|EYESIGN - An Alternative View
Eyesign is rubbish. I will repeat that in case there
is any doubt how I stand on the subject. Eyesign is utter rubbish. For
anyone to think that the racing performance or breeding potential of a
pigeon can be linked to it's eye is crazy. What astounds me is that after
rearing it's ugly head, I thought the taboo of eyesign would sink into
insignificance, a fad, a passing novelty, and once people realised that it
had no foundation, the subject would be dropped like a ton of bricks. But
no! It's still with us. In fact I think that recently, driven by the new
wave of videos and books, it is even gaining momentum!
I can't believe that I'm even writing on the subject, it is a non topic.
It shouldn't be the subject of conversation for anyone. But why is eyesign
still a fashionable subject?
I think it tells us more about ourselves as people than as pigeon
fanciers. The example that comes to mind is the story of the Emperors new
clothes. You remember the story where the kings tailors managed to
convince the king that his new costume was the finest in the land, but in
reality there was no new costume, because they'd run out of material. Well
the king was convinced, and he paraded through the streets naked, to show
the people his fine attire. (And this is where the pigeon fanciers come
in). They lined the streets waving and cheering and although they couldn't
see a costume it only took one of them to proclaim that it was the finest
costume that he'd ever seen and the whole crowd agreed, in case they were
thought to be mad.
And this is what has fueled the enthusiasm of the eyesign brigade. As soon
as one successful flier says that he uses eyesign for selecting his best
pigeons, people suddenly follow in the hope that they can be as
successful. Others have joined them, believing that there was at last a
short cut to finding and breeding winners. But I wonder if will they ever
finally realise that there is no magical eyesign. The king really is
And what hasn't helped is that the theorists have jumped on the band
wagon. Ironically, many of them, not successful pigeon fliers at all. In
fact some don't even keep pigeons! But I suppose their motivation is that
it makes them feel important, by being a self proclaimed authority on
something, even if it has no basis. The glaring observation, that
illustrates immediately that eyesign is a fallacy, is the wide variations
in the descriptions given on what exactly a 'good' eyesign looks
What is really worrying, is that if pigeon racing was a high profile
sport, and the public found out that we look into a pigeon's eye to see if
it will win a race, we'd be ridiculed. In no other sport has such an
absurd concept held any credibility. Take horseracing. When you watch the
racing on the television you never hear the commentator mention whether
the winning horse had a complete circle of adaptation! And when I go
greyhound racing I don't hear over the speaker system that the dog in trap
six has a diffuse violet blending into a broken circle of correlation! And
what of the great human athletes when they win gold medals in the Olympics
it's not even mentioned what colour their eyes are!
What also hasn't helped is the scribes, who have trodden a safe path by
coming to a happy compromise and saying that eyesign has it's merits, but
that other things also contribute to performance and breeding. They often
recount stories of people picking the best bird in the loft, or at a show,
by eyesign. To view a birds eye properly the pigeon has to be picked up or
at least viewed at from very close quarters, I suspect that any success is
because of the other attributes that a champion pigeon carries.
Let us look at the so-called 'signs' in the eye and identify what the
eyesigners are really looking at:-
1) Pupil - Yes It's the pupil. The hole, or aperture through which
light must enter for a bird to be able to see anything. It is usually a
symmetrical but it can often be elliptical. It makes little
2) Circle of adaptation - It's really the sphincter muscle around
the pupil. This is needed to change the size of the pupil to prevent too
much light entering the eye and damaging the retina. In bright sunlight it
will contract and pull the iris towards the centre of the eye, thus
reducing the size of the pupil.
3) Circle of Correlation - This correlates with absolutely nothing.
It's just the elastic connective tissue binding the sphincter muscle to
the iris so that when the sphincter muscle contracts the iris can
4) The Iris - The thin contractile coloured membrane that prevents
light entering the eye from the too many directions. Without the iris not
all the light would pass through the pupil to the lens and the image would
be ill defined and blurred. The reason the iris is coloured is to prevent
bright sunlight penetrating into the eye and damaging the retina. The
coloured pigment acts as a shield. This is why albino children who lack
eye pigment have to wear sunglasses most of the time to prevent damage to
their eyes. Without that pigment the pigeon would be blinded every time it
went out into the sun.
