The Performing Egyptian Swifts
by Adel Salem
The purpose of this article is to give you an overall and condensed summary to the Egyptians Swifts. You will become familiarized with a highly maneuverable breed, talented flyers with reasonable homing ability. It has the most spectacular colors among all known existing domestic pigeons. As ancient as probably the sphinx and the pyramids of Giza, this wonder pigeon of Egypt has never made it out of the Pharaoh's land to the west until early 1900. Most records indicate they arrived to England from Egypt around 1925.
Since the times of ancient Egypt, over 4,000 years ago, pigeons were raised in cone shaped dried mud dwellings. Some of them are still in existence nowadays in the countryside. Discoveries in the nineties in Sakara and Dahshoor in southern Egypt have recovered pigeons, foul, hawks and other animals from the ancient Egyptian tombs. The Egyptian Swifts were originated and refined solely in Egypt. The southern part of Egypt is likely to be their origin. The remoteness of that part from any shipping port might explain why they were not introduced to the west in this refined form until the 1980's. Their first introduction to Europe was via England in 1919 for two of non-flying groups, namely Rehani and Otati. In 1925 the British and dubbed Swifts because of their close resemblance to the long, slender, short legged, black bird, the "Chimney Swift", standardized the two groups. However; the first documented detailed description combining all the ES was written in1886 in Arabic the (Mekktube Duerigen) describes and illustrates the ten groups whom never been seen out of Egypt until an importation from Egypt by Hassan in 1989 and 1991. In 1992 and 1994, I imported two major shipments of exclusively flying and homing capabilities ES. I have followed with smaller shipments every two years.
On the average these birds weigh 9 -12 ounces (0.55 - 0.75 of a pound; 260 - 340 grams), with a length of 10 -13 inches (27-33 cm.). Their wing span reaches over 30 inches (75 cm.) depending on the bird's length. Their speed varies from 30 to 60 miles/hr. (50-95 km/hr.). They have small compacted skulls with short blunt beaks that vary from extremely short as an African owl to a medium size beak. Their body is sloped smoothly as it blends with a short neck giving this breed its unique appearance among all pigeons. Another unmistakable identity of this breed is their possession of the most brilliant colors.
Classification based on performance
According to their flying ability one can divide them into two groups:
1- Flying groups with firm, narrow sloped body, tight feathers and an erect posture. Wings are ½ to 3/4 of an inch shorter than the tail. This group is multitalented in that it is highly maneuverable, strong flyers with tested homing ability in the US for up to 50 miles. It is conceived in Egypt that some ES groups have the same homing abilities as a White Homer.
2- A second group that could hardly fly because of its excessive long feathers and wings reaching or even longer than the tail. This group is not desirable in a flying loft. It is an occasional and unavoidable inferior byproduct of the flying breed.
Classification based on morphology
There are ten unique groups that form the component of the ES. Each group is compatible within itself. Mixing two different groups is like mixing for example a show racer with a genuine racing pigeon and so on. They are of different genetic make up. Each group is unique and distinguished as noted by the color and beak setting. Mixing these groups randomly will result in aberrant birds with dull colors and obsolete value. Thoughtful and planned crossing could be carried out only from within the same group.
1- Rehani: its yellowish, bronze faded necks distinguish this group. The body range from golden yellow to black. Beaks are shorting obtuse and spindly.
2- Bolk: White body, marked with colorful shields, matched with the same colors in the cheeks. Colors are laced indigo, blue, yellow, black, red and others.
3- Mesawed: Black bird with white tail and flights. Similar to the Bolks they are strong flyers, medium stout, strong beaks and exceptionally wide eyes.
4- Otati: Andalusian color expressed with other factors giving the body its unique color as it contrasts with platinum faded neck. Short owlish beak.
5- Anbary Asmar: Self black with white flights. Beak is owlish, strong and blunt as in the Otati. It also comes in self-black.
6- Ahmar Gohzar: identical to the Anbary except for the color. The color is deep rich recessive red.
7- Safi: has an African owl face; however smaller head with long ES body.8-9-10: Karakandy, Absy and Egyptian Halaby: They all have solid color body with white tail. The Karakandy comes with or without bars. The Absy is solid black. Halaby is recessive red. This group comes with or without crest. Halaby shows blunt beak than the other two.
