Trouble in the Nest—What Do I Do?

{Note to Reader: The following situations are some that I’ve run into in my own loft. If you have seen other problems that you’ve solved, or problems that you haven’t, send your question or problem/solution to me at cozmd@aol.com and I will post it here with the answer. David Coster M.D., Editor}

So. You have your new Seraphim and have set up the nest boxes and are anxiously awaiting the appearance of the first eggs; and then something terrible happens and ruins everything. Now what? Let’s go through a few possible problems that can occur in the breeding loft. The good news is that they are all solvable.

Q: You have plenty of nest boxes up and they are all the same, yet two or more cocks are fighting viciously over one box! What is the problem, and what do you do?
A: Let’s talk basics here. There is a reason that this happened. The usual explanation is that the box was placed in a site that was previously taken as a territory by one of the cocks. It could have been a regular nighttime perch or just a place on a shelf where a cock had set up his boundaries, keeping all other birds away, but now you’ve plunked a nest bowl there or a box and though the primary cock identifies that region as his spot, the box has now become a major attraction for another cock or two in the loft who also want nest space. The solution is to put boxes in areas where no cocks have claimed a territory—a blank wall or area where there has never been a perch or shelf is a neutral area. The cocks may still fight, but with equal claim to the territory and more of a willingness to give up if needed. Ideally one should place enough boxes for all pairs, and all boxes should be at about the same height and in a neutral territory. Most cocks will want the highest box. If possible space the boxes around the loft at the same level in different areas reasonably remote from the nighttime roosting areas. This will allow the cocks to claim a small area for their own and they can all imagine they are of equal power since the boxes are at about the same height. There will still be some squabbling, but it will be over quickly. Problem solved. You can also make an entire wall of nest boxes in a neutral zone, so many that no single cock can possible expend the energy to defend them all; in this situation the top dogs will take the top row, the next toughest will take the second row, and so on all the way to the floor if necessary. Once dominance has been determined, everyone will stay where they belong. Again, problem solved.

Q: A cock is constantly interfering with the other birds trying to nest; what do I do?
A: If it is an unpaired cock, get him out of the breeding loft. If it is a paired cock, lock him into his nest box with his mate until they have eggs and he has something to do all day (sitting on his nest) instead of bothering everyone else. If that doesn’t work and he now leaves his eggs to interfere with other pairs, he has to be moved to his own pen with his mate or taken out of the breeding plan entirely. When he is older he is less likely to behave in this manner. Hold him back a year and try again if he is something special.

Q: Eggs are laid and everything seems fine; what do I do to assess their status?
A: You can tell when the hen has laid, as she will sit tight on the nest the first two or three days, and then she’ll allow the cock to set during the day and she will take over night duties. At five or six days, go in during daylight hours and reach under the bird and remove the two eggs. She will likely fly away, but she’ll be back as soon as you are done. Either hold each egg up to a bright lightbulb or use a penlight or LED from your cellphone to illuminate the egg from behind. If the egg is fertile, you will see the tiny embryo with a circle of blood vessels around it. It’s best to do this in a dark corner so there is contrast between the lit egg and the surrounding atmosphere so yo can see better. If the egg is clear with just a bare outline of a yellow yoke, it is sterile and can be discarded. If fertile, put them back in the nest and don’t bother them again. They will hatch at 18 days from laying, so make a note of about the time you think they should hatch. Keep a close eye on things about that time; you will be able to tell the babies have arrived by the behavior of the parents. You may also find discarded half shells lying on the floor. Don’t bother the babies for five or six days unless you happen to come in when both parents are off the nest. You MUST begin daily exams of the babies at 6 days as they will soon need to be banded and you have to make sure they are being fed. Check their crops and make sure they are stuffed by mid-morning each day. When they are in quill the parents will leave the babies alone in the nest for extended periods of time.

