Clandestino Lofts

Breeding and working thief pouters in Australia.

Spanish Thief Pouters I: "La Suelta"

Spanish Thief Pouters I: "La Suelta"

by JUSTO SANCHEZ RUIZ, Linares, Jaen, Spain


Becoming a pigeon fancier is a rather spontaneous process. To a certain point, it may be said that one is born a pigeon fancier and that, although there are many people who would like to raise pigeons, some of them just do not want to do so badly enough. Age, and also environment, are important to a beginner, but only the passing of time will show if he followed through and became a real breeder.

Getting started was a great deal more difficult in olden times than it is today. In the 1930's, a budding fancier knew about other people's birds from seeing them fly rather than from observing them in the loft. Even between experienced breeders, friendship took place only sporadically. Precious secrets, such as the raising of babies, the characteristics of breeding pairs, the occasional outcrosses, were zealously kept. Of all that lore, the facts concerning the preparation of male birds for the suelta sport deserved the sternest form of concealment.

A suelta is a team of Spanish Thief Pouter cocks kept single in order to attract strange hens to one's own loft. The game can be considered the epitome of the pigeon fancy in Spain and the touchstone of a fancier's and his birds' capabilities. It serves to judge fully the birds and their owner as well. Fifty years ago, it was normal to see the fanciers on streets and squares, admiring the male birds at work, commenting on the beauty and "intention" of their flight. There would also be talk about the animals' ancestry, training, general condition, and about the number and breed of birds that composed each suelta. The celebrated Valencianos were the breed most commonly used both of big and small size. In the entire city of Linares, in the province of Jaen, only one exceptional fancier kept Marcheneros as well as Cola-vueltas, which flew with their tails turned upwards. His pigeons, well cared for and selected for the utmost qualities, were certainly worth watching.

As we said before, each fancier carefully concealed from the others the reasons behind his success although eventually all knowledgeable breeders reached practically the same conclusions. Obviously, there are several factors that combine to make a suelta successful, the most important of them being the type of loft one has, the number of cocks one maintains in the suelta and, indeed, the birds themselves.

If the loft is in a low place, the birds should be of the smaller type and very aggressive whereas they can be bigger and heavier if the loft is placed on a high terrace, roof top or similar location. The number of birds depends on the space available since each one needs to be undisturbed, claiming a territory of its own. Each must have its own nest box, comfortable enough, dry and free from draughts, always maintained in the same place. There, water and feed can be individually allotted, which is an excellent practice.

A suelta may be perfect, as far as number is concerned, even when formed by as little as a two bird team, and it may have as many as seven. However, the more birds there are in the suelta, the more complicated it becomes. Perhaps three cocks alone make up the best possible team: one does not need to breed too many reserve birds; space and cleaning-time requirements are minimal; feed bills are reduced. Also, neighbours are not likely to complain too much about only three loose pigeons.

The best cocks for the suelta are those born in March or April (Northern Hemisphere). Spring birds are usually hale and strong; they enjoy a long period of preparation and besides, undergo their moult within the year they are born. Top feather condition, as one can easily imagine, is essential to the sport.

The colour of the birds may vary. It is advisable, nevertheless, that they be of the colour which best identifies their particular breed, and it is customary for all the birds in one suelta to have the same colour. In general, blue or dark coloured birds seem to keep their plumage in better condition than birds of other colours. We also like all of our birds to be of a similar type and size. That makes the suelta "look good", and probably all specimens will show similar qualities. Age is important too. An old bird tends to "break" the suelta, becoming a hindrance for the younger ones, especially in flight. For that reason, an adequate renovation of the team is always convenient.

An excellent training practice consists of flying the young pouter birds together with young racing homers so that they develop their wings at a maximum and acquire self-confidence in flight. Once the pouter males start selecting hens, however, the homer cocks should be withdrawn. Then the young pairs choose their nesting boxes and, upon laying their first eggs, are allowed to sit on them for about ten days. After that, the hens are cooped in where their mates cannot see or hear them. By September, the cocks are alone, separated from breeders, single hens, and youngsters, and will gradually reach their top condition. By December, they will delight the fancier with their beauty and performance.

