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 2017. (See under Show Standard in the side bar on this site.) The color genetics have 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. Finally, new information from Professor Axel Sell in Germany has hinted at a possible historical ancestral connection of Seraphim to a rare color variety of Uzbek Tumblers called Tschinnies (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, and Des Moines has become the home for the annual Seraphim Club International Show.

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 cozmd@aol.com. 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…

The Magic of Basic Seraphim Genetics

So, what is it that makes Seraphim so special genetically, this “thing” that causes them to transform from a red Satinette color pattern to a pigment free, pure dazzling white? And how does this differ from the white of other pigeons in pattern of inheritance? And what else is going on genetically in Seraphim that makes these Fancy Pigeons different than their breed of origin, the Classic Oriental Frill?

Let’s start with some basic definitions and descriptions of what we know at this point – based upon the known history of the breed and breeding experiments – of the crucial genetic components that make Seraphim distinct from other breeds. As for color, the “Seraph Color Gene Complex” – the combination of genes that cause recessive red to appear and disappear – is the key.

SATINETTE PIEBALD:  The first genetic requirement is the Satinette Piebald pattern of color distribution. The three additional genes of the Seraph Color Gene Complex are overlaid on the Satinette Piebald color pattern. These are “recessive red”  combined with the “white-sides gene” and an as yet undefined “tail-whitening” gene(s). (The so-called white-sides and tail whitening “genes” may not be genes at all however. Rather, they may be genetic “switches” or gene controllers. As genetic switches they are inherited, but they are not “genes” per se. Genes direct the manufacture of specific proteins; switches are gene controllers, turning genes on or off, making them function or not.  In the case of Seraphim, the recessive red gene is initially turned  to “on” to produce pigment, but then quickly turned to “off” by the White-Sides and Tail-Whitening gene switches to create the absence of pigment in the adult.) 

The Piebald genetics that make the “Satinette” pattern of a pure white body with colored wing shields and tail has long been established in Oriental Frills. Along with the additional recessive red gene  and the White-Sides and Tail Whitening “controllers” (or “switches”), it is presumed to be integral to the Seraphim Color Gene Complex. The inheritance of the Piebald-ism genes and their patterns of visible expression are poorly understood and may also be a consequence of switches as well as actual genes. Most piebald patterns are difficult to maintain without highly selective breeding and very careful attention to color patterns when pairing birds. Interestingly in Seraphim, juveniles which have mismarked pigmented feathers in areas that are supposed to be white Piebald still molt completely to white, suggesting that the “controllers” that stop pigment production in the wing-shields and tail are having an effect on the whole body. 

RECESSIVE RED MUTATION: The Recessive Red mutation is a recessive gene on one of the regular (autosomal) chromosomes which, when transmitted from each parent, overrides or masks the primary ash red, blue, and brown sex-linked color genes that normally determine the basic color of all pigeons. It usually masks patterns as well, with exceptions. Birds with a pair of these recessive genes will appear “red”, while birds with only one of these genes will show the color carried by their sex chromosomes – ash red, blue, or brown. Recessive Red is epigenetic to all other colors except recessive white and albino, i.e. it hides or “paints over” them so they are not visually expressed. Recessive Red does not “paint over” white piebald areas or stencil patterns however. Recessive Red Satinette Piebald birds will thus appear red in the wingshields and tail regardless of the underlying sex-linked color of the bird, and they will show a lacewing, lacetail, or spot-tail pattern. The “Dilute” gene will modify the red color to yellow. Since all Seraphim are Satinette Piebald as well as homozygous for Recessive Red or Yellow, they appear at first feather to be marked as Red (or Yellow) Satinettes. If they have stencil genes, they will show through as a pattern. Seraphim babies are never white.

THE WHITE-SIDES GENE: The “White-Sides Gene” is expressed ONLY in birds homozygous for Recessive Red or Recessive Yellow (Dilute), and it is probably not a gene, but rather a gene controller. You will never see it expressed in an ash red, brown, or blue pigeon of any color pattern or with any other color mutations. A better name for it might be the “White-Sides Trait,” but that is not how it is commonly described. Pigeons of any color may carry the trait invisibly. If a recessive red or yellow pigeon carries one copy of the White-Sides gene, the wing-shield will turn partially white or “rose” with the first adult molt; if it carries two copies the wingshield will turn completely white. Seraphim are homozygous for “White-Sides” – they carry two copies of the “gene” so it is fully expressed at the first molt – their red shields are replaced with white. (Again, I’m fairly convinced that “White-Sides” is not a gene; it is more likely a switch that turns the Recessive Red pigment production gene on and then off, or a mutated master controller DNA sequence that directs a switch to turn the Recessive Red pigment production gene off. The biology of how genes actually work and are controlled is interesting and complicated. More is learned every day. It’s not as simple as we once thought.)