Q: One of the babies in the nest is huge and the other is scrawny and looks terrible. Now what?
A: Some pairs will feed only the strongest baby, i.e. the first to hatch. They will give the smallest one a chance for a few days, but then just stop feeding it. Examine the baby. If the crop is empty and the crop of its nest mate is full, you have your answer. This is a problem you should anticipate, and you should decide now how you intend to handle it. You can let nature take its course and let the chick die, but it’s a terrible thing to observe; it’s slow starvation. You can put the baby in a nest of “feeders”—pigeons kept for the specific purpose of feeding orphan babies. Or, you can leave the baby in its nest with its mate and parents and supplement its feedings, a very easy thing to do. All breeders should keep on hand a set of syringes designed for this purpose, along with a cannister of baby bird formula (you can get this from Foy’s Pigeon Supplies). Follow the directions on the container and stuff the baby’s crop full twice daily and then put him back. All you do is hold the baby and gently squeeze the beak open at the base, poke the syringe down his throat, and fill him up. It takes about thirty seconds with a couple of pauses to let him catch his breath. He will quickly come back to life and begin growing again rapidly, soon nearly catching up with his nest mate. His sudden increased energy will get the attention of his parents, and after a while they will start feeding him again and eventually probably take over the job completely. The benefit to the baby is that he stays with his family.

Q: There is one baby in the nest and one of its legs is sticking out to the side and won’t go back into proper position; what do I do?
A: This can happen if a) there is one baby in the nest with no one else to lean against and b) the nest is slick on the bottom and the baby cannot get a grip on anything. Solution: put a pad on the bottom of the nest and surround the baby with a thick layer of Timothy grass so the baby can get a grip and be propped up on all sides. If the baby still lists, place a stone about the same size as the baby on the side of the affected leg so the leg is forced back inward toward the midline. Remove the stone in a couple of days when the baby’s leg is looking more normal again.

Q: My babies are freezing to death because the parents won’t incubate them during the day! What do I do?
A: The parents will stop warming the babies constantly once they are about a week old. During a cold snap in an unheated loft the babies can get seriously chilled. Usually they make enough body heat to manage even in ridiculous cold, especially if there are two and they are already in quills, but if there is just one it is at high risk for loss, and fighting the cold takes a lot of calories that would otherwise be used for growth. If you have an unheated and non-insulated loft, don’t start the breeding season until the average temperature is above 40 degrees. If heated and insulated, keep your loft at least 60 degrees when there are young chicks in the nest and breed whenever you want to. If you find a chick suffering from hypothermia, don’t assume it’s dead even if it’s ice cold and looks lifeless. I have resurrected such chicks simply by holding them in my cupped hands and breathing warm air over them for about ten minutes; if they show no signs of life after ten minutes and are as stiff as a board, they are dead.
If you can find a way to heat the nest bowl from underneath or use a heat lamp (be careful of fire risk) it’s best to leave the chick with its parents in the nest. If you have to take the baby in the house, there is a strong possibility the parents will no longer recognize it when you bring it back as they will have decided their efforts to raise a youngster have been in vain. Now you have to hand-raise it and will need to set up an orphanage in the kitchen (or farm it out to a pair of feeders if you have them). As soon as you can, move the baby out to the loft in a box protected from the other birds and feed it there twice a day until it fledges. It will need the influence of other pigeons to develop properly.

Q: My pigeons stop being interested in breeding in late Fall and Winter; how can I get them to breed during those months?
A: Your birds are responding to the shorter daylight hours. The hens will stop ovulating during the deepest part of winter with the shortest days. This is a simple problem. Put a light on a timer in the loft and artificially increase the daylight hours to 14 or more (6 a.m. to 8 p.m., for example). Your birds will go to nest in a few days.

Q: My baby pigeons jumped out of the nest too soon and can’t fly and are running around on the floor; what should I do?
A: Make a lean-to in the corner and fill it with hay so they can walk in from the side. Put them in there. They will hide there from the other pigeons but come out to be fed by their parents who will find them there. Don’t bother to put them back in the nest. They will just jump out again.

Q: My baby pigeons came out of the nest too soon and now the parents seem to be ignoring them. How do I know they are eating and drinking enough?
A: First of all, watch them. If they come out and beg every time an adult walks past their lean-to, they are not being fed or watered. Keep a bowl of water and a bowl of seed in front of their lean-to. Pick them up and dip their beaks in the water deeply, up to the nostrils. If they are dry they will gulp water like crazy. They will also quickly figure out where to get it. Just check a couple of days to make sure they are drinking; if they don’t gulp when you put their beaks in the water, they are drinking on their own. Put some seed in your hand and hold it in front of them. Tap a finger into the seed over and over again, like a pigeon pecking. They will mimic you and peck at the seeds and eat a few. You can also pick them up, open their mouths and pop in some peas or corn; they’ll just swallow it. Some people put seed in a mason jar and cover it with cloth and then poke a small hole in the cloth, turn it upside down and poke the baby’s beak into the hole while holding the jar over the baby’s head. This mimics a parent with a full crop looming over it, and it will automatically start pushing against the cloth and shoveling seed in its gullet. You can see its little beak working away through the glass. A nice trick if needed. You can also, as always, grab the syringe and supplement with formula if needed until they are on their own.

