[Editors Note: This is a reasonably detailed overview; nevertheless, the purchase of an exhaustive book covering every aspect of pigeon care, such as THE PIGEON GUIDE by Shannon Hiatt, available from Siegel’s at http://www.siegelpigeons.com is highly recommended for all pigeon owners. Happy reading!]
So…you’ve decided that you simply must have your own pair of Seraphim, and you’ve found a reputable loft and breeder from which to buy the best pair you can get. Are you properly prepared?
Seraphim, like all doves and pigeons, need room and fresh outdoor air. They not only like to fly; they need to fly. They are not birds to be kept in the house or in small cages. They can tolerate extreme temperatures, hot and cold, and are naturally suited to do so. Unlike some fancy show pigeons, Seraphim are not hampered by form or feather characteristics that interfere with their ability to move about with ease.
The Loft. An ideal loft has room for breeding pairs, non-breeding cocks and hens, and young housed separately within the same or adjacent structures. This ideal situation is not always a reasonable option however, especially for those who live in cities or towns which restrict lofts and/or the number of birds one can maintain. A loft, which can be anything from an old chicken coop to a state-of-the-art high tech building especially designed for your birds with heat, cooling, running water, and computerized feeding systems and record keeping, is simply a structure in which pigeons and doves can live and raise their young in a healthy manner. They can be as small as 5×6 feet or as large as a gigantic machine shed, depending upon the goals of the loft keeper for his/her flock. European and Persian dovecotes (lofts) tend to be visions of architectural grandeur, frequently made of stone, brick, and stucco and with awesome design characteristics such as turrets, domes, landing niches, entrance and exit holes, and nest sites built into the walls. Such structures are a rarity in the United States, but it is certainly worth looking into such design possibilities if one has the interest.
A lot of companies build small cedar portable sheds and garages to order that can be modified with screened in porches, extra windows for light, cupolas, and entrance and exit doors for the birds. On the farm you may have an old brooder house or stone shed or garage that can be utilized. Organic spray foam insulation can help moderate temperatures inside throughout the year, and electrification can be extremely helpful. Do you need all of these things? No, you don’t. What you DO need is a building safe and secure from varmints and with adequate light and ventilation – that’s the bare minimum.
Perches. Seraphim do not like tiny perches. They are strong and fairly large and enjoy walking about. An ideal perch for a Seraphim is really a ledge; thus mounting pine 2×4’s or wider boards or shelves on the walls is a good idea. They need such wide surfaces for standing when mating as well, though the floor of the loft will work as well. At night they want to perch as high up as possible to sleep, and even during daylight hours they tend to look for higher places to alight to preen and nap, so keep perches within reach but overhead. Dividing sleeping ledges into 14 inch sections using heavy cardboard stapled to the ledge at intervals is a good way to give each bird the room it needs to do what it wants without being hassled by the bird next to them. This isn’t an issue with a single pair, but the moment you have more than a pair, squabbles for space will ensue. There are a number of other options for perches, but keeping it simple is always good. Keeping perches clean can be difficult and time consuming though, so another option is to use the Lothar perch, a perch specially designed for fancy pigeons with feathered feet. The Lothar is a 4 inch round pedestal perch that attaches to the wall studs at an angle, the pedestal hovering about a foot and a half from the wall. It’s a great perch. Only one Seraph can fit, the pedestal never gets soiled, and it is large enough for standing, sitting, sleeping, and preening. All perches can be made by hand, and many types can be purchased through pigeon supply companies like Foy’s.
Floor Bedding.Cover the floor lightly with a layer of straw, cedar chips, cob pellets, hay, or an equivalent absorbent material that allows for quick drying of droppings. This prevents disease and the soiling of feet and feathers. The bedding will need to be lightly fluffed and raked occasionally and changed completely every few months depending upon the number of birds making contributions to it. The droppings are high in nitrogen and phosphorous, an excellent enrichment material for garden soil and compost heaps. My preference is a light layer of wood-pellet horse bedding covered loosely with Timothy grass; it’s super-absorbent and smells deliciously sweet and can be changed as infrequently as twice yearly. As long as the floor dries quickly, there is little risk of disease from droppings in a healthy flock. Many breeders are convinced that the presence of dried droppings enhances the health and immunity of their flock by assuring a normal healthy bacterial/yeast flora in the digestive systems of their birds.
