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By Dr Colin Walker BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, MACVSc (Avian health)

It is surprising how much mystery still surrounds the feeding of racing pigeons. Most grain blends that fanciers use have resulted from trial and error over the years. Many fanciers are still unsure as to why they use a particular seed mix other than that it seems to work for them. Many are reluctant to change a mix (possibly for the better) simply because it is the one they have used for years and they have won races while using it. Indeed, it can be confusing for the novice because he can receive conflicting advice from different established (and successful) fanciers.

The nutritional requirements for pigeons are now well documented in the veterinary literature. In this article I have tried to summarise these in a straight forward way so that fanciers have some information on which to base feeding decisions and also fanciers can make decisions that are more informed.

Feeding for performance during racing

Racing pigeons are avian athletes and like any other athlete, feeding them optimally for the job ahead, means that their full potential is more likely to be realised. The more the fancier deviates from the best diet, the harder it is for the birds to do well. Some birds can still win on other diets (which is why all the various “home truths” have developed) because they have other factors in their favour such as being exceptional genetically or under a particularly good manager etc, but a deviation from the best diet just makes it harder. There was one fancier in South Australia several years ago, well known to Australian fanciers who was best flyer in his state for many years. He actually fed a very poor diet but seeing him with his birds, it was obvious that he was an exceptional manager. We know that for optimal racing, diets need to contain 12-14% protein. For high performance sprint racing, this should be 12%. Racing diets also need to contain over 3000kcal per kilogram of energy (in the form of fat and carbohydrate).

(Video) Feed a Resident in a Chair CNA Skill NEW!

Feeding for performance during racing

Racing pigeons are avian athletes and like any other athlete, feeding them optimally for the job ahead, means that their full potential is more likely to be realised. The more the fancier deviates from the best diet, the harder it is for the birds to do well. Some birds can still win on other diets (which is why all the various “home truths” have developed) because they have other factors in their favour such as being exceptional genetically or under a particularly good manager etc, but a deviation from the best diet just makes it harder. There was one fancier in South Australia several years ago, well known to Australian fanciers who was best flyer in his state for many years. He actually fed a very poor diet but seeing him with his birds, it was obvious that he was an exceptional manager. We know that for optimal racing, diets need to contain 12-14% protein. For high performance sprint racing, this should be 12%. Racing diets also need to contain over 3000kcal per kilogram of energy (in the form of fat and carbohydrate).


Calculating the protein level of a grain blend

This is fairly straight forward using the following figures. The approximate level of protein in the commonly used grains are listed below. These levels will fluctuate a small amount depending on the variety of the grain, on the growing season and other factors.


% Protein



















These grains can be added in various proportions to a grain blend, and using these figures, it is comparatively easy to calculate the total level of protein and protein percentage of the blend. Fanciers tend to use a scoop, like an old tin, as a measure. In this example, let’s say the scoop contains about 100g. An example of a grain mix is below.

4 scoops of peas = 400g which is 25% protein = 100g of protein

2 scoops of corn = 200g which is 10% protein = 20g of protein

1 scoop of wheat = 100g which is 9.5% protein = 9.5g of protein

1 scoop of sorghum = 100g which is 10.5% protein = 10.5g of protein


1.5 scoops of safflower = 150g which is 14% protein = 21g of protein

0.5 scoops of rice = 50g which is 6% protein = 3g of protein

Total weight of mix = 1kg with a total protein of 164g

The mix is therefore, 16.4% protein

Aiming for 12-14% protein, this obviously is a bit high. So, an informed decision (rather than a guess) to improve racing would be that to lower the level of protein would be likely to lift the performance of the team generally. One way of doing this would be by reducing the amount of (high protein) peas and increasing the amount of (low protein) corn and safflower.

When I started racing in the late 1960’s, many fanciers just fed peas and grit. This now seems incredible to us but there are still fanciers who feed just peas and wheat, or just peas, sorghum and wheat. I guess one just has to ask oneself, why, when presumably their aim is to win races and get birds home. For racing and particularly long distance racing, the birds do not need peas or protein, but carbohydrates and fats to provide energy for the long hours on the wing, during the journey home.