Q: I have too many babies! How do I get these pigeons to stop?
A: Well, if it’s winter time, turn off the light timer and make the days short. Then replace all eggs in active nests with wooden eggs. Any time a pair lays again, replace the eggs immediately with wooden eggs. They will sit there for 18 days and then abandon the nest. Simple. You can do this year around if necessary. If you just remove eggs and fail to place wooden eggs, they will lay a lot more eggs than normal and wear themselves out in the process, so use wooden eggs. You can also split the pairs and make two pens, one with cocks and one with hens. They don’t much like this, but they will give up on the egg laying. They won’t be as much fun to watch though. They are more interesting as pairs.

Sorting Your Seraphim

The best time to photograph young birds is during the annual sorting. Photographs allow buyers of your Seraphim to have a clear vision of the quality of your birds.

Whether you breed your Seraphim year-round or establish a “season” for breeding, you will at some point need to stop and evaluate the result of your efforts. For your own sake, and that of your breeding birds, it is most advisable to designate a period of months for reproduction followed by a period of rest and evaluation. The period of rest is a great time to evaluate and finally sort your birds.

As you know by now, Seraphim and all other Fancy breeds have an annual molt at the end of the summer, generally beginning in late August in the Northern hemisphere and ending at the latest by mid-November. The winter period after the molt (October and on) is thus riddled with show schedules, culminating in the big national show in January, since the birds look their best during that period of time.

Because of the timing of the annual molt as well as the annual show schedules, most breeders will set up their mating pairs between January and March and terminate the breeding season by August. Your birds will never look better than they do for the few months after the molt, and will never look worse than they do during the breeding season attending to messy little babies day in and day out, so there is a definite method to this scheduling madness.

If there is a special annual show or two where you always like to attend and show your birds, it’s important to work around them with your breeding schedule so that your adults all look their best for the show and the annual young have had the chance to molt into adult plumage as well. It’s also important to keep in mind that feeding youngsters and molting simultaneously is pretty tough on the adults nutritionally. Either the parent or offspring can suffer from protein malnutrition under such circumstances,  so additional protein in the diet will be needed, along with more fat and vitamins.

One way to get adults ready for show is to replace new eggs laid after a specific date in August with wooden eggs, preoccupying the parents but also giving them a reprieve from baby duties, allowing them to maintain their own health, feathering, and overall cleanliness. Starting this during or just after the molt in August will allow them to hold on to that pure white magnificence you want for show purposes, and all the babies hatched before August will almost always be in top form for show by December at the height of the show season. Nearly all of the birds in your loft will be potentially show-able using this schedule.

The other thing such a schedule does for the loft manager is give them a break from the work intensity of the breeding schedule and an opportunity to study and thoroughly evaluate their birds. Obviously every loft owner will manage their flock as they please since their birds can and will breed year around if given the chance, but it doesn’t hurt to maintain a reasonable and healthy schedule for all parties involved.

When it comes time for sorting the fruits of my labor each year, this is how I do it: I breed from a few pairs each year, and each pair is assigned a color to designate that family line. For instance, the SeaHorse line is pink, the James line is blue, etc. At banding time, each chick is given a numbered band on one leg and a colored family line band on the other. In this manner I can watch and study the offspring as they grow up and easily record changes that help me identify them later, including gender, without the necessity for capturing the bird.

In mid-October I go out late one night with a flashlight and pick all the birds up and put them in travel carriers. The next morning they are all placed in show cages, with the parents heading up their line of offspring for the year. The youngsters are divided by gender, and the most superior cock and hen in the line up is moved ahead to the two cages nearest the parents; these will be part of my show team and/or kept for my own breeding program. The rest are marked for sale, even if they too are high quality and intended for show. I do the same thing with the next line, and the next until I have located the best cock and best hen from each line. If any birds are identified that have faults that make them useless as breeding pairs, those birds are marked for placement in a free flock that I keep out at the farm. (Some people will euthanize such birds, but I can’t unless they are seriously ill or deformed—it just bothers me.)