5) The outer circle - the connective tissue that connects the eye
to the eye muscles. This connective tissue gives an anchorage point for
those muscles. When the eye muscles contract they change the directional
orientation of the eye in it's socket.
It can be seen that these structures all have perfectly sensible functions
and they serve the same purpose in all animals, from pigeons to cows. They
certainly won't predict whether a pigeon will win a race or breed a
winner. So what are the real qualities that common sense tells us
contribute to the performance of a pigeon?
The functional features : Powerful muscles, blood supply, heart,
lungs, air sacs, brain and wings. It's shape, weight, feathering and
metabolic efficiency all affect performance.
The environmental factors : Diet, nest position, position in the
moult, the presence of disease and the pigeon's previous training. All
these things contribute to a pigeon's health, form, fitness, condition,
morale and homing abilities.
Other factors: The age of the pigeon, the weather, the drag of the
race, the position of the loft, all contribute to a pigeon's racing
performance. Also how long the pigeon is in the transporter, and whether
or not it gets a drink, will affect it's racing performance. Plus the one
thing that no pigeon's eye has any influence over :- how stiff the
competition is! There may be many birds in a race with a so called 'good
eyesign' but there will only be one winner.
The idea that a pigeon's eye will predict whether it will breed winners is
even more incredulous. Practice tells us that even breeding from pigeons
with a history of wins does not guarantee that they will breed winners. So
anyone who thinks a pigeon's eye would be a better predictor than previous
performance is just living a fantasy.
I used to become irritated at the insistence of the pigeon press to print
close-ups of a winning pigeon's eye, some journals even put the close-ups
on the front cover, but I have since realised that this has done us all a
favour. Just look back at all the eyes ever printed of previous champions
you will notice one thing. They are all different! No one eye is the same.
They could almost be used like fingerprints are today to identify
individuals. One particular champion recently published had the worst so
called 'racing' eyesign I'd ever seen. Just look at it (Racing Pigeon
Pictorial March 99 No.350 Page 39). In eyesign terms the eyesign is a
complete mess. The eye has a diffuse red brown iris completely broken at
the front by large gashes of black that run against the grain of the
underlying colour. The pupil is an asymmetric ellipse! The outer circle is
incomplete! And this is the clincher - it has NO visible circle of
adaptation in fact the inner edge is jagged! And yet, this particular
pigeon, called 'De Slap' was raced by Jef De Wilder. It won the National
From Limoges 1997 21,776 birds and just for good measure won 1st
Provincial from Chateauroux 2,744 birds a month later. It's a good job Jef
isn't an eyesign man or he would have immediately outed the pigeon as a
So what were the origins of eyesign theory? To find out I dug deep into
pigeon literature. I had to go back 55 years to The Homing World Stud Book
of 1945. It was nearing the end of the second world war. On page 27 there
is an article entitled 'The Eye', unfortunately the author's name was not
even mentioned. But within this 3-page article are some key remarks. I
'In the pigeon world the eye was formerly used to name the strain or
variety of bird from which any particular pigeon was descended. The
Antwerps had this kind of eye; the Smerles had that kind; the Carrier had
another kind and so on. But all these characteristics have been lost in
the maelstrom of mixed breeding, breeding without understanding, to get
the perfect racing pigeon. Now the original characteristics have become
almost inextricably muddled.' The author goes on:- 'The conglomeration of
types and strains became so great that it was almost impossible to sort
out these old originals and few fanciers regard the eye theory with any
So there you have it, even 55 years ago eyesign had been abandoned. But
you can see from these early writings just how the eye theory came about.
All the early strains, when kept pure, had characteristic eye types and
colours. It was from these early strains that the current racing strains
originated but as the author stated, by interbreeding these early strains
Eyesign, or more correctly Eyetype has been lost.
So what is the future of eyesign? Well I think that it will be with us for
a long time yet. It's appeal will be to play on peoples curiosity,
particularly those wanting a short-cut to producing winners. This
curiosity will be fired by the commercial drive to sell videos and books
on the subject and by isolated, unconfirmed, anecdotal accounts by
evangelists, claiming of the miraculous predictions that can be made using
And after all this we will still fail to realise that the only purpose of
a pigeons eye is to see with!
Written by Alan Wheeldon
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