Breaking Science News

Dr. Michael Shapiro at The University of Utah recently published some major news: his lab has run the genome of the rock dove and compared it to a number of domestic fancy pigeon breeds to begin the process of identifying exactly what is happening in the DNA of pigeons which exhibit various form, color, and feather traits. This is a BIG deal for the pigeon fancier, and potentially a big deal for the field of medicine as well as genetics and molecular biology.

Pigeons have been important over the centuries as pets, messengers, food, and a prominent source of high nitrogen fertilizer (saltpeter, over which wars once broke out); not to mention high flying sports and acrobatics as well as living artistry for royalty all over the world. Add in Darwin’s studies of pigeons due to their genetic malleability and how much they influenced his thinking on evolution and one is seriously left to wonder why the pigeon genome wasn’t one of the first genomes to be unwound by scientists when it finally became possible to do such a thing.

This development may completely demystify the subjective and mysterious artistry of fancy pigeon breeding. One will be able to send in a blood sample or throat swab from a bird and define every mutation and predict every possible combination of traits and patterns the bird can produce in offspring when paired with any other bird. The difficult to define subjective characteristics of the best blood lines may not, however, become easier to define genetically. The pleasure of doing the work of careful observation and breeding to eventually create “perfect” form and function will still take luck and a good eye. Variations in gene expression, environment, and nutrition will always create obstacles for our goal of creating the finest specimen in the show hall even if we happen to know the precise genetic makeup of our birds.

The story with racing pigeons, though, could be different. With racers we are not looking for form per se, but rather a specific physiology, and it could quickly become apparent which genetic mutations result in the most stamina and speed, and the race would be on to acquire primarily those birds in everyone’s loft. The competition would go on, of course, and many other factors would come into play,  but the competition could get ever more keen, with the edge between winners and losers becoming increasingly tight. The same could hold true for other types of flying competitions.

No matter the blood line though, no matter the proof of genetic makeup, what one cannot predict is the random chanciness of genetic pairing and mutation and the subtle shifts in the way genes are expressed, and it is exactly THAT that will—no matter what the science—keep the pigeon fancy not only interesting but challenging. Even genetically identical twins do not precisely express the message of their genes in exactly the same way, so even though the competition may be tougher, there will still always be a special bird or two in the line-up that has that extra undefinable something that forces the judge to put a ribbon on him.

Yes, pigeon fanciers need to be scientists, even if they raise their birds only because they love them for their own personal reasons. Observations matter. Who knows – any one of us might accidentally stumble across some new thing in our loft that has a significant impact in the world in some way. Pigeons may be little and seem insignificant, but they’re not. They have changed the course of world history in the past, and they continue to provide a great source of inspiration as well as scientific information today. For all we know they may offer insight into scientific and medical breakthroughs in the future that will again modulate the course of human history. We should all stay tuned in to these new developments. Our little pets matter a lot more than many ever imagined.

David Coster M.D.
Editor, The Seraphim Club International

Evaluating Your Own Birds for Show Qualities

Please refer to the article on sorting your Seraphim in conjunction with this article, as you must apply everything you learn here to the sorting process as you evaluate the quality of your young birds each year. The best birds should be kept for your own breeding program or sold specifically to serious breeders of Seraphim to steadily improve the quality of Seraphim all over the world. Birds far off the Show Standard should not be used in any Seraphim breeding program. The following description is a step-wise method for evaluating your birds, using the judging protocol used in the show ring. The method uses Anya Ellis’s Standard of Perfection, and the approach should become second nature for the serious breeder. In 2017 and on, the new Standard of Perfection developed by Anya will be the goal for all breeders. (Please refer to the Show Standard in the sidebar…) The new Standard of Perfection includes small changes, but the changes affect the overall appearance of the bird. The mane is deeper, the swoop more pronounced, the head has a more definitive round arc and is expected to have “power” – increased size and strength and more top-skull (distance between the top of the eye and the top of the skull). The size is the same. Frilliness and feather decor is of equal value to physicality, i.e. form and stance. The overall impression should be one of grace and royalty, powerful yet delicate, beautiful yet serious. The face has a knowing look, like the Mona Lisa, with thoughtful dark eyes and a slight but noticeable smile. The bird should give the impression of knowing intelligence, confidence,  and superiority. The best specimens resemble angelic beings, exuding light and power in the show ring, and putting all other birds in the world to shame.


