Fancy Breeds and Racing Homers
'Gemeinsame Wurzeln verbinden'
Painted for the 'Gartenlaube' about 1872.
Summary of the Speech held at August 8 at the VDT-Meeting in Berlin
Fancy and Homing Pigeons: Intersection of Interests
Besides the lineage of the rock pigeon racing homers and fancy
breeds have in common that by their very nature and behavior they
emanates a fascination that attracts people with a very different
background. Today the both groups are supervised by two different
organizations, one traditionally focused on the flight competition,
the other on competition at the exhibitions. Meanwhile the
boundaries between the two groups are becoming blurred. Today at the
shows in general and also at the great annual shows of the
Association of German Homing Pigeon Breeders racing homers may be
exhibited without any performance record. In January 2015 Dortmund
already 29% of the total racers shown had no racing record and
competed in extra classes rated at a point system according to the
standard. At the same time in the concurrent exhibition of fancy
breeds at the 'Revierschau' 23% of the exhibited pigeons were
assigned to the sub-group of fancy pigeons that are off-shots from
homing pigeons. They originated during the last century. Some of
them were ancient homer breeds or related to former homer breeds,
most of them were derived from the Belgian Racing Homer with
selection for different properties and outcrosses upon other breeds.
The high percentage for this sub-group at the 'Revierschau' is not
necessarily representative. At the National German Poultry Show 2014
in Leipzig there were only, or at least, 6% of the 19 000 pigeons
shown. There are regional differences, however, the tendency for
racing homer related breeds seems to be on the rise.
How close both groups have come together, is evident from the
The resolution of photos 1 and 2 is simple. They are excellent
working homers and concrete 1st Ace cock and 1. As hen at the
National Racing Homer Show in 2015 with outstanding flying records.
The pictures 3 to 5 may pose more problems. They were also exhibited
at the show of the Racing Homer Association, however in the beauty
section without proof of performance. They were judged according to
the identical standards as the racing pigeons, which you do not
necessarily look to them. The images 6 to 8 show in this order
Romanian, Polish and Belgian Exhibition Homers, today shown as fancy
There are many common roots between homers and fancy breeds to be
moved in this contribution more in the consciousness.
1. Many fanciers in both sections seem not to be aware that the
Belgian Racing Homer was created only about 200 years ago from
pigeon breeds that today are traditional fancy breeds. Anyone
familiar with the literature on this, will find that many,
well-known authors of the past have brought by unclean research
rather dark than light into the history. Several of the quoted
sources in this overview never before reached the awareness of
authors of pigeon books. In the traditional pigeon books we often
find the pattern that someone suspected something and the others
represent later as truth.
2. Many 'new' homer related fancy breeds have their roots in the
Belgian Racing Homer. Nature and type of pigeon (and the myth of
their performance) always attract lovers under its spell. Many
formerly active lovers has become too big the expense of flight
competitions. If they do not completely give up the pigeons, but
they select for beauty after own conceptions, the seed is placed
into a 'new' pigeon race.
3. The members of both organizations have in common the fascination
with the nature and appearance of the descendant of the rock pigeon. So are some of breeders of Racing Homers at the same time
breeders of fancy breeds and many of today's fancy pigeon breeders
once were active members of the Association of breeders of Racing
Homers. Organizationally this has been reflected in occasional
collaborations between associations, more than nothing, but that may
still be improved.
Ancient Carrier Pigeons
Even the rock pigeons had to have a good navigation and flight
ability to survive. Haag-Wackernagel
(1998, p.15) leads to observations in Sardinia, where populations of
rock pigeons had to fly regularly 14-20 km to the feeding grounds.
As descendants of the rock pigeons all flyable races can be used on
short distances as carrier pigeon. That was still the opinion of
Abul Fazl, rapporteur
on the pigeons of Akbar Khan about 1590.
