Gerards Blog - 1. Identifying a Top Pigeon

Gerards Blog - 1. Identifying a Top Pigeon

If you're interested in pigeon racing or breeding, it is important to know what qualities a top pigeon must possess. Based on its characteristics you can see if a pigeon is in good shape and has added value to your loft. In this article, I explain what qualities pigeons must have to be of use in certain activities. I foremost focus on several kinds of races, but also breeding pigeons are discussed. Enjoy reading.

  1. The build

We can divide the different classes of races in: sprint (until 300 km), middle distance (300 - 500 km), one day long distance (500-800 km), overnight long distance (800-1000 km) and marathon long distance (more than 1000 km). In order to win at these distances, top pigeons need a perfect composure and strong muscles. There are big and small pigeons between the top pigeons. The weight and dimension of the pigeons can be different. In this article we will discuss the average build, forms and proportions. In general, most of the top pigeons have a pear-shaped build with the chest as basis. What makes the difference between a sprint pigeon and an endurance racer? The shape and the proportions. To make it easier, we present the ABC principle:

ABC principle

  1. depth (A), the least frequent build, only good for the sprint and middle distance pigeons. They feel sharper. You feel very clearly that the sternum is protruding.
  2. normal pear-shape (B), build in middle distance and one day long distance pigeons. These thicker-feeling muscles swell easier. Since you can feel the muscles next to the sternum swelling, the sternum is descended a bit.
  3. Spherical (C), build for sprint, middle and long distance pigeons. This build is the most frequent. The pigeons feel more spherical. The sternum is equal to the muscles.

The 2 rumps are below at the end of the sternum. These are the 2 bones that feel stub. These must be as close as possible to each other, preferably contiguous. They should feel firm and should not simply be pushed away. All the top pigeons that I have examined have these good rumps. The back and the tail together are also an important part of the build. Most top pigeons have a flat back. In most top level pigeons, the tail is mostly flat (horizontal), small for the eye, 1 tail feather and sometimes slightly pointing downwards. All examined top pigeons that I met, have their tail point downwards. All the discussed forms and characteristics have a perfect aerodynamic line “the aerodynamic shape of the pigeon”.

  1. The muscles

Now, a very important part of the racing pigeon are the muscles. Of all top pigeons that I met, I can honestly say that they all had a perfect musculature. They all have very smooth and vital muscles. The length varies from medium to long or even very long muscles. This actually indicates the distance capability.


  1. Sprint pigeons – short muscles and near to the sternum.
  2. Middle and one day long distance – half long muscles and having a little more distance from the sternum.
  3. Marathon long distance – very long smooth muscles with more distance from the sternum.

No marathon distance pigeons have short muscles. However, there are middle and one day long distance pigeons with long muscles. They can be very good in one day long distances, but only if they are properly trained. We can say that the main difference between short and long muscles is:

  1. A short muscle contains lots of explosive power;
  2. A longitudinal muscle has more endurance strength.

All Top Pigeons must have smooth to very smooth muscles, no matter the distance suitability for the pigeon! But also, of course, a good muscle condition is shown as shaking while having it in your hand.

For marathon pigeons, they reveal a huge energy output thanks to their special muscles. A muscle with a huge ability to accumulate energy feels smooth and a bit greasy. Barcelona pigeons have these characteristics. This energy output is only important for marathon pigeons that must continue to “hang” during the whole day, but this high power can also be beneficial to one day long distance pigeons. The feeling and examining of these muscles is very difficult to learn. There are only a few people who have this gift.

In practice: If you want to do an exercise or examine the muscles you work as follows. Pectoral muscle: Take your bird in your hand and keep the tail up, the back of the bird stays against your stomach. Now put your fingers along the sternum of the bird (picture 1). You make a somewhat lateral friction over the flesh and push the muscles to the outside. Repeat this movement several times. This way, you can feel the chest muscles and examine them. Nervous and trained pigeons feel a bit tight and hard, then you will have to repeat this procedure a few times. Push in the transverse direction. It is like rubbing an half-inflated inner tube of a bicycle tire!

  1. First feel pectoral

When you approved the chest muscles, you can judge the length & flexibility: let your fingers go from bottom to top (vertical) (see photo 2).Thus, you can feel at a certain moment some kind of voltage with the observed counter pressure. Then you feel the so-called semi-inflated inner tube of a bicycle tire. The longer you feel pressure from bottom to top, the longer the muscle is. The pigeons have short muscles if you feel that the muscle only goes along half the sternum, or stops even earlier. The muscle stops where the counter pressure stops. Those that have long muscles give a long counter pressure. Some even give pressure a bit beyond the sternum, these are the pigeons with very long muscles... the distance pigeons.

  1. Then judge the length and flexibility

Warning: do not think that the length of the sternum is equal to the length of the muscles! There are long distance pigeons with a shorter sternum and long muscles. And sprint champions which have a long sternum and muscles shorter than the sternum. Now you are able to examine the muscles and to determine the difference between the examined pigeons.

  1. The wings and feathers

All top pigeons I have had in my hands had soft feathers. They just slipped through my hands. This is also a characteristic of a top pigeon. Soft and greasy feathers. The fat content of the feathers is extremely important to create a hydrophobic effect. In addition, it is also important for the protection of the wings and for a smooth movement. Do you know the function of the greasy spot on the primary flight of the 8th and 9th primary? It ensures you that this greasy dust is distributed across other feathers while flying. These feathers remain fit and wear out less quickly.