THE TAIL-WHITENING GENE: The “tail-whitening” gene(s) is presumed to be a separate autosomal gene (or genes) that causes the tail to stop producing pigment and turn white. The mechanism is not understood. (Probably not understood because, until only recently, no one understood the concept of “master controllers” and “switches” in regard to genes. Again, I suspect the “tail whitening gene” is really just a mutation in the master controller that causes it to signal the genetic switch to flip to “off” at a certain point in feather pigment production. This will eventually be proven one way or another. How this gene(s) is affected by the White-Sides Gene is completely unknown, but it is interesting that the two seem to function in concert only in Seraphim. ** In experimental crosses of Seraphim with pure recessive red pigeons, crosses of the F1 and F2 generations result in birds with a mix of rose, red, and whitesides in the shield with red or white tails. In Seraphim the whitening effects of the various traits seem to be linked or inherited together.) **Note: There is a color variety of Uzbek Tumbler called a “Tschinnie” that is native to the Ottoman area (modern day Turkey etc.) that is recessive red and molts to white (including the tail) in various beautiful predictable patterns of red and white. In some cases they may molt completely to white over several molts. There is a description of Tschinnies in Axel Sell’s book “Pigeon Genetics,” pp. 130-132. In personal email conversation with Dr. Sell he acknowledges that the genetic similarites between Seraphim and Tschinnies cannot be ignored, as they both are recessive red with the White-Sides trait and in test crosses performed by Andreas Leif in 2006 the RedHead/Neck variety (all white after the molt except the neck and chest) was found to be allelic to White-Sides; Leif also suspected that a dominant enabler (switch) was required for experession of both the Whitesides and RedHead/Neck. As Oriental Frills are also from that region of the world, I can’t help but wonder if the Tschinnie color gene combination was deliberately crossed into Oriental Frills generations ago, only to accidentally get thrown back into the mix in the U.S. in 1986 when Anya Ellis was working to recreate the Classic Oriental Frill because it had been essentially abandoned in the United States. It was her seminal work with Classic Oriental Frills that set the wheels in motion to re-establish the breed. She sought high and low for Old-Fashioned Oriental Frills (as they were called then) and brought them into her loft from wherever she could find them. It was that project that resulted in the unexpected appearance of the first two Seraphim in her loft in the nest of a pair of Classic Satinette Old Frills. Based on what I know about genetics, I’m left to wonder what would be the color result of putting a RedHead/Neck Tschinnie with a Seraph. I suspect that the Satinette Piebald pattern would make the Red-Head pattern vanish so that all offspring would molt to pure white. If only I could get ahold of a Red Head/Neck Tschinnie! A test cross could provide important information. I think it is likely that the Tschinnie genes were in the genetic pool of rare Old Fashioned Oriental Frills in the U.S. back in the 1980’s; and I think it is likely that the Seraph arose from accidentally putting two Satinette Piebald color pattern Old Frills together with random pre-existing Tschinnie color genes. Adding the Satinette Piebald pattern is probably what finalized the color mix…and that’s my theory until I’m proven wrong.

And now for the sake of simplicity in understanding all of this we’re going to pretend that the Seraph Color Gene Complex is a combination of genes inherited together as a single entity rather than multiple genes and switches and master controllers. It makes it easier to think about breeding them if one understands that although the Seraph Color Gene Complex is many genes (or modifiers) it will always breed true as long as Seraphim are bred to each other. If a Seraph is bred to any other color the Seraph Color Gene Complex will be split up and visually disappear in the offspring.

So, to review: in the Seraph Color Gene Complex the Recessive Red, White-Sides, and some unidentified Tail-Whitening genes were somehow all accidentally put together in 1986 in two offspring of Old Fashioned (now Classic) Satinette Oriental Frills, birds that had an established piebald color pattern which makes the whole bird white except for the wingshields and tail. This Satinette Piebald color pattern  is the defining genetic background color pattern characteristic. The visual color pattern in juvenile Seraphim is therefore entirely white with the recessive red gene showing up only as red marked wing-shields and tails, as one would expect for an Satinette Piebald marked bird. The White-Sides and Tail-Whitening genes (switches) turn on variably part way through the fledging process, turning off pigment production sometime early in juvenile feather production resulting in varying amounts of red coloration in the wing shields and tail. The feathers that would normally be pure red in a juvenile because of the recessive red genes may thus be merely splashed with red on the tips or part way up the feather shaft due to the stoppage of pigment production.  Normally the White-Sides trait is not expressed at all in the juvenile but in Seraphim it is having an effect as the very first feathers come in, an expression of the gene (trait) that is different than seen in other breeds.

When the adult molt occurs at about four months ALL the adult feathers come in pure white. Once activated in the early weeks of life, the White-Sides and Tail-Whitening traits prevent the production of pigment for the rest of the bird’s life. The only time color will ever be seen in a Seraph is thus with initial feather development in the nest. As far as we know, no other white Fancy Pigeon in existence owes its absence of color pigment to this particular combination of genetic processes. Seraphim are unique in this way.

This 5-week old Seraph demonstrates the visual effects of the Satinette Piebald genes and the recessive red genes. Color is primarily expressed on the wing shields and tail in Satinette pattern.  (See discussion.)

