loft.

Racing Pigeon School is a basic component of the racing pigeon game.  Racing Pigeon School requires teachers.  Teachers posses certain personal attributes.  Regretfully, many fanciers are not teachers nor do they have teaching skills.  Many fanciers do not know how to teach nor do they want to learn how to teach.  Even knowledgeable fanciers with years of experience playing the game often do not know how to teach their pigeons. 

In addition, I often receive emails from new fanciers that lament that the established fanciers in their area will not teach them the fundamentals about the game.  Sometimes they confide that they have developed an animosity between themselves and older fanciers over this problem.  My answer to this problem is that many fanciers are not teachers and do not believe that education is important or even relevant to the racing pigeon game.  If you have run into this problem with other fanciers, you might consider the possibility that older fanciers are not withholding information because they are trying to keep secrets and don't want you to reveal their vast knowledge to you.  Perhaps the problem is that these fanciers don't know how to teach their pigeons the basic aspects of the racing pigeon game.  Consequently, they can't communicate this information to you because they don't know it or understand its relevance in the game.  Many fanciers do not know how to teach their young birds the fundamentals of the game because they do not have a system - they do not have goals - they do not have benchmarks for achieving their goals - they do not understand or appreciate the idea of Racing Pigeon School.  Racing Pigeon School is a universal program in Belgium.  Although fanciers have unique characteristics to each of their lofts, each fancier uses the same basic fundamental system to play the game.  This system requires that fanciers teach a few well-bred racing pigeons how to compete in a game that is played according to the organization and rules of a national institution - the KBDB.  Teaching is fundamental to the success of competitive Belgian fanciers.  Did you know that Ad Schaerlaeckens and Filip Herbots are retired school teachers?  Although he was a diamond cutter by trade, Antoine Jacops is one of the finest teachers that I have ever met.  So is Mike Ganus.

Playing the game at the top of the race sheet involves teaching.  Although I use the metaphor of Racing Pigeon School to describe the educational process, one of the primary components of racing at the top of the sheet involves teaching and education.  For those of you who currently have three week old youngsters or weanlings in the breeding loft, it is time to teach.  In fact, it is past time to teach.  If you want to play the game well, start teaching your young birds now.  Repeat the same lessons day after day until they respond correctly and quickly.