Life in the North East of England (40)
Have you noticed that pigeon men are never shy about voicing their opinions? Even if their opinions are at best ill-informed and at worst downright wrong! Not being able to drive, nor having ready, regular access to a set of wheels is a severe handicap in this sport of ours. As is working for a living. I suffer from one, as I have never driven a car other than when taking some lessons years ago (which terrified me at the time) but not the other since I took early retirement. So when someone who has a car and is not working himself tells me I am training my young birds all wrong I get a bit annoyed. I am training them in the only way I can! Taking what tosses I can get, where and when I can get them. I said all this to a friend of mine, who is one of the few people I can rely on absolutely for a training flight but he wasn’t in the least put out and continued to berate me on my shortcomings as a young bird flier all the way to the clubhouse. And to put me right as to what I should be doing!
I know what I should be doing but I can’t do it, can I? I don’t have the same choices that he has. My old Professor was right. Walking into his room once, just after he had bawled out one of my fellow Junior Technicians, I caught him banging his fist against his forehead and muttering to himself. “Patience.” he was saying, “Tolerance. And understanding”. Not qualities that I possess in abundance so I just bit my tongue and let my friend have his say. I need him. He doesn’t need me but he helps me all the same. And I appreciate that!
Pigeons are not born with bad habits. They acquire them. And it isn’t always your fault. Some bad habits are of course, but not all of them. A youngster of mine returned from a bad training flight after a week out. In reasonable condition really. With food in his crop. All small stuff. That he hadn’t been in anywhere was pretty obvious by the state of his legs, wattles and feathering. He had learned how to survive and to fend for himself which reminds me of a dog called “Wolf”. One day as his owner was going into the butcher’s shop his dog passed him going out. Ears back and at full speed carrying something that he had stolen. The butcher skidded to a stop in his doorway and said “is that your dog?” “Used to be” said the owner “but I see he’s looking after himself now!”
When I let out the pigeon in question he does just that. He looks after himself. He is taking no chances. Food is his number one priority in life now. He knows where to get it, gets it and only comes home at night to sleep. The fact that I would normally feed him twice a day, and with much better food, seems to have escaped him. The pigeon now has tunnel vision and an ace bad habit which leaves me with some simple choices. One of which is to stop him ever needing food again but that would be too easy. “Re-training and Re-habilitation” it was called in Pam Ayre’s lovely little children’s book “Bertha and the Racing Pigeon”.
“Fleet”, a lost cock racing pigeon, is explaining to “Bertha”, a female Wood Pigeon, what happens to slow or lost birds when they eventually get home. “The boss” he says “puts them in a “Special Bag” together with all the old ones and takes them away. For re-training and re-habilitation I think. It must be someplace else because you never ever see them again!” Starting tomorrow I shall try and break my bird of his bad habit and maybe learn something myself in the process rather than use the “Special Bag” method. But it won’t be easy. Getting rid of bad habits never is. Tell me about it!
There is no doubt at all in my mind that the average fancier is very ill-informed as to the difficulties faced by a Convoyer (who is very well-informed) particularly on risky days. When a professional weather forecaster can tell you to completely disregard his previous forecast, issued a day earlier, because of the speed the weather picture is changing, you can begin to see the difficulties facing someone sat hundreds of miles from home responsible for thousands of birds. Our Convoyer has done brilliantly this season and this was my first chance to tell him that. So I did.
As Convoyer he has seen many different types of liberations. Good and not so good but a thing he saw at Bourges, our longest race, had puzzled him. He had just liberated the birds, in excellent conditions and off they went. All except about 30/40 birds which separated themselves from the main batch, circled low, and dropped in the nearby fields! He remarked on this saying to one of his helpers that “I hope none of mine are in that batch” but still wonders why they didn’t go with the rest they couldn’t all be sick pigeons. The best we could come up with was that these were birds that were panicking because they didn’t know where they were or birds that had failed before from France and “knew” they could survive off the land until such time as they got home. Whenever that was.
Naturally, this led to a discussion on pace and the question of do sprinters and long distance birds each have their own natural rate of flying, which they are comfortable with and which differs each from the other? I think so and always have done. The bottom line is that the pigeons don’t know how far they have to fly to get home. There is no jockey to control their speed, and unlike human athletes they can’t consciously regulate their speed against the distance they have to cover so they can get there in the quickest time. There is no such thing as a tactical pigeon race. And they can’t see the bird/birds they have to beat to win, which only leaves you with one answer. Natural pace.
Imagine lining up some top athletes. 100 yard men. Quarter milers. Milers. 5000 metre runners. 10,000 metre men. And marathon runners. To run in a race where nobody knows how far they have to run. It could be 100 yards or 23 miles. All those different body types with different training regimes and different metabolisms all setting off at the pace they were comfortable with and trained to run at. At 100 yards it would be one story. With all the runners still running and the sprint men in front, but if the race went on for say 5000 metres, never mind 23 miles, only the distance men would be left. The others would be gone! Perhaps that’s simply how it is with pigeons at the distance. It seems perfectly logical to me. If you ever saw Daley Thompson, one of the greatest all- round athletes of all time, run a mile race you would know what I am getting at. He got there all right and in a time that most club athletes would have been proud of, but boy did he struggle!
The big topic was yet again the darkness system and its long term effects on the birds, if there are any that is. Don’t forget there are guys up here who have been on it for twenty years or more, As a method for flying youngsters it is unsurpassable and is absolutely essential to winning young bird races here in the north east of England but does every young bird you possess have to be on it? A belt and braces approach where a darkness team and a natural team of youngsters are kept one for now and one for the future is a good compromise. Darkness youngsters may well have the body of an adult but for sure they go through a stage where they still have the brain of a child. And are then as thick as two short planks. A sky full of stupid youngsters does nobody any good. Least of all new starters and natural young bird fliers but you must move with the times.