A young cock of outstanding form moved to the head of the line in the sorting process. This superior bird should be kept by the breeder to add depth to the breeding team, shown, or sold to a serious Seraph enthusiast who needs highly superior breeding stock.

I then line up the best young cocks from all lines, and the best young hens from all lines. I again compare. What I am looking for are outstanding birds, birds that are better than the parents, or in the case of exceptional parents, birds that are equal to the parents. I then decide if I need to keep any for my own breeding program, and which ones, depending upon the family lines and how they should be interbred and whether or not there are birds present now that can advance a particular characteristic in the flock that needs improvement.

Having now decided which birds you are keeping for your own loft and which you want for show competition,  the “For Sale” birds are identified (the “for show” categories and “for sale” categories will always overlap, as will the “to keep” and “for show” categories) by band number in a ledger. Already you need to begin thinking about how to pair them to fill orders, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of each bird. It’s important to know when filling orders whether the buyer is a serious breeder who will show birds, wants them for pets, or will be flying them in a free flock. The most exceptional birds adhering to the Show Standard should be reserved for serious breeders. Poor quality birds should simply not be sold, unless they will be functioning in a non-breeding situation, such as drops for Racing Homers. Of the “For Sale” birds, you should always pair family lines that are compatible genetically and will likely result in exceptional or outstanding offspring, and the good qualities of one bird or family line should offset any less than superior qualities in the other bird or family line.

Ultimately, this sorting process will also answer another necessary question: Are you producing top-quality birds with your current mated pairs? If you discover that the birds from one line are all inferior to the others, you must decide whether or not to continue that line, split the parents and pair them with different mates, or completely take those parents out of the breeding program. Sorting in the manner described can help answer that question and assure that you are constantly improving outcomes from year to year.

Finally, it’s important to keep and maintain your foundation birds. As the years go by you will rotate your older birds out of the breeding schedule to some degree. Nevertheless, if you have exceptional older birds that are the genetic foundation for your entire program, birds from which you can retrieve qualities that might be lost due to unexpected complications from breeding younger birds, you will always be okay.

Breeding Seraphim Pigeons

THE BASIC PHILOSOPHY OF BREEDING SPECIALTY ANIMALS

A Seraph cock out of the loft of Anya Ellis. This fine bird demonstrates the exquisite qualities of Seraphim created in a carefully planned breeding program. Outstanding features of this bird include the strong rounded skull, downturned beak, needle-point peak, very deep unbroken mane, wonderfully full chest frill, prominent wingbutts held out from the chest, long beautiful line, finely feathered legs and toes, and overall angelic aura. This is a very fine Seraph!

If a choice is made to breed Seraphim, the fancier should always make every effort to breed from the best birds they have (or can get) and breed with a clear eye toward the Standard of the Breed. (Please refer to the article on the Standard in this same category: Breeding.) This is true regardless of the purpose for maintaining ownership of Seraphim, and regardless of the number of Seraphim kept.

“Why?” you might ask. Good question. Let’s talk about it.

A visual of the modern Classic Oriental Frill Show Standard by Diane Jacky, as drawn for the National Classic Old Frill Club, est 2003.

The only reason Seraphim exist is that an experienced Fancy Pigeon breeder noticed an unusual mutation in her loft and focused on it. Ten years of careful husbandry and genetic study finally led to the recognition of Seraphim as a separate breed or variety due to their particular combination of expressed genetic traits. Developed from the Old-Fashioned (Classic) Oriental Frill of the 1930’s type, Seraphim are substantially different in appearance and behavior from the Classic Oriental Frill of today due to the consolidation of their specific genetic traits by careful breeding. Like any designer “pet”, Seraphim will vanish if their particular genetic characteristics are not kept and maintained within their gene pool. This said, the Seraph gene combo is strong and breeds true. This is thanks to over 30 years now of painstaking work to refine and concentrate the genetic expression of their particular traits. In spite of the passage of so much time, the Seraph remains, however, a RARE Breed. It is one of the newest recognized Fancy Pigeon varieties in existence and is not widely available. Thus great care must be taken with the population in existence.

The 2015 Seraphim Standard, art work by Anya Ellis, the creator of the Seraph.

The 2017 Seraphim Standard, art work by Anya Ellis, the creator of the Seraph.

The message is simple. If you love the beauty of Seraphim, you simply must properly maintain the genetic pool to be able to continue to see and enjoy them. Otherwise they will vanish.