OVERALL IMPRESSION: Adult Seraphim have the appearance of a white angel. They are statuesque and elegant. The hens will appear more delicate and refined than the cocks which have a more profound physical presence. When stationing the head is held high, the tail low with the chest projected upward and forward. The chest frill is very prominent and the wing butts are clearly delineated from the body. The flights rest on the tail and the back is smooth, lacking ‘sails’ in the covert feathers. The feet are covered with small feathers giving the appearance that Seraphim are wearing perfectly fitting white gloves.

Toughy 2012. A perfect young cock.

#1. The Seraph at left is demonstrating the statuesque look expected of a Seraph. This young bird demonstrates “the head held high, the chest projected up and out, wing butts held out and clearly delineated from the body, a smooth back without sails, and small feathers on the feet giving the appearance of gloves.” The frill is a bit small, the gullet is not as large as one would prefer, and the wings are not quite resting on the tail, but the bird is outdoors in a relaxed state. He looks like royalty. He demonstrates power, elegance, and confidence. This bird is still a baby and not yet in full regalia; he will catch the eye of the judge in the show ring.

#2. Other than color, the head is the most important feature in Seraphim. The curve from the tip of the beak to the tip of the needle point peak is unbroken. The head is rounded and the beak is down set and large enough for Seraphim to feed their young. The eye is bull and the cere is unobtrusive and very light pink or almost white in color. There is a gullet that adds weight to the head. A convex and unbroken mane flows from the tip of the peak to the shoulder. Seraphim have a prominent chest frill.


Foot, Eye, and Condition are all to be judged during handling; all other qualities are to be observed in the show cage. Stress can alter the stance, feather tightness, and overall appearance of the bird. They must be observed in a calm state before handling in order to form an accurate impression of the bird’s actual quality.

COLOR: (10 points): Recessive red or recessive yellow that molts to white. Young birds will often retain some colored feathers until the second molt. This is not considered a fault in young bird competition since it proves birds are indeed young Seraphim. DISQUALIFYING FAULTSFailure to molt to white in two seasons. Colors other than recessive red and recessive yellow that molt to white are unacceptable.

B1---the first Seraph in existence. It is this Seraph cock from Anya Ellis' loft---and his brother W1--- to which all modern Seraphim trace their lineage.

B1—the first Seraph in existence. It is this Seraph cock from Anya Ellis’ loft – and his brother W1 – to which all modern Seraphim trace their lineage. Note the long line and the pure bright white color.

This young hen is nearly done with the transformation to pure white. See the recessive red in the tail and a few of the secondary wing feathers? That will soon be gone and replaced with white.

This young hen is nearly done with the transformation to pure white. See the recessive red in the tail and a few of the secondary wing feathers? That will soon be gone and replaced with white. It is not a show fault for a young bird to have some remaining recessive red or yellow feathers.

STATION: (15 points): Head held high, tail touching (or nearly touching) the ground. Elegant, with a clean, uninterrupted line from the shoulder to the tip of the tail. Graceful with flights resting on the tail. Wing butts must be held out from the chest which is pushed up and forward. The Seraph looks proud when stationing.  SERIOUS FAULTS: Refusal to station, duck-like stance with elevated tail and arched back, flights carried below the tail, or a short, stocky, cobby appearance with rounded shoulders. FAULTS: The presence of ‘sails’ in the covert feathers.

A particularly beautiful young Seraph cock.

A particularly beautiful young Seraph cock in show stance.