It is not a good system to let a single hen fly with the suelta every now and then, as some fanciers do, in order to observe the males' work. On the other hand, it really pays off to be patient, letting the cocks reach the peak of their rut all by themselves. Thus, they will perform most attractively for a period of several months.

The suelta should be maintained from September to May. From May to August the suelta birds should be mated so as to "refresh" them. However, they must not be allowed to raise any babies. A new cycle will begin in September. The fancier will know by then if he has to retire any of last year's suelta cocks. Ideally, he would have to take out none of them, which would mean a certain degree of success. If a bird must be discarded because of old age, after performing well for several years, one does not necessarily have to worry. As a breeder, that very same bird is a sure bet for the future.

Translated by Jose Morales.






Spanish Thief Pouters II: "El Hembreo"

Spanish Thief Pouters II: "El Hembreo"

by José V.Joya Villegas, Dos Hermanas, Sevilla, Spain

Among southern Spain's pigeon fanciers, El Hembreo is the name given to a sport practiced utilizing hens of the different breeds of Thief Pouters. It is in part the antithesis-or maybe the compliment- of the suelta of male birds, which is sometimes referred to as El Celo, or "The Rut" (see accompanying article). Except for some towns in Cadiz province, the hen suelta is not so popular as the cock suelta, but perhaps its practise should increase since it helps to select the breeding hens after testing them severely, and also because it is positively entertaining. The following is a synthesis of two articles by Don José Joya describing the sport. Mr. Joya, a teacher by profession, is one of the most knowledgeable pigeon men that I know- a teacher at that, too- and a dear friend.

El Hembreo consists of flying a single hen that has been separated from her mate for about ten or fifteen days. She should be two or three years old and have shown a remarkable homing instinct, by being overprotective of her nest or by any other such signs of fondness for her home.

The day to let her fly may be either chosen at random or previously appointed by a group of neighboring fanciers. It is best to select a time when there is a good number of young males flying. She will fly among all of them trying to find a new mate for herself. Soon, she will choose a suitor to her liking and attempt to drive him to her loft while the chosen cock, in turn, tries to entice her to his own. Sometimes, there may be interference on the part of other birds, but at the end the suit is reduced to the original hen and a single cock. Then, it may take some weeks before one or the other "surrenders" and enters the strange loft.

Under identical circumstances, hens have less of a "conservation" instinct than cocks: they give up first and are trapped more easily. To make up for such a handicap, the fancier practicing the hembreo may play an ingenious trick: he prepares a relay team of three hens of the same colour. When the first one starts to show symptoms of weakness and seems about ready to turn herself in into her antagonist's home, her owner retires her and lets loose the second hen. Since she is of the same colour as the first one and flies in the same circuit, the male bird will not mind the change. But by now he is a little "burnt out" whereas the fresh hen works at the peak of her power. Naturally, if the process is repeated once again and the third hen comes into play, chances are that the potential seducer-unless he be a truly exceptional cock-will be finally deceived, seduced in turn, and trapped in the hens' loft.

By means of the hembreo game, fanciers trap other people's pigeons. These are sometimes returned in a friendly way, among jests and bragging and perhaps a little embarassment on the part of the owner of the captured bird. In earlier times, a symbolic, pre-established fee had to be paid as ransom for the captive. On some occasions, however, the trapped bird was instantly killed in the presence of its owner, who swore to seek revenge in the future.

Historical evolution of Spanish Pouters

Historical evolution of Spanish Pouters

by Luis Montiel Bueno


After reading some articles in the Magazine “Palomos Deportivos” (when it was still published), one realized the different trends that can be observed in the tastes of the fanciers of the Spanish Pouter Pigeons, and that they can happily coexist. On one side we have the supporters of the “picas” or “deportivos”, which are a world apart with their competitions and corresponding regulations. Then we have the fanciers who are enthusiastic about the different breeds of pure Pouters, their fixation to certain standards, and their exhibition in shows.

Then we have articles such as those of Francis, "Palomos de Clase", which appeared in the September 1990 issue, or "Palomos of my environment ", by Jose Castillo Rubio, in the September, 1991, that we turn our eyes to the pigeons of hunt.

These different approaches as to what is required of a Pouter Pigeon, all coming together in the same Magazine, shows the flexibility  in a species such as the pigeon, the different tastes of the fanciers, and of the historical evolution, which I will try and summarize from the beginning of the 20
th century to the present.