Proteins are made up of substances called amino acids. Various amino acids bond together chemically to make proteins. Proteins are necessary essentially for “tissue building”. The body has increased requirements for these tissue building substances fairly obviously through times of growth and reproduction. Pigeons therefore, need high protein levels in their diet when they are breeding, growing and molting. During racing however, although they still need proteins for tissue repair, eg, to heal tired muscles and for various base metabolic processes, it is the carbohydrates and fats that provide the energy for exertion during racing that are important.

Protein levels in excess of requirements during racing:

  1. Take longer to digest – the digestive pathway for carbohydrates such as sugar are much shorter than for proteins. Simple sugars can be passively absorbed directly through the bowel wall, straight into the blood. Proteins have to initially be broken down by digestive enzymes into amino acids and then in turn, they have to be metabolised.
  2. Add to nitrogen levels – in birds the major breakdown bi-products of protein digestion are two compounds rich in nitrogen, called urea and uric acid. Urea has to be actively excreted through the bird’s kidney, while 90% of uric acid is passively excreted through the kidney, provided the bird is well hydrated and the kidney well perfused with blood. In tired and particularly dehydrated pigeons, this process is compromised. Even in healthy pigeons, elevated levels of nitrogen based waste, put an increased workload on the kidneys. These elevated levels can be accurately measured in the pigeon’s blood and significantly interfere with the birds ability to win or simply return.
  3. Do not release as much energy per gram to the competitive pigeon when compared to carbohydrate. This is particularly so when protein levels get over 14%. Rapid digestion and conversion of ingested food to available energy for the bird is compromised.
  4. Increases the intake of various anti-digestion substances such as phytic acid and tannins. Some grains contain substances that in excessive levels can interfere with digestion and the release of nutrients. All legumes such as peas contain some of these substances that act in this way

Other facts to consider

Getting the protein level of the diet right, is a good starting point in formulating a good diet, but there are many other factors to consider. These include:

  1. The level of fat – for non competitive birds, levels of fat between 5 and 11% are often recommended in the diet. Levels of fat over 30% (as can occur when feeding high levels of peanuts, sunflower, safflower or linseed) quickly lead to the development of obesity, fatty liver, high cholesterol and even type II diabetes in birds. When exerting themselves, pigeons initially use as an energy source, the sugars already present in the blood. As the birds keep flying, complex carbohydrates such as glycogen (stored in the liver and muscles), are broken down into simple sugars like glucose (in a process called gluconeogenesis, literally formation of “new” sugar) which in turn is used as an energy source. As this is depleted, fats start to be broken down and their energy released. The energy in fat can be released by metabolic pathways that do not require oxygen, but the amount of energy released, is not as much as that released from carbohydrates. Finally, if the pigeon is still not home, muscle tissue (and other proteins in the body) start to breakdown. After this, if the pigeon is still not home, he has no more “petrol in the tank” and does not make it. Balancing carbohydrate and fat in the diet, can be tricky. The birds need some fat “to burn”, ie, release its energy, during marathon events. Too much means the bird loses its buoyancy, gets heavy and uses too much energy to simply stay aloft. The exact level of fat required in the diet is affected by the birds genetics (eg, Janssens lay fat down much quicker than long distance birds), the amount of energy the birds use up around the loft (ie, time on the wing and loft temperature, etc) and the anticipated amount of hours on the wing during the race. Regular handling of the bird will give the fancier a guide. Most birds will become race fit with fat levels in the diet around 10-15%.
  2. Amino acid balance – As mentioned earlier, amino acids are substances that “clump” together to make proteins. For this reasons they are often called the “building blocks of protein”. Some amino acids can be made in the body. Some cannot and have to be provided in the diet. These amino acids are termed essential amino acids for this reason. Amino acids need to be provided in the right proportions relative to each other. Some are absorbed into the body using the same digestive pathways. Feeding too much of the one sort can therefore leave no pathway available to absorb another type. Pigeons will often eat a grain blend until they have enough of the amino acid found in the lowest level. They therefore, eat to meet their amino acid demand. This can lead to an inappropriately increased food intake, as their body craves the nutrients found in low levels in a poorly balanced diet. Eating a small amount of a complete diet will meet the bird’s requirements. The amino acid balance, therefore, has to be correct. No grain blend contains good levels of all amino acids, which is why formulated pellets or a good vitamin/mineral/amino acid supplement are necessary for top performance to be achieved. A good grain blend however, is a good start.
  3. Digestible protein – pigeons do not have the enzymes to digest all proteins in their diet, so the nutrients they contain are simply passed in the droppings.
  4. Other factors, such as carbohydrate quality and availability, the level of digestion inhibitors (eg. Phytic acid and tannins), the levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin levels are all relevant.

