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Light and dark (25-11-19)


I’ve been enjoying the last few days. It feels like spring. However, there wasn’t anything happening in the pigeon loft. The pigeons weren’t reacting to the pleasant temperatures. Why weren’t the cocks excited, cooing and calling the hens?

Why not? The days are too short. That changes in mid-February when the extended daylength becomes obvious. Mid-February may still be cold, but the pigeons want to pair. As the days lengthen, all of nature comes out of its long winter slumber. Birds begin to sing, calling their mates and start building nests. What can we deduce from this annual cycle?

“It’s not the temperatures but the extended periods of light or dark that affect the hormones of our pigeons and other living creatures. It affects the moult and the drive to reproduce.”

Quickly most of the pigeons are paired. Once, my pigeons paired up quickly without extended daylength. It did take them a day or two longer than average, but so what. That’s why I thought lights were not necessary. But I soon learned I was wrong. I now know that, if you’re going to pair in the middle of the winter, extending day length, that is lighting, in advance is a must. Longer days excite the hormones.

When should you start? About 10 days before pairing. I don’t believe in those expensive lamps, one sees advertised. By the way, as I get older, I have less and less trust in all those expensive advertised products. “Perhaps so,” I often think when I hear of something new again. Back to daylength, don’t leave the lights on a day longer than necessary, especially not for the racers. You wouldn’t be the first one to ruin an entire old bird season before it even begins. It’s best to turn off the lights when the pigeons are down on eggs, not from one day to the other. Leaving the light on until late in the evening and then suddenly shutting them down is asking for accidents. Pigeons will fly into the wrong box, resulting in fights and broken eggs. If you don’t intend to pair up until the beginning of February, you won’t need to add daylength. For more than a century, the classic pairing date for our racing pigeons was the 1st or 2nd of February. The days were long enough then and, lighting wasn’t necessary.


What about darkening? When, how many hours, and how long should the youngsters be darkened? In this aspect of the sport, the Dutch have 15 or more years of experience than the Belgians. At first, darkening was not taken too seriously there, but when they could no longer stop the moult with cortisone, the Belgians had no other choice but to follow their Dutch neighbours, so they also darkened.

I had to learn the system, by falling and getting up again, to the point where I managed to get them to not start the heavy moult till the week after our National Orleans. Winter youngsters (weaned the end of January) and not flown after the middle of August don’t have to be darkened.


Furthermore, many have made adjustments to the darkening system over the years. Few start to darken immediately, with youngsters weaned in January, you can wait till March.

The second and third rounds are different. You should be darkened as soon as they are weaned. That means a maximum of 10 hours light. The time of day, the 10 hours of light begin and end, makes no difference. Good to know for people who are bound to early or late work hours, for example.


How long you have to darken depends on when your young bird season starts and ends. If you stop in mid or the end of August, you can stop around June 1st, or even a little earlier. On the other hand, if you race well into September, especially the longer race, like the ‘nationals’ in Belgium, then you should stop darkening about a month later, say the end of June. A few days, more or less, makes no difference. After the curtains are lifted, it is fashionable to increase the daylength nowadays. I write ‘fashionable’ because I know several good fanciers who doubt whether it is as useful as it is supposed to be. Actually, you should compare extended daylength in one loft and normal daylength in another. Only then can a well-founded judgement be made.


By the way, there are still fanciers who race hard without darkening their young birds. Stickers Donkers especially. Mostly it’s the short distance fanciers who don’t. Their pigeons are raced weekly, sometimes even on Wednesdays, and that slows the moult.

Furthermore, these fanciers often fly to the nest and to small youngsters. Doing so keeps them in full feather for an extra month. If you race middle-distance or longer with your youngsters into the fall, you had better darken. If you don’t, you’ll be left in the dust of those who do.


For several years now the old birds have also been darkened. Again it blew over the borders of the Netherlands. As darkening the winter youngsters is not a necessity if you stop racing in mid-August, darkening old birds also makes no sense if they don’t fly into July or later. If you do then darken the old birds. It doesn’t have to be a long time, a week or six is enough. From the beginning of March to mid-April or from mid-March to the end of April.


Quite a few fanciers to-day fly total widowhood, that is both the cocks and the hens. What really stands out is that the hens are generally so much better than the cocks. For champions like Gaston v d Wouwer and Willy Daniel, that is reason enough to race only the hens. Fanciers who flew total widowhood and darkened felt that it has a counterproductive effect on the cocks. They didn’t perform as well when darkened, while it seemed the other way around with the hens.

Some race at the top with hens that sit in a dark box behind a curtain all day long. ‘Fieneke’ for Vervoort, one of the best pigeons that ever flew, was in the dark all day. She only saw daylight when she trained.


The above will not be new to the champions. But, this article is not intended for them, but for the vast majority. Among them, many who are not champions but want to be. They deserve attention. Because, if we lose them, the ordinary man, we lose the pigeon sport.