At the beginning of the 20th century different breeds of Pouters existed in Spain. No standards had been established yet. Every region had its own breed, and between regions there were intermediate zones, and in these zones the local breeds were adopting characteristics of
neighbouring pouters.

In all of Spain the breed that was enjoying the most popularity as a pouter of the hunt was the pigeon from Valencia. To say Valenciano Pouter Pigeon was to refer to the peak of the pigeons Laudinos. This can be read in the scanty written sources of which we arrange, that are "La Joya Colombófila ", of Confusio de Altamira Raventós (1924), which reference to the Spanish Pouters was literally copied for Alberto Brillat in " El Palomar Lucrativo " (1935), in " Nuestra Lucha ", of Ramon Fontelles (1970), or in The Pigeon " by Levi, for my taste, the best book ever written on pigeons.

The depth of interest in the Pouters was, naturally, in the East of the Peninsula (Valencia country). In that region they were valued fundamentally for their aptitude to attract females and strays, that is to say, to hunt, and their aptitude to resist, without being trapped into foreign lofts, to the strategies of seduction of pigeons of the opposite sex.

In that so populated region the fanciers were traveling from village to village, to see the
work of these out-standing pigeons and to see which were the best and hardest hunters. Reading the mentioned articles of Francis (Rota) and Ramon Fontelles one gets an idea of how these pigeons were in the 19th century.

In the 30s, immediately after the Decrees of the Defense Department for the protection of the homer pigeons against the Pouters, the Valencian fans did not have any other option but  to associate and be regulated, leaving behind the former free “suelta”, in which they hunted each others pigeons and any captures becoming the property of the new owner. They began to organize controlled “sueltas”, with their own hen. No longer was the aim to capture each others pouters but to fly a team of 3 or 4 cocks against your own hen. This was the beginning of the “pica” breed. The fanciers resorted to crossing the former Pouters with the rock pigeon and obtained an ardent, light and driven pigeon.  

With the new pigeon came new ethics. No longer is the thief pouter sport practiced and even the name thief pouter, as they were called, is no longer used. They were now “palomos deportivos” (sport pigeons). No longer is it a question of stealing anything from anybody, but to organizing sports competitions.

The new interest in picas spreads over the whole region of Valencia, and in a few years, by the end of the Spanish civil war (1939), the former Valencian Pouter had disappeared from the country that saw it born. The breed remained in other parts of Spain but in Valencia only the picas remained.

After the Spanish civil war, and into the 50s and 60s, came bad times for the ancient Pouters. The picas were spreading over the rest of Spain, and once established, the ancient Spanish pouters disappeared. Because the flight of pigeons of other breeds was interfering with the “sueltas”, the pica fanciers sought protection in diverse governmental dispositions, which started with the Decrees of the Department of Defense from the thirties to protect the homer pigeons, and whose culminating point is the Order of the Presidency of the Government of 10/12/1963, and resorting to the governmental authorities, they attempt to eliminate the ancient Pouters, whose owners were named scornfully as "clandestinos".

But there are regions in the interior of Spain, which in spite of the efforts of the fans of picas, the ancient pouter pigeons cannot be eliminated. On the one hand the fanciers refuse to change the pouters, which they have had all their lives for the new breed. On the other hand, in these regions with cereals and olive trees of the interior, they possess an inestimable collaborator in his defense against the picas, the zurita (feral or wild pigeon). Where the zuritas abound, the pica cannot take root. The pigeons best educated to the “suelta” sport when released would go after the zuritas. And if a pica goes after a zurita then it would be necessary to withdraw it from the “suelta”. The “suelta” of picas can only be done in certain regions free of zuritas such as urban areas, but not in inner cities where the zuritas cannot be eradicated.

So we come to the end of the 70s, with the picas as the only legalized breed, and with the ancient pouters prosecuted and only supported in regions in the interior of Spain, based on passive resistance and due to the lack of success with the picas in these zones.

Then the situation changes. Fanciers of Seville achieve success in having the ancient pouters admitted into the Federation of Colombicultura. They begin to develop the standards of the different breeds, at first those from the region of Seville, and to organize shows.

