So far in my series of posts on Pigeons in Permaculture I have introduced you to the ultimate utility pigeon, the majestic gentle king pigeon. The king pigeon is a very large bird popular in Egyption food culture. The chicks or squab are harvested at about 6 weeks of age for processing. Not only are king pigeons a great source of meat & eggs for the permaculture homesteader but also guano, or pigeon manure which is an excellent fertilizer.
But not all of us eat meat birds so I wanted to take a look at an alternative to squab for the table and show you how well ornamental breeds can perform in a permaculture system. Ornamental pigeons can be managed in excatly the same manner as king pigeons so all the how to info on king pigeons can be applied to them as well. The only difference is that king pigeons dont tend to want to fly as much as ornamentals, and are a much more laid back calm breed.
Back in 2013 I was given a gift from a pigeon breeder who had supplied me with utility king pigeons for my permaculture system. It was a pair of ornamental African owl pigeons he couldn’t use for his breeding program. He couldn’t use them because they had hatched with normal shaped beaks.
African owl pigeons look like the kind of white doves you might see released at a wedding, except they have the most incredibly beautiful large eyes. Much larger than a standard white dove. They also have an adorable ruff of feathers sticking out of their chest. They are simply stunning looking creatures.
A fatal flaw
I was astonished to discover that african owl pigeons are bred to have such tiny beaks that they are unable to feed themselves as babies and must be hand reared. It seems a tragedy to me that a function as basic as feeding properly would be selectively bred out of any animal. The show breed standards have a lot to answer for. This is exactly the same tragedy that has occured with somje popular dog breeds. Pugs & King Charles cavalier for example are deliberately bred with blunt snouts and compromised airways which absolutely shorten their lives and create very serious health issues.
Permaculture to the rescue
Fortunately keeping animals in a permaculture system is all about recognising and putting first the needs of the animals. We want them to be healthy and happy and be able to express ALL their natural behaviours such as feeding them a natural diet and providing habitat that meets all their social and physical needs. Physical defects for the sake of asthetics have no place in a permaculture breeding program.
Building a dovecote
So I set about building an aviary for my pigeon pals with plenty of space and privacy to see if they would be happy enough to raise some squab ( baby pigeons) of their own and raise them as mother nature intended. I was not disappointed!
Unlike my laid back King pigeons the African owls were very flighty birds who preferred their privacy. They were very relieved to be housed in a secure loft of their own with a nice cosy nesting area. I provided some cardboard pigeon nest bowls and they began to collect twigs and straws to build a nest. SO cute to watch!
No more defects
As you can see in the image above mumma Owl wasted no time in producing her first pair of chicks… a boy and a girl…which is the typical result when pigeons breed. This is where we get the saying “a pigeon pair”. I was very relieved when all her babies had perfectly normal beaks and were able to feed themselves as nature intended. Note mumma’s ruff of feathers around her neck which is characteristic of the african owl breed.
As soon as her their first set of chicks were big enough, mum & dad set about producing another pair as you can see on the right. Pigeons will continue to breed in this manner all year round provided they have enough food and the population can quickly get out of control. Mating pairs do not like to be seperated so an alternative to this is to remove the eggs as soon as they hatch.
Here is a close up of the African owl chicks or “squab” as they are called. They grow very quickly. These ones are around 6 weeks old as they are fully feathered.
So much more than ornaments
So called ‘ornamental’ pigeons have great utility in the permaculture garden as they produce powerful guano ( pigeon manure). Guano releases its nitrogen much more slowly than other types of manure such as chicken or cow that need to be aged as direct application can burn plants. Guano on the other hand breaks down slowly and safely. If you are not interested in producing squab for the table then there are plenty of beautiful ornamental breeds of pigeon to choose from. Non-show quality are the way to go!
Ornamental pigeons and doves are stunning birds and a delight in the garden, provided you manage them properly and dont let them breed unchecked. If you find an injured pigeon there are many pigeon rescue associations worldwide who will be happy to assist you with medical care and rehoming.
I hope you enjoyed learning about african owl pigeons. Dont forget to check out my other articles about keeping squab as livestock for your permaculture system. We’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
See you in the garden