Swallows’ Tails and Pigeons
Swallowtail and pigeons, which are discussed in this article.
Recently, various scientific studies dealing with particular aspects of the aerodynamics of flight have been published.
The reader may be surprised that there is a scientific curiosity for such questions. But when you learn that these studies are subsidized by the aeronautical industry, you immediately suspect that these studies lead to practical applications. Many of these studies relate to the tails of common swallows (but similar findings have been made for other birds). The tail is in motion during flight: its spread and position relative to the body are constantly changing in order to maintain stability. Thus the spreading is important when the flight speed is low. Without a tail, flight is difficult since there is danger of somersaulting. During the artificial lengthening of the tail, the stability increases but also the energy consumption. You have to think that the tail creates during the flight an upward force (lift) which is more important than gravity. When the tail is larger, this force ratio is modified to the disadvantage of the lift. At the same time the maneuvers become more difficult which creates a real handicap. However, this is not always the case.
Careful observations of swallows in flight (using high-speed cameras and film) and in ventilated tunnels have shown that different types of tail elongation have different effects on energy consumption. . Thus the long forked tails, whose elongation was limited to the outermost tail feathers (which is the case of the common swallow), are optimal from the aerodynamic point of view: they provide a gain of energy because the force of lift increases faster than the force of gravity. Reading these data brings back memories related to my results with the youngsters.
For understanding, especially for young readers, I remind you that my teammate (J. De Raedt) and I were active pigeon fanciers from 1955 to 1975.
At weaning, the young pigeons left my breeding loft for my friend’s racing lofts.
Breeders were still mated at the beginning of February (Candlemas). So not precocious youngsters but spring youngsters born at the beginning of March and to which were added a few more youngsters from the second round. Each year, about fifty young people left for De Raedt’s mini dovecote: 2 m high, 1.5 m wide and 3 m deep (a volume of 9m3). By classical standards this is three times too much. There was good ventilation (but no draft), due to the fact that the windows were left open day and night.
With us, there was no question of separation of the sexes, nor of artificial lighting or darkness, nor of substances slowing down the progress of the moult (the latter did not yet exist), no matings with old males or old females. Perhaps our youngsters found motivation in jealousy and the defense of their planchette. For the vaccination against poquettes and for the preventive treatments against coccidiosis and trichomoniasis, we let things take their course. From time to time it happened that pairs formed and built nests in one of the four corners of the loft, especially at the end of the flying season, so that we sometimes basketed a few young on eggs but never with young in the nest. One can easily imagine what state of moulting the youngsters were in at the time of the last two national competitions for youngsters which took place in Angoulême (650 km). I would also add that with the exception of a few favorite males, all were basketed regardless of the state of the plumage, with featherless necks, holes in the wings and in the tail.So on all points our behavior was in contradiction with what was and is still generally advised (as I read again recently in the interview of a pigeon fancier with many successes). Namely: “that it is no longer possible to defend oneself in the competitions at the beginning of September with natural means”.
I cannot agree with such a statement. In a succinct way, I can affirm that we never had a beating on Angoulême with our young pigeons. On the contrary, each time we had young people at the start of the ranking. As proof, here are some examples. Thus one of our young females (2nd marked) won the first national on the second Angoulême of 1961. And it was not a lucky isolated case because on the extremely hard Argenton of 1969 we won with our first marked the first provincial , the 1st interprovincial and the 5th national (only beaten by 4 young pigeons basketed south of Hainaut, a flight distance 100 km shorter). Another female won on September 6, 1958 as the first marked the 28th national from Angoulême and 14 days later also from Angoulême the 7th national. Oh, I know that some will come and say that all this happened a long time ago and that now it is no longer possible. To that, I can answer that already at the time 95% of the young basketed were basketed with a full strike, because they were with young in the nest.I don’t dispute that the races are currently closed faster and that the average quality of the pigeons and their state of health are better, but the speed of the leading pigeons is certainly not higher. In similar conditions, the pigeons of thirty years ago, winning the first prizes flew as fast as the current winners. I dare to say categorically that the very good pigeons like those mentioned above and which have been able to show themselves three times and which despite their handicap, have been able without fatigue and without interruption to fly 10-11 hours, should not not be played today for nothing, they would be at the top of the rankings again. But so far I have not yet said anything in connection with the title of the article. But it comes. The competition for which we had basketed our youngsters with a lot of risk but knowingly was the last Angoulême of the season, organized in mid-September by Cureghem center.
The pigeons were still basketed in Ledeberg in the long-gone local “De Blauw Duif”. I don’t remember the year very well but that doesn’t really matter… It must have happened between 1962 and 1969. The moult of our youngsters was such that their coat was really ruined. Our first marked was even the most featherless. She had the most perfect swallow tail (a forked tail) imaginable. Only the outer feathers remained on each side of the tail, the entire inner part was gone. I will no longer dare to write this when there are no more witnesses to these facts. One of them is my friend Armand Seghers from Zelzate (he was the best goalkeeper in Belgium at the time and played in the Division 1 team AA Gent).
Lately, I spoke to him again about this case. He, too, no longer knows how to give a precise date. Be that as it may, when he saw the 8 or 9 youngsters that we were going to basket he was perplexed and really wondered what it could give. He was even more perplexed when he saw the result: all our young pigeons made prizes, the 1st marked won the 1st regional (very early also at the national) plus three other top prizes.
I certainly hadn’t expected something so incredible since, like everyone else, I saw a real handicap in the situation of the first scorer. But in light of the data from the various articles cited, I’m beginning to think that the forked tail isn’t really a handicap, but an advantage. Who will decide?
I must add that the weather conditions were favorable to us. These were ideal flying conditions: dry, a pleasant temperature, no wind. It could certainly have taken place under worse conditions. Another important point highlighted by research, mainly carried out on swallows, is the negative influence of asymmetry, both of the tail and of the wings. , on flight services. This asymmetry creates an increase in energy consumption and a reduction in maneuvering possibilities. Moreover, these studies have shown that it is the asymmetry of the wings which has the most unfavorable effect. Since from time to time in the pigeon the feathers (or tail feathers) do not moult precisely on both sides at the same time, thus creating an asymmetry, it is this last observation which is the most interesting for the pigeon fancier. During the flying season, it is necessary to be attentive in case of asymmetrical moult of the feathers because this fact not only shows a certain disturbance of the metabolism but also because what we now know constitutes an aerodynamic handicap.So with such birds, you have to be twice as careful before basketing them for a competition. It will be a question of being careful even with very good pigeons and of not marking them on the whole line.
Prof. G. Van Grembergen
The tail is in motion during flight: its spread and its position in relation to the body are constantly changing. This ensures better stability. Thus during a flight at slow speed the spread is important but on the other hand the flight without tail is difficult because there is risk of somersault. It is also important to mention that in flight a normal tail creates an upward force greater than gravity.
[ Source:Article edited by Prof. G. Van Grembergen– PIGEON RIT Review]
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