Regulating Body Temp

Body Temperature and Temperature regulations
(from several scientific studies)

It’s been beautiful weather. The sun is working hard, and it has been dry for weeks. When I look out over the countryside, I regularly see large dust clouds. We get closer, we see large tractors, working in the fields. Dry, hot weather is fantastic for sun lovers, but there are drawbacks.

What about our pigeons, how ought we care for them during transport we occasionally ask ourselves…?

Body temperature

Birds, therefore, our pigeons are “endothermic organisms.” This means that their body temperature can be kept quiet even and constant.  The skin or surface temperature, depending on the ambient temperature, is always lower. The average body temperature in birds is 41-42 degrees Celsius, which makes them feel warmer when we take them in hand.

When at rest, the temperature of our pigeons drops to about 37-38 degrees Celsius (a maintenance process), that is If the ambient temperature is not lower than 20 degrees Celsius. This is called the “Thermoneutral zone,” and this zone lies between 20 °C and 28°C, within this zone, the body temperature remains constant. The pigeon can regulate it’s temperature, by increasing or decreasing the flow of blood to the skin etc. without consuming extra energy.

When temperatures drop below 20°C, the pigeon must produce more heat, which costs energy. At temperatures above 28°C, energy is also required to cool their body temperature. Being able to cool down is very important for pigeons, as a body temperature of 46°C is described as critical and their thermal maximum. Humans sweat to cool their body temperature; pigeons do not have sweat glands. They decrease their core (inner body temperature) by opening their beaks and panting at a high frequency, to lower their temperature.

Loss of moisture during flight 

During flight pigeons produce heat. When flying at a speed of 70 km per hour, they create 20 times as much heat as when they are at rest. When moisture loss reaches approximately 4% of their total body weight (13 ml – 18 ml), the pigeon ceases flying. Other studies show that when moisture loss is 4%-5%, all pigeons will drink water. A 10% moisture loss of body weight is lethal, it can no longer survive.

Water needs

At an ambient temperature of 22°C, the pigeon drinks on average 41.5 ml of water. The amount of water consumed at this temperature may be influenced by the grain mix supplied to the pigeon, as some of the bird’s water requirements can be extracted from their feed. At an ambient temperature of 24°C, the average need rises to 63 ml. At low temperatures, the need is 15-30 ml.


The temperature in the transporter is, therefore, vital when it comes to the care of our pigeons. At 22°C, the pigeon needs 1.7 ml of water per hour. If the pigeons are in the trailer for 10 hours, it loses 4% of its body weight. At 24°C, the water need is 2.6 ml per hour, meaning it loses 8% of its body weight during a 10-hr. trip. This is approaching the lethal zone. Oh oh, I believe most of us will be shocked at the information presented above. It should now be apparent to all those responsible for the transportation of our pigeons how vital water is, especially during transport for the viability and flight performance of the pigeons.

Add to this that many pigeons long before being loaded on the trailer haven’t had any water available to them for some time. Showing the hens shortly before basketing has effects on the water intake. The metabolism has been increased, and the need for drinking water rises. But most fanciers basket the pigeons directly without giving them a chance to have a drink. Then comes the ride to the club and then the wait before they are finally entered into the transportation baskets.

We can quickly conclude that watering during transport is a must. It would be best to ship when temperatures are cooler. If the outdoor temperatures are very high, basketing should be avoided. Transport temperatures above 30°C, are too high a heat load for the pigeons. Shipping in the evening and resting in the shade during the day waiting for release seems to be the best solution.




With insufficient moisture, the brain no longer functions properly. If this is the case, their ability to orient fails. This will lead to significant losses, resulting in angry and frustrated fanciers, unwanted press reports and fewer pigeons being entered, the following weeks.

The race

When the pigeon has switched over entirely to burning fat, he or she can count on withdrawing at a minimum 7 grams of fat from the pectoral muscles. The total usable fat stock is 10 time that amount (70 grams). The pigeon must keep its relatively high body temperature constant. If the temperature remains constant (measured in the cloaca), the heat produced by the muscle action during flight is used by the metabolic system, thus keeping its body temperature consistent.

At high ambient temperatures, they not only contract their feathers tighter but can also use their legs to disperse excess body heat. Pigeons can hang their legs down into the wind, and their toes can be spread wide apart when flying under high temperatures. Although air resistance increases significantly, the pigeon does so to maintain flight. Under colder conditions, the legs disappear entirely into the feathers, and the pigeon’s aerodynamic shape is again at its optimum.

The pigeon will also open its beak when the temperatures are hot. At the point of having to pant, they stop flying and go down. We all know that fat reserves are essential, but water management and usage are just as important. When burning fat during flight water is the byproduct and is added to the overall water supply of moisture required by its metabolism.

From tests carried out in a wind tunnel (flying into a wind of 12 meters/ sec), it has been established that pigeons can fly indefinitely at temperatures of 5°C. At 10°C, it decreases to 15 hours, at 15°C to 7 ½ hours and at 25°C, they can maintain flight for only 2 hours.  (If my math is correct 12 meters/sec works out 48 km/hr., just a gentle breeze.)

That, of course, is in a wind tunnel. In practice, when racing in high ambient temperatures, we must provide sufficient fatty acids (fuel for the muscles), but ample water is also particularly important. Moisture is, in fact, the” limiting factor. The pigeon will have to find a drink (go down), when its body loses more than 4% to 5% of its moisture. They strive to maintain their optimal body temperature,  they balance their need for moisture, by lowering their speed of flight. They adapt to the slightest energy consumption in time and distance. Pigeons aren’t stupid.

Therefore, we must act sensibly when transporting our pigeons. Make sure the water tanks are filled with fresh water and clean them regularly so that at the finish line, their loft, we can enjoy pigeons that arrive from the race, fit and vital.

Wishing you success

Willem Mulder