The same Seraph after his first molt, now  white due to the full expression of the White-Sides and Tail-Whitening traits linked to the Recessive Red gene in Seraphim. Note that the red mis-marked feathers in the piebald white areas of the chest and head in the juvenile at left are replaced above with white as well.
OTHER REQUIRED TRAITS: The needle-point peak in the Seraph is autosomal recessive. The unusually large ruffled frill (or cravat) is the result of two recessive genes which code for the chest frill (kr1 and kr2) that are  both present in the Seraph. The feathered toes are called “grouse” and are a recessive trait. Like a kid glove, each toe is individually seen and individually feathered. The short beak (ku) is polygeneic, i.e. is inherited with the involvement of more than one gene. As you can see, Seraphim carry a lot of recessive traits, all of which have to be donated by each parent and present on chromosomes in pairs in order to be seen.

 

The visual conversion from recessive red Satinette pattern to pure white as a result of the expression of the Seraph Color Gene Complex –  Satinette Piebald, recessive red, the white-sides gene, and the tail-whitening gene(s) – is an absolute defining trait for Seraphim. Any bird that does not show recessive red (or yellow – the dilute of red) in the wing-shields and tail and go through this transformation does NOT carry the Seraph Color Gene Complex and is not – by definition – a Seraph. Selective breeding for over thirty years has created additional enhancements of body form and feather with an overall refinement and lengthening effect, giving the Seraph an unusually beautiful long flowing line, height, posture, and overall stunning regal look that is distinctly different from the breed of origin, the Old-Fashioned (Now “Classic”) Oriental Frill. The toe feathers are more refined and delicate, the skull has a more defined arc, the swoop and mane are deeper, the frill is larger, and the beak is more downturned. This is easy to see when comparing the 2017 Show Standard for Seraphim to the Show Standard of the Classic Oriental Frill. Since 1986 the differences between the two breeds have become increasingly evident as both have been modified by different goals of selective breeding. The Seraph is a breed that is separate and stands on its own. 

SOME MORE VERY BASIC PIGEON GENETICS FOR THE BEGINNER

(Please note the links in this article to Wikipedia entries and other sources that can be helpful. This can all be very difficult even when stated as simply as possible! Yet some basic understanding of these principles is necessary for the breeder of any Fancy Pigeon. The National Pigeon Association website has in-depth articles on pigeon genetics for those who wish to immerse themselves.)

CHROMOSOMES: The pigeon has forty pairs of chromosomes (or eighty individual  chromosomes). Unlike other cells in the body, the sperm and the egg each have just forty individual chromosomes, or half the total, thanks to a process called meiosis which occurs only in testes and ovaries. When fertilization occurs and the sperm penetrates the nucleus of the egg,  each sperm chromosome finds it’s match in the egg nucleus and pairs up with it. The  fertilized egg now has a complete complement of forty paired chromosomes, or eighty total chromosomes, a normal pigeon cell. That cell immediately begins to divide using a new process called mitosis in which all of the chromosomes are duplicated just before division so that each division results in two cells with the full complement of eighty chromosomes. A great deal is now known about how this initial cell becomes an embryo and then a fully developed chick, but the details are too complex to discuss here. Enormous textbooks are written on the subject, and every day massive dissertations as well! It is wonderfully complex and amazing.

Anyway. During meiosis the various genes on the individual chromosomes remain reasonably consistent, but variation exists in the proteins that make up the DNA in those genes. Every time a new egg or sperm is formed there is the possibility that its chromosomes carry tiny changes  in the order, or sequence, of the DNA proteins in the various gene segments. It is this possibility for change that results in genetic variability, or differences that may be seen in the fully formed organism.

“Dominant” genes are segments of DNA that always express themselves over any mutation of the same gene sitting on the opposite paired chromosome. For instance, if a mother donates a gene for  blue eyes and a father donates a gene for brown eyes, the child will always have brown eyes; brown always dominates any other eye color. The blue gene is there, but it is not visually expressed; it is “hidden” and will only show up if given a chance to pair up with another blue gene in the next generation. That blue gene may be passed on for several generations before finally getting the chance to appear when matched up with another person also carrying a blue gene. The blue gene is thus “recessed”, or hidden – a “recessive” gene. It may also be called a recessive “trait”, or characteristic. Recessive genes or traits become important only when both parents carry them, as therein lies the only possibility for them to be expressed, or seen.

“Partial Dominant”, or “Dominant With Variable Penetrance” are terms used to describe genes that are always expressed – but to a variable degree – when present, depending upon the effect of other genetic conditions present. Feathered legs and feet are an example of this phenomenon. The gene that causes this is dominant to the bare leg gene, but the variability in the penetrance – or visual expression – of the gene can result in anything from enormous leg “muffs” to “slipper” feathers to “grouse” feathers to “stubble” and anything in-between, depending upon other genes modifiers present that add to, or subtract from, the degree to which feather growth on the feet or legs is allowed.

There is also something called linkage. Sometimes genes are locked together and are passed on as a group that cannot be broken apart by the process of cell division and meiosis. In such instances, these linked genes are always expressed together at the same time, so for all intents and purposes the combination acts as if it is a single gene in the way it is passed on or inherited. Linkage may be partially responsible for some of the way color is passed on in Seraphim.

