by Michael J Beat [For PDF version Click Here]
Untrained tipplers will appear frightened or nervous with approaching nightfall. However, with consistent and repeated steps flying them into the dark by bringing them down past dusk can be ingrained into the birds. After repeated efforts they will feel comfortable with the thought of flying past the loss of light. One key is to make sure to bring them down each time they practice fly. What helps the birds to continue is the expectation that it is “only a matter of time” before the lights come on and the safety-net of the droppers appear below them. This is enough for a kit to continue flying on into the dark.
Another factor that keeps the birds tranquil is their kitting. After dark, birds flying solo have a hard time seeing other birds flying if they are far in the distance. However, they sometimes will re-kit after splitting. This is a positive side effect of their kitting instinct as many split kits will begin “looking” for the rest often finding them in the vicinity of the loft. If the droppers do not show, individuals may continue to fly solo or they may have to be dropped before they pitch somewhere (“pitching” is the act of dropping to land). Hence while solo, there is a higher risk that a bird will drop nearby the loft due to the exaggerated fear that comes from being alone. Therefore one must be watchful during this time to make sure that if a solo flying bird decides to pitch that the signal can be given before he does it. On the other hand, sometimes when the others of the split kit reappear they re-join and are once again put back into the rhythm of a flying kit. No dropping signal at this point need be given.
Repeated flying at night is the best way to help the birds overcome their fears. Once a kit has reached darkness, it is best to never allow the kit to drop in the daytime. By so doing, this expectation of only being allowed to drop after dark will become a “standard” for them. It is not necessary to fly exceptionally long periods in the dark either. A team that flys a good 30 minutes of dense darkness (as opposed to twilight) and yet stays together as a kit, is well equipped to fly longer periods later. The important thing is to fly “some” period in the dark and to maintain control while doing so. If this control is not maintained, the birds will continue long after you’ve exasperatedly hit your pillow. But once a determined period of time has passed, say, 30 minutes to 45 minutes of really dark flying, the team may be dropped. If they still have some energy in them and the night is young, you may have to take a couple of hours to drop them. This would indicate that they were not brought under enough control with their feeding. Nevertheless, since the mistake was made, a dedicated flyer will keep trying to drop them until that last nervous and frightened bird makes it down to the loft-top.
At times it can be quite a daunting task to drop birds late at night when one must work the following morning. Nevertheless, a bird doesn’t wear a watch and didn’t realize that he flew over one hour past the dropping signal. Thus from the standpoint of the pigeon, it dropped appropriately. Hence, the best way to have control of such a bird is the repeated practice of dropping in the dark during practice sessions. Only then will the competition day bring acceptable results.
Knowing the amount of hours to fly based on the amount and quality of the food administered prior to attempting dark flying is an important key. If your birds are accustomed to flying 6 hours on the barley and wheat mix you are feeding with, then back up the release time about 5 1/2 hours before pitch blackness. However, don’t then expect the birds to pitch at 6 hours time. There is the realization that the fright factor and nervousness may easily cause the birds to fly another hour or longer in the dark. However, the important thing is to get them DOWN that night. If it takes 4 more hours, then keep working the droppers every time they pass over or “show”, until they do drop. Keeping to this regiment and allowing the birds feed and water after their fly is the best way to maintain a top-form kit of birds for competition day.
After repetitive exposure to night flying, a kit of tipplers will be ready for the all day competition and then some additional night flying. Only then will their nervous freight be turned into pleasurable routine flight.