Steven Mercieca1, Bertalan Jilly2 and András Gáspárdy1*
1University of Veterinary Medicine, Department for Animal Breeding, Nutrition and Laboratory Animal Science, István str. 2., 1078 Budapest, Hungary
2Szent István University, Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, Institute of Regional Economics and Rural Development, Páter K. str. 1., 2100 Gödöllő, Hungary
†This paper is based on thesis Evaluation of the connection among the body measurements and the flying speed in a racing pigeon population written by Steven Mercieca, a Maltese student at the Szent István University, Faculty of Veterinary Science, Budapest, Hungary 2013.
Received: 16 December, 2016; Accepted: 09 March, 2017; Published: 10 March, 2017
András Gáspárdy, University of Veterinary Medicine, Department for Animal Breeding, Nutrition and Laboratory Animal Science, István str. 2., 1078 Budapest, Hungary, Tel: +36-1-4784120; Fax +36-1-4784124; E-mail:
Mercieca S, Jilly B, Gáspárdy A (2017) Connection among Body Measurements and Flying Speed of Racing Pigeon†. Int J Agric Sc Food Technol 3(1): 009-018. DOI: 10.17352/2455-815X.000016
© 2017 Mercieca S. et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Racing pigeon; Breeding value for flying speed; Conformation; Temperature-humidity index
The ability of racing pigeons to navigate and to find their way home is determined by many factors. The aim of this investigation was to prove the outer and inner environmental impacts on the flying performances of racing pigeon flock. The fieldwork consisted of taking down of various body measurements of 49 birds, which was improved by collection of racing-, meteorological-, geographical-, and pedigree data.
According to the age corrected body measurements the birds of actual flock were longer in wing length, narrower in wing width and lighter in body weight than birds in Horn’s study.
The breeding value for flying speed (BV speed) was calculated by an individual animal model taking the proven environmental effects (fixed: year of race, wind direction, rain fall, reproductive status; co-variates: distance, temperature-humidity index) into consideration next to the genetic relatedness.
The BV speed showed significant association with the real flying speed only (r=0.71), and there were no statistically proven correlations with the body measurements and the body condition loss as well. While the wing length stayed in a closer negative connection (r=-0.40, p<0.05) to the loss in body condition.
Association of traits was further evaluated by use of factor analysis, from which it is concluded that the measurement responsible for body capacity, the measurements contributing the wing surface area, and the speed of bird are belonging to different determining groups (factors).
Over and above, from the investigation it can be concluded that the flying speed of the racing pigeon is not clearly determined by their body measurements, by their live weights and condition losses. However, the contribution of the body weight, chest depth (as breast muscle volume), and wing length to the flying success is strongly imaginable, which needs further research
Introduction and Aim
The homing pigeon (a variety of domesticated pigeon, Columba livia domestica) has long been known for its impressive ability to navigate through various terrains and find its way home, with speed being essential for a quick return when racing. Several adaptations make birds solid and strong, yet at the same time lightweight ‘flying machines’ . Many external factors are believed to have an effect on the flying speed and thus racing performance of pigeons whereas others may not affect speed or do so to a lesser extent. Such factors include prevailing wind direction and speed, rainfall, sun visibility, temperature-humidity index, temperature, health, disease, husbandry and nutrition, training, familiarity and geography of landscape.
The essence of a homing pigeon is its ability to navigate and return home in the quickest manner and from distant unfamiliar locations. Racing pigeons have long been used as models for navigational studies and their homing ability has intrigued many throughout the ages . Besides the need for good muscle functioning, a great variety of other factors, including the wing quality, are present which determine the suitability of a bird for racing according to speed. The wing structure and characteristics are important in defining the racing capacity of a bird, along with various other anatomical traits. The speed of a pigeon is a critical part of the homing ability together with overcoming many possible obstacles. Both internal and external factors may influence the speed and resultant performance of a bird and external ones include meteorological, geographical and environmental factors whereas internal factors include health, innate homing ability, and stage of reproduction and body condition.
Once flight is initiated, different speeds may be attributed to various flight modes. A free flying pigeon is capable of differing flight modes including ascending, descending, turning, gliding, horizontal flight, take-off and landing .
Pigeons are able to breed from the age of 6 months and can do so all year, being most prolific in the spring and summer months. They are monogamous and build flimsy nests in which 1-2 white eggs are laid after 10-15 days of pairing and these are incubated for 17-19 days with the parents alternating incubation once daily. After hatching, the parents raise the squabs and these fledge after 30 days or so. A second clutch is usually laid during the rearing period of the first pair of squabs . Racing of birds when they are in pre-breeding, incubation or rearing reproductive stages has been postulated to affect their speed and racing performance .
According to a study by Murton et al. , male birds are thought to undergo behavioural changes as a result of changing hormonal basis. Courtship is believed to be dependent on high levels of FSH/androgen resulting in aggressive components of the behaviour. The next phase is the nest demonstration and higher oestrogen levels dominate it. At the end of this phase, FSH dominated once more and results in nest building. Ball and Balthazart  believe that ovarian oestrogens activate female sexual behaviour and that parental care is hormonally initiated by synergistic actions of sexual steroids and prolactin in females, and by a response to the female’s signals in males.
The muscles are needed for wing movement, the chest depth of a bird can be taken as the breast muscle volume. The attachment of the m. pectoralis superficialis (aka m. pectoralis major) is from the ribs, clavicle and lateral sternum to the crest of the lateral tuberosity on the humours . Its contraction on the outside causes the wing to move downwards (downstroke, Figure 1). The contraction of the m. pectoralis profundus (aka m. pectoralis minor or m. supracoracoideus) will move the wing upwards (upstroke, Figure 2). The tendon of this muscle runs through a channel called the foramen triosseum formed by the coracoid, scapula and clavicula allowing a pulley effect to be achieved. The m. pectoralis major is rich in myoglobin and muscle fibres and also lipid droplets (most important source of energy for pigeons when in continuous flight). It has the greatest volume and surface area of the birds’ muscles and is vital as a source of energy and for stamina during flight. The m. supracoracoidues is paler in colour, contains more white muscle fibres and is rich in glycogen which is useful for sudden manoeuvres such as take-off and landing. Since the upstroke needs approximately one sixth of the exertion force of the down stroke, the fact that there are less red muscle fibres and less lipids is of no real concern. The longer a race will be, the more vital an appropriate supply of fat in the diet is. Protein is of less importance than lipids and carbohydrates from an energetic point of view. The importance of the m. pectoralis profundus in uplift was investigated by Degernes and Feducia . They performed unilateral or bilateral tenectomy of the tendon of this muscle to see if deflighting would occur. Although none of the birds undergoing either of these procedures had normal dorsal extension of the affected wing, they were all still able to escape and produce some uplift (though obviously not enough to fly appropriately). The pectoralis muscle force is seen to peak at an early stage of the wing cycle during the downstroke . The volume, tension and colour of the muscles are qualities looked at in racing birds.