Edmund Zurth (1948 )
reports on amazing home flight performance of fancy pigeons that
have been confirmed by tests in the United States in the postwar
period. Of great economic and military importance was the Arabian
pigeon post. By 1450 it comprised a route network of more than 2000
km with many stations between (Sell,
S. 2009, 16ff .).
Early descriptions of pigeons from the region by the Iraqis
Al Djahiz (776-869 BC)
tell us from harmoniously built pigeons, pigeons without noticeable
features (quoted by
Bel-Hajmahmoud, 1972). Also from later reports no specific
features as difference to the common pigeons were stated. In some
parts of the Arab world, it will have been ancestors of today long
beaked highfliers as is assumed by
Sabbagh (1805 ) and
Corbie in 1824.
In today's Turkey and neighboring regions the Turkish pigeon will
have been used as a messenger. That is also what was reported by
Willughby (1676, p.
181). The messenger or carrier he described was rather smaller than
a common pigeon, with a moderate length of beak, the eyes
encompassed about with a broad circle of naked tuberous, white,
furfuraceous skin, the upper chap of the bill covered above half way
from the head with a double crust. In Germany these pigeons were
described as Turkish Pigeons. In England they were used as Dragoon
and Horseman for transmission of messages (Tegetmeier
1871, p.44). Similar pigeons like the 'Baghdad Carrier ' were
described by Darwin
(1868) who obtained them from the neighboring Asian regions. The
English exhibition Carrier was never a messenger pigeon. The wrong
belief in that can be traced back to
Moore (1735) who
wanted to give this beloved breed an attractive legend.
Tegetmeier (1871) and
also Fulton (1876)
strongly but unsuccessfully opposed this story: "The application of
the name carrier to them is to be regretted, as you cannot visit a
show without hearing some one who is deceived by the name, speaking
of them as the true working carriers" (Tegetmeier
1871, p. 44).
Myths cannot simply erase. This is also demonstrated in the German
Book of Standards, where we find the erroneous statement that the
English Carrier was an
ancient messenger in the Near East and North Africa. Thus it should
not surprise anyone that also today's fanciers are not better
informed than at Tegetmeier's
Historical coincidences: The creation of the Belgian Racing Homer in
By historical coincidences the Belgian Homing Pigeon was not derived
from the Turkish Pigeon but from highfliers and owls. At the time of
the creation of an excellent Belgian Racing homer in Liege the
fancier had favorable conditions compared with other regions and
also with England.
1. In the mining region of Liege and in a second
stronghold of pigeon sport, Antwer¬p, long beaked highflier s and
owls were used for sporting competitions and for transmissions of
messages over short distances. In Antwerp 'Anversois' (the French
name derived from Antwerp) were used, highfliers in different
colors, e.g. white Cumulets. In Liege besides owls a white highflyer
variant of the 'Anversois' with reddish neck was prominent
2. It was not only sporting activities, but there was an urgent demand to transmit information even over longer distances, e.g. such as the drawing
of the lottery numbers in Paris (at that time Liege was part of France)
The terrain was not unfavorable for flights over longer distances in
Belgium and from France.
railway system was developed in Belgium in the 1830s and used for
early transports of pigeons to the starting points, making possible
cheap transport and further selection according to performance.
The pigeon flights were followed by the people with enthusiasm.
Winners were publicly flaunted. Pigeons were protected, while at the
time on everything that flew
was shot in England.
There was a public recognition by awarding diplomas to the winners
standing persons like the mayor, etc.
Flights were organized professional and associations were founded
early. At Liege the pigeon were accompanied on the railway by
a person who supplied them with food and water…
In the region of Liege thus many circumstances came together, and we
may consider it a historical accident that the fanciers at that time
raised owls and highfliers and not the descendants of the Turkish
pigeon as in England or Brussel. Otherwise another type of pigeons
with another background might have become the Belgian Racing Homer.
3: Pigeon Volant Cou Rouge Boitard/Corboié 1824, Owl Buffon 1772, Smerle or Belgian Homer at Tegetmeier 1871.
sources that confirm the role of owls and highfliers in Liege
In 1833 VERDOT published a lexicon 'Historiography de la Table'
(edited in Paris) that contains a reports on pigeons from Verviers
near Liege. According to the informant from Verviers the pigeons
used were owls like those discussed and shown in 1772 by BUFFON. The
local name in Verviers was 'Barbets'. Flights were already managed
before 1820 from Paris (300 km) in 3 hours, from London (about 430
km) in four hours and from Lyon (about 500 km). Such flights are
confirmed at other sources and were successfully repeated 1820-1829.
