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The Pigeon

The Pigeon—Its Veterinary Care, Management and Cultural History

 

By Dr Colin Walker BSc, BVSc, MACVS (Avian Health), Soft Cover, 660 pages, 1250 full-colour images, RRP $132 plus P&H

 

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Pigeon keeping has been an intermittent hobby of mine since I was 10. Over the years I have thumbed through a plethora of pigeon texts, mostly comprising a few pictures but very little text, or vice-versa. The PigeonIts Veterinary Care, Management and Cultural History has managed to get the balance just right.

 

The chapter list is extensive because essentially all possible topics—some never really addressed before—have been covered in detail. The book is broken up into 11 major sections comprising 70 chapters over a monumental 660 pages. Each major section is colour-tabbed on the page edges so it can be referenced quickly.

 

The first section, titled Introduction, provides over 30 pages on pigeon history, navigation and medical developments.

 

Section 2, Diagnostics and the Common Diseases, is a book within the book, with over 160 pages on the diagnostics, recognition and treatment of major diseases facing pigeons. Regardless of your level of expertise, this section has something to offer. It is lavishly illustrated with images of all aspects of veterinary care of pigeons from setting up diagnostics, interpreting blood results, endoscopy, radiography, sample collection, to step-by-step post mortem procedures, microscopic appearance, dropping evaluation and interpretation, surgery and gross appearance of lesion presentations and many that I have never seen before in my own practice. The individual disease sections cover in detail ‘the big five’—canker, respiratory disease, parasites, bacterial infections and viral diseases. However, despite information detailed enough to guide a vet to an appropriate management plan, the coverage is not overwhelming even to the fancier with the most basic knowledge of science.  The book then starts to introduce more direct husbandry and hobby-related information, while still maintaining a health-based approach to the information provided.

 

 Section 3 relates to the young bird—covering development, weaning and health issues. It includes a very useful flowchart for determining the diagnostic approach to what is an often-difficult patient with limited clinical presentations. A comprehensive overview of young bird racing completes this section.

 

Section 4 covers the heart and soul of the industry, with an in-depth look at racing. As a child I was always in awe of the adults at the race meetings as they examined each bird and discussed the secret features of its eye and feathers that meant it was going to be in the running on that particular day. To this day, much of this knowledge is trapped inside the head of the older flyers, but the author has explained and demonstrated as much as possible in this section. Topics covered include racing form, race fitness, selecting race birds, race day, recovery, wing structure, moulting, effect of heat and humidity, panting, exercise, diet, electrolytes, myolysis, crop issues, ‘doping’ and insights into the Australian race industry.

 

Section 5 is devoted to the breeding bird and discusses breeding issues, causes of breeding failure, egg autopsy, incubation, hand rearing, genetics and a fascinating look at crop milk production.

 

It finishes with a large, 30-page section on the development of pigeon breeds from a geographical perspective. This is lavishly illustrated with images of the many dozens of region-specific pigeon breeds, particularly in Europe and the Middle East, and some of the customs and idiosyncrasies of the hobbyists in these areas. It is a fascinating read and when I first picked up this book I mistook this section for a portfolio of pigeon breeds. I was extremely happy to later find that this section, as comprehensive as it is, is overshadowed by the breeds chapters at the back of the book.

 

Section 6 returns to the serious side of the hobby and looks at management protocols for different age groups and race groups and the ‘pigeon year’. It also touches briefly on management of squab-producing birds. It finishes with an interesting look at ‘one-loft’ racing systems.

 

Section 7 is an in-depth look at pigeon nutrition, presented in a way I have never seen before, with a refreshing look at dietary needs from the point of view of diet design and how diet can be tweaked for different purposes. It also looks at supplementation, pelleted diets, probiotics, natural supplements and diet-related fungal disease.

 

Section 8 is what nightmares are made of for the spouses of pigeon fanciers. As well as providing valuable advice on the design of lofts, humidity and ventilation and regional differences in loft design, it is also a pictorial journey of lofts of the world. With nearly 20 pages of loft images, even the happiest loft owner will find something to justify a loft renovation!

 

 

Section 9 revisits, in much greater detail, the use of microscopic diagnostics touched on in section 2—which for most people would be adequate in itself. This includes details on microscope use and a pictorial dictionary of diagnostics of faecal and crop swab findings. As a microscope junkie myself, I would have liked to have seen a greater use of arrows or similar to highlight specifically what the author was trying to display in the photos, particularly for beginners.

 

Pigeon Queries A-Z is an interesting section that provides essentially a checklist of things that can go wrong with pigeons. Starting at the beginning and working through, it is possible to create a ‘problems list’ for any issue observed and where to look for answers. This section also contains an extremely important list of the most commonly used pigeon drugs and their recommended dose rates. It provides a rather good explanation of how antibacterial drugs work, the effects of drug mixing and outlines some specific details of some of the more common drugs that are used and abused by the fancy. (Oddly, I could not see a clear drug use disclaimer as is typical in most avian texts.)

 

Section 10 very briefly but quite adequately touches on the ever-increasing issues of council regulations, zoonotic diseases and the importation of pigeons and the associated quarantine period.

 

Finally, section 11 is pure eye candy. While the author’s first book was almost entirely devoted to the racing enthusiast, this book consistently includes exhibition birds. This final section, The Modern Pigeon, provides a pictorial journey through the exhibition fancy in a chapter called Pigeon Panorama. With more than 50 pages of images and an average of five images per page, it is hard to stop flipping straight to the back of the book. While the organisation of the breeds initially seems quite random, if you actually read the text in between it becomes apparent that the images are organised according to mutation groups, such as changes in feathers, eyes, beaks, feet, frills, crests and so on. There were many breeds included that I was unaware of, and I am thinking it’s about time to be making a pigeon comeback after a few years break. This section finishes with an interesting look at evolution of the modern bird from its dinosaur origins and provides a list of quirky bird facts that will stand you out from the crowd at a trivia night.

 

The rear of the book provides a catalogue of the author’s pigeon-related products and an unusual index that directs you to the major topics but also serves as an acknowledgement to those associates that contributed to the book.

 

If you love pigeons, or ever expect to associate with a pigeon from a veterinary perspective, then you must have this book. It is leaps and bounds above other books on the market and even leaves the author’s previous work somewhat in the dust. It is extremely well priced for its size and is beautifully presented. A true credit to the author and a benchmark for pigeon books across the obe.

 

Review by Danny Brown

 

 

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