With the development of the different standards and the increase in the number of fanciers, shows proliferated throughout Spain. It has even taken root in Valencia, where the ancient pouters were eliminated more than fifty years earlier.

As with everything in life, the standardization of breeds and the commencement of shows have advantages and disadvantages. The advantages being the conservation of the different breeds and their distribution throughout the country. It gives me great satisfaction that the Jiennense Pouter for example, is known throughout the whole of Spain, and is bred in different regions of the country. This was not possible before the organization of shows.

As far as disadvantages of standardized breeds I will discuss two.     Only the breeds with standards are recognized to officially exist. We overlook the many local breeds, without an official standard, that are left. In many villages in the region of Jaen there existed very light, flying and working pouters, who have been replaced with the standardized, homogeneous, Jiennense Pouter of exhibition, heavier and not as good a worker as the local pre existing pouters.
This diminishes the genetic diversity, giving priority to a few races with standards, opposed to the many breeds that do not.

Without a standard very little is known of these localized breeds.  An example being the beautiful breed in flight, the Marteño Pouter, or Colillano de Martos, which is mentioned in an article in the issue of September, 91. It is relatively unknown outside of Martos, not having a standard and not being exhibited in shows.

 For many fanciers of the ancient Pouters the last thing they would be interested in is to compete at the shows. They are concerned with how a breed can be altered by the requirements of the show pen. It has happened abroad with the different exhibition breeds. For example, we have the Show Homer. No longer anything like the original homer. No longer a functional breed that can race but simply a good looking pigeon for the show pen.
But the shows are here to stay. Shows have been with us for about fifteen years now and are just another of the many facets of the pigeon fancy. Each fancier devotes himself to his breed of choice. The aim to be successful in the show pen and no longer is the emphasis on the flying and working ability.

Still there are even more facets to the Spanish pouters. One of them, the races of posture in flight. There are characteristics, basic in some breeds, which is their posture in flight and how they perform for members of the opposite sex. There is the flight of the Colillano of Seville (in Jaen we call them “olgueros”), that remains stopped in the air. Others, such as the Colillano de Martos, turns the tail up to almost touch his outer feathers. Or the Murciano, which gets up in almost vertical flight, like a helicopter. These races when put into a show pen, can only give a pale idea of what they are. It is necessary to see them flying and posturing. This is one facet of the Pouters which is separated from the show pen.

And finally, we have the thief pouters. This was the principal characteristic of the pouters at the beginning of the 20th century as mentioned by Fontelles. The fanciers that were coming to see certain pouters were not coming to see his plumage, his head or his posture in the air. They were coming to see how they were thieving, what snares they were using to trap their prey, and how they were resisting the females who were leaving them in “suelta”. For instance the Pouter from the article that I commented on, the “Pintao de Amarillo ", we don’t even know his breed, nor the shape of his head or the colour of his eyes. We knew that he was good, and that no female could resist him.

Of the Thief Pouters, we can consider two branches. In those places which have the custom of putting hens in “suelta”, the pouters have to be very hard so as not to be caught in foreign lofts. The game consists of the struggle between cock and hen in order to see which one of the two takes the other to their loft. These pouters, and this game, it seems continues in the region of Cadiz.

But in many other places in Andalucía the “suelta” of hens has not taken place for some time. Due to growing cities and the increase of zuritas the pouters in “suelta” tend to pursue the zuritas instead of the “suelta” hen. They became “zuriteros” (zurita hunters), and if they find a steamed hen of their own breed, they ignored them.

These pigeons do not need to be as hard as the pouters flying against “suelta” hens  because they can pursue the zurita hens without fear of being captured.. Here we need more ardent birds, better flyers and more seductive to attract the zurita hens. They will be required to be more controlled that the previous pouters  since his temperament makes him more vulnerable to getting lost. In order to be attractive to the zuritas they will need a cross  of zurita or of pica. With a hard hen in “suelta” this type of pouter, like picas, are caught easily.

So due to the increase of zuritas we hardly see the hens in “suelta” anymore. There are few fanciers flying this way now and the main pastime that offers them sport is the hunt for the steamed zurita hen which is beautiful to watch. Here the most suitable type of pouter is the type of bird that Jose Castillo Rubio mentions in his article of September 91. A fiery, light and active bird.