By definition, all Seraphim are related. None exist that did not originate from the original two first discovered back in 1986. Those two birds – for whatever reason – happened to arise when somehow their recessive red genes and “whitesides” gene(s) combined with a “tail-whitening gene(s)”; this “Seraph Color Gene Complex” made the first two Seraphim. The Seraph Color Gene Complex transfers from generation to generation as if it were a single inherited trait even though we know it isn’t. This fact simplifies certain aspects of breeding Seraphim. However, the details that make the perfect Seraph – like the enlarged skull, downturned pink beak, upright stance, curvy figure, long feathering, finely feathered toes, wing carriage, deep swoop and mane, huge frill, and personality  are genetic traits inherited and expressed in more subtle ways that require care to maintain in the breed, and that’s the difficulty of creating the perfect Seraph. One must pay attention to all of these traits at once and carefully match up their birds to (hopefully) get babies that are as close as possible to the Show Standard. Always working toward that goal reinforces the genetic traits in the pool of breeding birds.

This can all be very difficult, and sometimes it doesn’t work as expected. Seraphim are genetically complicated. Sometimes your two overall poorest looking birds will have the most stunning offspring, and sometimes your best pair will simply throw only average young. How genes go together and are ultimately expressed can be very hard to predict. One must be prepared for failure as well as unexpected good luck. One must also be willing to experiment at times just to see what will happen if they try something new.

PAIRING YOUR SERAPHIM FOR BREEDING

The Purist Approach. This could also be called “Breeding Strictly to the Standard”, “Breeding to Win”, “Breeding for Show”, “Scientific Breeding”, “Pedigree Breeding”, and “Objective Breeding”. For those who are emotionally attached to their birds it can seem ruthless and unappealing, especially since Seraphim act as if they are in love and are generally monogamous unless split up by outside forces.

In an ideal loft, one has various rooms and compartments for their Seraphim. There is a room for Old Cocks, a room for Young Cocks, a room for Old Hens, a room for Young Hens, a room for Juveniles too young yet to be sexed, and one or more Breeding Rooms. After careful study and observation, the breeder will decide which birds he/she wants to cross each year in their attempt to create Seraphim that are as close as possible to the Standard. Those pairs will—usually in January or February—be taken to the Breeding Room where each pair will be temporarily “locked” into a breeding cage but separated by a see-through wire divider until their behavior indicates they have accepted each other and will bond to each other. Once mating has occurred and eggs are laid, the breeding cage is opened so they can fly about in the Breeding Room and outside if there is an attached aviary. This technique assures precise parentage of the offspring, exact pedigrees (lineage of the young), and a relatively calm experience for the breeding parents. The breeder will soon see which pairs produce the finest specimens, and the next year the finest specimens will be used for the next breeding season. This approach constantly concentrates the best characteristics of the Seraphim flock. Birds that are not used by the breeder may be very fine specimens of show quality. Such non-breeding birds often carry the necessary qualities to produce outstanding offspring, but the breeder has to draw the line somewhere or they will have way too many pairs up for breeding, so choices must be made. Such choices can be very difficult and might even prove to be wrong, but the advantage to a fancier looking for a pair or more of Seraphim is that the breeder with such a controlled program will choose the best birds from their non-breeders for sale, and with careful technique the new owner can expect to bring out the same superior Show characteristics as the original breeder. A scrupulous breeder will NOT sell any birds of less than Show Quality, i.e. birds that will score at least 80 out of 100 if judged by an expert. Sometimes a pair sold will, by chance, accidentally be THE pair that produces the finest specimens of all, so one never knows! An “average” pair might prove to give the new owner one winning bird after another and get them off to a spectacular start with their new hobby, much to the pleasure and chagrin of the original seller. 🙂

What if you don’t have space, time, or money to use “The Purist Approach”? In truth, most fanciers don’t, so what are other options for maintaining a show quality flock without such intense management? A lot of fanciers have only a small one room loft, too small to divide up into segments. Or they live in town and city ordinances keep them from having what they really want. Then what?

