Q: I always have a tremendous amount of fighting when I put my young cock birds into the old bird loft. Can you tell me a way of minimizing that?

This question often comes up in the fall or winter, especially when the yearling cocks are being brought into the old bird loft in preparation for the following year. Many fanciers just open all the nest boxes and add the young cocks to the mix of the loft. Or worse yet, all the nest boxes have been open since the old bird season with just a few birds occupying the loft. I consider this a crude and almost barbaric way to introduce birds into a new loft that they are supposed to like and be attached to for the next 3 to 5 years.

When you add young cocks to the old established cocks in a loft, you are creating a territorial battle ground. The old established cock birds have the upper hand; for the most part, they will beat up the young cocks and intimidate them. Some fanciers seem to get a morbid satisfaction from this battling for territory by the birds. The problem is, I have never been able to understand what they are trying to accomplish. The old cocks that are invaded by newcomers will try to hold their ground. This definitely leads to battling, sometimes bloodshed, broken flights, and just plain intimidation. These old cocks may take more than one nest as their territory. Many fanciers think that the better birds will claim the top nest boxes. So quite often you will have an older cock with a lower nest box take up residency in 2 or 3 of the top boxes. However, when the hens are reintroduced into the loft in the spring, the old cock at that point will then often try to reclaim the nest box at the bottom where he nested the previous year.

Often when these birds get into a battle with each other, after a few minutes they do not know what they are fighting about; they just keep battling and hurting each other. This battling or fighting is intensified because many of our nest boxes nowadays have wire bottom floors. The cock birds get a very firm grip and leverage and therefore cannot push each other out of the box very readily. Another factor is that at times they cannot get out because the nest front has a small opening.

What the fancier has really accomplished by this method is chaos in the loft, insecurity, and fighting among the birds. Some birds will thus never really feel at home in this environment. They will be damaged mentally as well as possibly physically by ending up with broken flights.

So is there a better way? I certainly hope so. In my loft, I seldom if ever let an old cock bird occupy a different nest from one year to the next. In other words, once a bird has a nest, that remains his territory for the rest of his life in that loft.

I also never let a cock have more than one nest. For example, if there are 10 cocks in the loft, there are 10 nest boxes open even if the loft is built with12 nest boxes. When I remove a pigeon from the loft for any reason, for culling or even shipping to a race, his nest box is immediately closed so nobody can be a bad boy from next door or any adjoining nest box and take it over, even on a temporary basis. And there should be absolutely no perches available in the loft. The nest box is the only perch a bird can have. However, at a later time when all the birds are well settled into the loft with their hens, you can add perches if you like as an additional motivational tool.

So how do I accomplish the smooth introduction of new birds into a loft? When it is time to put young cocks into the loft, I first remove all the old cock birds and close up their nest boxes. I then open all the unoccupied nest boxes and put the young cocks into the loft. After a day or two, as soon as I see a cock taking possession of a nest box, I lock him into that particular box. I do this with every cock bird and every nest box.

In a few days I have each young cock in a nest box. I only let him out to go back and forth from the floor to his box. If you want to help this process along, then also feed him in his box. This nest box now very quickly becomes the territory of the young cock. He does not have to fight to defend it when he is confused and not sure as to where he belongs.

You want the yearling cocks to be well established in the loft. The longer you have just the yearlings in the loft, the better. This can be anywhere from a week to several months, depending on your facilities and where you can keep the old cocks that you have taken out of the loft.

Eventually I return the old birds back to the flying loft -- one at a time. I bring the old cock back to the loft and lock him in his nest box for perhaps a day. In this way his neighbors realize that they have a new neighbor. Then I lock the adjoining cocks inside their nest boxes and let the old cock out so he can proudly reclaim his territory by flying back and forth between his nest box and the floor. Finally I open the adjoining boxes slowly -- one at a time. By following this procedure there is almost no fighting and the pigeons feel very secure and comfortable in their loft. A couple of days later, I add another cock and so on until all the nest boxes are back to being full. The birds retain a harmony amongst themselves and know each other.

When you introduce birds in this way, you eliminate or minimize the barbaric fighting ritual and chaos that so many lofts go through. You also end up with a team of birds that are comfortable with each other and more or less respect each other and each other's territory.

If you doubt or question my use of the word "team" or "harmony within the team", just think back to when a strange pigeon dropped on your roof with your old bird team. I think you noticed that he was not treated as one of them , but was immediately singled out as an outsider and was chased around -- and certainly not welcomed or accepted.