So let’s review. Now you understand that each parent bird passes on half of its set of chromosomes in the egg or sperm so that the new chick has a full set of chromosomes – half of them from each parent. You also understand that some genes on chromosomes overpower, or dominate weaker recessive genes at the same location on the opposite paired chromosome; the paired chromosomes may carry a recessive gene each, a dominant gene each, or a combo of recessive and dominant. As Dominant always wins, the only time you can see hidden recessive traits is when they are on both chromosomes in the pair, so the trait has to come from each parent to appear. Linked gene combinations transfer multiple traits to the offspring all at once, and always together, so for all intents and purposes linked genes are inherited as if they are a single gene or trait. The “Seraphim Color Gene Complex” is not one gene, but a combination of genes and gene switches, most of which are independent, but some of which may be linked genes or traits – we don’t know for sure. We DO know there are a minimum of two color genes and very likely multiple master controllers and switches that all have to be present for color expression in Seraphim. We also know that color genes are not the only thing that make a Seraph, as all the other genes and gene modifiers for physical form and feather structure and ornamentation must be embedded as well for that beautiful final creation to appear.

SPECIAL CHROMOSOMES: So, let’s go back to those forty pairs of chromosomes once again. One of those pairs has a very special function: it determines the sex, or gender of the bird. This pair has a special name: sex chromosomes. (I know….big surprise, eh?) The other thirty-nine pairs of chromosomes are called autosomal chromosomes, and they program almost everything else in pigeon development with a few exceptions

In Pigeons the sex chromosomes are called Z and W. The hen is ZW and the cock is ZZ. So the W sex chromosome is responsible for creating the female sex. The hen thus determines the sex of the chick through the egg, as she always donates a half of her set of chromosomes to an egg. By chance, half her eggs will carry a Z and half will carry a W; the eggs with W will produce hens. The cock can only contribute one of his two Z’s, since that’s all he has. In pigeons, the genes for the primary base color of the feathers – ash red, brown, and blue – are also located on the Z sex chromosome. This knowledge can be a useful tool. Since the hen has only one Z, a breeder KNOWS that she has just one basic color gene on her Z chromosome and can pass only that one color gene to ALL of her male offspring. Her color is also true – her appearance matches her one color gene on her Z sex chromosome; if she is blue she carries only blue, if she is ash red she carries only ash red, if she is brown she carries only brown; nothing is hidden from the eye. Her W does not carry a color gene, so her female offspring MUST have their base color determined by one of the two Z chromosomes from the cock, whichever one he contributes at fertilization. One can thus determine what colors the cock is carrying by the colors that are expressed in his female offspring. This is a general basic fact that can be helpful for all breeders.

I wish it were just that simple, but obviously there are other color-pigment and pattern altering genes present in pigeons or one wouldn’t see all of the different colors and patterns one sees at Fancy Pigeon Shows. Most of these color and pattern modifiers are located on the autosomal chromosomes and a few on the sex chromosomes. No matter what, though, every pigeon has a base color of ash-red, blue, or brown on the sex chromosomes; those colors can either be fully expressed, modified, or completely masked by color-modifying genes on the autosomal or sex chromosomes. This is true in Seraphim too, of course. As you already know, the autosomal recessive red genes in the juvenile Seraph are expressed as a red that covers the true base color of the bird (ash-red, blue, and brown); the recessive red shows in the wing shields and tail, and even though the red is recessive, it masks and dominates the true base color of the pigeon coded for on the Z sex chromosomes because homozygous autosomal recessive red is epistatic to all sex-linked base Z colors – it hides them. The pied and white-flight genes of Satinette Piebald show white in the flights and body from the beginning and remain that way. The tail whitening and white-sides genes turn off the visual recessive red of the tail and wing-shields part way through the initial production of feathers. The genetic job is done. A shimmering pure white bird appears that actually has a hidden Satinette color pattern of recessive red that appeared only briefly, and a base color of ash red, blue, or brown that never appeared at all even though the genes are still there. The Seraph Color Gene Complex wins and eliminates all color. You will never see the hidden genetic base color programmed into the Z sex chromosomes in the life of a Seraph, and you will only briefly see the recessive red—the visual clue that indicates a Seraph in the nest.

It IS possible, however, to determine the basic hidden Z chromosome color of a Seraph hen by crossing it with a brown cock of any type. The male offspring will carry her Z color chromosome, and it will be visible since the offspring will only have one half the recessive Seraph Color Gene Complex genes so they won’t be expressed.   A Seraph cock paired to a brown hen likewise will show his hidden Z base color(s) in all the offspring. Not that it matters; it’s just interesting if one wanted to know.

EVEN MORE COMPLICATED MATTERS 🙂 

AIM BIRDS: Old Fashioned Satinette Oriental Frills were used originally by Anya Ellis to develop the Seraphim breed. Because of this, there are still in existence today some Satinette marked birds used in the breeding program that carry half of the Seraph Color Gene Complex. In careful breeding programs like Anya’s, these Satinette color marked birds have over time developed the same physical form as high quality Seraphim since they were used for decades to develop the breed. Those that were most like Seraphim were used intermittently for breeding to diversify the gene pool; those that were structurally less like Seraphim were removed from the gene pool. These birds are called AIM birds.  Outstanding AIM birds are Satinette marked and have the same physical structure as modern day Show Quality Seraphim. It is rare to own or find such a bird, but they can be used in a carefully managed Seraphim breeding program. When paired with a Seraph they will produce 50% Seraphim.  It is imperative, however, that the pedigree of the AIM bird be known before it is used in a breeding program.