1. “The Pretty Pet Approach”. Some people just think Seraphim are beautiful and want a few to take care of and watch. That’s great! Get the prettiest ones you can, and take good care of them. The problem will be in preventing them from breeding, as the urge is too powerful for them to ignore. So let them go through the motions, as it will give them something to do and keep you entertained as well. As usual make sure they are properly housed and maintained. Make or purchase a box or shelf for each pair, with or without a nest bowl. Provide nesting material. Then watch as they court and establish control of their nest site, gather sticks, and settle in. Soon they will mate, and within a few days there will be two eggs. Remove the eggs and replace them with faux wooden eggs purchased from Foy’s Pigeon Supplies via the internet. The pair will happily incubate the faux eggs for the mandatory 18 days to hatch. When nothing happens they will leave the eggs. Remove the wooden eggs and clean the nest site and they will start over again. At the end of the breeding season when the days get short, they’ll rest until next Spring, so don’t use artificial light to extend the daylight hours in your loft during the winter months. It may seem mean, but the only other option is to let them hatch and raise babies that you don’t or can’t remove from your loft. Soon you will have a million birds; not a good situation. So be kind to your Seraphim and use birth control if you are keeping them as pets.
2. “The Ladies’ Choice Approach.” Ultimately, if given the chance, it’s the hen who chooses the cock, not the other way around. A cock will pick any hen with which to mate and bond with; a hen will watch all of the cocks while allowing them to court her, but then she will choose only one, and for no humanly discernible reason. Once truly bonded, pairs tend to be fairly monogamous and the cock will guard the hen vigorously as she prepares to lay. Yet on occasion a hen will allow herself a moment to be seduced by another cock when her mate isn’t looking. When one starts off with high quality birds, chances are the offspring will also be high quality even in this less controlled environment. Limit the breeding to only what you can sell using the wooden egg technique, and all will still be well. In a free loft environment pairs of Seraphim will squabble a bit over ideal nest sites and sometimes such battles will interfere with breeding, cause stress, and lead to infertile eggs, a down-side to the free-love open society approach in a small space. In addition, you cannot be 100% certain of pedigrees; this can be a problem if trying to produce a real show winner.
3. “The Compelled Ladies’ Choice Approach.” A combination of The Purist Approach and The Ladies’ Choice Approach that sometimes works in a small open loft. Suppose you really, really want to split up a couple of pairs and make them swap mates to get better quality offspring. You can force the issue by locking the newly paired birds together in breeding cages situated so that the pairs cannot see their previous mate; it’s even better if they can’t hear them either. This may or may not work, as original pair bonds are very strong, but usually the pair will give up if kept together long enough and go ahead with the breeding process. One can obtain special breeding cages that have a wire divider down the middle so the newly paired birds can see each other at first without beating each other up. They can sometimes fight viciously when forced together like this, so it’s wise to be very, very careful if attempting this. On occasion a hen will simply refuse to bond to a selected cock come hell or high water. You can leave them together for eternity but the hen just stares at the cock, combs her feathers, plays board games and tiddly winks, yawns, naps, and totally disses the cock. If you let her out after five or six years, she’ll flirt with every cock in sight for an hour, pick a new mate out of the bunch, and establish a nest and lay eggs faster than lightning. Don’t ask why; just go with it. You’re not going to win that battle. (Situation exaggerated for dramatic purposes. Heh heh. :-))
4. “The Free Flock.” Not recommended for breeding Fancy Pigeons, free flocks are exactly that – free. Just for fun! An example: a breeder has many extra birds due to breeding experiments to improve overall quality. The extra birds are healthy but not quality birds that can be sold. The breeder knows a farmer who has a flock of mixed pigeons he likes to keep but allows to fly free. The farmer will take the extras just to enjoy watching as they fly with his other pigeons. They interbreed and survive mostly by natural selection, but they have shelter, food and water. Whatever happens, happens. Or the breeder himself has a place in the country where his flock of extras can be kept with relative freedom and minimal care and oversight; pretty to watch, but never intended for controlled breeding.

Rather than worry about what to do with low quality birds, some breeders who have no other choice control population with deliberate culling – or euthenizing – of low quality birds.

If there is a Racing Pigeon loft nearby, the owners often like to keep some white pigeons in their loft to act as “drops” for their Racing Homers – birds that are easy to see sitting on the loft that cause the Racers to land more quickly after a race. Seraphim are perfectly suited for such easy and pleasant work that leads to a happy existence.

At the end of the day, no matter what you do, be thoughtful about controlling the breeding process. Don’t create lots of birds you don’t have room for or don’t know what to do with. The only alternative to trickery to control flock populations is deliberate destruction of eggs without replacement by faux eggs, or culling (euthenizing) extra young or old birds if the population gets too high. This is a process that most find seriously distasteful. It’s most humane to replace newly laid eggs with faux eggs.

