The Jacobin Pigeon, named after the Jacobin order of monks, is known for its feathered hood over its head. It has been bred with a hood so large that it can interfere with mating and they often require foster parents to raise their young.
Jacobin Pigeon

Fancy Pigeon Portraits

“Pigeons are rats with wings” is a common sentiment in the US but they are an art form for the pigeon fanciers of Cairo. There are a variety of fancy pigeon breeders in Cairo. I talked my way up to one of the ubiquitous wood slat roosts that are visible across the city and have learned that their obsession reaches across the region, lasts for generations, and has created some amazing birds. I see the narrative of the story following these eccentric hobbyists that pour hours each day into feeding, breeding, raising, and loving these amazing birds.

Pigeons fly in a coop above Manshaet Nasr. In the unregulated neighborhood of Manshaet Nasr many Christian's started family businessmen's of collecting and recycling Cairo's garbage in CAIRO, EGYPT on June 26.

These pigeon portraits are from Egypt but I often hear about the hobby across the Middle East. Historically each country or region would have its local pigeon breed and most enthusiasts would focus on improving their birds against their local neighbor’s birds.

Fancy Pigeon: Maltese Pigeon - Maltese Pigeons originated in Northern Italy near Modena. Drawings of the birds of that period resemble the Dodo, which is now extinct. Since then, they have been bred for their long neck and legs and their boxy shape.
Maltese Pigeon
Fancy Pigeon: King Pigeon - The King pigeon is known for its large size. While there are a few show varieties, it is more suitable for eating and squab production. It is a breed that originated in the United States during the 1890s but is now used world-wide as a utility bird.
King Pigeon
The Jacobin Pigeon, named after the Jacobin order of monks, is known for its feathered hood over its head. It has been bred with a hood so large that it can interfere with mating and they often require foster parents to raise their young.
Jacobin Pigeon

In the pre-internet age the elders of the community would pass their knowledge and finest specimens directly on to their younger neighbors, pigeon markets were the place to browse and socialize, but in the last 10 years, major shifts have come with the internet.

Pigeons are now traded across borders and competitions are now international. One enthusiast described how he bought a couple of pigeons in Jordan and had them smuggled under the seat of a long-haul truck into Egypt. Another enthusiast entered a competition in Saudi Arabia by first flying to Riyadh, finding the perfect specimen there, and entering it into the Saudi competition.

Fancy Pigeon: English Pouter - English Pouters are a very old breed and are known and recorded from the 1730s.
English Pouter
Fancy Pigeon: English Fantail - A couple of English Fantails pigeons. Charles Darwin kept English Fantails in his pigeon loft and used them as examples in the first chapter of "On The Origin Of Species." They are bred in more than fifty colors and marking patterns.
English Fantails

Pigeon fancier knowledge is shared on internet forums, images of their finest birds are posted on facebook. The birds are no longer geographically restricted as the finest specimens of Birmingham Rollers, Baghdadis, Turkish Tumblers, Iranian High Flyers, and Egyptian Swifts can be found in Australia, US, Europe, Saudi, and Kuwait.

The Crested Frillback Pigeon has no clear country of origin but an explorer in 1757 Egypt saw pigeons in Cairo "on which each and every feather was twisted or turned round." Breading for to accentuate these traits, without introducing unwanted results, requires strategizing of coupling a few generations in the future.
Crested Frillback
This English Longface is labeled as a tumbler. Tumblers are known for their distinctive mid-flight backflips, but as they were eventually bred for their rounded heads, English Longface Tumblers lost their unique flight pattern and some even lost their ability to fly.
English Longface
The Polish Owl is actually one of 52 breeds of Polish pigeons and is closely related to the Budapest Short Face. They are bred to be as small as possible and have a very precise posture, when taken to competitions they are scored based on how close they are to a recognized standard.
Polish Owl

The ability to talk about pigeons is the ability to make an immediate relationship in the working class neighborhoods of Cairo. Many times when I want to photograph from a high vantage point or simply talk with a local person in private I’ll point at a pigeon coop and ask who the owner is. It is the key that has opened many doors.

When I had an assignment to photograph el-Seed’s multi-building mural in Manshayet Naser for the New York Times I first photographed from the monastery on the side of the mountain. But I found the best view to be from a pigeon coop hanging out with a few young men.

Calling pigeons home in front of El Seed mural in Cairo, Egypt