To the left here is an old archival photo of an example of an AIM bird. The father is a Seraph, the mother is another AIM bird, a brown lacewing spot-tail Satinette. The Seraphim Color Gene Complex is hidden in this bird because it exists on only one half the chromosomes, so it looks like a Classic Satinette Oriental Frill. This is a very, very colorful bird and is a startling example of the sorts of colors and patterns that may be hidden on the Z and other chromosomes in your Seraphim, But even though it is a second generation from an outcross to a Classic Satinette Oriental Frill, it still overall looks way too much like a Classic Oriental Frill in structure. If crossed back to a really outstanding Seraph, half of its babies would be colored Splits (AIM birds) just like it, and half would carry the complete set of the Seraph Color Gene Complex and turn from recessive red Satinette to pure white. Of those,  some might be of reasonable quality and starting to look overall more like Seraphim and less like Classic Oriental Frills. With each generation the back-cross of a newer generation AIM bird to a Show Quality Seraph will result in better quality AIM birds that will – aside from being color-marked – eventaully look physically exactly like Seraphim. As far as I know, the only two people who ever used AIM birds to refine and develop the breed are Anya Ellis and myself (using an original AIM bird I got from Anya.)

So in 2017 and beyond if a color marked bird is to be used to improve or expand a flock of Seraphim, there is only one line of birds that should be used, as the only modern AIM birds in existence in the world that truly have the High Superior structural qualities of Champion Seraphim and that could or should be used to improve a Seraph breeding program are in the possession of Anya Ellis or in lofts where they are the direct descendents of her birds without any additional outcrosses. The breed has developed so far now that a color marked bird from any other source should not be introduced into a Seraph breeding program.

 


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.

 

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The 2017 Seraphim Standard of Perfection as depicted in the NPA Book of Standards.

 

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 arose when the Satinette Piebald color genes were accidentally combined with Recessive Red genes,  the “White-Sides” gene(s), and a “Tail-Whitening gene(s)”; this “Seraphim Color Gene Complex” made the first two Seraphim. (See articles under Genetics in the sidebar.) The Seraphim 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, or early Spring if the loft is unheated – 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.

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 certainly white enough for the job, but whether or not they’ll happily sit on a roof rather than flying off is unknown.

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 coconut fiber 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 @ 4 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 four 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 five 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.

Caring for Your Seraphim Pigeons

[Editors Note: This is a reasonably detailed overview; nevertheless, the purchase of an exhaustive book covering every aspect of pigeon care, such as THE PIGEON GUIDE by Shannon Hiatt, available from Siegel’s at http://www.siegelpigeons.com is highly recommended for all pigeon owners. Happy reading!]

So…you’ve decided that you simply must have your own pair of Seraphim, and you’ve found a reputable loft and breeder from which to buy the best pair you can get. Are you properly prepared? Most aspects of Seraphim care are no different than that for other fancy pigeon breeds. However, Seraphim DO have some peculiarities.

A healthy three  week old Seraph, the result of careful attention to the care of your adult Seraphim. Cute!

HOUSING
Seraphim, like all doves and pigeons, need room and fresh outdoor air. They not only like to fly; they need to fly. They are not birds to be kept in the house or in small cages. They can tolerate extreme temperatures, hot and cold, and are naturally suited to do so. Unlike some fancy show pigeons, Seraphim are not hampered by form or feather characteristics that interfere with their ability to move about with ease.

A pair of Seraphim enjoying the sun, winter cold, and snow all at once!

The Loft. An ideal loft has room for breeding pairs, non-breeding cocks and hens, and young housed separately within the same or adjacent structures. This ideal situation is not always a reasonable option however, especially for those who live in cities or towns which restrict lofts and/or the number of birds one can maintain. A loft, which can be anything from an old chicken coop to a state-of-the-art high tech building especially designed for your birds with heat, cooling, running water, and computerized feeding systems and record keeping, is simply a structure in which pigeons and doves can live and raise their young in a healthy manner. They can be as small as 5×6 feet or as large as a gigantic machine shed, depending upon the goals of the loft keeper for his/her flock. European and Persian dovecotes (lofts) tend to be visions of architectural grandeur, frequently made of stone, brick, and stucco and with awesome design characteristics such as turrets, domes, landing niches, entrance and exit holes, and nest sites built into the walls. Such structures are a rarity in the United States, but it is certainly worth looking into such design possibilities if one has the interest.

A gorgeous (and expensive) stone and tile dove cote.

A lot of companies build small cedar portable sheds and garages to order that can be modified with screened in porches, extra windows for light, cupolas, and entrance and exit doors for the birds. On the farm you may have an old brooder house or stone shed or garage that can be utilized. Organic spray foam insulation can help moderate temperatures inside throughout the year, and electrification can be extremely helpful. Do you need all of these things? No, you don’t. What you DO need is a building safe and secure from varmints and with adequate light and ventilation – that’s the bare minimum.

