Arab Pigeons

"Pigeon House Plans and Fixtures, By E. J. W. Dietz 1922"

I will first give you an account of my experience with one or the Egyptian pilots, Mahomet Effendie, who had piloted my boat through the pass into the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt. We were moored inside the harbor and the Mahomet was smoking one of my cigars, when, looking around the bridge deck, he spied two Homing pigeons in a Coop.After looking at them for a time he said: "What pigeons are those, Captain?" I replied that they were "Carrier" pigeons. Then I had to explain how they were trained and what they would do. One of the birds had won a race and had quite a reputation.So when this was explained he exclaimed: "Mushalla!" ("My God") and apologized for using the sacred name.Well, the old fellow had a-cup of black coffee and just before going down the gangway he invited me to his house to see his pigeons on the following day at 6 p.m. At that hour I arrived at Mahomet Effendie's house, which was close to the Ras-el-teen.

It was the usual house for a man of his position-broad marble staircase and a tall dark servant at the door. The man smiled and said, "Captain." He had evidently been told of my intended visit. At the top of the staircase Mahomet Effendie met me with a quiet smile and the words "en-ar-excide," which means "good day." He then turned to take me along the passage and in doing so clapped his hands twice; never saying why he did it or what he did it for, but it was for his women of the harem to get out of the reception room. We were soon in the saloon. A room about 40x25 feet, with Turkish rugs all over and what we call "Chesterfields" all around it. I was waived to a seat. When in came the servant carrying a silver tray with coffee and cigarettes not the muck they call coffee in England, but real Mocha, every bean picked and roasted to a beautiful brown. After smoking two or three cigarettes and drinking the coffee I was invited to see the pigeons.We went to the roof of the house (they are all flat out in Egypt) and pigeon houses consisted of a rectangle of coops made or basket material about two feet and six inches square with slatted front, to which was fixed a red clay drinking pot and another similar pot for the feed. And, ye gods! A pot stand just like you see in English lofts for the Pouters to stand on. They have these and the drinking and feeding pots' nest pans, etc. since the time of the Pharaoh, for you can see them in the museum at Cairo. Really, there seems "nothing new under the sun."

To go back to a description of the pigeon house, or, as I should say, pile of cages, for these coops were so piled as to form a square about four pens high, and in one corner a standing place for the owner. As these pens are all open, matting is placed around outside so as to keep the wind off the birds. Rains you need not bother much about as you only get it in December and January. There is also matting over the tops of the coops, and, would you believe it, traps over the top, something like those I have seen in the mining districts of England in my early days. These traps are made of net on a bow-shaped piece of wood. I must not forget to state that in the corner where the door (which is generally of wood) is there is a stool on which the attendant stands to control these traps. This part is a little higher than the rest and there are spy holes through the sides of the covering so the owner is concealed from the view of the flying pigeons and also through the sides of this covering there are strings passing to the traps so he can close them at his wish.

Now follow me, you racing pigeon men, who think there is no other flying sport but yours on earth! My friend. The pilot unlocks the door and in we sail. I look around and in each pen see one bird, with the exception of about seven pens; in these there are pairs mated up and breeding; some have eggs, others have young. The single birds are all standing on the pot "pouter" stand. They are all "Swifts" excepting one pair of Oriental Rollers. The latter are white-eyed, eighteen feathers in the cock's tail and fourteen in the hen's, with nice hollow backs.My friend said something to the servant and unfurled a red flag. I thought: What's this pirate flag for, have we got any on board? The pilot explained that they always put up a red flag at the corner of the pigeon house and so did all of his friends before they liberated their pigeons, and when the birds were to be dropped the flag was taken down.

The servant put up the red flag and Mahomet opened the slide doors of about fifty of the coops and out flew fifty Swift cocks, almond colored, blue, black and white, bronze, yellow and powdered silver. The latter I thought the prettiest of all.

The birds got up well with the Oriental Roller above. What a sight it was! The sun was half an hour from setting and not a cloud was in sight. The cock Roller, like a speck in the sky, dropped down 300 feet or more, right into the flock of Swifts, not tumbling, but like a football and in his flight part of the wings struck above the ball. How the bird ever recovered himself was a mystery to me.Now my attention was drawn by my friend, the pilot, who showed me flag after flag going up from many housetops and flock after flock arose in the air. When they all got up they formed one mighty flock of pigeons just as though they had all been turned out from one loft. I counted about ten Oriental Rollers and these seemed to be trying to outdo one another, but my host's bird was La primo as the old pilot said.We are now setting down upon the housetop. Coffee and cigars were brought again. There was a nice mother of pearl stand to put your cup upon. The sun was getting lower in the west, and, as you know, near the tropics there is little twilight, so I began wondering when my friend would begin to drop the birds.Just then my eye caught sight of rows upon rows of pigeon feet that were attached to the door of the pigeon coops. I inquired what they meant and was told to wait a bit. Again my eyes turned to the flock of several hundred pigeons in the air. How were they going to break? The Rollers were now getting very low. They had been flying about 45 minutes.

I saw the servant going to lower the flag. There was only a little light left. Down came the flag and the first bird to drop was the Roller. The servant takes his place on the stool in the corner and 'gathers up the trap strings. A " moment there is a rush over our very heads that shuts out the light. Not a move is made by us, as the birds swing around the coop again. This time the top of the pigeon house is half covered with birds; in a moment more they are around again and twenty more birds drop, but they are off again, making another lower circle, just above the housetops.Now I see the bow shaped tops of the traps are turning over. You hear a slight flutter but cannot see any bird under. Where has he gone? All the pilot's birds have entered their respective pens, nearly.

It might be broad daylight, the way these Swifts fly to their pens, take a drink and onto their stands they get.Gradually the top of the house is cleared of birds, and all is quiet again except for some cooing and some fighting.I am now invited into the enclosure and what a sight I see. Three pens under the trap are half full of birds. It seems that the traps are so drawn over a bird, it is so formed, and that it drops like a trap door over the bird, and when released it flies back ready to be sprung again, but is so arranged that the captive bird couldn't escape. In all, they had trapped eleven birds and lost only one of theirs, which, I was told, was a young one. These eleven birds were all killed, and one foot being cut off each to be added to the trophies upon the wooden door.The old pilot begged me to accept a pair of powdered swifts, which I did, and his man brought them to me on board the day we sailed for England