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English Carrier Pigeon

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Jim Gifford

Is the English Carrier Pigeon right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: English Carriers

Scientific name: Columba livia domestica

The basics:
Despite the name “Carrier,” today's English Carrier Pigeon is a large, striking show pigeon – not a bird intended to deliver messages. Because of the regal impression a fine exhibition bird can make, some people have called it the king of pigeons. However, there is another, quite popular variety actually called the King Pigeon, so be clear about what variety you are viewing.

As the name hints, the English Carrier Pigeon is a breed that has been developed over hundreds of years. One of its ancestors was, indeed, the old English Carrier Pigeon, the largest of the flying pigeon varieties, which was once used for delivering messages. Further back, in the 17th century, breeders seemed to be working with a variety of flying, carrier, and pouter (puffed-out chest) species in order to create this particular line. Some possible ancestors of this bird include the Persian Wattle Pigeon, the Persian and Baghdad Carriers, the Dragoon, and the extinct original Horseman.

Appearance:
This tall, slim, long-necked pigeon is noteworthy for its huge, wrinkled wattle that gives its face a rather wise-looking, ancient appearance.

Weight:
500 grams (17 oz.)

Average size:
44 - 47 centimeters (17 - 18.5 in.)

Lifespan:
7 - 10 years

Behavior / temperament:
The English Carrier Pigeon is well-regarded as a calm bird with a regal, almost kingly bearing. Take advantage of its natural calmness by training it to fly to take treats from the hand. The wattle continues to develop for 3 to 4 years, so your birds may not show to their full advantage until they're older.

Housing:
The majority of English Carrier Pigeon keepers are breeders and exhibitors who keep their birds in a large outdoor loft. Talk to another breeder before you design your loft, and make sure that it is easy to clean and secure from mosquitoes, thieves, raccoons, and other predators that would like nothing better than to feast on a nice tasty pigeon. This large breed can benefit from more loft space than most varieties. Have a minimum of 4 square feet of floor space for each pair. Yes, that does mean that an aviary 4 feet wide by 6 feet long houses a maximum of 12 birds. Pigeons are messy, and their droppings and feathers can accumulate, so don't take on a bigger job than you are sure you can manage.

English Carrier Pigeons do bathe in water, so they should be allowed access to a shallow dog dish or similar bathing bowl to splash around in. Since pigeons lower the head to drink, they will need a deeper bowl for the drinking water.

Diet:
The English Carrier Pigeon can thrive on a relatively simple diet. Most people start with a high-quality pigeon mix from a well-regarded source. You may also mix in quality grains such as millet, barley, wheat, whole corn, dry peas, buckwheat, oats, and so on, either from a good feed store with fast turn-over or from a health food store. Special pellets formulated for pigeons can be used to supplement the diet, to ensure that your bird has enough vitamins and protein.

If you're hand-taming a special pet, you may want to hold back special high-fat treats like sunflower or safflower seed, to give to your English Carrier Pigeon by hand during the training and bonding process. Chopped greens like kale, dandelion greens, spinach, or fresh sprouts should be offered each day. Some people offer high beta carotene foods like finely chopped carrot or papaya. Hard or sprouted beans seem to be well-liked.

English Carrier Pigeons need access to a high quality pigeon grit to help them digest the tough, uncooked grains they like to eat. A cuttlebone or another calcium source is also valuable. However, calcium may not be properly absorbed without sufficient vitamin D3 if your pigeon is an indoor pet. Therefore, it is important to choose a good avian supplement that includes D3.

Written by Elaine Radford