The cooling power of pigeons

Our feathered friends are great sportsbirds and we like to help them perform their best. But how to get an olympic performance out of your pigeons? That is the million dollar question. Cooling our pigeons might just be the answer.

We are always looking for ways to increase the performance of our pigeons and we like to share our thoughts with you. To increase the performance of our pigeons, we need to have a thorough understanding of their body. A new and interesting way we are exploring is how to utilize the cooling mechanism of a pigeon. 

The head’s cooling power

Pigeons primarily use their metabolic function to dissipate heat. Flapping their wings is only 25% effective to create movement. Once in the air, they will need less energy to keep flying, but in our pigeon racing sport, they still need to flap fast to create speed. As a result, 75% of the energy created by one flap is not effective for the flight, but turns into different forms of energy such as heat. It is no wonder that pigeons heat up fast.

Their body temperature rises up to an average of 43,2 degrees celsius during a sustainable flight and this heat is primarily dissipated via the metabolic function. But the head also plays an important role for cooling down. In 1994, Robert St-Laurent and Jacques LaRochelle from the University of Quebec (Canada) described how the pigeon’s head is important for cooling down the body. They found that the buccopharyngeal mucosa (the inside of the beak) is an important tool for pigeons to cool down. 

The importance of this insight is written down by Thomas and Robin in 1977: pigeons find cool and windy spots during their rest and they often open their beak to cool down faster and thus speed up their resting period. Thus: cooling down speeds up the recuperation process. That is already one important insight, but there is much more.

Pigeons are smart and they know how their bodies work. Therefore, they find ways to be efficient in their flight. Pigeons naturally find a tailwind that helps them move faster and easier. As you may know, the higher we get into the atmosphere, the cooler it becomes. To cool down, pigeons try to fly high and they open the beak during the flight to cool down. This also decreases airway resistance which makes them faster, according to Robert St-Laurent and Jacques LaRochelle. 

Why is cooling down important?

The pigeon’s temperature is important for its performance. With a high temperature, the metabolic function of a pigeon is able to produce more energy (if fueled with the right substance of course) and the pigeon can better sustain its output. Regulating the temperature is therefore vital for performance.

But, if a pigeon gets too warm, it stops performing. Arnfinn Aulie found that when a pigeon’s temperature increases to an average of 44,1 degrees celsius, which is around 3 degrees higher than normal, the pigeon stops flying. This occurs when a pigeon is flying too fast, when the surrounding is too warm or when there is too much resistance. 

Especially for marathon racers, keeping cool is important. But for sprinters as well, because they warm up much faster in order to exert an explosive performance.

The trade-off

There is a trade-off for cooling down. Pigeon’s do not have a high capacity for “transpiration” and they get weak if they lose humidity. Like humans, they have to retain their level of body fluids just right. Whereas humans use transpiration to cool down and then we drink a lot again, pigeons do not have that luxury, neither of cooling down nor the ability to drink a lot at once. 

By opening their beak, however, pigeons do lose some fluid. Dogs transpire through their tongue and they lose a lot of fluid that way. If pigeons do so, they become rather dry and they perform worse when their body fluid is not at the correct level. The cost of cooling down is that, especially for a long flight, a pigeon loses moist which decreases its capacity for making distance. The pigeon must find a correct balance to keep their performance up longer without overheating

The right fuel

We already mentioned the right fuel. With the right feed, we can help our pigeons stay healthy. If you eat fast food, you body functions will deteriorate. If you eat healthy, your body functions improve. The same goes for pigeons, so you have to give them great quality food. And there is more you can do.

Unfortunately, we still meet many pigeon fanciers that use antibiotics to protect their pigeons. Antibiotics are effective, but they are not healthy. They are medicinal fast food and have an impact on a pigeons metabolism and other body functions.

To increase performance, it is very important to consider what goes into your pigeon. Many of our clients have kept their pigeons antibiotics-free using our products. Furthermore, by making sure they receive the right supplements like vitamins and minerals, a pigeon’s metabolism can perform better and we can help them retain their fluids better.

But let us stay close to the topic of this article: cooling down. There are two things we need to account for. First, the pigeon must cool down and second, the pigeon must not lose too much fluid when cooling down.

We use S.A.S. nosedrops and Travi Bronco Spasm to protect pigeons against heatstress. It helps the pigeons to naturally regulate their temperature and stay cooler. As for the body fluids: a healthy diet is the most important. Frequently supplement the feed with additional vitamins and minerals, but don’t overdose.

The take-aways

If cooling down is an important way for pigeons to rest, then we must make this as efficient as possible. If losing fluid is the trade-off of cooling down using the buccopharyngeal mucosa, we must make sure the pigeon loses as little fluid as possible. 

If the correct fuel helps retain fluid and it improves the metabolic function, you kill the proverbial two birds with one stone. Although, in this case we hope the birds feel more alive than ever of course.

Therefore, there are two things important things you can do now, which we are doing successfully for quite some time now:

  1. You can keep pigeons antibiotic-free to prevent a negative impact on their metabolism;
  2. You can carefully consider what you put into your pigeon in terms of the feed, vitamins and minerals to improve the metabolic function and to help retain body fluids.

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