Flying Space.I don’t care to impose my own experiences upon the reader when writing for the Seraphim Club International – overall objectivity is important. Having said that, however, and having raised birds of all types since the age of 3, I can honestly say that creating an optimal aviary or flight has always been – for me – an incredibly difficult task. And believe me, I’ve tried literally everything to manage the tiniest of finches to gigantic peafowl and parrots to waterbirds of all types. The truth is that the best aviary is simply the great out-of-doors with no obstruction to free flight, and that is a tough act to follow. Free flight works wonderfully for birds that are domestic or attached enough to return to their building at night; it doesn’t work so well for those that are inherently wild or at unusual risk for predation. And Seraphim present some special problems in this regard. If they do happen to escape, having never been out, they tend to simply fly away and never look back. The risk of this is lower in the countryside and in the absence of trees and buildings interfering with a clear view of the loft, the obvious place to which to return. In town, the clutter of buildings and trees seems to startle an escaped Seraph and it doesn’t know what to do or where to go, so it just takes off. I know of one farm flock successfully allowed in and out every day from its loft; they were kept inside for several months first to get their bearings then allowed out through a small door with a landing pad; a large wall of the loft was chicken wire so the birds still inside could easily be seen and heard by those outside. This arrangement allowed the Seraphim to find their way back with no difficulty; the loft was also free and clear from overhanging trees and close buildings so it could clearly be identified as “home” from any angle. Nevertheless, Seraphim that felt crowded or that didn’t have mates would eventually leave of their own accord. They are built for survival, so this is no surprise. It should also come as no surprise that Seraphim are prized by hawks, particularly the Sharp-Shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk – natural bird hunters – and Sparrow Hawks and Peregrine Falcons. The farm flock owner reported several instances during spring and fall hawk migrations of the loss of several Seraphim. Though fast fliers, the bright white color of a Seraph makes it an illuminated target for a hungry hawk. Those with little outdoor flying experience can be doomed. Other predators such as cats don’t do as well; Seraphim have an intense startle response and take to the air in a split second at the slightest disturbance, so they are generally quite unlikely to be caught by any ground-dwelling carnivores. So….the lesson is simple. Do NOT let your rare Seraphim fly free outside as a rule, and UNLESS you take precautions to make certain they will properly “home” and you have ascertained that there is very little – if any – risk of death due to predation.
Now then, having tried EVERYTHING for flights and aviaries, I can say without reservation that a metal powder-coated dog run is the best, easiest, and fastest way to make an outdoor flight for your Seraphim. The design I like best includes roof panels and is made by Northland Pet Supply Inc in British Columbia and available at a number of lumber yards and farm stores across the nation. The panels are 4×4 and 4×6 feet in size, the mesh is 2×4 inch, and a variety of entrance doors and locks are standard. They are easily put together with the supplied clamps, so one can go from having no aviary to an 8×12 in about four hours with ease. One end is simply abutted against the loft where the bird exit is located, and there you have it. The tubular steel is strong and will not disintegrate, the mesh is small enough to keep out major predators, and you can easily watch your birds. It’s a great product and is, I think, ideal for those who want a functional, solid, and yes, attractive flight for their Seraphim. The Seraphim bathing area can be kept outside where it belongs, and perches can be easily installed simply by hanging boards between the panel walls using exposed nails in the ends as “hooks.”
Having said all that, if you have a better design idea for a flight, use it! Then write about it and send the photos so I can show everyone else what you’ve done.
Light. Natural sunlight is a necessity for healthy birds. It is required for proper metabolism, bone health, hormonal balance, and breeding. So if your birds can’t get out, make sure natural sunlight can get IN! Artificial light is necessary for only two purposes: 1) to allow you to observe and work with your Seraphim in the early morning or late evening hours, especially during the winter months, and 2) to extend or start the breeding season, as the length of the day has a powerful influence on the instigation of meaningful mating behavior. A third reason could be that you live so far north or south that the length of day is too short for any good use, such as Alaska or Patagonia, but I’m going to assume most of our readers don’t have that issue to deal with!
Water. It doesn’t seem that this should need to be a topic of discussion, but yet it is. Pigeons and doves drink a lot compared to other birds. Furthermore, they drink by plunging their beaks deep into the water and pumping it down their throats – none of the timid dipping that you see with other songbirds. So they need ample fresh water, and it needs to be deep enough for plunging. And when raising young, they need even more water to make crop “milk” for the newly hatched and to aid with regurgitative feedings for the older young. The babies will not drink on their own until they leave the nest; in the wild they would have to be totally capable of flight before the parents would stop assisting in delivering water to them.
Water should be placed up off the floor to keep it free of dust and dirt from all the wind created by flapping wings. Don’t let your birds drink murky or filthy water. It probably won’t kill them, but acute or chronic diseases may ensue. There are a variety of waterers available for pigeons. One very useful type is called a “bullet” waterer. It’s designed to keep birds from landing on it and prevent soiling of the water. There are many other types available at pigeon supply stores; the main thing is to find a type that fits with your loft design and placement of the device to provide optimal access. When young squeakers are on the floor, water should be provided daily at their level. Once they are up on a perch and remain there for the night, they can access the regular water source. If your loft is not heated to keep it above freezing, you will need a heated water source. Seraphim cannot be allowed to be without water for more than a couple of days, so don’t let this happen.