Nutrition is a complex area, and it is beyond the realm of a veterinarian, even a specialised avian veterinarian to make complete recommendations about a diet or indeed to formulate a pelleted ration or vitamin mineral supplement from first principles. At the Australian Pigeon Company, when this is required, we have two nutritionists that we specifically consult.

(Video) Hitting the Bullseye with Targeted Feeding - Feeding for Performance


It is easy for fanciers to be distracted by the plethora of supplements available for pigeons. What needs to be said is that no blend of grains can supply all of the vitamins, minerals and amino acids pigeons require. When feeding a grain based diet, there is definite advantage in using either a fortified pellet or a good multivitamin mineral/amino acid supplement, made specifically for pigeons, from a reputable company, using veterinary knowledge. Also there is definite advantage in using a probiotic. These correct gut ph, aid in digestion and protect the bowel from infectious disease. It goes without saying that these need to be made for the purpose and provided by a reputable veterinary company.

It is said that “you are what you eat” and that certainly holds true for pigeons. For a team to do consistently well, the diet is important. Getting the protein percentage of the diet right and making some informed decisions about the grain blend used, will help with performance.


These days, many fanciers find it easier to provide a complete diet for their breeders by using a formulated maintenance pellet. Pellets do not work so well for race birds because their energy and nutrient requirements fluctuate depending on workload, temperature and other nutritional demands. However, in the stock loft, nutritional requirements are fairly static. There are a number of veterinary based companies producing pellets in Australia, US and throughout the world. In the better companies, because the pellets are based on the same science, nutrition in the pellets is fairly similar. They do however, vary in their taste and presentation. Using a pellet means that no supplements are required because everything is right there in the pellet. Most pellets are also cost competitive with grain. With my own stock birds and fancy pigeons, I have now fed nothing except pellets for over 5 years. The adults look great, and the babies each year are beautiful. For those wishing to feed a grain based diet, the protein percentage can be calculated as for a race mix. In a maintenance breeder diet, protein levels need to be higher than a race mix, and most nutritionists recommend levels between 15 and 20%. Also for maintenance diets, most nutritionists recommend that fat levels should be between 5 and 11%, and energy should be approximately 2950kcal/kg. Calcium should be approximately 1% of the diet, and the calcium phosphorus ratio (Ca:P) 2:1.

In the stock loft, an error in dietary management, unless dramatic, is unlikely to have the direct consequences that it would in the racing loft. Pigeons are long lived and fairly tough. There is usually the opportunity for dietary correction. Obviously however, making good decisions from the start is going to lead to better quality weaned babies starting on the road to become winning race birds.

(Video) Feeding for Optimal Performance

(Video) CNA Skill: Feeding the Resident


What is the best grains for racing pigeons? ›

Corn and wheat are better grains for out pigeon food . Corn is undeniably one of the best pigeon foods, it is low in crude fibre, easily digestible and one of the fattiest of all the grains.

How do you feed pigeons for sprint racing? ›

We know that for optimal racing, diets need to contain 12-14% protein. For high performance sprint racing, this should be 12%. Racing diets also need to contain over 3000kcal per kilogram of energy (in the form of fat and carbohydrate).