Thus e.g. according to a report in the Prague Newspaper November
1828 at Oldersgate Street in London at 4.34 in the morning 56
pigeons from Liege were started, the first arrived at Liege at
10.25, and most of the others were back by noon.
2. From a contest from Lyon to Verviers in 1823, the first 4 pigeons
were little black hens with short beaks and a frill (CHAPUIS, 1865,
p. 133). CHAPUIS, a doctor of medicine and born in Verviers near
Liege, wrote the first monograph on the Belgian Homing pigeon (Le
Pigeon voyageure Belge). The owl's frill still today appears in
racing homers and did not mind necessarily, but it was not
desirable, so that it more and more vanished by selection.
3. The Englishman EATON (1858, p. 112) describes one of his acquired
'Antwerps' as white Owl. The frill is mentioned as a feature of many
Belgian pigeons also by TEGETMEIER (1871) and later authors.
However, it can be assumed that EATON's 'owl' already constituted
intersections with the existing highfliers in the region Liege,
4. Liege Highfliers with red neck: The local nickname of these Liege
Highflyer was 'swallows' (Hirondelle) because of their rapid flight.
A hint in a Journal from 1822 let us know that similar pigeons were used at that time
commercially for communication between Maastricht and Liege (about
30 km). The pigeons have been trained and mastered the track in half
an hour. Hirondelle is also the name of the first pigeon breeders
association, which was founded in 1818 in a suburb of Liege.
had no direct information on the origin of the Liege breed, only
speculations. Since he could not imagine that the local breed could
arise from the intersection of owls and highflyer pigeons he
introduced the Camus as a possible ancestor. He and his
contemporaries had not seen the Camus since the breed had got
extinct for long. In old literature the breed sometimes is called
Polish Pigeon (Buffon
1772), according to Levi
(1969, p. 171) a degenerated Eastern carrier or barb, in the
terminology of (Spruijt
1964) 'Flat Nose Pigeon', German 'Plattnasentaube'. Since in
the 1820s the local Liege breed is described as rough owls such a
cross is rather improbable. The impact can at most have been very
low and, if, must have occurred much earlier. Nevertheless, this
vague speculation is reason enough that even today in almost any
writing the Camus it introduced as an important ancestors of the
Belgian Racing homer.
Ironically, the belief of
Chapuis that it is impossible to get pigeon in the Liege type
from owls and long beaked highfliers is wrong as is demonstrated by
the cross of a long beaked highflyer cock with an Old German Owl hen
that may be repeated by everybody. The young cock shown is
astonishing near to the Belgian Homing Pigeon or Smerle at
Also the flying style of tested crosses was like that of racing
homer whereas pure owls soon lose touch with the flock.
4: Long-Beaked Highflyer x Shield Owl, Smerle-like young
cock from that couple
Some remarks in respect to the terminology: For
Chapuis from Verviers
the local Liege and Verviers breed is identical with the Belgian
homing pigeon (1865). However, in the Flemish part of Belgium the
Liege pigeons were called Smerle because of the rapid flight. The
different terminology leads to confusion in the old and new literature.
Dissemination of Liege pigeons
Shortly after 1820, Liege pigeons had such a reputation that they
were in demand from other parts of Belgium and used to improve the
local homing pigeons (Chapuis
1964). They were crossed in Antwerp with the local 'Anversois' and
Cumulets, in Ghent with local Pouter-crosses, and in Brussels with
strains related to
the Turkish pigeon. Finally these crosses with the Liege pigeons
resulted in racing pigeons strains everywhere in Belgium not
inferior to the Liege Pigeons. Liege Pigeons initially were sold to
England as Smerle. Shortly thereafter all imported Belgian pigeons
in England got the name of the port of origin, 'Antwerps', also a
source for misunderstanding even in the current literature. The
diffusion of Liege pigeons corresponded initially a one-way street
from Liege into the world.
