In the Beginning
The following two articles were discovered on an
Italian website and give some insight into the training and flying of the Modena triganino pigeon. The name is said to be an adaptation of the Greek word trigon which means dove because of the small size
and sleek build of this flying breed. The breed is also called the barchetto. A barco is a hunting lodge, but barchetto could also be a form of the word barca/barchetta
which means a little boat, due to the shape of the birds with their narrow, high front and back ends and wider, lower mid-section
just like a gondola and some other traditional Italian boats have. This is a
flying bird that has many of the same characteristics as the English Modena and German Modena pigeons.
Early writings on the importation of the Modena
to England and Germany in the second half of the nineteenth century describe birds of the hen pigeon type. These both stood tall and had upright necks and tails, although a smaller-sized, finer bird was preferred
in Germany than in England. Selection in the two countries and later refinement
in the US has lead to two distinctive breeds. But what of the triganino that
is still found in Modena?
Is the triganino the mother breed of the other
two as is claimed by some sources, perhaps with the addition of hen pigeon bloodlines from other Italian breeds, or is it
simply a sister breed that grew up with the others and shares certain color characteristics, such as the gazzi pattern, with
them due to an appreciation of such colors among the Modenese breeders of different types of pigeons? After all, incorporating the desired colors could be easily achieved by cross breeding and subsequent breeding
back to the original line until type is re-established.
Interestingly, Bonizzi, the author credited with
introducing the Modena outside Italy, speaks of one Modena pigeon, yet the birds he sent to Germany varied in size considerably.
The game that is referred to in the articles is
an attempt to lure another player’s pigeons to join your flock and capture them without having your birds captured by
The author of the two articles is unidentified
on the website; they are translated by Sebastian Vallelunga.
The Uncovering of Memory
Re-reading, at a distance of some years, the cited article, I began to think of the
future. Our posterity, more or less distant, has heard of this winter sport,
practiced in Modena from long ago times until the mid-twentieth century. And
what if someone takes it into his head to try to resume it? The thing is possible
if two or more persons agreed to revive it; for now there no longer exist those television antennas atop the houses that impeded,
to the point of death, those low flights which scraped the roof tops. But who
would teach them how to train the pigeons as the old-time triganieri did?
In the many publications that outline or treat this material, I have not found any that
give more than imprecise descriptions in this regard. Even Bonizzi, who wrote
a textbook on the matter of the Modena triganini pigeons, speaks of the game of
pigeon flying in a descriptive form, without entering into the technical particulars.
The same is true for Malagoli, who at the end of the 1800’s wrote quite a bit about pigeons but more than anything
about racing pigeons. There was also a lexicon, published some forty years ago,
by Professor Reggiani of Modena, which was very detailed in its description of the game and of the fixtures needed in keeping
the pigeons, but for all that, in regards to training he revealed only superficial knowledge, and in some parts it was erroneous.
The rules for the art of flying and training the pigeons, how to have them change directions
on command and to scrimmage with other flocks, according to my research, have never been written down. They were passed down verbally for centuries, and above all by practical lessons, from a triganiere to his disciples, whether these were family or friends or simply quick-witted neighborhood boys who,
in order to better see the game and learn it, had no problem about climbing into the loft to help the triganieri even in the most humble of cleaning or maintenance chores.
This custom became less followed well before the complete disappearance of the traditional
form of the game, which happened in part due to having run its course and in part due to the events of the war in 1941-42: and now those who have practiced this sport and know its secrets number only six or
seven persons, very advanced in age, if not actually ancient.
For this reason, I am attempting to put down on paper how we flew and trained our pigeons
and how posterity can proceed. However, it will be a tiring attempt and I have
many doubts about making myself completely understood.
First, by way of encouragement, I would say that maintaining thirty or so pigeons to
fly and to breed is not a very onerous task. The triganieri generally made the equipment and loft themselves with used boards and many nails, and the cost of acquiring
pigeons now-a-days could be very low (if you are satisfied with individuals that are not of a particularly high quality). To feed thirty pigeons takes about 750 grams of feed per day, made up of vetch (the
main ingredient), a bit of wheat, corn, and milo. In a year, less than three
quintals (a quintal is equal to 100 units, whether pounds or kilos—trans.), at a reasonable average price and reasonable
total for the year.