A little garden shed ready to be converted to a Seraphim loft.

Perches. Seraphim do not like tiny perches. They are strong and fairly large and enjoy walking about. An ideal perch for a Seraphim is really a ledge; thus mounting pine 2×4’s or wider boards or shelves on the walls is a good idea. They need such wide surfaces for standing when mating as well, though the floor of the loft will work as well. At night they want to perch as high up as possible to sleep, and even during daylight hours they tend to look for higher places to alight to preen and nap, so keep perches within reach but overhead. Dividing sleeping ledges into 14 inch sections using heavy cardboard stapled to the ledge at intervals is a good way to give each bird the room it needs to do what it wants without being hassled by the bird next to them. This isn’t an issue with a single pair, but the moment you have more than a pair, squabbles for space will ensue. There are a number of other options for perches, but keeping it simple is always good. Keeping perches clean can be difficult and time consuming though, so another option is to use the Lothar perch, a perch specially designed for fancy pigeons with feathered feet. The Lothar is a 4 inch round pedestal perch that attaches to the wall studs at an angle, the pedestal hovering about a foot and a half from the wall. It’s a great perch. Only one Seraph can fit, the pedestal never gets soiled, and it is large enough for standing, sitting, sleeping, and preening. All perches can be made by hand, and many types can be purchased through pigeon supply companies like Foy’s.

The “Lothar” perch attaches to the wall stud at an angle, the pedestal thus floating out from the wall leaving plenty of space and security for the Seraph.

Floor Bedding.Cover the floor lightly with a layer of straw, cedar chips, cob pellets, hay, or an equivalent absorbent material that allows for quick drying of droppings. This prevents disease and the soiling of feet and feathers. The bedding will need to be lightly fluffed and raked occasionally and changed completely every few months depending upon the number of birds making contributions to it. The droppings are high in nitrogen and phosphorous, an excellent enrichment material for garden soil and compost heaps.  My preference is a light layer of wood-pellet horse bedding covered loosely with Timothy grass; it’s super-absorbent and smells deliciously sweet and can be changed as infrequently as twice yearly. As long as the floor dries quickly, there is little risk of disease from droppings in a healthy flock. Many breeders are convinced that the presence of dried droppings enhances the health and immunity of their flock by assuring a normal healthy bacterial/yeast flora in the digestive systems of their birds.

Compressed wood pellet horse bedding and Timothy grass hay, one example of an appropriate floor material for Seraphim.

Flying Space. Having raised birds of all types since the age of 3, I can honestly say that creating an optimal aviary or flight has always been – for me – an incredibly difficult task. And believe me, I’ve tried literally everything to manage the tiniest of finches to gigantic peafowl and parrots to waterbirds of all types. The truth is that the best aviary is simply the great out-of-doors with no obstruction to free flight, and that is a tough act to follow. Free flight works wonderfully for birds that are domestic or attached enough to return to their building at night; it doesn’t work so well for those that are inherently wild or at unusual risk for predation. And Seraphim present some special problems in this regard. If they do happen to escape, having never been out, they tend to simply fly away and never look back. They are not great at homing. The risk of loss is lower in the countryside and in the absence of trees and buildings interfering with a clear view of the loft, the obvious place to which to return. In town, the clutter of buildings and trees seems to startle an escaped Seraph and it doesn’t know what to do or where to go, so it just takes off. I know of one farm flock successfully allowed in and out every day from its loft; they were kept inside for several months first to get their bearings then allowed out through a small door with a landing pad; a large wall of the loft was chicken wire so the birds still inside could easily be seen and heard by those outside. This arrangement allowed the Seraphim to find their way back with no difficulty; the loft was also free and clear from overhanging trees and close buildings so it could clearly be identified as “home” from any angle. Nevertheless, Seraphim that felt crowded or that didn’t have mates would eventually leave of their own accord, and who knows what happened to them. Seraphim are prized by hawks, particularly the Sharp-Shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk – natural bird hunters. The farm flock owner reported several instances during spring and fall hawk migrations of the loss of several Seraphim. Though fast fliers, the bright white color of a Seraph makes it an illuminated target for a hungry hawk. Those with little outdoor flying experience are quickly doomed. Other predators such as cats don’t do as well; Seraphim have an intense startle response and take to the air in a split second at the slightest disturbance, so they are generally quite unlikely to be caught by any ground-dwelling carnivores. So…the lesson is simple. Do NOT let your rare Seraphim fly free outside as a rule, and UNLESS you take precautions to make certain they will properly “home” and you have ascertained that there is very little – if any – risk of death due to predation. Do not let your show birds or best breeding birds fly free under any circumstances. They will certainly be lost at some point one way or another if you do.

An 8×12 black-powder tubular steel dog kennel as aviary; note the door within a door, the birdbath, landing board under the windows, and ledge at the far end. The floor is covered with willow twig fencing.

