Bird Brains

The wild world of pigeon breeding

With cooped birds all around me, I wasn’t prepared when pigeon enthusiast Rod Workman quickly encouraged his two doves to jump from his hands to my shoulder and arm. But there they sat, one with a single wing stretched out lazily, soaking up the sun as it perched on my shoulder.

I was soon to discover that pigeons are bred just like rabbits or guinea pigs, with around 300 breeds in existence. Some are bred for frilly feathers — such as the aptly named fantail pigeon — and some, like the pouter, are bred for their ability to inflate their crop (chest).

It turns out that pigeons are the earliest known domesticated bird, and groups like Junction City’s Central Pacific Pigeon Club (CPPC) are keeping this ancient tradition alive. “My whole family thinks I’m weird because I enjoy my time with my birds,” says CPPC manager Larry Flowers, “but that’s what I do.”

Flowers’ first encounter with pigeons started when he and his twin brother were very young and acquired free pigeons from a neighbor, eventually amassing 300 birds. Currently, Flowers raises exotic breeds of pigeons and puts on the annual Oregon Classic Pigeon Show at the Lane County Fairgrounds, happening this year in November.

Workman, who introduced me to his collection of pigeons, lives just outside the Springfield city limits. He notes that doves are actually a type of pigeon. Workman eats his pigeons whenever he gets too many and can’t sell enough.

He breeds diamond doves, ring-neck doves and parlor rollers, and he has dozens. The parlor roller has been selectively bred to roll around on the ground as if it were having a seizure instead of flying.

A run-of-the-mill parlor roller can cost $20, while a champion roller, capable of rolling for hundreds of feet, can run several hundreds of dollars. They’re an ideal breed of pigeon for small children because they are tame and can’t fly away, Workman says.

Pigeons such as the parlor roller, along with other flying varieties bred to spiral out of control towards the ground and then recover before crashing, have been the subject of some controversy in regards to the ethics of breeding them.

“It’s a natural act. They seem happy to do it,” says National Pigeon Association District 8 Director Dennis Manning, who is based out of Cloverdale, Oregon. He says he has “no comment on anything regarding whether it is ethical or not. Should an udder be that big on a Holstein?” he asks. “It’s a bigger question than I’m prepared to discuss.”

Humane Society of the United States Senior Advisor Dave Pauli, based in Montana, has a different take. “I think calling it either natural for the birds or enjoyable to them are both human compensatory statements to sidestep the ethical issue that the selective breeding is totally for the benefit or amusement of humans and not for the benefit of the individual bird or the breed,” he says.

“I’ve seen little kids spin around in circles and crash into the wall. It’s the same thing,” Workman says regarding whether his rollers have ever rolled into anything.

Controversy aside, domestic pigeons can make attractive pets because they are naturally tame, and it’s relatively inexpensive to care for a few birds. Keep in mind that the city of Eugene restricts ownership to six adult pigeons and six juvenile pigeons.

But if you live outside Eugene city limits, there’s nothing to stop you from having hundreds of pigeons, except maybe common sense.

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