HEAD: (25 points): Graceful, rounded over the top of the skull , having a concave dip (swoop) between the top of the head and the tip of the peak. The back of the skull is visible and the tip of the peak is at or just below the top of the skull. The light pink beak protrudes slightly beyond the frontal, but the setting of the beak is ‘down-faced;. Seraphim can feed their own young. A small to medium gullet adds mass to the head. FAULTS: Flat head (lack of a swoop), peak too high or too low, frontal too prominent, frontal too broad between the eyes, beak too small, weak or thin beak, angular head. Head too short from front to back because peak and mane are underdeveloped so they do not stand far enough out from back of head. Skull too small so head is too small in proportion to body. Lack of a gullet.This bird has the perfect skull shape.

PEAK: ( 10 points): Needle point peak that stands well out from the back of the head, and is separated from the head by a dip called the ‘swoop’. The tip of the peak is below the top of the head. FAULTS: Tufted peak, twisted peak, flat peak (partial shell crest), shell crest, peak set too high or too low, lack of swoop (dip) between the peak and the head, peak set too close to the head.
EYE: (5 points): Bull (very dark). The cere is almost white. FAULTS: A faint light ring or faint light spots are minor faults. Pearl eye and orange eye are major faults. Eye cere any other color than almost white.

#3. Look at the skull on the bird above bred by Anya Ellis! Do you see that wonderful round arc from the cere of the beak up and over the eye, the exposed back skull, and finally the swoop curving upward to the peak point? THAT is the skull arc you want. The best have a measured width of topskull between the eyes of 25-28 mm, with equal distance between the center of the eye and the tip of the beak. Let’s judge critically other characteristics of the bird shown: The beak is satisfactory, but could be slightly thicker and more down-turned to more closely follow the arc of the skull; the eye is a perfect “bull” or black; a gullet is present; the peak could be slightly higher and slightly farther back with less twist; the frontal could be slightly fuller; the swoop a little more dramatic. Am I being nit-picky about this bird? YES. It’s a beautiful specimen that many would consider “perfect”. Yet one must acknowledge what they actually see vs. what they WANT to see in any given bird, and make note of it. The job of the judge will be to compare this bird to the others and determine which most closely adheres to the Standard of Perfection. This might be the one, but it might not.

FRILL: (10 points):Thick (dense), heavily ruffled, wide, long, prominent, with feathers turned in many directions. (A zipper frill is not the ideal). FAULTS: Too little frill, wispy frill, frill too short or crooked, frill that turns only to one side. A zipper frill is not the ideal, but it is preferable to a thin, wispy frill, or a frill that turns to one side only.
NECK: (5 points): The neck is medium sized, not thick. It broadens as it flows from the head to the shoulders. A small to moderate gullet is necessary as it adds volume to the head and dignity to the bird. (Owl breeds all have a gullet.) FAULTS: An overly long neck. A large, pronounced gullet in a relaxed bird. (Tense birds strain and make their gullet more visible.) Absence of a gullet.
MANE: (5 points): A well developed mane should stand well out from the back of the head and flow smoothly from the tip of the peak to the shoulder in a convex, unbroken curve. The two sides of the mane should meet in a line down the back of the neck. The mane should appear symmetrical when viewed from the back. FAULTS: A break in the mane. Undeveloped mane that makes the head appear short from front to back. Mane not a continuous convex curve when viewed from the side. Disorganized feathers that do not meet in a straight line at the back of the mane. No visible meeting line where the two sides of the mane meet. Mane not symmetrical when viewed from the back.


#4. Look at the bird at left. The frill is not quite as full and fluffy as possible, and a little short. It should extend from just above the wing butts to about a half inch below the beak. The neck on this bird is just right when standing tall, with a perfect concave curve at the back of the shoulder, but the gullet is a little weak. The mane is deep and stands out perfectly! Beautiful! The swoop is too shallow and the peak a little too low. The down-turn of the beak and the arc of the skull are perfect, but the head is a little small. This bird has what is called an “Apple Head.” The Apple Head is the ideal for the Seraph if it is large and well balanced to the body – in this case it is properly formed but too small. The eye cere (skin around the eye) looks a little irritated—too red. In spite of my criticisms this is a beautiful specimen! If paired with the bird below they might well create the perfect specimen.