Flying the ES in Egypt
In Egypt they are typically flown from rooftops in late evening until 1 hour after the sun set, mainly during the wintertime. Flying time is well respected just as Soccer games in that part of the world both starts on time. The competition is based upon trapping birds from other lofts. Good birds when let loose will roam in about 5 miles radius from their lofts. The flown birds are all males. They fly on an average height of 200 yards, forming a very tight kit, weaving in the sky trying to seek other kits. On a succession of two hours two or three kits is typically let loose from the same loft. The first kit is usually made up of 15 to 20 birds. Half of that kit is ES (usually from groups 2,3,4,5,9,10) the other half is split between genuine racing homers and a mix breed between a homer and an ES. The homers will help in ranging the birds; the ES are gregarious by nature and will seek and join other kits as they appear nearby. The mix breeds act as a buffer between the two breeds. A common factor among the three breeds is that they enjoy moving and scouting rather than stagnating high in one spot above the loft. It is not unlikely to see 500 birds or more flying together at one time in a late afternoon. As it gets dark the birds become anxious to break off and fly near by their corresponding lofts. To help the birds split from the conglomerate of other lofts; a second kit is released. The purpose of the second kit is to add more feather power to the existing first kit. One should be careful because the second kit is not used to venture far from the loft especially in a sky that is getting rapidly darker during the winter season. The second kit contains mostly larger, slower ES (from group1, 6,7,8 as well as slower birds from all other groups). Few oriental rollers and flying African Owls are also flown in the second kit or soon thereafter to further slow and lower the birds. The tricky part is to steer all the birds to wing off together as well as luring one or two birds from other lofts to come along with a hope of eventual landing and trapping them. Good birds are always hard to crash. The strange birds could be flying with your birds long after the sunset before abruptly correcting their course and heading home couple of miles away in total darkness. All the lofts in Egypt are equipped with lights to feed the birds upon landing. The entire loft is also covered by a net system, capable of snatching a bird from the air before it actually touches the loft's roof. The reason is some of these outsider birds lands only for few seconds and off they go again. Many in Egypt don't band their birds, for almost everybody tries to disclaim a crashed bird.
Training ES to fly
Youngsters from known flying ES are almost the same as a racing Homer in their training. Flying from non flying stock will have a very disappointing results. Since the breed is new in the West, the prime objective was to breed as many as possible. Culls made their way through otherwise good flying birds. A youngster should be able to circle alone alone after ten to twelve weeks. Birds with excessive length (32 cm or longer), loose feathers, overweight usually will not fly. My only advice here is to get your birds from a flying flock and cull heavy. Culling in Egypt is done by destroying caught birds and weak. The Racing people cull by racing. Every breed has a way to weed out undesirable birds.
Training older birds to fly will not serve any objectives and not worthy of discussion.
Flying and racing the ES in US
When flown, they climb to 150 or 200 yards, scouting in different direction. With 2 to 3 racing homers on board they travel for longer intervals. Homers are used to gage the ES speed. Slower birds are removed and flown with slower kit. Occasionally they return without the homers or the other way around. It gets so exiting when they return back with a large kit of homers. They usually kit together for a while before each group separate. They fly on their own without being flagged, for 2 to 4 hours during cool months. The idea of racing them was based on the short toss-ups from several miles in Egypt. In Egypt it is fairly common for two flying competitors to become embroiled on who has a better quality bird. This usually means both standards and intelligence. The matter is quickly settled in the neighborhood cafe were veteran’s fancier’s judge them for standards, followed by few miles toss up, as soon as a distance and a certain monetary value are agreed upon. Without previous training, these long birds home back from 5 or 10 miles. In addition, almost every fancier has few birds returning back after being sold for over a year.
Without prior training, I tested few young flyers from a distance of 10 miles, they all returned without difficulty. Training of less than ten sessions placed them at a distance of 40 miles. On Memorial day 1995, I invited the acting president then of the racing club in San Diego Mr. Jim warren and the president of the NPA Mr. John Heppner and several interested fanciers to witness a toss up from 33.5 air miles. Thirteen birds made their way home in 55 minutes.
My major and only one loss came as they were liberated in bad weather. In a windy and drizzly day from up to 40 miles, I liberated 35 birds, Which had cost me the loss of 9 beautiful birds in one toss. Two returned 2 days after storm was abated. A third bird made it 6 weeks later! That concluded for me that some of them, depending on their flying ability, could be possibly trained for up to 100 miles or more and some should not be taken beyond 10 miles. These tosses have become my only way of testing the endurance and intelligence of this breed in the US, eliminating accordingly in a similar manner to the evening flights in Egypt.
Dealing with predators
The Cooper Hawk is a major predator in the USA. It attacks as they get ready to land however; pigeons have learnt how to deal with him effectively by outbursts of speed as they approach the board. By repeating the same maneuver few times, the attacking hawk is exposed as they flee speeding ahead of him. Upon his futile excessive daily attacks, I decided to stagger the birds to fly around noontime. It had worked so well for few days but as the birds return from their runs circling high above they were attacked by the mighty Peregrine Falcon. During that time, I was preparing a documentary about the ES, showing their flying pattern, flying with nearby racing homers, their racing event. Etc. As the repetitive daily attacks kept occurring, I set my mind then that such a duel in the sky is worth trying to capture to include in the documentary. My son and I tried for almost two weeks; however we either panicked or missed him altogether because of the rapid commotion that took place. The idea of taping such an attack required constant focusing on the entire flock as they returned from each run. Finally, patience paid off; the Peregrine without any forewarning signs appeared in the middle of the flock splitting it into halves. Singling out a young bird for a dramatic chase of over 200 miles per hour. The short-lived duel was entirely captured crisp and clear on the video. After that incident I am back flying the birds early in the morning hours contentedly putting up with the Cooper's hawk. Today the documentary "Duel in the sky" is finally completed. The professionally edited one-hour tape reflects an accumulation of 12 taping hours, made to fully portray the story of the flying Egyptian Swifts in the USA.