by Gordon Hughes, Derby, England [For PDF version Click Here]
My father taught me at the age of ten that Tipplers must always alight on the loft after flying and never upon the rooftops. Otherwise that if they did not do this I should never be able to fly them a long time, and never be able to control them. I never liked killing pigeons, but I have witnessed the execution of hundreds by my father because they had made the mistake of dropping upon the house roof or wireless aerial.
Generally the dark flying rules go something like this – Dark is termed as being ten minutes after lighting up time, as can be ascertained from your local paper. The birds as a kit must be seen at least once very hour. If the birds split up after dark, only one hour is then allowed to induce the birds to alight on to the loft. The birds are termed as still being in a kit if they can all be seen at the same time regardless of how far they are flying apart. As you can imagine they would not have to be far apart in the dark, otherwise you would not be able to seem them all at the same time. If the birds split for the first time, then one hour only is allowed to get them in. You have no need to turn your lights on straight away. You may leave your birds flying in a split condition for as long as you wish, but bear in mind have only one hour, to induce the birds down after splitting, and if you were to risk everything by leaving them split for say fifty minutes, you would then only have the remaining ten minutes left to get them down if you had left them flying split for nearly one hour before putting the lights on and the dropper out.
Personally I generally put the lights on within a few minutes of the kit splitting especially if they are flying low. You know that “unity is strength” and whilst they are flying as a kit I always believe they are safe from anything that can befall them in the dark, but when they are split, I do not know how they feel, or if any particular one is feeling tired. I have never known this to happen, but I am always afraid when the kit is split, of one bird suddenly taking it into its head to make a dive for the shed. This would not be a bad thing in itself, but if the bird did this in the pitch dark, and missed the shed, and landed in the tall grass, which abounds around my loft, I may then not be able to find it, and consequently be disqualified.
Something happened to my kit when I was flying at Easter l960, which has always induced me, since then, to turn the lights on shortly after the birds split. I have become fed up with losing by the odd few minutes and so at this Easter I decided to let my kit go as long as possible. I left them thirty minutes flying split. The referee and I could see them quite well at a few minute intervals flying in a two and one formation. However, after they had been flying one and a half hours in the dark the odd one decided to fly very low and as he came over we saw him collide with an uncovered wire, and search as we liked we could not find the bird either on the roof or in the grass. Consequently I was disqualified, and when the results were known, I could have put my lights on twenty minutes earlier and won the National comfortably. So you can see it does not generally pay to leave your kit flying after they have split. Just one point I would like to make clear. If the birds split in the dark, you have only one hour to get them down, and should they get together again after they have first split, no extra time is allowed. They definitely have one hour only from the first split.
Now bear in mind the total number of hours spent by myself, and any other fancier who trains in the dark, also bear in mind that I flew cocks this year that I had been training for four years. You can imagine that I know now their every path of flight. I know their every movement in the dark. I know exactly which bird out of five, six or seven will alight first after the lights are put on. I know which bird will come last. When the birds split I know which one will come down immediately without any fuss, within seconds of the lights being put on. I would say that the birds will perform in all ways on competition days, exactly as they have been taught in training . . .
It has been suggested to me on odd occasions that for a pigeon to fly in the dark it must have been bred from birds that had been used to doing this over the years. It is not natural for pigeons to fly in the dark; therefore, I do not believe this theory. But I will say that if the parents of the pigeon flew successfully in the dark, then it is quite safe to say that the offspring will also do so. I think that the credentials for good dark flying Tipplers would be stamina, genuine easy flying capabilities and some inbreeding to give them nerve. Many of you must have had Tipplers which have flown many hours during the day, and then after their usual dropping time they have flown long into the night; consequently you have either lost them or you have enticed them down onto the loft the next day. These, in my opinion are the type to make good dark flyers. I do not mean these particular birds, as they would probably be of no further use for training to dark, after spending the night out; but I do mean the birds of the same strain, which must have not made this mistake.