Water can also be used for delivery of vitamins and medications and is generally the preferred method for both. If using supplements or treating your Seraphim for disease, be sure to follow the directions for dosing precisely. Variation from the recommended doses will poison and kill your birds.
Finally, Seraphim LOVE to bathe! They will do so daily if given the opportunity, regardless of the weather. A heated bath can be obtained from any farm store; the water simply has to be kept from freezing. Since they will drink it as well as bathe in it, change it daily or empty the pan at the end of the day if you don’t intend to refill it for a few days. They seem to prefer bathing in the mid-afternoon when the sun is warmest and will then stretch out on a ledge or on some warm sunlit bedding for a while, wings twitching with pleasure while they snooze. All pigeons make a powder called feather dust; you’ll see it as a white cloud billowing out when they fluff their feathers. The dust helps deter parasites and acts as a powerful water repellent. After a bath, you’ll see a thick film of powder floating in the water, and a white ring around the rim of the bath. It’s only feather dust. Replace the water with fresh clean water the next morning; they generally won’t use bath water from the previous day.
Feed. Nutrition for your Seraphim pigeons is a broad topic, broad enough to justify an in-depth read in a good pigeon guide reference book. Thankfully, nowadays it is easy to find a balanced seed diet for your Seraphim from specialty feed stores. The mix that most closely matches the needs of Seraphim is called the “King Breeder Mix”, created by and available from Des Moines Feed in Des Moines, Iowa. Seraphim like a variety of seed sources, including millet, safflower, wheat, milo, rapeseed, and especially peas. Seraphim seem to have a need for more protein than other breeds of pigeons, and the mix must be heavy on peas as a result, and especially while feeding youngsters. In fact, they will let their youngsters starve if they do not have high protein feed; they simply will not feed them! So peas are imperative. I keep an extra bag of pure peas handy so I can super-concentrate them during the breeding season by adding them to the King mix. During the summer the demand for Safflower goes up. This may be in preparation for the August molt; perhaps there is some essential element in Safflower that helps bring in healthy gorgeous feathers; all I know is that they want a lot of Safflower from late June into September. So then I add some extra Safflower to the King mix.
In general, feeding once per day is ideal. A pair of Seraphim eats only 1/4 cup of food per day, as long as it is protein rich as required. So measure it out, and don’t leave extra. This prevents food from spoiling and minimizes the risk of disease; it also reduces the risk of rodent invasions in the loft. It also enhances fertility; fat birds are not fertile birds. Do NOT overfeed, do NOT use “as needed” gravity feeders. If you feed once daily, there should be nothing or very little left from the previous day’s feeding. An exception to this rule is when parents are breeding and feeding, as they may make two or three trips to the feeder to fill up the youngsters and still need more for themselves, a task that can take more time and demand a twice a day feeding schedule from you. Enough food should be placed to make certain neither the parents or young are left hungry. It is acceptable to leave enough food for a week or so when on vacation without much risk of trouble; just be sure to use appropriate feeders and place them in such a way that contamination of feed is unlikely, and don’t use this technique as a means of routine management.
Many breeders experiment with a variety of seed sources or put out a number of individual bowls of feed and study their birds’ response to get a sense of their natural inclination toward a variety of seed sources, or simply allow them to choose the seed they seem to want the most. Others make their own mixes. What the birds want tends to vary at different times of the year. Feeding exactly the same all the time is not likely to be the best approach and may result in nutritional deficiency over time.
Vitamins, Minerals, and Trace Elements. Seraphim need access to minerals and trace elements, such as calcium, manganese, phosphate, and iron. In the wild, pigeons find their own sources; how they know what to eat to get them is unknown. In your loft, a good source of calcium is oyster shell; they’ll take what they need. Cuttle bone works well if you have just a few birds, but is too difficult to manage for large flocks. Grit can be obtained at any farm store. “Pick-Stone” is a natural clay that has trace elements in it that seems to be useful and can be obtained at pigeon specialty stores such as Foy’s and Spiegel’s. Vitamins do not need to be provided constantly. Some breeders place drops in the water every other week. I prefer mixing “Pink Powder” vitamin and nutrient mix into the feed bag, stirring it in thoroughly in the top six inches and repeating each time that zone of feed is used up. Clearly pigeons in the wild are picking up all sorts of trace elements from the ground and outdoor water sources; we don’t really know why they seek out what they do or how they figure it out. Birds kept in a building do not have this option, so we have to get as close to what nature would provide as possible.