Green males that are split for brown and dilute are called passe partout. This article explains that these splits occur in two distinct genetic configurations:in coupling and in repulsion. The utility of these stock birds for the color bred enthusiast is also explained.

An early ambition of the color bred canary fancier was to transfer the dilute gene from the agate, a green dilute, to the brown bird, thus producing an isabel1, a brown dilute. According to Mendel’s law of independent assortment this is impossible. Since both traits are sex linked it should not be possible to shuffle the genes to obtain the desired combination.

b brown
d dilute
+ Wild, Normal type

1) using a brown cock with an agate hen

b+ X +d
b+ y

this mating gives the following progeny:
50% b+ Green cocks/brown and dilute

50% b+ brown hens

Crossing the cocks from pairing one back to the mother (or any other agate hen) gives these results according to Mendel:

2) b+ X +d
+d y

25% b+ Green males/brown and dilute

25% b+ brown hens

25% +d agate males

25% +d agate hens

In theory it seems impossible to get the isabel bird. In practice pairing number two actually gives the following progeny:

(a) b+ Green males/brown and dilute

(b) b+ brown hens
(c) +d agate males

(d) +d agate hens

(e) ++ Green males/dilute

(f) ++ Green hens

(g) bd agate males/brown

(h) bd isabel hens

The birds of genotype (h) will be isabel hens, dilute browns. The birds of genotypes (e), (f), (g), and (h) are products of crossing over.

Why is there this gap between theory and practice?

These traits do not follow the law of independent assortment because they are not independent. They are both located on the same chromosome, in this case the x chromosome.

During the production of eggs and sperm homologous chromosomes, chromosome pairs, are located in close proximity to each other. Sometimes points of contact and breakage are formed. These discrete points are visible under magnification and are called chiasma. At these points single strands, chromatids, of each chromosome may break and switch chromosomes. This whole process is known as crossing over. Genes that are located on the same chromosome are said to be linked or in linkage. Crossing over implies linkage but linkage does not necessarily imply crossing over.

There are two plans by which linked traits may become involved in crossing over:in repulsion and in coupling. Genes are linked in coupling when both mutant factors are located on the same chromosome.

(1) b+ (2) bd
+d ++

Figure one symbolizes traits linked in repulsion. This is the genotype of the males from mating one. Clearly, our original example is of linkage in repulsion. Also, for the sex linked traits, only the male is able to produce gametes that are products of crossing over, since only the male possesses two x chromosomes.

The second formula represents linkage in coupling. Such a bird may be produced by mating a green male to an isabel hen.

(3) ++ X bd
++ y

50% ++ Green males/brown and dilute 50% ++ Green hens
bd y

The males are again green/brown and dilute but it must be noted that the genes are positioned differently on the chromosomes.

Crossing a male from mating three to an agate hen gives the following results:

(4) ++ X +d
bd y

(a) ++ Green males/dilute

(b) bd agate males/brown

(c) ++ Green hens

(d) bd isabel hens

(e) +d agate males

(f) +d agate hens

(g) b+ Green males/brown and dilute

(h) b+ brown hens

The genotypes listed as (e), (f), (g), and (h) are the products of crossing over. Since the isabel hens are here produced according to independent assortment, without crossing over, a higher percentage will probably be produced than in mating scheme number two.

Green males that are carriers of brown and dilute are known as passe partout. The original plan, that used by Mr. Helder, pioneer color bred canary fancier, for producing such birds, mating number one, yields passe partout in repulsion. Mating number three also gives us passe partout birds, but this time linked in coupling.

These passe partout are very valuable birds, for with them all four of the classical canary colors may be very economically produced. The four classical colors are Green, brown, isabel, and agate. Though these passe partout birds are important as stock birds, they are useless for show. Most of them have light beaks and pale legs. Many also show a brown suffusion in the feathers

The observant reader may have noted that I failed to give percentages when discussing any pairing that involved crossing over. In these cases the percentages can not be computed theoretically. The probability of crossing over and the implied frequencies of the progeny may only be inferred from breeding results. The closer the two linked genes are located the less likely is the chance of breakage and the consequent crossover. Genes located at a relatively great distance apart have a much greater likelihood of crossing over.

This probability is expressed as a percentage and varies, for different traits, from 0% to 50%. The probability of crossing over for any two specific traits, as it is a function of the location of the genes, is nearly constant. To calculate thus figure it is necessary to cross a heterozygote for the traits with a homozygote. The following formula may then be applied:


Without having any exact figures available, as an educated guess, we amy assume that the progeny that are not the result of crossing over are more likely to appear than those that are due to crossing over. Remember, crossing over, though predictable, is the result of a microscopic accident. It can at best, as a limit, only equal the frequency of independent assortment. It is most often less likely.

What all this means is that in matings (2) and (4) progeny (a), (b), (c), and (d) are more likely to be produced than (e), (f), (g), and (h). If your intention is to produce isabel hens, use passe partout derived from a Green X isabel, a passe partout in coupling. If you want to rear agate hens, use a passe partout derived from a brown X agate, a passe partout in repulsion.

As far as I know, the percentage of crossing over is unknown for any of the traits in the canary. The fancier may make a real contribution to science by keeping good records and performing the appropriate calculation. Thus we will be better able to produce the exact phenotype that we desire.


The Australian Painted Finch(Emblema picta) is a perfect subject for cage or aviary. Colorful, easy to sex, easy to feed, peaceful, good parents, possesing outgoing personalities what more could be asked! Though not exactly a song bird, compared to the other finches from down under, they even have a pleasant voice. The only drawback is, for some unkown reason, the Painted Finch is not always easy to obtain. Perhaps if more people ask the shops to order this bird, more will become available.

Beautiful, yet not gaudy, the male Painted Finch has a bright red face mask and considerable red on the chest. The hen lacks the red of the face and the scarlet color of the chest is much reduced. In some cases it may be absent entirely. The white spots are much more evident in the hen than in the male. Juveniles, before the first molt, are similar to the hen.