On the other hand, from fifteen pairs one will get an average of 75 or 80 squabs per
year, which even if sold as meat birds, will realize enough to almost cover expenses.
So, one can cover the extra costs by refraining from smoking one cigarette or so per
However, I must say that the game is still quite a challenge because, during the preparation
period, it is necessary to spend time with the birds every day, whether to perform the daily flight training or at least to
put them out to keep them in training (excluding, of course, those days when it is impossible due to rain, snow, or fog),
or to care for the pigeons, even on these inclement days, by giving them their daily rations of feed.
Flight Trained Pigeons and the Fundamental Elements of the Game
As was pointed out in an introductory article, the game takes advantage of some of the
peculiar qualities of pigeons, that is, restraint and speed in flight, the effects of hunger and food rewards, the fear of
a waving flag and of sharp whistles and loud sounds. The elements of the game
are the following: 1) trained pigeons; 2) staple food, that is, the giving of
the allotted feed at the end of the day of flying; 3) the gustata and the giving
of small portions of various special feeds as rewards; 4) the flag; 5) the whistles.
The Modena triganini pigeons, whether gazzi or schietti, retain their adaptations
to flight because they are strong and free of imperfections either in their bodies or feathers. Certainly, some are of more delicate feather and reluctant to be trained.
Like children at their studies, almost every individual pigeon is found early on to have diverse likes, levels of stamina,
tastes and fears; but little by little they are brought together as a flock and become obedient and clever. A practiced triganiere is almost certain to know how to train
every pigeon, but a novice who struggles with a bird that doesn’t want to learn is better off quickly eliminating it
because a pigeon that breaks away from the flock or stays to the rear can compromise the good outcome of a flight or even
of a whole flock because it can transmit its vices to others.
Pigeons for training must be young, within their first year if possible. And, moreover, it is necessary that they have been out in the open.
Those which, from birth, have always remained locked up in a coop, or as is said in triganieresco terminology, “don’t know roof tiles,” are very much at risk because at the first
release they may glide down to the narrow streets or into a courtyard and be unable to rise back to the coop.
Within the flock of triganini may be kept
a few homing pigeons or crossbreds with this race, but not many because the homing pigeon has a slower and less changing flight
than the triganino and will retard the perfect training of the flock, but once
they are accustomed to flying in a flock, many times they become the lead bird because they are stronger and more intelligent.
The number of components within the classic flock was twenty or thirty birds. One may have considerably fewer, but it is best not to have an excessive quantity, at least due to the
fact of inexperience of the trainer and the difficulties that may arise in feeding, etc.
Feeding is the basis of the flight. It
consists in the management of the coop, each day after work, in the quantity of feed that is given for each bird, sufficient
for keeping it strong and muscular, but at the same time light enough to eliminate waste or fat, in such a way that the birds will be obedient to the orders of the triganiere.
The feed for maintenance is generally constituted of milo mixed with cracked grain and
vetch; this must be a seeding variety (mountain, Piacentian, Sicilian, etc.), excluding the “glassy” vetches that
are not digested by pigeons and can cause them to suffer gravely.
One may add a handful of whole wheat grains or cracked wheat which are feeds with low
One should start by spreading a couple of fistfuls of milo and cracked grain on the
floor of the coop then, when this is gone, give the vetch a little at a time and begin “regulating” the birds
one by one. Grasp each from above with its wings closed with one hand and appraise
its weight, then with the other hand, feel the breast near the sternum to judge the roundness of the muscle first and then
feel the crop.
If the crop has reached the desired fullness, according to the quantity described below,
the pigeon is placed in a separate pen, the rest are left in the coop where they continue to feed.
Then one picks up another and then another, and then back to those that have been allowed
to continue feeding, repeating the operation until none are left in the loft’s feeding area and the feeding is complete. It is good once in a while to throw a few grains of milo into the separate pen to
keep the birds from rushing the gate to return to the feeding area, where they know there is feed, and keeping the pigeons
in the feeding area calm with a little milo and vetch.
After a few days, the triganiere will learn
which birds are fastest at swallowing the grain and can check these first, and those which are habitually slower will remain
the last to be examined; the operation must become ever faster to prevent some pigeons “escaping” examination
and, therefore, eating more than desired.