How do you get racing pigeons in top condition? ›

Get your pigeon in even better shape with vitamins

Provide vitamin preparations that are specially designed for pigeons. Use Omniform (2 bottle caps per liter of water) two days a week. With this kind of vitamin treatment, you can get your pigeons back in shape faster and recover better after a strenuous flight.

Is onion good for racing pigeons? ›

Garlic and onion juice provides your pigeons with health promoting properties such as prevention of worm infestation, Stimulates circulation, and cleans the gastrointestinal tract.

Is garlic good for racing pigeons? ›

It has been suggested that they boost the immune system of the pigeon by increasing its ability to fight disease-producing organisms of many kinds. Garlic has been shown to have a stimulating effect on certain enzymes that are known to be effective in removing toxic substances from the body.

Is beetroot good for racing pigeons? ›

Numerous studies on athletes have clearly shown that nitrate rich beet juices decrease the athlete's muscles oxygen needs and increase their exercise and endurance. The latest technology for athletes now available for our racing pigeons.

Is lemon juice good for racing pigeons? ›

In the pigeons diet we can use most of the time the juice from a half lemon in 1 litre of water two - three times per week . two - three times per week. When used in the water there will be no need to use it on the food and viceversa.

Is molasses good for racing pigeons? ›

Pigeons can go off their food for a variety of reasons. Adding molasses to a feed tempts the fussiest of eaters. Highly palatable. The perfect disguise for medicines & wormers in feeds.

Is apple cider vinegar good for racing pigeons? ›

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is an ideal way to introduce organically produced acid into your birds' diet. Acetic Acid aids the birds' digestion and the break down of food; this in turn prevents illnesses that can be caused by undigested food.

Is rice good for racing pigeons? ›

Basically, the birds initially need a mix that is high in energy and calories and low in protein, a mix that is often described as a 'light' mix. The mix needs to contain carbohydrate- and oil-based grains that are readily digestible, such as milo, safflower, wheat, rice and corn.

Is spinach good for racing pigeons? ›

For veggies, you can chop/mince up most anything that is bird safe: carrots, broccoli, snap peas, dandelion greens, kale cauliflower, lettuce, spinach (in small amounts), edamame, bell peppers, etc.

Is salt good for racing pigeons? ›

Pigeons do need salt in their diets, but not in large doses, and generally acquire this through their normal diet of plant and animal food sources,” Dr. Sheppard said in an e-mail message. Some experts contacted through the New York Bird Club said that pigeons would often peck at anything that might be food.

What does Cinnamon do for pigeons? ›

Spices- Pigeons do not like spices. By generously sprinkling spices (such as cinnamon, cayenne pepper, etc.) where pigeons like to roost, you will be less likely to see birds on your premises. Anti-Roosting Spike Strips- Spike strips will make it uncomfortable for pigeons to land on.

What is the best vitamin for racing pigeons? ›

Give water-soluble vitamins (such as C, F and B complex) to your pigeons regularly because animals cannot store them in their bodies. Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) do accumulate in the body.

What does garlic oil do for pigeons? ›

Complementary feed for pigeons. Oropharma Garlic Oil is pure garlic oil. This dietary supplement promotes the condition, ensures better circulation of the blood through the body and improves the function of the respiratory system and the digestive system.

What food is harmful to pigeons? ›

Among the most common foods that are toxic to birds are:
  • Avocado. The leaves of the avocado plant contain persin, a fatty acid-like substance that kills fungus in the plant. ...
  • Caffeine. ...
  • Chocolate. ...
  • Salt. ...
  • Fat. ...
  • Fruit pits and apple seeds. ...
  • Onions and garlic. ...
  • Xylitol.

Is sugar good for racing pigeons? ›

Tests have demonstrated that pigeons with a diet rich in fat and low in sugar performed better in long races than pigeons that were given much sugar and few fats. Young pigeons seemed to grow better with a diet rich in fat. This should not be a surprise: crop milk does not contain sugar but is rich in fat.

What does turmeric do for pigeons? ›

Turmeric speeds wound healing, and offers anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Cinnamon – Offers anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasite, and anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon also supports the circulatory and digestive system. Mint – Supports the digestive and respiratory system.