Through pictures in English pigeon books we get a visual impression
of the pigeons. The illustrated 'Antwerp' in
Eaton's book (1858)
comes in appearance like a highflyer, however, with the shorter beak
the owl background suspecting. The 'Antwerps' at
Tegetmeier in his book
from 1868 in the head points had preserved more the owls-type.
Fig. 5: Antwerps Eaton 1858,
Anwerps Tegetmeier 1868
The contribution of other pigeons besides owls and highflyers in the
creation of the Belgian Homing Pigeon is often overestimated. By
later crosses of Liege Homers with top racers from other regions
also pouters, the Turkish Pigeon and other breeds beeing present in
the ancestries of the strains of other regions will also have
contributed to the final Belgian Racer. In English literature we
also read about crosses of English homing pigeons with Antwerps (Tegetmeier
1871). However, we have to bear in mind the development in
England. The traditional carrier of messages in England was the
Dragoon and the related Horseman. And both already in 1850 were
almost completely replaced in England by Antwerps. Before
electricity was brought into operation,
Baron Rothschild e.g.
had a great quantity of pigeons for express work, and many of them
are reported to have been a cross between a Dragoon and Antwerp,
"but the majority were small blue Antwerps" (Tegetmeier
1871, p. 16). Also from the Natural History of Rev.
J.G. Wood (about 1862,
p. 585) we learn that at that time "the trainers preferring the
Belgian Bird, with its short beak, round head and broad shoulders",
from the description Liege Smerle. Thus, when we read about the
cross of Belgian birds with English Homers those most probably were
Antwerps raised in England, and Antwerps-Dragoon cross-breeds. Such
crosses could have happened even without the need to improve the
performance. They obviously were not necessary, before such crosses
could have happened Liege pigeons in 1862 managed distances of more
than 1000 km from St. Sebastien in Spain and 1868 from Rome. Thus,
the statements about the introduction of English homing pigeons with
Belgian Homers mainly will have done well the English soul. From
Tegetmeier (1871, p.
45) we know that still then some Englishmen felt hurt in their pride
by the replacement of their national Dragoons by Antwerps.
writes about first cross breeding of English pigeons in the Liege
around the time of the emergence of his book (1865), though not with
great success. But also also unsuccessful crossings will leave
traces in a breed. In Antwerp and Brussels that may have happened
1871 S. 54 ), whereby the temporarily slightly larger type of
Antwerp Racing Homers in the late 19th century could be explained.
After 1870, we can assume from the appearance of the Belgian Racing
homer in painting from that time and first photos after 1900
(Lavalle/Lietze 1905) that all Belgian regional strains mingled.
Thus also the Liege race lost its specifics and intermediate types
in regard to beak length, shape of the head, length of face and
wattle occured in all regions, and, moreover, sometimes in the same
Some spectacular misjudgments in the literature
The literature including highly respected sources on the emergence
of the Belgian pigeon is characterized by lack of evidence and
inconsistencies. So e.g. the statement of
Baldamus 1878 that the
plumage of the Liege pigeon is less suitable for continuous flight
(p. 259). It was these Liege race that formed the reputation of the
Belgian pigeon, already managed in 1810 flights from Paris and Lyon,
overcame distances of 300 and 530 km and later also from Rome. The
takes over the statement from
Baldamus (p. 36), but he is also an original when he writes
that Liege Homers because of their short beak are poor feeder and
that long beaked pigeons from Antwerp and other breeds have to be
uses as nurses.
Fig. 6: Flights from St. Sebastien Spain and Rome to Liege 1862 and
The beaks were not as short as he seems to suppose. And he should
have known it better since he was an outstanding painter of pigeons
and other animals and we owe him some excellent paintings also of
Liege Pigeons. In other sources the large number of juveniles is
highlighted, and Tegetmeier reported that he had used Smerle as
foster parents for other breeds (Tegetmeier
1871, p.77). The French history with
La Perre de Roo as an
influential author (1877, 1883) also does not bring much clarity.