Before continuing, it is necessary to define a few terms that are frequently encountered:
“a morbino” is what a pigeon is called that
has eaten as much as it wants during the feeding period
“a fame” is what a pigeon is called that is
kept to a lighter daily ration, to make it fly well or for other motives
“stretto” is what a pigeon is called that is
given a smaller quantity of feed than its normal daily ration
“alto” on the contrary to the term above, this
is a pigeon that has eaten more than its normal daily ration
“stringere” and “alzare” are the corresponding verbs to describe the decreasing and increasing the rations compared
to the average amount or the amount of the preceding days
In regard to the quantity of feed one may say, by way of indication and for birds that
have already been regulated, that the crop must be filled to, but normally not to exceed, the size of a walnut; however, it
can be much smaller and, rarely, even bigger in accord with the various necessities of the diverse phases of training or of
the game and with the specific qualities of the feed in terms of nutrition and how filling it is; the external temperature
is also a factor because the more the temperature lowers the more calories the pigeon needs to keep itself strong and dynamic. The variations which necessitate the stringere
or alzare will be dealt with later.
The medium daily quantity of feed is around 20/25 grams, but it may vary substantially
by bird and by circumstances. A triganino
pigeon weighs, when it is a morbino in the area of 320 grams; when it is a fame the weight goes down, when the crop is empty, to around 275 grams.
The gustata is the food reward which is bestowed
on the flock for a job well done. One gives a small quantity of grain when the
pigeons land on their own. For the gustata
the feeds they like best should make up the greatest part and those of the “premio”
(prize—trans.) should be milo or cracked grain, wheat or wheat chips, and vetch.
Only rarely should “sleeping” maze be given because pigeons, when they have an empty stomach, seem drunk
and lethargic when they eat it. As will be said, the flock rapport will be increased
with each phase of training and each game. If the triganiere determines that they have not followed his commands, he is to give nothing to the flock; thus, “lo tira giu in niente” (he pulls them down to nothing—trans.) as one says using triganieresca terminology.
Some milo or cracked grain always serves to tempt the pigeons into the loft.
The “banderoula” or “straz” (flag or rag—trans.) is made of a dark cloth attached to a flexible handle. The classic type is made from a few sections of black umbrella fabric loosely fastend on a handle made
of a stick with a large knot or fork to hold on to because each handle will then have a large handhold which can be beaten
on the surface of the roof deck to produce sounds to startle the pigeons (“stangheda”). The flag serves to keep the pigeons far from the roof deck and to maneuver them back
and forth or turn them to the right or the left as the triganiere has the opportunity.
When the flock is far away, it is always highly agitated because, at least it
would appear, pigeons always have an eye for long distance flying, so the flock must be brought down and then called in to
make them return home and descend to the deck.
The flag also serves at times to punish the pigeons when they make some grave error: they are allowed to land on the deck, then rather than giving them their gustata, the flag is launched into their midst and struck on the deck with a few blows. They will be so frightened that afterwards it takes a long time and a lot of patience before they return
to land again.
One must never overuse this, if the pigeons become tired, they will go and land on some
structure in the vicinity; they go “a ciurla” (they waiver—trans.);
therefore, they cause the triganiere to “waiver” also, and this is,
then, a big problem for the future as well.
The whistles are of two types. Those done
in a bass or low tone act as calls, whether to get them to land on the deck or to enter the loft. Since every person has a different voice, each triganiere modulates
his whistles differently; this is important because the pigeons of another triganiere
will become suspicious at the sound of a strange whistle.
A sharp or high whistle, which one can also obtain with the help of tin whistles or
with the help of the fingers, serves to make the pigeons fly far and high when they are in danger of being captured.
The season for playing the game is limited to the period from October to the first,
or at most the middle, of March; not earlier because it is still too hot and the pigeons are still molting and not later because
the whether improves and the pigeons are mating and obey reluctantly.
One may, in theory, fly them in all daylight hours, but in the early morning the pigeons
need special encouragement, have not yet finished digesting the previous evening’s meal, and are sluggish; on the other
hand, in the late afternoon they anxiously await their feeding and are reluctant to fly far from home. The best conditions are to be had between the hours of 11 AM and 4 PM.