Some heavier types of birds tend to have a thicker forearm than the lighter pigeons. That is logical because a heavier pigeon has to lift more weight. The length of this forearm has to be short. A pigeon with a short arm can “lift” easily. Think of the lever principle. You can test it yourself by putting your forefinger and middle finger on the forearm (under the wing). You feel a lump in the joint. Your index and middle finger should be just between their front arm und the upper arm. This is approximately 4 to 5 inches long. Now for the primary (active wing) and secondary flight feathers or rear (passive wing), most top pigeons have superb curves at the last four primaries. This is necessary for the simple fact that the primaries become weak and pull up in moisture. This makes the pigeon handicapped because he misses the power shovel. Think of the oar of a boot nicely bent.

Between the top pigeons, which have narrow primary feathers, are also pigeons with wider primary feathers. I personally like to see some space between the last 4 primaries for more ventilation. The carrier pigeon must row in the air. He does not need to float on the thermals of air. Therefore, short flight feathers or a long and active rear wing is needed. When the feathers are long, there is no speed in the rowing strikes of the wing. Basically, he flaps slower. We particularly look for an offset of 1.5 cm between the primary flight feathers and the first secondary feather when it comes to sprint pigeons. With distance pigeons, this difference is less. It is less important as well. For them, the flight feathers are stronger and more opaque. So they basically have a closer overlap. Pay in particular attention to the relationship between the length of the secondary and primaries (active flights) in each wing. They should always be in balance. The pins of the secondary feather are towards the body, are curved and have to overlap like roof tiles. Only then there is a proper closed position of the secondary feather. This means that no air can escape during the downward movement when flying. There is an optimal flight capacity created. You can test the secondary feather by yourself. Stretch the wings and put four fingers under the secondary feather (rear) and push the pins upwards. This should feel firm. You should not simply go through and puncture.

Another important characteristic: the shape of the wings. They follow the same principle as the convex (parabolic) shape of the wings of an airplane. The wind that blows against it will follow its path. Because of the longer path, the wind is at the upper side of the wing. The shorter path is at the lower side of the wing. That way, the wing gets more upward pressure. This is basic aerodynamics.


  1. The respiratory tract

This part is also extremely important and indispensable. If all the components described above are optimal but the respiratory system is not, the pigeon does not function optimally. The pigeon is as good as useless. All top pigeons I have examined have a perfect respiratory system. The colour of the throat and the tongue is light pink. The opening of the trachea is deep, slightly lower at the end of the tongue. This opening is the narrow gap of about 3 millimetres and should be easy to open. The longer the distance of the race is, the more important is a very fine and quiet respiratory system. The gap palate (cliff) of a top pigeon must have a very narrow opening. The respiratory tract must be clean and mucus-free to prevent obstruction of airflows. During exhalation, the air goes from the trachea through the gap palate and out through the nostrils. It is important that this composition is matched well together and a deep trachea opening makes it easy for a quick in-and-exhalation. Remember that all top pigeons have a perfect respiratory system, but we cannot say that all pigeons with a good respiratory system are top pigeons! It’s merely one indispensable element of the whole of defining characteristics.

  1. The eye

For many of you, the eye is the best part to examine. Who would not want to look at all the different colours with thick texture, stripes and spots etc. There are fanciers who call themselves judges of eyes. The eye-rating is at the top of their list. They think they are only able to select on this single characteristic. There are also those who have no interest in the eye or (do not want) to see the value of observing it. Then you have another group of people, who would like to look at the eye, but have no idea what they are looking for. Actually,  there are many differences among the top pigeons. The eye might be the most variable characteristic among top pigeons there is. This means that there is no clear standard for a top quality eye for a breeder and/or a racer. Below is a picture of an eye. Among pigeons, there is variation in the iris (3) and the exploration circle or oriëntation circle (2) (Possible orientation lies behind the latter, but that is not proven yet). We can use the eye as a mirror of the organism. You can read the health status of the pigeon very well. If a bird is sick, you can see it by the colour of the eyes. Usually it is pale when the pigeon is sick. The outer black ring (4) (vermeyerencircle) around the iris is less evident or even disappears. A large pupil will never appear at top pigeons. The pupil (1) should be preferably as small as possible. The iris of top pigeons is full of colour and it is grainy. It is like thick paint, as if the iris sticks out of the pupil. When the descendants of these top pigeons are very good in racing, we can conclude that this is important for the breeding culture: a very thick grainy iris structure. Of course this is not always the case. The father of a top pigeon can have an ordinary iris. But look at his mother. It is very likely that it does have the qualities of a beautiful thick iris. She passed the super performances to her youngsters. We may conclude that top pigeons usually have a thick iris, a small pupil and a slightly wider exploration circle around the pupil. The super breeders have a thicker iris, more colour and more often with black spots and dashes in the iris. The exploration circle is a little bit wider on super racers and usually anthracite instead of yellow or grey.

  1. Pupil
  2. Exploration circle
  3. Iris
  4. Outer black ring

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you want to learn more, apply for our newsletter. Browse around for more interesting articles and important events. And make sure to visit our shop if you want your pigeon(s) to be in the best shape possible.


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