The Painted Finch comes from a particularly arid section of Australia. All birds in the United States are captive bred, for Australia has not allowed exports for many years. In the wild state, this bird lives among a thorny bush called the spinifex. The long beak is nature’s way of ensuring that this finch may feed in the midst of the plant spines without being harmed.

Many of the habits in captivity relate to the environment of its ancestors. Generally dry, the terrain is occasionally drenched by rains. The plants rapidly develop and seed during these wet times. The increased supply of seeds gives the birds a chance to breed and feed their nestlings.

The nest itself is built in the spinifex bush. This plant protects it from predators. To keep the eggs and young from being impaled by the thorns, the nest is constructed in two stages. A sturdy platform of charcoal, clumps of grass, small rocks, bark, pieces of wood, and anything else available is put on top of the thorns. The male does all the heavy labor of hauling material for the nest. The charcoal is important. It stimulates the Painted Finch to go to nest and should be provided. The more familiar sort of bird nest is woven out of hair, feathers, and grass right on top of the platform.

If given the opportunity, they will perform similar feats of engineering skill in an aviary. Of course a planted flight would be best. Dead christmas trees, without any fake snow, tinsel, or anything else artificial, can be put in the flight. These, though not attractive to our eyes, require no care and are loved by the birds. Various arrangements are possible, on the ground, attached to the wire, or standing up. The Painted Finch often nests about three feet from the ground, but may prefer another location. Dense jungles are not needed. The Painted Finch is not shy and enjoys showing off in open areas.

If an elaborate setup is not possible or desired, the finches will accept `bare bones’ accommodations. The regular finch nest boxes or wicker nests may be used. It is helpful, and more attractive, to cover these with twigs. For tight quarters, pairs may be set up in large cages. Though much smaller than a canary, these are active birds that insist on room.

The hen normally lays four or five eggs. The incubation period is thirteen days, counted from the next to last egg.

In the wild, as the rains are unpredictable, there is no nesting season. If kept under artificial lights, the birds will nest on and off all year long. Under natural light, they will probably not nest during the Winter. This is a hardy bird, but should be brought inside if temperatures will be below fifty degrees for any length of time. If kept in indoor cages, normal room temperature should be provided.

Personality is a definite plus here. Painted Finches don’t squabble or fight. They don’t attack the newly fledged young. They get along with other small birds. The only problem will be if the other birds abuse the peaceful Painteds.

Feeding is very simple. Any of the good vitamin, mineral, and protein enriched finch mixes will be very well accepted. Millet sprays and fresh greens are well taken. Health grit and cuttlebone supply much needed calcium. A nestling food is a must as a protein supplement. Mealworms are relished and are a requirement during nesting.

The Painted Finch is a good parent, as long as it is supplied with mealworms to feed its young. No foster parents are required.

The drinking water is full of minerals in Australia. A good vitamin and mineral supplement should be added to the water, to ensure optimum health. The birds love clean bath water.

Why don’t we see more of these birds? Can you figure it out?

Calcium compounds for birds

Used to make mineral blocks, calcium carbonate, is a valuable source of calcium. One recipe is given by Scoble in the Complete Book of the Budgerigar:
10 parts grit
2 parts bonemeal
3 parts ground charcoal
1 part ground rock salt
1 part ground cuttle bone
Add three parts of the above mixture to one part calcium carbonate. Add enough water to the completely mixed dry ingredients to form a thick paste. Place in trays or paper cups and allow to set. A wire or clip should be placed in the mix before it sets. The block might take up to 21 days to set.

Calcium gluconate has been used by breeders to cure and prevent egg binding in the laying hen and calcium deficiencies in chicks. Hens that seem to have trouble laying are given a small quantity in the water. Calcium gluconate also may be added to the nestling mix.

Calcium propionate is a very useful substance for all aviculturists. It is a preservative and is added as one level teaspoon to one pound of dry ingredients of nestling or hand rearing foods. Calcium propionate may also be used on fruits, vegetables, sprouts and soaked seeds. Some have reported that foods treated with calcium propionate do not spoil as quickly in hot and humid weather. It also can be used in the nectar and broth solutions for lories and hummingbirds.

Calcium propionate is used when sprouting seed. Calcium propionate will retard the growth of molds. Add 1 teaspoon of calcium propionate to 1 1/2 gallons of tap water. Add 3 pounds of seed. Allow the seeds to soak for 24 hours. Rinse with regular tap water and drain completely. Rinse with tap water and drain every 24 hours until the seeds sprout. The temperature must be at least 65 degrees for seeds to germinate properly.

USA Canaryculture in the ’80s

Canary culture, though not very common through out the country, is pursued by true fanciers. For the truly obsessed enthusiast, his life is molded to fit the needs of his singing charges. For a very rough estimate of the number of canary breeders in the United States we may take the circulation of The American Cage Bird Magazine: 15,000.

Most keep about 100 birds though larger studs are not unusual. Some keep 1000 adult breeders. Feeding and watering is done using individual dishes that are cleaned daily. Breeding hens and adult males are kept in individual cages. Other birds are maintained in flights.

Color Bred canaries, the new mutations, are raised to a high standard in the United States. U.S. color bred birds are equal to any in the world. Clear red birds are the most popular followed by the other red series birds. Recessive white birds are also much sought after. Yellow series melanin birds are the least popular.

The red series birds are fed a mix of Canthaxanthin and Beta-Carotene to maximize color. An equal blend of the two chemicals is most often used. One teaspoon of the dry mix is added to one half gallon of water.

Type canaries were long raised by a very small group of “old timers.” About two years ago that began to change. The large contingent of color bred canary enthusiasts took up the type birds in a big way. Yorkshires and Glosters are very well represented here both in quantity and quality. Norwich Canaries are very popular, but the quality lags far behind England. Borders are the most popular type
canaries. Even the smallest local show will be well represented with this breed. Breeders here, as in England, are constantly arguing about size. Also as in England, some have mistakenly introduced Norwich blood in an attempt to increase head size.

Very few keep the Fife Fancy, the miniature Border.