Now then, having tried EVERYTHING for flights and aviaries, I can say without reservation that a metal powder-coated dog run is the best, easiest, and fastest way to make an outdoor flight for your Seraphim. The design I like best includes roof panels and is made by Northland Pet Supply Inc in British Columbia and available at a number of lumber yards and farm stores across the nation. The panels are 4×4 and 4×6 feet in size, the mesh is 2×4 inch, and a variety of entrance doors and locks are standard. They are easily put together with the supplied clamps, so one can go from having no aviary to an 8×12 in about four hours with ease. One end is simply abutted against the loft where the bird exit is located, and there you have it. The tubular steel is strong and will not disintegrate, the mesh is small enough to keep out major predators, and you can easily watch your birds. It’s a great product and is, I think, ideal for those who want a functional, solid, and yes, attractive flight for their Seraphim. The Seraphim bathing area can be kept outside where it belongs, and perches can be easily installed simply by hanging boards between the panel walls using exposed nails in the ends as “hooks.”

Having said all that, if you have a better design idea for a flight, use it! Then write about it and send the photos so I can show everyone else what you’ve done.

Light. Natural sunlight is a necessity for healthy birds. It is required for proper metabolism, bone health, hormonal balance, and breeding. So if your birds can’t get out, make sure natural sunlight can get IN! Artificial light is necessary for only two purposes: 1) to allow you to observe and work with your Seraphim in the early morning or late evening hours, especially during the winter months, and 2) to extend or start the breeding season, as the length of the day has a powerful influence on the instigation of meaningful mating behavior. A third reason could be that you live so far north or south that the length of day is too short for any good use, such as Alaska or Patagonia, but I’m going to assume most of our readers don’t have that issue to deal with!

NUTRITION

Water. It doesn’t seem that this should need to be a topic of discussion, but yet it is. Pigeons and doves drink a lot compared to other birds. Furthermore, they drink by plunging their beaks deep into the water and pumping it down their throats – none of the timid dipping that you see with other songbirds. So they need ample fresh water, and it needs to be deep enough for plunging. And when raising young, they need even more water to make crop “milk” for the newly hatched and to aid with regurgitative feedings for the older young. The babies will not drink on their own until they leave the nest; in the wild they would have to be totally capable of flight before the parents would stop assisting in delivering water to them.

A bullet waterer perched high on a ledge.

Water should be placed up off the floor to keep it free of dust and dirt from all the wind created by flapping wings. Don’t let your birds drink murky or filthy water. It probably won’t kill them, but acute or chronic diseases may ensue. There are a variety of waterers available for pigeons. One very useful type is called a “bullet” waterer. It’s designed to keep birds from landing on it and prevent soiling of the water. There are many other types available at pigeon supply stores; the main thing is to find a type that fits with your loft design and placement of the device to provide optimal access. When young squeakers are on the floor, water should be provided daily at their level. Once they are up on a perch and remain there for the night, they can access the regular water source. If your loft is not heated to keep it above freezing, you will need a heated water source. Seraphim cannot be allowed to be without water for more than a couple of days, so don’t let this happen.

Water can also be used for delivery of vitamins and medications and is generally the preferred method for both. If using supplements or treating your Seraphim for disease, be sure to follow the directions for dosing precisely. Variation from the recommended doses will poison and kill your birds.

Finally, Seraphim LOVE to bathe! They will do so daily if given the opportunity, regardless of the weather. A heated bath can be obtained from any farm store; the water simply has to be kept from freezing. Since they will drink it as well as bathe in it, change it daily or empty the pan at the end of the day if you don’t intend to refill it for a few days. They seem to prefer bathing in the mid-afternoon when the sun is warmest and will then stretch out on a ledge or on some warm sunlit bedding for a while, wings twitching with pleasure while they snooze. All pigeons make a powder called feather dust; you’ll see it as a white cloud billowing out when they fluff their feathers. The dust helps deter parasites and acts as a powerful water repellent. After a bath, you’ll see a thick film of powder floating in the water, and a white ring around the rim of the bath. It’s only feather dust. Replace the water with fresh clean water the next morning; they generally won’t use bath water from the previous day.

Feed. Nutrition for your Seraphim pigeons is a broad topic, broad enough to justify an in-depth read in a good pigeon guide reference book. Thankfully, nowadays it is easy to find a balanced seed diet for your Seraphim from specialty feed stores. The mix that most closely matches the needs of Seraphim is called the “King Breeder Mix”, created by and available from Des Moines Feed in Des Moines, Iowa. Seraphim like a variety of seed sources, including millet, safflower, wheat, milo, rapeseed, and especially peas. Seraphim seem to have a need for more protein than other breeds of pigeons, and the mix must be heavy on peas as a result, and especially while feeding youngsters. In fact, they will let their youngsters starve if they do not have high protein feed; they simply will not feed them! So peas are imperative. I keep an extra bag of pure peas handy so I can super-concentrate them during the breeding season by adding them to the King mix. During the summer the demand for Safflower goes up. This may be in preparation for the August molt; perhaps there is some essential element in Safflower that helps bring in healthy gorgeous feathers; all I know is that they want a lot of Safflower from late June into September. So then I add some extra Safflower to the King mix.