Molecular genetics insight
Molecular genetic studies might become a source to get more reliable
information about the descent of breeds. Tested racing homers
genetically in a study of
Shapiro et. al (2012) had the least distance to a group of
feral pigeons in Utah. This had apparently build from lost racing
homers. The next were Tippler that according to
Levi (1969) are
descendants of the Cumulets. The owls originally used in Liege could
not be tested, however, Italian Owls considered in the study also
showed a relatively small distance, supporting the findings about
the origin of the Belgian Racing Homer.
Homer Related Fancy Breeds as Spin-offs from the Belgian Racing
Soon after having established the Belgian Racing Homer (in England
called the Flying Antwerp) in England and also in Germany some
fanciers began to breed the pigeons imported from Belgium for show
purpose. To quote Levi:
"First they were used for racing or working purpose only, and then,
as is instanced in so many other breeds, their owners felt the urge
to exhibit their star performers" (1969, ps. 43). In England they
first were entered as 'Homing Antwerps' and finally as a first
spin-off the Show Antwerp was established as a fancy breed with
emphasis on the owl type.
Fig. 7: Show and Flying Antwerp Fulton (1876), Show
Antwerp from a Show in the USA (Foto Layne Gardner),
Head of a Liege Homer, painting from Bungartz 1889.
A second wave followed in England with the Show Homer, Exhibition
Homer and Genuine Homer with emphasis on the highflyer type with
pearl eye and longer face, supported by outcrosses upon other
breeds. A third wave were the development of the German Beauty
Homer, the Netherland Beauty Homer, Giant Homer. Finally a fourth
wave was from the show type of the Belgian Racing Homer bred in
England to the Show Racer and the American Show Racers. Rumanian ice
colored Beauty Homers, Polish and Belgian Exhibition Homers and
others are in this tradition and hard to tell apart. A fifth wave
are the Show Racing Homer from America that appear like the early
form of the Show Racer and the German Beauty Homer, the working
homer shown as a fancy breed in the USA, and finally the new
Netherland Beauty Homer in the type of the working racing homer, but
also bred for beauty of color.
sequences of photos of
the breeds over the decades
shows that several new
are the early forms of some others. And if
a race does not move fast enough, they
will be overtaken by
how may be the case with
the Show Homer and the today American Show Racer.
Fig. 8: Show Racer 1953 (Levi 1969), Show Racer 1965 (Levi
1969), Show Racer from Germany 2013
Fig. 9: American Show Racer (Photo Layne Gardner), Show
Homer, Show Homer in the German 'Mustertaubenbuch', by
Finally, the owl type got interest again. Thus the Liege Barbet got
acceptance in the German Book of Standard some years ago. From the
phenotype today it is similar to the English Owl. The Show Antwerp
shown here in the short variety has become very rare and has his
traditional continental counterpart in the Liege Beauty Homer.
Some data on the organizations. Today experts speak of about 25,000
active breeders of Racing Homers. In 1960 they were more than
100,000 registered members and 60,000 who got the Association's
journal 'Die Brieftaube'. Today, after, the re-union, there are only
35,000 subscribers left.
The German Poultry organization is told to have about 180,000
members, about 21,000 of them are organized in the VDT. Both
sections of pigeon breeders have a long tradition. In Belgium the
first club of breeders of homers were build in 1818 in the Liege
suburb Amecour with the name L'Hirondelle, the first club in Aachen
still in 1843.
There are some fields where more co-operation could be possible,
with the growing interest of the racing homer fanciers to show their
pigeons, mainly in the organization of shows. The Revierschau is an
example where both groups benefit from external effects by
organizing together a great show for both sections. And that could
be possible also at the local level, e.g. by inviting mutually to
show pigeons in an affiliated section. There are, however, also many
internal problems to be solved. One of them is the definition of
racing homer and fancy breed, another one is the distinct separation
of different breeds, not only in the standard, but also in the show
pen. Another task of the central organization could be an
enlightenment of fanciers and their clubs about the position of
their breed in the race spectrum. Finally, to clearly separate
breeds from each other also quantitative measures in standards could
Prof. Dr. Axel Sell.,Potsdamer Str. 23, 28832 Achim, T. 04202-83685,
www.taubensell.de, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org