Frills have made great strides in the last few years. Before that only mongrel frills were seen. Now most exhibited are of one of the recognized Frill breeds The most popular are the Parisian Frill and the Dutch Frills.

Posture canaries, with the exception of the Gibber Italicus, are in a sorry state. I have never seen a pure Belgian. The Scotch Fancy is only bred by one fancier to my knowledge. The Gibber Italicus is in the hands of a small but very knowledgeable set of breeders.

Rollers are not shown with the other varieties. Though high quality rollers are being bred in the United States, the total number is very small. These fanciers have little or no contact with other canary breeders.

The most popular single breed of canary in the United States is the American Singer, Canary. This variety was developed by a group of Boston fanciers in the mid 1930s. They wished to combine the pleasing song of the Roller with the more free and vigorous performance of the Border.

They also hoped to improve upon the Roller type. The overall intention was to create a Canary that would appeal to the average American pet buyer.

The American Singer is the only breed that any fancier can produce from scratch. These birds are a blend of 68% Roller and 32% Border. The novice may obtain initial American Singer stock from an established fancier or he may breed his own unique strain. The American Singer club has a standard four year plan of pairings to yield this variety.

American Singers may not be over 5 3/4 inches in length. The type is a modified version of the Border. The same Basic form and stance is required but the head is not as large.

The song is also 68% Roller and 32% Border. More than six chops in a row disqualifies a bird from competition. In a search for variety many American Singer exhibitors have used Belgian Waterslagers as tutors.

American Singers are seen in Green, Blue Cinnamon, Silver Fawn, Yellow, White, and Variegated versions, There is also a separate grouping of Red Factor American Singers. These birds can not be color fed.

The self and variegated forms at one time outnumbered the clears. At the inception of the breed most Rollers were Green selfs. With the rather recent importation of clear Rollers, the clear form of the American Singer has become very popular. This is in keeping with the history of the breed, for the American pet market prefers clear birds.

Though many American Singers are sold as pets, the primary interest of the enthusiast is exhibition.

# # #

Lighting for aviculture

The chance to see our beloved feathered pets displaying their dazzling plumage is one of the best reasons to keep birds! In order to enjoy this experience to the fullest, one must give some thought to proper lighting.

The best source of light will always be the sun. Natural sunlight is made up of various wave–lengths. If this light is allowed to pass through a prism, the light will be broken down into all the colors of the rainbow. Since sunlight contains all colors, this form of light makes things appear as attractive as possible. Walking about town, take a moment to observe the common pigeons basking in the sun. Note how even with these drab, gray birds, the sun can make colors sparkle in the feathering! Sunlight also contains two important ‘colors’ that can’t be seen by the human eye: ultraviolet and infra¬red.

Ultraviolet light is necessary for the production of vitamin D. An overabundance of this light can cause burning, as most of us have personally observed at the beach! Even without a burn as a warning, too much ultraviolet light can cause cancer. Some bird-breeders attest that the lack of ultraviolet light will cause a preponderance of female birds to be hatched. This has yet to be proved by controlled experiments. Infra-red light produces a great amount of heat.

Our birdrooms and aviarys should have as much sunshine as possible. This is usually not enough for good illumination. Only those living in the most balmy and mild climes can constantly allow the outside in. Letting the sun shine right in will also let in the cold, rain, vermin, and disease. In most of the so-called civilized world it will also let in thieves and vandals. Our neighbors might not enjoy the constant chatter and squawking that the birds emit. In more tropical areas, shade – protection from the sun – is important to insure health and comfort.

Often the layouts of our homes severely limits the amount of sunshine available. Older homes, particularly in the northern United States, often contain few windows. Pollution is so bad in many areas that little sunlight makes it through the haze and smog. Our schedules often limit our access to natural light. Winters, it is dark long before most bird keepers get home from work. Basement birdrooms generally have no sunlight at all.

For all these reasons artificial light is a must for the conscientious bird enthusiast. Incandescent lighting, the regular ‘screw-in’ bulbs, is not very good. This sort of light is not energy efficient, burning up a lot of electricity to produce a little light. Colors are not accurately displayed with most incandescent bulbs. Full spectrum fluorescent bulbs are the only serious choice. These fixtures produce a tremendous quantity of light for the amount of electric used. Colors are brought out to a degree never before thought possible.

It is important to use a full spectrum bulb, one designed to be used with living things. Regular house bulbs are either basically blue or red. These bulbs will not let you appreciate the true beauty of the birds. A full spectrum bulb may seem more expensive, but it is money well spent. Ordinary fluorescent bulbs begin to wear out almost immediately. Even though they continue to more or less work, the amount of light produced, the intensity, drops off very quickly. Full spectrum bulbs are designed much better. These bulbs continue to work as good as new for nearly their whole life span.

An important number to learn is the average life of the bulb, which is measured in hours. The serious hobbyist will try to figure out how many months of use the average life will give. Replace the bulb at that time. Even though it may still glow, it will not be working properly. Your pet shop will be happy to guide you in the selection and use of these wonderful products.

The number of hours of light is as important as the kind of light. To breed nearly any kind of bird, strict attention must be paid to the lighting schedule. Birds not breeding should be getting from eight to ten hours of light each day. To bring the birds into breeding condition, gradually bring the numbers of hours of light to sixteen or seventeen per day. This should be done by using a timer on the light fixtures. The timer will be advanced a half hour or one hour per week. Using a computer, one year I raised the lights up by a few minutes each day; there were no special benefits to this action. From between twelve to fourteen hours of light each day, the birds will show a desire to breed. Now, it is best to keep the males and female separate. At this point they may have the desire to mate, but the males might still not be able to fertilize eggs. At fifteen hours of light each day, put the males and females together. Keep going to at least sixteen hours of light each day. I go to seventeen, for I feel that this gives the birds an extra hour to feed the young and still gives them enough time to sleep.

How you add the light is not important. The number of hours can be increased in the A.M. or P.M. This is strictly up to you. It is also possible to bring seasonal breeders, canaries for example, into breeding condition any time of the year.

The biology of birds uses other cues besides light to trigger breeding, though for most species it is all that is necessary. Some, especially the amazon parrots, will also need the temperature of the bird room to be raised a few degrees and frequent showers. This convinces the birds that spring has arrived in the aviary!

It is a good idea to set a low wattage bulb on a separate timer to go on a hour before the fluorescent bulbs go off. A red incandescent bulb is great for this. This signals the birds that the main lights will soon be out, allowing them an hour to eat and to get back to their nests or perches. The red bulb should be left on all night as a night light. A night light gives the birds the chance to see if something startles them in the night. It will also prevent the shock of the bright lights going on all at once.

After several nests of young have been raised, begin to lower the lights, the reverse of how they were increased. Soon the whole flock will start to molt. This is natural and not a cause for concern. Just be sure that the birds’ diet contains sufficient protein to allow the feathers to be replaced. Keep lowering the lights until eight or ten hours is achieved. For years I kept my birds on eight hours of light per day, outside of the breeding season. last year I switched to ten. This amount of light is low enough to give the birds’ system an opportunity to rest – but it gives me two more hours to enjoy my pets!

# # #


Infra-red lamps can be used as supplemental heat for flights, though you must be careful. Make sure that the birds can’t get right at the bulb, for they will be burned! Also require that the manufacturer state that no teflon is used in the bulbs. Many infra-red bulbs are now coated with teflon to prevent breakage. When the teflon becomes hot a gas poisonous to birds is produced – with fatal results! If proper bulbs can be found, position the beam of light in one comer of the flight. If the birds require the extra warmth, they will seek it out. They must be able to also get away from it, for you don’t want to cook your pets! Infra¬red fixtures must be installed by an electrician. With an infra-red heat lamp I was able to keep and breed Lady Gouldians, notorious lovers of heat, in a forty degree display.

# # #

Turning down the lights can affect the mood of a female bird, but opposite to what might be expected. If a single house pet is laying eggs, it is best to start covering the cage so that the bird has just ten hours of light a day. Constant egg laying drains a bird’s system and can kill. The lack of light will slow a bird down that is running on high because of hormones! Diminished light can also help if a male pet becomes overly aggressive because of the breeding season.

Keeping Cockatiels

The cockatiel is a perfect pet bird. A hand-raised youngster quickly becomes attached to its owner. The males very easily learn to whistle tunes and can even be taught to talk. Cockatiels are easy to breed in either cages or aviaries. They are a great choice for anyone that would like to go into business raising birds. There is always a ready market for tame babies. Originally from Australia, many thousands are reared worldwide as pets. Cockatiels are also exhib-ited as a show bird.

The cockatiel occurs in five well established color varieties. Some of these mutations also cause changes in eye color. Many other color variants have been re-ported. Some of these are new mutations being established by pioneering breeders. Others are simply combinations of pre-existing varieties or are imaginative names used in sales pitches.

The normal cockatiel is slate grey, reminiscent of a common pigeon. This is the form that exists in the wilds of Australia. A yellow suffusion covers the entire bird. This yellow is especially prominent in the head and crest of the male bird. Youngsters and hens have horizontal bars going down the tail.

The pretty Lutino is the best known cockatiel mutation. The Lutino cockatiel is right behind the budgie as far as popularity is concerned. The Lutino cockatiel is a white bird with variable yellow coloring. The yellow is here the same as the suffusion in the normal, but in the normal much of the yellow is hidden by the grey pig¬mentation. Lutinos have red eyes. Though not as easy as in the Greys, the sex of the Lutinos can be told through the color. If you look closely, the bars can still be barely made out in the tails of the hens. The males also again have more yellow in the head.

Lutinos are sometimes described as Albinos. This is not a good practice, for the true Albino is a different variety.

In the Cinnamon the grey of a normal bird is replaced by a deep brown. The exact shade is variable. The color of the male is often darker than the hen’s in the Cinnamon.

The Pearl cockatiel has the outer edges of most of the feathers colored, the insides of the plumage being white. This produces a scalloped appearance. A poorly colored specimen might seem to be a normal bird with a few white feathers. The better birds show only a fine penciling of color on the border of each feather.

The Pearl color form is regularly only seen in adult hens. Males Pearls can be produced, but, as adults, they molt out into the
normal Grey will color. Sometimes they keep a few white flecked or shaded feathers. Adult males masking Pearl may be discerned by examining the tail feathers at the quill.

A amount of yellow will be discovered in this area. Pearls are particularly attractive in the Cinnamon color variety.

Pied cockatiels are very popular. Here random patches of color are lost. No two pieds look exactly alike. Some have only a stray white feather or two, others are so light that they may be mistaken for Lutinos. Most fanciers prefer birds that are evenly mottled. Pieds can not be sexed by the color of the tail feathers. Surprisingly enough, male cockatiels that are both Pearl and Pied, don’t lose the Pearl markings as they mature.

The White-Faced cockatiel, also known as the Charcoal, shows no yel-low or orange coloring. The White-Faced color is most interesting when combined with the Lutino. This blend gives us the true Albino, a pure white bird with red eyes.

Whatever the color, all cockatiels make great pets and require the same care. If you want a tame bird, get a baby that is being hand fed. If you can’t handle the bird at the time of the sale, don’t expect to be able to play with it at all. Even though all cockatiels are bred in captivity, if the birds are not worked with at an early age, they become independent and wild. No matter how much you try, a rough bird will resent being touched and will let you know it by biting. Only the males whistle and talk. Unfortunately, gender can’t be distinguished when cockatiels are babies. A hand fed female will be a tame pet.

cocktails are very easy to feed. A vitamin, mineral, and protein enriched seed or pellet mix is the backbone of the cockatiel diet. Health grit and cuttlebone or mineral block must always be available. Spray millet, egg sticks, honey sticks, and fruit sticks are great as treats. Small amounts of fresh greens, carrot, apple, scrambled egg, corn, or whole wheat bread can be given to round out the diet. Vitamins are mixed with the water to make sure that the nutrition is complete in every way.

If your cockatiel is taken out often for play and exercise the cage only has to be big enough for the bird to flap its wings. If the bird is kept in the cage all the time, a cage thirty-six inches by eighteen inches is the smallest that can be used. No matter what, the cage can never be too big. Make sure that your bird can’t stick its head out through the bars. If something scares the bird, it will jerk its head back and get stuck. In a panic, the bird will keep pulling until it breaks its neck or chokes itself to death. For this reason, large parakeet cages are better for cockatiels than small parrot cages.

The opposite holds true for toys. The cockatiel has a much stronger beak than a budgie. Plastic keet toys will quickly be destroyed. By swallowing the plastic, your cockatiel might harm itself. Use only hard vinyl, acrylic, wood, metal or lava rock toys for a cockatiel.
Temperature is not really important. Anything that is comfortable for you will be fine for your cockatiel. Do be sure that the bird is not kept in a draft. Remember, in the summer, a draft from a fan or an air-conditioner can make any bird very sick.

To be certain that the cockatiel is getting proper rest it is a good idea to cover the cage from dusk to dawn. Interrupting the sleep of any bird is a bad practice but especially harmful for cockatiels. These birds are subject to night frights, and can gravely injure themselves by getting upset and panicking during the night. A cage cover and a small night light can be a great help in preventing this problem.

The Birdmen of Hudson County

Pigeon Racing - The Fading Glory of a Waterfront Sport - Gold Coast - 10/13/88

Keeping the Sport of Pigeon Racing Alive Along the Gold Coast

Pigeon Racing: The Fading Glory of a Waterfront Sport

Photos by Bob Foster

By Toni Giovanetti

Gold Coast – 10/13/88

Years ago, when On the Waterfront was filmed in Hoboken, the manly art of keeping homing pigeons was captured forever on celluloid. In it, Marlon Brando, as Terry Mulloy, gently tended pigeons atop his dreary tenement house.

Hoboken then was a classic pigeon racing town. Now it is a nostalgic pigeon racing town.

At the turn of the century, it was the perfect environment for Eastern European-style pigeon racing. The pairing of a large immigrant population with agricultural roots and the architectural trend toward flat roofs set the scene for rooftop pigeons lofts to flourish.

As time goes by, immigrants’ sons, grandsons and great grandsons grow distant from their heritage. They are moving away from the melting pot neighborhoods and have little interest in tenuous ties to nature. They don’t have the time or money or interest in spending hours each day training, feeding and cleaning up after the birds.

Pigeon racers readily admit they are a dying breed. The Hudson County Homing Pigeon Club has seen its number of racing lofts dwindle from a high of 60 to about 15 in recent years. The club membership is higher,- but most of those members, no longer race birds. They help organize club events and hang around on race nights, socializing. So the club survives on the bond between the men and tradition.

Flocking Together

Kenny Williams’s pigeon coop is atop the roof of a Jersey City establishment known as Harbor Casino. The neighborhood bar is his home away from home. That’s where he sees his friends and tends to the only hobby he has ever had.

Each day around 6 p.m., Williams goes through the bar, out a door in the back, through an inner courtyard and up two rickety ladders to get to his birds. He flies them, waters them and then feeds them. He shares the rooftop “loft” with another flier who has a coop there because he can’t keep pigeons where he lives.

In the past five years, many of the men have been banding together, two or three of them sharing lofts on a roof. It’s an alternative for some who have moved out of the area and can’t keep the birds because of the zoning laws where they now live. Others have moved into condominiums and have nowhere to put their birds. And some need to share their coops because they’re getting too old to do all of the caretaking of the pigeons by themselves.

On a windy day as the sun sets in a fiery orange ball, he leads a visitor up to the roof, warning that he has a habit of swearing at the birds to do his bidding.

A woman moved in upstairs and she opened the window one day and asked me who I was fighting with. I’m not fighting with anyone, I’m talking to my pigeons,” Williams says, looking at the window.

Walking over to the coop, he chases off a cat trying to snare a bird by poking its paw through the chicken wire. The birds are making nervous cooing noises.

Like most of the fliers, Williams, 72, has been keeping pigeons since lie was a young boy. His first coop was in an outhouse. Since then he’s shared roofs with several other fliers.
“When I was a kid, my parents always knew where I was. It kept me off the street. Most of my friends were into raising pigeons, too,” Williams says. “I think it’s the best hobby in the world.”

He built the coop he’s using now about four years ago, “just before Colgate announced their phase-out.” Williams, who worked in the factory, recently retired from his job. Unmarried, he divides his time between girlfriends, his drinking buddies and the “boids.”

Pigeon Racing - The Fading Glory of a Waterfront Sport - Gold Coast - 10/13/88

Cristobal Rivera with a homing pigeon.
The name of his loft is God’s Pigeons.

He opens up the coop and walks in, chasing most of the young birds into one of the open-air wire runs from which they will be released. The older birds remain on the other side of the coop, watching in a kind of dignified way, blinking and hopping as more birds flap into
the run. All of the birds are handsomely colored grays and blues, some having mixed markings of white feathers in the tails and
green feathers on the throat.

Behind the coop in the distance, the Statue of Liberty is clearly visible. From the east side of the roof, the World Trade Center towers gleam from across the Hudson River. Enormous swallow-like kites swoop and dive in the wind next to the river and sailboats ply their way just yards from cruise boats. When Williams is up on the roof, it’s just him and his pigeons.

“OK, whenever you’re ready, guys and girls,” Williams says, opening the fronts of the cages. The birds fly out en masse, though a few, still. spooked, stay behind. Williams. waving his arms around, scares them up.

As seagulls flop by in the distance, the pigeons fly graceful figure eights overhead in an aerial ballet. Williams watches them and his expression changes from irritation to bliss.

Williams knows his birds well and calls his favorites by name. He recalls the fate of one of his best racers, Marissa. Someone sent him a letter with two bands enclosed. The bird was found dead by the Jersey Turnpike and the letter writer traced it back to him through the bands. Apparently the pigeon had flown into a telephone wire. Most racers know all of their birds, whether they have “40 or 400,” he says.

“You’re dedicated to them. If you think a fisherman’s wife has problems, then you haven’t met the wife of a husband who flies homers … I keep all of my records on who’s the mother and who’s the father of each bird when they’re mated together. And you need to know who’s a. good pigeon and who’s a bad pigeon.”

Unlike “street rats,” or wild pigeons, the birds are more or less pedigreed, many of them having blood-lines that lead from pure¬bred Belgian birds, recognized as the finest in the world. Fliers pay -any¬where from $500 to $2,000 per bird in auctions for the best of the breeds. Some fliers follow old superstitions in picking their racers by looking at the “eye signs.” Depending on the way the eyes are colored or the darkness and size of colorings around the pupils, they decide which birds to sell or cull from their young birds and which to keep.

The birds fly around in a flock formation for about half an hour, their wings rustling in the wind as they swoop by, lower and lower as Williams calls for them.

Pigeon Racing - The Fading Glory of a Waterfront Sport - Gold Coast - 10/13/88

Danny Siebert handles a prize pigeon.

“C’mon guys, let’s go,” Williams yells. “Chop! Chop!”
A few birds begin drifting down, fluttering onto the roof of the coop. Using a long stick, Williams taps on the roof and gets them to go into an entrance perch near the top of the coop. He continues to do this until the last five birds finally drift down at dusk.
“Ya bums, it’s about time,” he growls.

The Hudson County Homing Pigeon Club headquarters in Hoboken was built around 1937 by club owners, using mostly donated materials and donated skills. The sturdy brick shot¬gun-style building sits among empty lots, on the edge of a high-rise development in Hoboken at 358 Newark Ave.

The club formed some time before then, probably in the years following World War I when members of the 1917-founded Pigeon Service of U.S. Army Signal Corps returned home. The Service’s headquarters were in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Several current members trained messenger pigeons in the service during World War II.

On Friday nights during racing seasons, Tom Boccardo. president of the club, and his brother Frank, secretary/treasurer, generally come in the office before 7 p.m. to set everything up for registering the pigeons. A coffee pot is usually placed on a table near the door, doughnuts or alongside.

Behind the registration table, carrying basket crates are put in place with little blackboard slates attached to each. The males and females are placed in separate crates marked “Cocks” or “Hens.” Tallies are made of the number of pigeons put in each crate until they reach their 25-bird limit.

Frank. perpetually puffing on a cigar. sets up a ledger for the task of writing down the name of the racer. his birds’ band numbers, the loft from which the bird is flying and other information.
During the night of a New Jersey Concourse Association 300-mile Futurity Race in mid-September, George Woertz of Lyndhurst is among the first to stroll in carrying about a dozen birds in a portable case. The con-course, a coalition of 13 local clubs, benefits from the annual race from which registration costs go toward the upkeep of a truck used to ship the birds to racing sites.

Woertz goes through the routine of giving Frank the necessary information and taking his birds out one by one to have their qualifying leg bands checked and to be “counter marked” with a numbered rubber band and put in a shipping crate.

When all of the birds are marked and transferred, Woertz walks into another room carrying his racing clock for Tom to check it and set it, or “knock” it off, and then seal it so the time couldn’t be altered. Woertz fills out a registration form and takes it to the race secretary’s window where Mike Bonisisio of Staten Island adds up the entry’ fee, the shipping costs and a club charge. Depending on the race and the number of birds entered, the fee for just entering can come to as much as $60 or more.

After the business of the evening is over, Woertz settles into a table and talks to the other fliers and club members who sit at tables ribbing each other about their birds. wives and jobs. Some peer at the pink-hued screen of an old TV airing a baseball game. As the numbers of men come in after work or after registering birds in races held by neigh-boring clubs, the room fills with cigar, pipe and cigarette smoke and the sound of men greeting each other, talking and laughing.

Clocking The Years

It’s a busy night for Tom, Frank and Bonisisio — 1,676 birds from 151 lofts are entered by the time the last entry is taken, around 10:30. Nights like this are unusual, says Bonisisio, 71, a flier for the past 53 years.

Pigeon Racing - The Fading Glory of a Waterfront Sport - Gold Coast - 10/13/88

The registration table for a 300 mile race.

“This has been the biggest club for years and we used to run the biggest races. Now?” he says shaking his head. “The young people aren’t interested.” He has grown daughters and a son. None of them took up pigeon racing. The story is the same among the most of the older men.

Midst the gray-haired men, Carl Czaplicki is the lone youthful pigeon racer from the area — and he belongs to the North Hudson club. A 19-year-old Pace University student from Jersey City, he had been helping his grandfather with his pigeons from age 6. When his grandfather died three years ago, he stuck with it, joining in the Cerbo/Manzo Loft in the North Hudson Club.

“Once you’re in it, it’s hard to get out of it.” Czapicki says. “It’s rough coming home from work (at a service station) and taking care of pigeons. A lot of kids I know have birds, but they don’t race them. They either don’t know about it or they don’t have the time to train them. It’s a lot of work. It teaches you a lot of responsibility.”

Larry Bolger 41, of Bayonne, is a father of five, ranging in age from 18 to 24. He has one married son interested in becoming a partner with him. The others still help in taking care of the birds.
“Most young guys don’t stick with it,” Bolger says. “It’s expensive and if he doesn’t win right away, he quits. “You know how kids are — they want everything on a silver platter.’

Vinnie Torre, 41, of Hoboken, remembers how he used to hang out with a neighbor at the club when he was about 10. He has been racing pigeons for 25 years, and has a reputation for consistently winning.
“They used to call me `Vinnie the Kid,’ ” he recalls.

“Now they call him ‘Salt and Pepper,’ ” jokes Bill Bianchi of North Bergen.

That night, the birds are loaded onto a trailer truck and driven to Charlottesville, Virginia. At 7 a.m., the birds are released. The fliers wait at their lofts for hours, straining to see their birds flying in. Once the birds begin to arrive, they clock them as quickly as possible. Within three hours of the first bird’s arrival, they must arrive back at the club¬house to have their clocks checked and the results tallied.

Aside from sacrificing entire Saturdays. the arrival of the birds is considered by many of the racers to be the most exciting part of racing, — unless something goes wrong.

Joe Coletta of Middletown, the “liberator” of the birds, says he gets blamed when the birds are late.

“It’s frustrating because you’ll wait there for two hours for that one minute when the bird comes in and you clock it,- says Coletta, a Jersey City native.

Some men have waited for hours for birds that never arrived because they were sick, lost, attacked by a hawk or otherwise killed. During a recent race, one of the fliers watched a bird fly toward the landing `board,” only to fly up to a telephone wire and sit there for an hour. Needless to say, he lost the race.

The rewards for winning are trophies, plaques and pride. And, for many a small cash award gained through quiet wagers. But the love of’ the sport is the best compensation, fliers say.

‘There’s many a wedding I’ve missed and many a party I’ve missed waiting for pigeons to come in because you can’t leave until they do,” says Steve Lemanowicz of Bayonne, a Hudson County Deputy Sheriff.

Like most fliers’ wives, Lemanowicz’s is under standing about his bird habit, even though there are times when it disrupts fam-ily life. She knew of his affinity for pigeons when she married him — he had been a member of the Pigeon Sig-nal Corps during World War 11. When the corps head-quarters were disbanded at Fort Monmouth in 1957, she went there to buy some pigeons at bargain prices and give them to him.

“She was the 150th person in line and when they got to her they said, ‘Sorry, no more pigeons.’ She began Prying and told them her husband was a disabled veteran and she wanted to bring him an egg or something. So they gave her an egg and she held it in her hands to keep it warm and brought it home. We put it in a pigeon nest in the coop. It was band number 9313, 1 flew that bird for five years and it came in second and third in many races. I had it for seven years.”

Pigeon Racing - The Fading Glory of a Waterfront Sport - Gold Coast - 10/13/88

John DeSane of Bayonne

A Transported Sport

Pigeon racing began in Belgium around 1815, and it remains a national sport there, according to Jerseyan Jack Kligerman in the 1978 book, A Fancy for Pigeons. Kligerman, who recently returned to the United States after a year of study in China (where pigeons are regaining popularity) began his re¬search on the origins of the sport in a roundabout way —he went to Hoboken.

He wrote in his book about an auction of Belgian birds at the Hudson County club, where he made contact with some buyers who led him to other sources in Belgium. He traveled there to do further research. The Lehman College professor has studied pigeons in ancient and modern cultures, and he finds something to be true about the fliers in all of them.

“It’s mostly men who do it and it gives them a sense of community and fellowship,” Kligerman says. “My sense is of being male in America is that life is so work-oriented and family oriented, that it’s hard to develop human relationships, especially among men. The clubs and joint activities were really some¬thing very nourishing for them. They don’t have a lot of clubs like women do.”

In Belgium, it is a sport that bridges the upper and lower classes and even by-passes language boundaries, Kligerman writes in the book. Upper class gentry built large dovecotes —brick and stone houses for their birds.

In Hoboken and else-where around Manhattan, pigeon racing has primarily been a lower-to-middle class sport, Kligerman says. Or as one Hoboken racer put it, “Pigeons are the poor man’s race horse.” But there was at least one local exception.

Dr. Edgar Burke, once chief surgeon at Jersey City Medical Center, lived on top of the surgical building in a penthouse suite, and he kept pigeon coops there in the 1940s. The Holland native’s affinity for homing pigeons was immortalized in a photo in a book that is something of the bible on the birds, The Pigeon by Wendell M. Levi.
“He was a pigeon breeder and racer and was extremely successful at it,” recalls Dr. Roy Morrow, chief of surgery at Christ Hospital in Jersey City. He had trained under the late Dr. Burke. “He was an extremely intelligent person and gung ho about whatever he did — he was a hunter of ducks, an accomplished painter of wild flowers, he tied fishing flies and was something of an amateur archaeologist.”

Dr. Kenneth Judy, a retired surgeon who also worked with Burke recalls that Burke bred the birds for the pleasure of racing them and had a number of trophies and awards for racing as well as showing fancy pi¬geons in competition.

While Burke enjoyed the sport of pigeon racing, the blue collar racers seem to find their greatest satisfaction in the companionship of belonging to the clubs.

In Hudson County, the members gather at the club year-round, even when racing season is over, to play cards and talk. Instead of stag movies, they show “liberation” films of birds being released from trucks. They pass around battered magazines with pigeons adorning the covers. They send flowers to the families of members who die. They hold memorial races for members long gone. Most of them have known each other since they were children and their children know their children. They’re family.

Winging The Future

Frank Casella’s reputation for having a winning way with homers is enshrined on the walls of the pigeon club. Photos of pigeons are featured in four framed certificates for winning the 300-mile One-Bird Derby. His brother Marty, owner of Casella’s Restaurant in Hoboken, shares some of the titles with him in a race the Hudson County club has been famous for in flier circles. Entrants from all over the New York area and Connecticut enter their single chosen pigeon in hopes of winning.

This year Casella, 73, is racing birds in what will likely be his last season.

The semi-retired book-keeper says taking care of the birds has gotten to be too much for him, especially since his arthritis has been acting up. Besides, he needs to fix the roof of the building where his loft is located at First and Jackson streets, and it doesn’t seem worth it.

“I think I’m going to have to give it up for awhile,” Casella says wistfully. “I’d like to go to Florida and spend some time, maybe go to the dog races.”

“Moe” Cenimo, 75, of Bayonne, is active in the club as vice president and also is secretary/treasurer for the New Jersey Con-course Association. He’s won his share of races in the past 52 years, but he had to give up the sport. The retired mechanical machinist is still recovering from a heart by-pass operation and other ailments.
Tom Boccardo has been a member of the club since 1943, and president off and on for more than 25 years. He tried to retire from the club, but after his wife died eight years ago, his brother and friends urged him to come back and keep the club together. He hasn’t had birds for years, since he moved to North Arlington — the zoning laws are too strict.

“I would ride in the car and see the homers flying and wish I could fly them again,” he says. “But I just can’t go through the hassle of getting a permit.”

Even when neighbors don’t complain about the birds, starting a coop from scratch costs too much for most young people to make a go of it, the fliers say.

The birds generally cost hundreds of dollars apiece. Feed costs about $10 per 50-pound bag, which lasts only about two weeks for an average loft. Inoculating and worming the birds is an annual expense. Entering the birds in races can cost hundreds of dollars each year, not to mention the expense of transporting them a few hundred miles away, as most fliers do. for racing practice.

Despite the expense, some motivated fliers find a way to race pigeons.

Cristobal Rivera, a member of the Perth Amboy Club, says he began racing birds in 1983. The Spanish-speaking Rivera was recently laid off from his job at a cardboard box factory, but he still scrapes by enough to care for his 50 pigeons.

“I named the loft God’s Pigeons because they are beautiful birds he made and they belong to him,” Rivera says the night he enters the One-Bird Derby. He keeps his pigeons in a pick-up truck with a trailer outfitted as a loft.

But even with enthusiasts like Rivera, Prof. Kligerman considers pigeon racing a sport doomed by changes in society.

“I think it is a sport that is getting lost as we become more affluent with greater mobility,” Kligerman says. “You can’t take a long vacation if you have pigeons — someone who knows how to handle them must take care of them.”

Ten years ago when he wrote his book, Kligerman believes he recorded the end of the glory days of pigeon racing in America.
“I felt then I was writing about a group of people who were interesting and quirky, but vanishing.”

Pigeon Racing - The Fading Glory of a Waterfront Sport - Gold Coast - 10/13/88

Club members register for the One-Bird Derby.

# # #



In a typical race. a few hundred pigeons are loaded on a truck. driven from 100 to 300 miles away, and released or “liberated” from specially built crates that are opened magnetically. The birds fly out and race each other home. Each of the home lofts are handicapped according to their distance from the liberation point. The distances are scientifically calculated using a U.S. government formula for airline distances in miles and decimals.


Each year in the spring. old birds are raced. in April through June and an auction of birds entered in special band races takes place after the season. Each fall, young birds hatched from the spring are raced from August through October. Some fliers prefer the fall because the birds are untried and unpredictable. Others prefer racing the old birds because they are more experienced.

Pigeon Racing - The Fading Glory of a Waterfront Sport - Gold Coast - 10/13/88

Edward Belbo of Bayonne transfers a “marked” pigeon into a crate.


The first step is to mark the pigeons for the day’s race. Using a metal contraption mounted on a table. the fliers release an outstretched numbered rubber band onto each bird’s leg. Metal bands qualifying the birds for club or association races must be purchased and placed on the young bird’s leg by the time they are six to 10 days old —before their legs have grown too big.

Secondly, fliers set or “knock off” their special racing clocks every quarter hour. The clocks are all synchronized with a wall clock in the club so the return times for the birds will be accurate. After the clocks are set, a club official checks the time and its interior chambers before wiring it shut and sealing the wire. If the seal has been tampered with, the flier is disqualified from the race. The complicated system prevents cheating.

Pigeon Racing - The Fading Glory of a Waterfront Sport - Gold Coast - 10/13/88

Tom Boccardo seals racing clocks for the One-Bird Derby


To time a bird after it returns to the home loft, fliers retrieve the rubber band from its leg, put it in an aluminum capsule and drop the capsule into a slot in the racing clock. Then they turn a key and stamp the time in hours, minutes and seconds on a ribbon of paper inside. The key also turns a. metal disk that holding the capsule. It revolves and clicks an empty chamber into place under the slot — resetting it for the return of another bird. Rushing to stamp the time is critical because races are often won by a matter of seconds. That’s why instead of saving “Good Luck.” to each other before a race, fliers say “Get a good time.”

# # #

Cooped Up By Strict Laws

Gentrification and pigeon racing don’t mix, say Hudson County fliers, who are finding it more demanding to keep a. coop as the old neighborhoods change, They say their new upscale neighbors are more apt to complain about the birds.

in Jersey City, there has been a law since 1930 requiring licensing of fowl that was never enforced until Last year when the health department began getting complaints, says Louis Manzo, director. The city council decided to increase the annual permit cost from $1. to $25 to cover inspection expenses.

To keep a coop, pigeon owners are supposed to have a petition favoring them from the neighbors, in a square block area and keep the birds at least 25 feet from surrounding homes. They are limited to 50 birds and required to keep the cages clean.

“So far we’ve issued a grand total of one,” Manzo says.

For all intents and purposes, the department doesn’t pursue pigeon keepers who don’t buy permits. Manzo says most of the complaints have been about neighbors who keep street pigeons as pets or chickens and ducks in their yards.

In Hoboken, the law is similar, though it requires pigeon keepers to place their coops 50 feet away from habitations. The health department received one com-plaint in 1983, but the owner of the loft wasn’t cited.

“As far as we were concerned. the coop was very clean and better than the areas where wild pigeons are,” says Pat Mitten, health officer.

The owner’s petition was in his favor, also.
— Toni Giovanetti


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Sarah Woolley studies the parallels between the brains of humans and songbirds.

Sarah Wooley's Columbia Neuroscience Lab studies how the encoding of songs by neurons and circuits in the songbird brain is related to perception and behavior.

Sarah Wooley’s Columbia Neuroscience Lab studies how the encoding of songs by neurons and circuits in the songbird brain is related to perception and behavior.

At Columbia University, Sarah Woolley, studies the parallels between the brains of humans and songbirds – specifically, in their use of language or song.
Click HERE for the WNYC text and multimedia.

“Songbirds, like humans, have the rare ability to learn complex vocalization—what we call ‘song,’” explains Woolley. “This makes them very important for studying vocal communication and auditory perception.”
Click HERE for the Record text and Columbia video.

Songbirds, Both Human and Avian, in Spotlight at Café Science
Click HERE to access the Columbia text and the WNYC audio.