What vegetables are good for racing pigeons? ›

And birds love the taste. Another required supplement is Vitamin A, which is found in greens, such as silverbeet, spinach, and carrots. Pigeons love a plate of mixed chopped greens and diced carrots. Vitamin A can also be provided with diluted carrot juice.

Is baking soda good for pigeons? ›

Registered. baking soda (bi-carbonate of soda) is one of the ingredients used with a pinch of salt and a little sugar that is given to injured or under nourished birds. It acts as an electrolite to re-hydrate them quickly.

How can I make my racing pigeon faster? ›

Extended feeding and general supplements must be added to provide extra fuel for the extra workload. Well-timed additional exercise followed by rest and supplementation just before a race will help the team fly faster and pace itself better during the races.

Is Ginger good for pigeons? ›

The extract of ginger (Zingibar officinale) exhibited high efficiency in treatment of infected pigeons with coccidiosis, and the highest efficiency 91% was by using 10% of the extract, with significant differences on level p > 0.05 comparison to that of 5% which was 70%.

When should I stop feeding my racing pigeons? ›

Initial care of the pigeon

Once the racing pigeon has been fed and watered, a bit like a 'pit-stop', it usually continues its journey home. Please remove the source of any food after a maximum of 48 hours or when it starts to fly, after which it can find its own food and water.

Does sugar water help bird? ›

Sugar water is a great supplementary food for nectar-loving birds like tūī, korimako (bellbirds), and kākā. To make sugar solution, dissolve half a cup of sugar in four cups of water. The best sugar to water ratio is 1:8. Anything higher may attract bees and wasps or start to ferment more quickly.

What kills pigeons fast? ›

The ultimate lethal and natural pigeon control method is a raptor or bird of prey. Pigeons are considered a prey species and there are many different hawks, owls and falcons that will naturally prey on pigeons.

What does baking soda do to birds? ›

Baking Soda

If pigeons and other nuisance birds are invading your patio space or window sills, try sprinkling baking soda anywhere they like to perch. Birds don't like the feel of the baking soda under their toes and will avoid it at all costs.

Is charcoal good for pigeons? ›

Pigeons and chickens love it and it is very beneficial. Wood charcoal will reduce the effects of diarrhea, prevent and treat Coccidiosis and reduce the odor from droppings.

Is salt water good for pigeons? ›

Salt, an Essential Mineral in A Bird's Diet

However, in order to survive, salt is an essential mineral required by birds, as it is by all living animals.

Is potassium good for racing pigeons? ›

However, birds like pigeons that don't have salt glands are able to tolerate high amounts of sodium, potassium or chloride in the diet as long as they have ready access to fresh water.

How much apple cider vinegar do you put in the water for the birds? ›

Yes, dilute apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a great choice for combatting algae in your bird bath the natural way. The higher pH value of the ACV makes it too acidic for algae to grow. The typically suggested ratio is 1 tsp ACV per gallon of water.

Is coconut oil good for pigeons? ›

Coconut oil is effective both as food and on the skin of a wide range of pets. It is an affordable and effective remedy. That applies for dogs, cats, horses, and birds. As well as for sheep, pigs, cows and carrier pigeons.

What do racing pigeons eat before a race? ›

If you learn how to use barley, you will save loads of gas money and training. For most of the week, the pigeons feed on 80% barley and approximately 20% racing mix. On a day of return if you are racing under 300 miles, feed them all the rich seeds and racing mix (16% protein) they want .

Is Maize good for racing pigeons? ›

Breeding Mix Pigeon Food is ideal as a base corn when racing or ideally suited to getting your pigeons in top condition for breeding. This mix contains a lot of Maize and three types of Peas to provide protein, oils and fats essential for healthy birds.

Is iron good for racing pigeons? ›

With a supplement of Quick (iodine and iron) you can increase the performance of pigeons. Stimulation of the thyroid function increases endurance and, in a compound with iron, leads to more speed.