THE BREEDING PROCESS: How it works, and what to expect.
Seraphim can successfully breed as early as six months of age, though when starting so early they may have a couple of sterile clutches before finally having success. Most breeders would recommend waiting until 8 months of age to assure that maturation has been reached and one can expect a healthy reproductive cycle. Young cocks will generally declare their gender by four months of age when they become more aggressive and begin the classic courtship dance of pigeons everywhere, cooing loudly, standing very tall with neck feathers fluffed out, fanning the tail, and puffing up their crop. The hens, for their part, at about the same age may softly coo in response and even demonstrate a little dance themselves, bobbing their heads and lightly flicking their long flight feathers, puffing up, and fanning their tails; but their display is dramatically subdued compared to the male. It can be very difficult to determine the sex of young Seraphim up to even eight months, as both sexes will demonstrate some of the same behaviors up to that point and the cock’s cooing and dance my be a little pathetic until the full force of testosterone hits. Hens may even mount cocks at this age and seemingly go through the mating act while the cock allows it. This is why juveniles are, when possible, housed in separate quarters until it can be deduced who is whom. Once adulthood is fully acquired, a distinct height and weight difference will usually become evident, with the cock dominating in size. His head will also become noticeably larger. He will prance around like he owns the place. Hens may become very impatient with other hens, pecking them and yanking out a feather or two and knocking them off the perches when given a chance, all of them vying for attention from the cocks. As they are all molting to pure white by then, it becomes more and more difficult to identify cocks and hens at a glance, so the breeder relies on minute differences in feather and form to identify specific cocks and hens, capture them, and successfully separate them into the appropriate flights while they finish maturing.

A Seraph cock dancing in full courtship display.

A winning dance, apparently. The Seraph cock with daytime nest duties.

If you purchase a single pair, they may essentially be strangers to each other and it will take a few days for them to settle into their new home. They will explore it carefully, as they are quite inquisitive little creatures. Very quickly they (almost always) will be bonded and be looking for a nest site, so if you intend to control the location of the breeding area in the loft, be prepared to place a nest bowl or box within a week of the pair’s arrival, or they’ll pick their own spot someplace and begin building a nest on a secluded portion of a ledge. Also be sure there is plenty of grit and oyster shell calcium available at this time during the breeding cycle, and that you are using a high protein breeder mix for feed, at least 18% with added peas and safflower throughout the entire time period.

Seraphim, being a bit shy, prefer more privacy in their nest sites than some other breeds; a dark nest cavity that can be crept into is preferred, no larger than a 12 inch cube. Clay nest bowls with pads can be obtained from Foy’s Supplies; they have air holes in the bottom to prevent condensation and are heavy so they can’t tip over. As soon as a nest bowl is placed, the cock will fly over to inspect it and begin a dramatic display, calling the hen over to take a look. If she likes it, she’ll begin making low-pitched sounds, puff her feathers, and slink into the nest bowl on crouched feet, flicking her flight feathers. She may crawl right under the cock and remain there cuddled with him. The two of them will spend many hours cooing and billing while sitting there together. This will go on for a few days, and then the cock will begin loading up the nest with sticks and twigs while the hen stays put. She will spend longer and longer periods of time in the nest bowl.

About this time you may notice some other behaviors. The cock will stay beside the hen closely, no matter what is going on in the loft. At feeding time he will chase her around, pecking lightly but urgently at her back, barely letting her eat. He will aggressively chase any other suitors away from the hen. The hen will start taking more calcium.  The pair will begin to spend more time away from the prepared nest and the rest of the flock, seeking a space of solitude where they cannot be interrupted. They will find a secluded place on a ledge or in a corner on the floor. Here there will be a lot of billing and posturing. The cock will walk repeatedly around the hen. The hen may crouch intermittently, flicking her wing lightly on one side. At some point, the cock will stand tall, turn his head, and reach over his back and repeatedly comb one of his long primary flight feathers. This is the sign that mating is desired and about to occur. Critically, though, the hen has to respond with precisely the same combing motion, or the invitation to mate will be deemed a failure by the cock, and he’ll once again begin walking around the hen, bowing and cooing and attempting to get her in the mood. When the hen responds back to the cock with the same head over the back combing motion, they will alternate the motion back and forth for a few seconds, and then the hen will abruptly crouch very low to the ground, head down and tail slightly up. This is the invitation to mount (tread) that the cock has been waiting for. He will carefully step up, and with a brief flapping of wings touch his cloacal opening to hers, and the deed will be done. He will then prance around like the king of the universe while she first puffs up and shakes out her feathers (much like straightening a dress, comically). The cock will then loudly fly up to the nest, wings popping against each other, and the hen will follow. A few such matings will occur in the days leading up to egg laying.