In summary we have gone from the one main purpose for keeping the Spanish pouters at the beginning of the 20th century to the panorama that the hobby offers us now:

On the one hand, the pica or Modern Thief Pouter that appeared in the thirties and whose presence is restricted to specific regions of the country, where the fans are highly organized, and the skies free of zuritas.

On the other hand, the ancient Thief Pouters, with their modern variations:
a) Breeds for show.
b) Breeds of posture in flight.
c) Pouter for the hunt, with his two variants of hard breeds, for those places in which the “hembreo” is practiced, and ardent cross breeds for those places where there are only zuritas.

With the pouters belonging in paragraph c), the morphologic characteristics have little importance compared with the quality of the pigeon for thieving, thus following the conductive thread back to the pouters of the beginning of the 20
th century.

Luis Montiel Bueno. Jaen, December of 1993

 Published in the Magazine " Arte  Avícola " no 36. Year 2000.



Each fancier will develop their own way to train their thief pouters. Not every pouter is the same and sometimes you need to try something different, but the method I am going to describe will definitely help educate some good thief pouters. To use this method, you need time and patience. Without these characteristics, this method will not help you.



The education of thief pouters starts right after the young are weaned at the age of about 28 days.  The best option is to be able to house a group of youngsters together in the same pen. This way they get plenty of exercise, but more important, they get to develop their personality. Pigeons are simply flock animals and as young, need to go through some form of socialization in order to have healthy and balanced development.


The preparation

Over time you will see that the youngsters start cooing. In the beginning hens will be faster in developing than cocks. This can sometimes confuse the fancier because we want to know how many cocks and hens we have as soon as possible.


The use of old hens

About a month after weaning we add some older hens to the group. We all know that the young hens can behave like cocks, but with some older hens in the group this is less likely. Cocks will behave as cocks and hens as hens. Far less confusing for the fancier.

After about another 30 days we can move the young cocks in their own loft. We now have a cock section and a hen section. It is nesseccary that they can’t see each other and preferable that they can’t hear each other in order to prevent distractions.

After approximately one week we return the young cocks to the hens for one day only. Thus slowly fanning the fire. We repeat this every week for the next 3 or 4 weeks.


First phase of training

The young cocks will now be somewhere between 4 and 5 months of age. Time for every young cock to be given their own box. It will take several days for them to become used to their own box. Do not start the next step until the young cocks are well accustomed to sleeping in their own boxes. Usually they will continue to try to enter the hen section. If it happens just keep putting the youngster back in his own box.



When the cocks have accepted their box we can start giving them some company. During training we will release a young hen with the cock. After a day we remove this hen and the next day release another young hen with the cock ensuring the new hen is a different colour to the previous one. The reason for all this is to form the character of our future thief pouter. We have to prevent it developing a preference for a certain colour hen. In addition, the cock itself does not become attached to a hen but develops a seductive behaviour, and learns that each hen can provide a different pleasure. Continue to change the hens each day for at least 5 days.


Second phase

In some cocks this phase can be achieved quite quickly but in others more time is required. Let the cocks out to fly together. After a few hours release some hens at a ratio of approximately one hen for every three cocks. Allow the cocks to work the hens and observe those that are dominant in their pursuit of the hens and also observe those that stay in the background. The cocks that win the hens are allowed to spend the night with the hens in their boxes while the others go without. Continue this phase for a few months with intervals of 2 to 4 days between each turn. Gradually reduce the number of hens released with the cocks until only one hen is released. The cocks will increasingly have to do their best to conquer the hen. You will see some spectacular action and will quickly sort out the lazy cocks.


Selection Continues

The cocks that show little or no interest are removed from the group. This is easily observed by the fancier who spend time with his pouters observing their behaviour.


They are ready for the job

After about seven months the young cocks are ready to do their job. The fancier should by now have reduced the number of cocks he commenced with. This not only makes the job easier as you have less cocks to work with but he is no longer wasting time and money on pouters that are not up to the job. This doesn’t mean that all the cocks you have kept are totally ready as some may require a little more work.  They can be bought along quietly but basically they are now ready to work.


As I mentioned in the beginning this is my method and other fanciers may do it differently. All I can say is that this method works for me and I hope it can help you on your way.


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