Is Barley good for racing pigeons? ›

Whole Barley has a wide use for animal feed, and is present in many different mixes. Ideal for larger ruminant animals likes cattle, and always a favourite for larger birds like racing pigeons. It is a good source of protein and fibre, helping your animal digest all its daily feed.

Is black pepper good for racing pigeons? ›

Similar to other animals, pigeons dislike strong spices. These include chili powder, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Using ultrasonic devices will also keep the problem pigeons away.

How many times a day should you feed pigeons? ›

Method 4 of 4: Caring for Pigeons at Home. Feed pigeons in the morning. Pigeons only need to be fed once a day.

Is sugar water good for pigeons? ›

While this is a great way to attract birds, it is not always in the birds' best interests, as sugar water cannot compensate for or replace the nutrients the birds get from drinking nectar from flowers. It can deprive them of vitamins A, K, E, and D, calcium as well as the protein that they get from pollen.

What happens if you pour salt on a bird? ›

Salting a bird's tail is a legendary superstition of Europe and America, and an English language idiom. The superstition is that sprinkling salt on a bird's tail will render the bird temporarily unable to fly, enabling its capture.

Are peanuts good for racing pigeons? ›

They are soft so it takes little energy to digest them. Thus, peanuts are an advantage to our racers because they are faster to digest than regular grains. Fanciers who feed peanuts agree that their pigeons are less thirsty, even on hot days.

Are eggshells good for pigeons? ›

Eggs and eggshells

It might seem strange to feed them eggs, but cooked eggs are a highly nutritious and wholesome meal for many wild birds. They also love crushed eggshells, so you could even cook and crush up your boiled egg leftovers to feed to the garden birds!

What smell do pigeons hate? ›

Additionally, pigeons do not like strong smells, such as cinnamon or hot pepper juice or spray. If you can safely reach the areas where the pigeon colony is roosting and nesting, you can spray and apply these substances to help drive the birds away.

Which medicine is best for pigeons? ›

Metronidazole, Ronidazole, and Moxidectin Plus are all available in a water-soluble form that can be added to the drinking water when treating multiple birds at once.

What does B12 do for pigeons? ›

CATOVITAL B12 is used in racing pigeons to improve muscle strength and general condition. Vitamin B12 will boost the protein-, carbohydrate- and fat metabolism. It stimulates the production of red blood cells, resulting in an increased oxygen intake in the bloodstream.

How often should I give calcium to my pigeons? ›

Recommended calcium supplements

Perhaps more importantly, supplementing them with a liquid calcium gluconate or powdered calcium (for cage & aviary birds) about 2-3 times per week in their drinking water will be most beneficial.

How many times a day should you feed a racing pigeon? ›

feed 3 times a day, once in the morning 2 hours before road training, once mid-day, once evening. Feed the birds all they want to eat at each feeding. The birds are always sent to road training with plenty of fuel or gas in their tank.

What is a pigeon's favorite food? ›

They do not have a “favourite food” but they enjoy eating seeds, nuts and vegetables more than anything else.

What should you not feed pigeons? ›

Always avoid feeding birds these foods from your kitchen.
  • Avocado. This so-called superfood is not so super for our wild birds. ...
  • Fruit pits or seeds. Most fruits are fine for birds to eat, but it's important to avoid fruits that have seeds or pits in them. ...
  • Chocolate. ...
  • Milk. ...
  • Fruits. ...
  • Potatoes. ...
  • Porridge oats.

Is salt good for pigeons? ›

Pigeons do need salt in their diets, but not in large doses, and generally acquire this through their normal diet of plant and animal food sources,” Dr.

What human food can I feed a pigeon? ›

They will also feast on berries, fruits and vegetables. Pigeons are generally herbivores but they will eat insects, snails and worms when they need to. Urban pigeons will happily munch on breadcrumbs, popcorn, biscuits, chips, rice, pasta, fish and pet food – pretty much anything that humans leave behind.

Is coconut oil good for racing pigeons? ›

Feeding coconut oil to domesticated birds is an excellent way to provide them with the nutrients they are missing in their diet. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), mainly lauric acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid. These fatty acids can be very beneficial for avian health.


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