Once the hen has laid her first egg, you will notice the cock sitting – alone and unmoving – in the nest bowl during the day, even if you walk close to the nest. Don’t go any closer. He will just stare at you. You don’t want him to bolt, as his stillness is evidence that an egg is present. Mark the date, as it will hatch in 18 days, and you will need to be ready to check the youngsters soon after hatching to make sure all is going well. You can assume there will be another egg the next day, as pigeons almost always lay two eggs one day apart. Once the clutch is complete, the cock alone will incubate the eggs during the daylight hours and the hen will incubate during the night.

At seven days you may carefully flush the cock off the nest to see what is going on. By then the cock is strongly attached to the nest and will return immediately when you leave. The eggs can be examined to check for fertility. Shine a penlight through them, or use the flashlight app on your cell phone. If fertile, you’ll see the embryo surrounded by blood vessels overlying the yolk sac. Put them back and don’t bother them again. If they are not fertile they can be removed to stimulate another round of egg laying within a couple of weeks. If one egg, is fertile, leave them both. On the last day or two of the incubation cycle, you might notice that the hen is sometimes on the nest during the day. She knows the eggs are about to hatch.  Don’t bother the nest or parents at all at this stage.

A very sleepy 5 day old Seraph chick.

The same little twerp @ 3 weeks, nearly ready to leave the nest.

With any luck the eggs will hatch at 18 days. The babies are tiny and covered with a light golden down. It doesn’t seem possible that they could be strong enough even to eat with assistance, but miraculously they do. You don’t have to check the nest right away. If you watch the parent for a while, you will notice him/her checking underneath periodically; you may hear peeping, and you may notice the parent shifting position fairly frequently. You might even see a little head pop up. Both parents will feed the babies a mix of “crop milk” the first couple of days, followed by crop milk and seeds they regurgitate into the babies’ beaks, and eventually just seed mixed with water. The hen will sit very tight on the young the first day or two, and then she’ll finally let the cock take over with intermittent breaks. If there is still an infertile egg in the nest, this is the time to remove it. You will need to walk carefully to the nest and flush the parent off, as you need to check the health of the baby within two days of hatching. It’s little crop should be full. If it is thin and peeping hysterically, then it is not being fed. If there is an unhatched egg beside it, remove the egg now. If the baby looks fine, then leave it alone for the next week while the parents are attending to it. Within ten days both parents will check on the young periodically, but they otherwise will leave them alone except for feeding or sitting next to them in the nest at night. The young grow insanely rapidly. What was a mere fluff on day one is a big fat squab at six days and is ready to be closed banded with a size 9 or 10 band by day 9 or 10. One can order bands from the National Pigeon Association as well as other sources. Show Pigeons are to be closed banded, i.e. the band is circular and without a seam; it has to be slid over the squabs foot onto the portion of the leg just above the foot before the foot is too large. Otherwise, the band simply won’t fit and the bird can only be banded with a seamed band. Birds with seamed bands can generally not be shown in competition.

By three weeks the young are nearly fully feathered and almost ready to leave the nest. In an ideal world they will stay in the nest until they are 4 weeks old and truly fully feathered, but they often leave the nest in a controlled loft a bit early. By this same time, the cock has often already scouted out a new nest site if one is available, and is encouraging the hen to lay another clutch. Once the new clutch is laid, the cock again resumes his daytime incubation duties but also attends to the older chicks which may now be running around on the floor of the loft, feeding them and teaching them to use the feeder and water source, which they learn quickly. He will do double duty until the next chicks hatch, and by then the older ones are already up on a roost and managing on their own.

Youngsters can be left with their parents for many months as more and more offspring are added. The parents tend to be tolerant of their own until they reach full maturity at eight months or more of age. As long as there are plenty of perches and the older juveniles stay away from the parental nest box, a large family of Seraphim will get along quite well. If space is tight or squabbles are noted, it is best to move the older youngsters out to their own pen so the parents can have some peace.