If I searchd and searchd for a fault in this Seraph I doubt I could find one.

#5. Now look at this bird. What is different? The frill is a little longer and fuller, better than the frill of the above bird. The neck is perfect; the mane is astoundingly deep. The beak is down-turned; the arc of the skull is a little less round than it should be, but the size of the head is fantastic (this is called a “bully” head.)The gullet is pronounced. The swoop could be deeper and not enough back-skull is showing. The peak is a perfect point and just below the top of the skull. Note how widely the wing butts are held from the chest – perfect! To my eye, this bird is significantly superior to the one above from the shoulders up even though I love them both. If the arc of the skull were rounder in the lower bird so that there was more distance between the top of the eye and the top of the skull, I would be unable to find a single criticism of this bird. One needs birds like this bottom one with the bully head in their breeding program to maintain optimal skull size as well as all the other superior traits this bird possesses. Paired with the Apple-Headed bird above, with any luck some offspring might have the needed increased skull height above the eye to create the perfect Seraph.

TAIL: (5 points): 12 feathers, slightly flared. Width 2.25 to 2.5 inches. Feathers aligned and touching each other, carried angled toward the ground. Tail should be long and touch or almost touch the ground. FAULTS: Tail too narrow (too well closed). Tail too open (fan shaped). Tail V-shaped or with twisted feathers. Tail held in an elevated position. Tail too short.
FOOT: (5 points): Each toe individually covered with tiny smooth feathers, giving the appearance of a glove with toe-mails protruding beyond the end. There should be a ‘sweep’ of ankle feathering that curves across the top of the foot at the ankle. These feathers should not be sparse but they should not have the appearance of a muff. The foot has the appearance of a white star. FAULTS: Too much ankle feathering so that ‘sweep’ feathers appear to be a muff. Too little ankle feathering (sparse sweep feathers or no sweep feathers). Loose toe feathering, too much or too little toe feathering (exposed toes). A true muff is a serious fault.

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.

The best time to photograph young birds is during the annual sorting. This is a stunning specimen much like the one below.

#6. Look at this bird overall. The tail should be only slightly flared, as in this case, and it should be long. The feet should be delicately feathered to the toenails like this. Though you can’t see the side profile of the neck and head, the body of this bird is perfect; tremendous length, wonderful line, concavity at the shoulders, wing butts held out, wings resting on the tail, fantastic big frill, great skull size. It is obviously in great condition and a great show bird. What you don’t see – but what I know – is that this bird also has a deep swoop and peak, and a rounder, slightly more arced skull than the bird below.

A Seraph cock out of the loft of Anya Ellis. This fine bird demonstrates the fine qualities of Seraphim created in a carefully planned breeding program. Outstanding features of this bird include the 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!

A Seraph cock out of the loft of Anya Ellis. This fine bird demonstrates the qualities of Seraphim created in a carefully planned breeding program. Outstanding features of this bird include the 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!

#7. Compare this bird – one you’ve already seen from the shoulders up – to the one just above. Both are nervous so slightly crouched, but look at how similar they are! The bird at left is carrying the tail a little too flared and may have small “sails” on the upper side of the wings interfering with the smooth line of the back. Nevertheless, a judge would have a hard time deciding which of these two birds is best.
CONDITION: (5 points): Clean, white, smooth appearance, firm feel, solid chest muscles. FAULTS: Dirty, thin, poor feather quality, loose feathering, holes in the feathers.

Now, are you ready to get started? Some day I’ll find the perfect Seraph and end this article with its picture. Until then, happy judging! 🙂

David Coster, Editor


The Seraphim Club International at the Iowa State Pigeon Association 2012 Pigeon Show

The Seraphim section at the ISPA show, December 8th, 2012.

A Seraph in show stance at the Des Moines Show. There were over twenty Seraphim at the show this year.

A Seraph in show stance at the Des Moines Show. There were over twenty Seraphim at the show this year.

A particularly beautiful young Seraph cock.

A particularly beautiful young Seraph cock.

The Seraphim Club International made a formal showing this year at the Des Moines “Pigeons on the Prairie” fancy pigeon show sponsored by the Iowa State Pigeon Association. Seraphim were represented from Minnesota and Eastern and Western Iowa this year, though there were Seraphim breeders from various other midwestern states on hand to observe.

The Des Moines show is a very large show and typically has entries in the thousands. It was well attended by visitors as well as competitors this year, and was very organized as usual. Foy’s Pigeon Supplies was on hand to make sure fanciers could access all of the necessities for their special pets.

A Show Homer at the ISPA show.

A Show Homer at the ISPA show.

Nothing surpasses the iridescence of the Archangel.

Nothing surpasses the iridescence of the Archangel.

A wild looking Short Face English Tumbler.

A wild looking Short Face English Tumbler.

The above are just a few examples of the wide variety of pigeon breeds shown in Des Moines, breeds that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Yes I said it….some varieties seem a little crazy. I won’t name names since someone is bound to be in love with some of the more abstract pigeon creations that I just don’t fathom, but some can only be described as “works of art” or “art in progress”. 🙂 Nevertheless, a good time was had by all!

David Coster, Editor

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 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.

The True Story of Seraphim

By David D. Coster
 As is often the case, the story of Seraphim started as an unexpected event. To tell the tale, we have to go clear back to 1986 and the tiny loft of Anne Ellis (Anya to her friends) somewhere near Milan, Illinois, USA.That year Anya – a petite, athletic woman with a magnificent wild blond mane – could best be described as a novice pigeon keeper in love with the beautiful Classic Oriental Frill pigeons she kept in her loft as pets. For Anya, keeping those attractive birds was an artistic and spiritual experience; she enjoyed being around them for their striking colors, their delightful sounds, their love-bonds, and their good-natured ways. Being an artistic, intuitive type, she was nurtured by the existence of these quaint little creatures. They added a peaceful dimension to her life. Though she didn’t understand the color genetics that made her birds so gorgeous, she loved the surprise of finding unexpected new colors in the babies of her little pets. Knowing little of Fancy Pigeon breeds, the National Pigeon Association, pigeon competitions, and the whole world of pigeon breeding and pigeon fanciers, she had started out with a wild pigeon and graduated to a few homers, ending up with Classic (“Old”) Oriental Frills one day after seeing one – a shining little star in a sea of regular looking pigeons – perched on the loft of her friend Art Grammens. The breed was no longer common, having largely been replaced by the larger, short-beaked Modern Oriental Frills in the mid 1900’s.Over time Anya studied the colors and patterns displayed in her flock of  Classic Oriental Frills and began to learn everything she could about them and color genetics. Little by little she became increasingly adept at understanding color genetics. She had seen a recessive red Modena once and really hoped to have such a color in her Frills some day. She also loved pure white pigeons. Determined that she was more likely to get the red she wanted with a little help, she took some of her Classic Frills over to Bob Pettit for a color genetics consultation. Out of that bunch, he identified one that he was certain was carrying a recessive red gene and told Anya to use that bird to get started in her effort to create a red Satinette Classic Oriental Frill.She paired the blue bronze-bar cock Bob had identified as carrying recessive red with a brown t-pattern toy stencil hen. To her surprise, the hen was also carrying recessive red, and the first two babies were both recessive red. The odds for such a stroke of luck were low, and yet it happened. Unfortunately, the cock died while the babies were young, but the hen went on and raised them alone, another stroke of luck. Over time it became clear that the red in the two youngsters was not the pretty improved Modena red Anya had seen before. As the molt began, the expected brighter red feathers did not appear. Instead, white feathers began to gradually replace the red ones. This was not what she expected. The experiment had seemingly failed. The two brothers joined the rest of the flock, and she stopped paying attention to them. One morning several weeks later she went out early to the loft just as the sun was peeping into the window where her two little disappointments had been perched for the night. Both were caught in a beam of sunlight, glowing a dazzling, blinding white, stopping Anya in her tracks. The light reflection cast a halo. “Angels!” she thought. She had paid so little attention to them that she had not seen until that moment that the two youngsters had molted into the most pure, dazzling, entirely white adults one could imagine. She stared some more, and then – Seraphim – just popped into her head. So that’s how the “White Angel of the Pigeon Fancy” first appeared, and that’s how they were named.
This is B1, the first known bird with Seraph color genes in existence. All Seraphim trace their ancestry back to him and his brother, W1.
Anya captured the brothers and raced over to Bob Pettit. “Look what happened!” she exclaimed. “It’s something new!” It felt to Anya that this unexpected event, this little miracle, was truly a gift. What beauty! What an impossibility! She had hoped for red Frills and hoped for white Frills, and now she had something better – a red  pigeon that changed to white – she got both in one. Maybe this could be the start of something. Maybe whatever happened to cause this could be replicated. Maybe this could be the beginning of the artistry she had been looking for.Anya asked Bob to help her get her birds established as a new breed. But Bob pointed out that the cause of the mutation that turned them white was not known. Anya had to dig deep into science and history now, not just art, if she had any hope for success with such a project. She had always raised her birds just for the pleasure of it. Bob patiently explained that the process for official recognition of a new breed was an arduous one. Did she have the stamina for it? “Yes! I have to! Such a gift has to be shared!”And so she began. She paired a sliver hen with one Seraph cock (B1), and then back-crossed the first generation back to B1.  A split brown hen out of the “B1” line was also paired to B1’s brother, Seraph cock W1, which resulted in the first Seraph hen in 1988. For the first two years all of the pairings resulted only in male Seraphim – not a single hen. A Seraph hen didn’t appear in the “B1 Line” until 1991. Thus Anya had to keep using Seraph cocks with “split” hens – birds that carried half the Seraph color genes, whatever those were – to start the Seraphim project. The “split” birds were named “AIM birds” by Anya’s friend, Ralph Marerro, because they were, he joked, “aiming to be Seraphim”. Her best AIM birds were her “Seraphim in disguise” until she produced her first Seraph hen in 1988, finally paving the way to fast forward the process of establishing the breed.Over the next seven years the breed was defined by careful selective breeding. Little by little the bird became more refined. The frill deepened, the feather ornaments became more delicately ornate, and the physical form was gradually changed . It was an effort to create a work of art, a living sculpture, while at the same time attending to the needed breeding experiments to understand the genetics behind the transformation to white. Historically there were reports dating back to the 1960’s in America of recessive red pigeons gradually becoming partially or nearly all white over repeated molts, but not abruptly and completely the way Seraphim did. Bob Pettit helped Anya, searching far and wide for old-style (1930’s era) Old Oriental Frills with the characteristics she needed to achieve the creation she envisioned, and introduced her to Dr. Hollander who simultaneously helped design a breeding experiment using self recessive red wild-type pigeons to understand the color genetics involved. Dr. Hollander worried that Anya had too little space in her loft to do the necessary breeding trials to sort out the color genetics of Seraphim. Tim Kvidera thus took some of Anya’s Seraphim to his large loft in Minnesota to perform breeding experiments where he determined that the recessive red gene was linked with the “White-Sides Gene”. The tail whitening genes could not be determined, but seemed to be linked to the Recessive Red and White-Sides Genes in some way. The answers slowly came in as the work of refining the breed continued. By January 1995, nine years after B1 and W1 first appeared, Anya had met the National Pigeon Association requirements of showing five Seraph cocks and five Seraph hens at three consecutive Grand National Shows She had written the first show standard for Seraphim and had given a presentation to the Board of Trustees on the new breed. Her work and that of her friends and associates paid off, and Seraphim were officially recognized as a new breed by the National Pigeon Association.
In December of 1995, Anya met Jean-Louis Frindel at the German National Show in Nuremburg, Germany. Jean-Louis, of Lalaye-Charbes, France, is the artist who paints the pigeon standards for the German and European Standard books. He was taken by the beauty of the Seraph, and decided that France should be the first European country to officially recognize Seraphim.  As hoped, The French National Pigeon Association (SNC) was the first in Europe to recognize Seraphim in 1997. Arrangements were made for a story about Seraphim in the French pigeon magazine, Colombiculture, with Anya featured on the cover holding one of her prize Seraphim. The story was a hit, opening doors for articles on Seraphim in other European pigeon magazines and for Anya to speak about her experience at the Centennial National Show in Chambery in 2003 and in a European film about pigeons. The most memorable connection created by the article was with Gabriel Thomas of France, who fell in love with Seraphim and wrote Anya hoping to acquire some to help him recover from a personal life tragedy. It took two years to finally get birds into his hands in the Brussels airport and it was a big moment for both Anya and Gabriel. Through him Jean-Pierre Demuyter and Rene Dautel (a French judge) joined the Seraphim Project.
Contributions to the development and promotion of the Seraph breed were made by many others, including Terry Fick, Everet Uhls, Raul Delgado, George Simon, and Gottfried Ernst. Anya is indebted to all who advised and assisted along the way. Today the Seraph Show Standard has been firmly established, with the newest edition announced in 2015. (See under Show Standard in the side bar on this site.) The color genetics has also been worked out to a finer degree with the discovery of “controller genes” and “gene switches” that have allowed for a better understanding of how pigment is turned off in Seraphim to create a pure white bird. (See under Genetics in the side bar on this site.) The official website for the Seraphim Club International was established in 2011. The first sanctioned official Seraphim Club International meet was held in Des Moines at the ISPA Show in 2013.