In general, feeding once per day is ideal. A pair of Seraphim eats only 1/4 cup of food per day, as long as it is protein rich as required. So measure it out, and don’t leave extra. This prevents food from spoiling and minimizes the risk of disease; it also reduces the risk of rodent invasions in the loft. It also enhances fertility; fat birds are not fertile birds. Do NOT overfeed, do NOT use “as needed” gravity feeders.  If you feed once daily, there should be nothing or very little left from the previous day’s feeding. An exception to this rule is when parents are breeding and feeding, as they may make two or three trips to the feeder to fill up the youngsters and still need more for themselves, a task that can take more time and demand a twice a day feeding schedule from you. Enough food should be placed to make certain neither the parents or young are left hungry. It is acceptable to leave enough food for a week or so when on vacation without much risk of trouble; just be sure to use appropriate feeders and place them in such a way that contamination of feed is unlikely, and don’t use this technique as a means of routine management.

Many breeders experiment with a variety of seed sources or put out a number of individual bowls of feed and study their birds’ response to get a sense of their natural inclination toward a variety of seed sources, or simply allow them to choose the seed they seem to want the most. Others make their own mixes. What the birds want tends to vary at different times of the year. Feeding exactly the same all the time is not likely to be the best approach and may result in nutritional deficiency over time.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Trace Elements. Seraphim need access to minerals and trace elements, such as calcium, manganese, phosphate, and iron. In the wild, pigeons find their own sources; how they know what to eat to get them is unknown. In your loft, a good source of calcium is oyster shell; they’ll take what they need. Cuttle bone works well if you have just a few birds, but is too difficult to manage for large flocks. Grit can be obtained at any farm store. “Pick-Stone” is a natural clay that has trace elements in it that seems to be important for optimal fertility and can be obtained at pigeon specialty stores such as Foy’s and Spiegel’s. Vitamins may need to be provided constantly in low doses. Some breeders place drops in the water every other week. I prefer mixing “Pink Powder” vitamin and nutrient mix into the feed bag,  stirring it in thoroughly in the top six inches and repeating each time that zone of feed is used up. Clearly pigeons in the wild are picking up all sorts of trace elements from the ground and outdoor water sources; we don’t really know why they seek out what they do or how they figure it out. Birds kept in a building do not have this option, so we have to get as close to what nature would provide as possible.

David Coster

Members

Membership in The Seraphim Club International is free to Seraphim fanciers, owners, and breeders. To have your name and contact information listed, e-mail David Coster at cozmd@aol.com with the information you would like posted in the membership roster. You may put as much or as little contact information as you would like. Breeders who are most likely to have Seraphim for sale annually are listed in boldface italics. 
  • Allel, Anthony  aaallel1999@gmail.com   Bayside, NY
  • Birnschein, Don  dbirnschein@yahoo.com         Citrus Heights, CA
  • Brunette, Bruce  bruce.burnette55@yahoo.com     Brooksville, Florida
  • Codney, Walter    triplecloft@gmail.com              Council Bluffs, IA
  • Coster, David      Coz Lofts    cozmd@aol.com         641-236-5477                                             1333 Broad St.      Grinnell, IA 50112                                                                    website: www.cozlofts.wordpress.com
  • Delp, Rick   bransonmowoodman@suddenlink.net   417-337-2789                                225 Compton Ridge Rd.   Branson, MO 65616
  • Demuyter, Sebastien  seb2759@gmail.com   France
  • Ellis, Anya  (President)    seraphimpigeon@gmail.com
  • Guerzo, Pearlie     Neosho, WI   littlebeaksloft@yahoo.com
  • Gurino, Lou    Morriston ,Florida    lougurino@aol.com
  • Haukoos, Jane     sjhaukoos@gmail.com               Alden, MN
  • Khamo, Normen  Streamwood, IL  normen23@yahoo.com   http://www.nklofts.com
  • Lee, James  jameslee803@comcast.net  Ogden, Utah  801-782-1984
  • Luke, Ed    engedluke@aol.com   230 Chaparral Rd. Georgetown, TX  78628                   512-819-0017
  • Manzanilla, Jenan  “Jei Caz”   jenanmanzanilla@yahoo.com. The Phillipines.
  • Marr, Chris     chris.marr@cox.net  Hutchinson, KS 620-960-0427
  • McNeill, Mary Ann and Todd  tygermcneill@gmail.com    New Sharon, IA
  • Minar, Alea   aleaminar@gmail.com  Bend, Oregon
  • Orth, David          ddorth@sbcglobal.net                      620-755-6933                                              501 W. First          McPherson, KS. 67460
  • Smith, David       dsmithasb@aol.com               607-339-6663                                                        Ithaca, N.Y.
  • Walt Studte   wstudte@verizon.net   Milford, Delaware
  • Torres, David   dsbles312@yahoo.com Jacksonville, FL
  • Walsh, Tom   fancypigeon50@yahoo.com  Cossayuna, N.Y.  518-692-2577
  • Young, Harvey  jillsflowers@charter.net  800 Ruedin Ln, Godfrey, IL. 62035