by K. D. Spurling [For PDF version Click Here]
The first thing to consider is that night time flight is not natural to pigeons and they must be introduced to the concept on a gradual basis at an early age.
So for example, let’s say that we have 20 squeakers that we are starting to fly. After they have been flying well for several weeks time, we begin to liberate them a little later in the day in a way that they will be landing at about dusk and for a week we fly them at a time that will have them land at dusk. If one begins to land early, we chase it back up with the flag until it is forced to land during the dusk. You will note that at first, during this dusk time flying that they will fly fast, low and very erratic simply because they are not comfortable flying at this time of day. After about a week of this, we begin flying them a little later, say 10 minutes later than prior so that the pigeons are forced to fly through dusk and land in the early twilight hour. We continue this for another week and of course pigeons which continue to try to land early are flagged back up. In the meantime, for Racing Homers (and also other breeds if you wish to fly them correctly), they should be road training during the morning hours from short distances of say, for Homers, if they are now 7-8 weeks old, they should be out 5 to 10 miles by then after going one mile, then two miles, then to five miles, 10 miles, 25 miles, 50 and so on as they mature. For other breeds, I would go in 1/2 mile, 1 mile, 2 miles, 5 miles and then top out at 10 miles. The purpose behind the road training is in case the birds are jostled by winds or that their landmarks are shrouded by nighttime fog and the kit strays miles from the loft to avoid major losses. On the third week, we are now landing in the full darkness of say one hour after sunset and by this time; any birds, which habitually land early, are terminated. At this stage, I’ll flag one up only once and that’s it. The next week we are liberating in full darkness and by this time, you will note that the birds are no longer erratic or fast flying in the darkness. On near full or full moon nights they will fly very evenly and quite high and this is a very serene, beautiful and nearly poetic.
Something should be said about the loft needs. It is the practice of most to use a lighted landing board to get the birds back in. The principle is this: the kit is trained to drop on a signal; a whistle, a shake of the feed can (my cousin use to beat on a trash can lid with an axe handle to drop his kit). So when you want them to drop, you make your usual signal and you also throw on the lights at that same moment. Eventually, they will grow accustomed to those lights and the moment they come on, they will immediately drop to the loft.
Personally, I am not a big believer in the lit up landing board because it is obscured so easily (I don’t use landing boards or traps anyway) and also, a simple light is easily mistaken for the landing board. A friend of mine used to use simple lights to drop them, but he had a street light set on a timer up the road and the pigeons would see it switch on and immediately drop onto the light post. What I use is a system that my mentor the late Al Krauss developed. This consists of a wooden box that is a 3-foot circle with enclosed sides. Three lights forming a triangle are mounted into this circular box and pointed skyward. These lights were made from headlight type spotlights and are quite powerful. Each light is mounted into a hole, inset slightly and over the top is a colored filter like used in theater spotlights. They are respectively blue, green and red in no particular arrangement. This system runs off a standard car battery or off electric (electric is cheaper, but I had the car battery portion installed when I was flying off a 3 story rooftop in NW Washington and I couldn’t get enough cord to reach the roof.) Once the power is activated, the lights kick on and the beams alone will extend a few hundred feet skyward and are visible to a kit even at relatively high altitudes. Since the birds are adjusted to these particular lights, there isn’t much of a chance of another light a few blocks over dropping them.