Photographs of Seraphim Pigeons

(Those of you with a penchant for photography and taking photos of your Seraphim can (and should!) send your best photo-shots of your birds to the editor at Artistic photos, photos showing details of feather and form, and photos demonstrating good and not-so-good qualities are all welcome—-anything that teaches or pleases the eye is welcome! David Coster, MD, Editor)

A beautiful pair of older Seraphim. The cock on the left demonstrates all of the favorable characteristics of a quality show bird. He has what Anya  Ellis likes to call “the skull”—-the wonderful large rounded head with a nice down-turned beak.  He also has a nice  swoop and point, nice frill, stance, chest, wings, length, feathering—a beautiful bird. His mate demonstrates what one can call the “refined” features of the hen, another beautiful bird with the same style as her mate, but frankly—feminine—and elegant.

Seraphim love the snow and get very rambunctious when out in it! This Seraph has just had a bath and took a moment to flap wildly out of pure ecstasy. It’s a ghostly and lovely image and demonstrates the power of those long white wings. Notice he is just as white as the snow!

A Seraph cock attending to daytime incubation duties. He is in a Belgian clay nest bowl—just the right size for Seraphim.

In eighteen days there will be two little squeakers in this nest.

Hideous little critter, isn’t it. About ten days old and in pin-feathers. If anyone doubts that birds are dinosaurs….

Well, THAT’s certainly better! Too fat to walk and too young to fly at 3 weeks. But definitely cuter. Note how diffuse and pale the recessive red color is in this youngster’s wing-shield.

This young hen is nearly done with the transformation to pure white. See the recessive red in the tail and a few of the secondary wing feathers? That will soon be gone and replaced with white.

Just another day hanging out in the loft, doing our thing. 🙂

A luxurious few moments of feather work in the afternoon sun…

A young Seraph enjoying a blue fountain.

Posing for the camera…

A late Fall afternoon…

The most beautiful Seraph...

The most beautiful Seraph…