Posts Tagged ‘pigeons’


Coo … coo … cool.

Sky rats. Vermin. Urban scourge.

Not my pigeons. They may not be the most elegant, or the smartest bird. Nobody  waxes poetic about the common rock dove.

Columba livia domestica is much maligned, even among those of us who keep them. Like most others, it’s unlikely I’d be a pigeon fancier if I didn’t have bird dogs. George Hickox said it best: “no birds, no bird dog.” And it’s true.

My birds are first and foremost, a training tool. But watching them roost, calmly ruffling feathers on a nest, elegantly circling the loft, even pecking the ground for grit, they are in many ways like our horses. Both exude a calming influence, a soft and peaceful aura enveloping nearby humans.

It helps that most people find them objectionable in one or more ways. After all, we do need to abuse them a bit and a certain disdain softens the blow. But they are partners in our dog training effort and I appreciate that.

Stoic, patient and maybe a bit oblivious … all are attributes that fortify a pigeon for its job, a job that is crucial to the polishing of our dogs’ skills.

Europeans and Middle Easterners have revered pigeons along with their cousins the doves, for eons. Steeped in romance and history, they’ve been hand-in-glove with humans since Egyptian times, enshrined in hieroglyphics and lauded in papyrus scrolls. In World War I, lowly pigeons couriered vital information. Such noble genealogy has not stopped modern society from relegating them to the role of cooing ornaments in city parks, denizens of grain elevators, desecrators of windshields.

Some passionate racers still exist, speaking in hushed tones about breeding and strategy. Sure, they have their quirks (the same can be said for bird dog folk), but many of us are grateful for their culls.

They are not chukars, ringnecks, or even pen-raised bobwhites. But rock doves are available, inexpensive, and tough. When a bob will often die of fright on its first retrieve, a pigeon will heroically endure numerous retrieves, ultimately arriving mangled and bloody, but ready to go again after a few days’ rest. They are quite content to be the bird we have to use, but don’t want to use.

There’s a certain amount of pride among dog owners who also keep pigeons. There’s an element of propriety in one’s loft design, birds’ homing abilities, even colors become the subject of endless debate, the tone of which clearly indicates a visceral connection between man and bird. I won’t call it affection, but look deep enough and you detect the same attitude one has toward a good set of  tools.

For all of us, let me say thanks, pigeons.

Read Full Post »

The goal.

The goal.

It figures: just when you start feeling cocky, things are sure to come off the rails. Manny’s steadiness on live birds in the field was a series of small victories. Excellent finds, solid points at 30-35 yards, and a patient observing look from the little guy as I kicked brush and flew birds. Cap gun, blank pistol, multiple shots, a statue watched me dance in front of him.

Then I uncased the shotgun.

Manny launched from his point like a marble from a slingshot. By sheer chance, I was between him and the birds so he came to a screeching halt after a few steps. And we went back to Square One.

A few days with the gut hitch, and we’d clawed our way back to the moment of truth. We’d reached the summit: flush-bang-still, even as the pigeon fluttered to earth.

That little win propelled us to the next level and the feeling that maybe, just maybe, we are making progress. A “covey rise” of two pigeons was laid out for Manny’s olfactory pleasure. Quivering muscles and flaring nostrils, the gut hitch was a mere formality, loosely wrapped. Birds up! Dog stock-still. Add a shotgun blast, one anchored dog. Three times the charm, and it was a wrap.

Read Full Post »

“Backing,” honoring, whatever you want to call it, there are at least two types I know of. The one we’re all familiar with,  where one dog points and the other dog slams into a pseudo-point when he sees the first dog. Eventually, Manny and I will get to that.

Beyond the Bumper to birds … with an audience.

I wonder if the other honor that teaches self-discipline, control and maybe even a better retrieve? As you know, we’ve been working on one dog watching, waiting patiently while his bracemate brings back my Real Bird Bumper and other stuff. But lately we’ve been using real birds. And it’s having the desired effect.

Both Buddy and Manny are more energetic on their runout to the bird, lusting for feathered prey. But (luckily) they are each disciplined enough to execute the command, and there is the envy factor: “gee, if I don’t get it, he will.” It’s a test of wills for all three of us.

So far, so good. It’s not in any NAVHDA test until the Invitational, but I’m wondering if the simple act of deferring to another dog (in addition to the human) adds another layer of complexity. And thus, perhaps, challenges their intellect.

While writing this, I realized how lucky I am having a pigeon loft just 34 steps from my dog-training area. As George Hickox so well put it: “No birds, no bird dog.” If you don’t have birds nearby, how do you do it? Where do you find them, what do you pay, how often do you get them?

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: