The Loft Nanny

July 18, 2017
Judy and Gary Berthiaume

Judy and Gary Berthiaume – Gypsy Lofts

By Gary Berthiaume
Gypsy Lofts

We call her, “Sassy.” She’s a petite, white Satinette pigeon that wandered into our loft one summer some eleven years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. She was covered in oil, dehydrated, and emaciated. She wore no identifying bands and was missing her tail feathers, a sure sign she had encountered a hawk recently. She let me pick her up so I knew she must have had an owner once, one that apparently treated her kindly to let me handle her as I did. I separated her into an individual breeding section and did my best to clean the oil off but it would take a full body molt that summer to bring back her beautiful white color. She devoured the food and water placed in her cage and spent the next few days just recovering from whatever ordeal drove her to an oil pool thinking she had found water and then, somehow, on to our loft.

Pigeons are amazing creatures aren’t they? The longer I’m around them the more fascinated I am with their abilities, and not just their ability to home from hundreds of miles away or their unwavering devotion to their loft and mate, but their almost mystic ability to communicate with one another. Sassy is a case in point. Once recovered, she quickly settled into the general population and loft routines and I was able to let her out to exercise with the others and she always returned. Happily, she had found a new home and we were just as happy she had decided to stay. Her gentle nature seemed to have a calming effect on the others and her pretty white plumage was a nice contrast to a loft full of blues and the occasional red pigeon that made up our loft.

But it was during the breeding season that we began to notice something different about Sassy and the way she communicated with the other birds that made us wonder how pigeons communicate in general. Sometimes we’d let her choose a mate and sit some plastic eggs for a while and she seemed quite content with that experience. But at other times she wouldn’t mate and on those occasions she could be found becoming chummy with a mated pair, chummy to the point that they would let her in the nest and even take a turn sitting the eggs or a turn keeping the newly hatched babies warm! This year, Sassy joined up with our newest breeding pair, a gift pair that had been in an individual breeding compartment and just recently moved to the main loft. This pair had not been exposed to the general population so that made Sassy’s choice and their acceptance even more unusual. How did she let them know she’d be willing to take a shift on the eggs or with the youngsters and how did they show they were willing to do that? But as you can see in the photos, Sassy took her turn with these week old youngsters, first waiting for the cock to finish his allotted time before she took over and then back on the babies as the red mother took her bath. Crazy stuff!


How can that be? We’ve all had the experience of breaking up a fight between two cocks, or even two hens, when a bird inadvertently enters the wrong nest box or a bully decides he wants two boxes and then we hear all hell break loose. So how, then, does this happen? What transpires in the communication process among some pigeons that would convince them to allow a third party, a nanny if you will, to share the parenting duties without any hassle at all? Amazing! Simply amazing and it’s been fun to watch.

Something’s going on here that we clearly don’t understand and that demands a moment of reflection on our part as to why we value our pigeons. Or maybe we have the only example of this kind of symbiotic relationship in the entire history of the pigeon world. If so, sign us up quick with, “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” At any rate, though, pigeons are incredible living organisms, regardless of their ability to carry messages or bring us, their owners, notoriety for achievements in a pigeon race. Wouldn’t it be great to be privy to their network of communication and to really get to understand them, not so much as a means to enjoying a hobby, but as getting to know another species we’re privileged to share this planet with? Wow, mind boggling for sure.

Well, thanks to Sassy we’re looking at our birds differently and we’re developing a greater appreciation for our feathered friends. Something to think about, right?

Postscript: Hold the Presses! Are You Kidding Me!

Here I’m about to hit the send button to get this short article to The Loft Report for publishing when yet another amazing pigeon lands in my backyard. “Amanda,” was a replacement entry I sent to Jon and Matt Han’s, Gold Country Challenge, a superbly run one- loft race that Judy and I heartily recommend by the way. Jon called me the first week of June and said the last of our six entries this year was missing and could I send a replacement. Well, Gypsy Lofts keeps a really small roster of breeders and just sends a few birds out each year so, no, we didn’t really have one. But wait! We still had the nest mate, a sister to an entry we sent to the race in mid- February. But surely it was too old to resettle. It hadn’t been trained here but it had loft flown. But Jon, always the optimist, said, “Let me try and settle that bird. I’ve had good luck resettling older birds.”

Amanda, home from the hills!

Amanda, home from the hills!

So we sent Amanda and it arrived in Garden Valley June 6 and went directly into 10 days of quarantine and then joined the last group of young birds arriving for the race or as similar replacements in their own section, away from those already loft flying. This group could get out on the landing board and into the aviaries but not outside until Jon thinks they’re ready to make that first journey skyward. I called Jon this morning and he said his records show that Amanda probably got out yesterday for the first time, the day before at the earliest, so when I sent him the picture of her sitting on top of the individual breeding pen she was born in, over 323 miles south of Garden Valley, he was as amazed as I and sent that picture to Matt at work who couldn’t believe it either.

Incredible, incredible creatures! What a hobby and what a privilege to work with such absolutely amazing animals. And make no mistake; Amanda has a home for the rest of her natural life!!





#pigeon #homingpigeon #racingpigeon #duif #tauben #鸽子 #Paloma

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