A subculture of dove breeding in Central Virginia

Published 4:17 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The gray-toned common pigeons seen scavenging crumbs on city streets have some fancy cousins in the country. 

Spiral-feathered frill backs, stunning white saints, robust fantails and multi-color ringnecks live in comfortable lofts managed by breeders and showers statewide. 

At Wildbriar Lofts in Central Virginia, the Kerns family raises 150 to 200 babies, or squeakers, annually. The birds with the most unique characteristics are shown at competitions, some are sold internationally, and others make docile family pets. 

Email newsletter signup

This subculture of pigeon and dove breeding, showing and training was established in Virginia by WWII veterans returning from service. Their first meeting was held in the back of a feed store in downtown Richmond, eventually becoming the Virginia Pigeon and Dove Association. Since then, the VPDA has been an integral component of the State Fair of Virginia’s live exhibits. 

When young Andrew Kerns walked into the VPDA exhibit tent at the 1985 State Fair and saw his first fantail pigeon, “I fell in love,” he recalled. 

“The VPDA has been a staple here for a long time, with a dedicated membership to keep it going,” said Glenn Martin, who oversees livestock exhibits at the State Fair’s home at The Meadow Event Park. “Other exhibits have come and gone, but they have staying power. People find it so interesting, and they’re great about getting kids started in it.” 

Now a renowned master breeder and judge, Kerns attends shows worldwide — particularly in the Middle East, where the pigeon culture thrives. 

Kerns has bred fantails for 36 years now. His family converted a singlewide trailer into an immaculate indoor-outdoor pigeon loft, safe from predators. Pigeon pairs are carefully matched for breeding season. 

“If you know what you’re doing in inheritance of color genes, you can transfer new colors to breeds,” Kerns explained. “In the fantail world, that’s what I’m known for—introducing new color patterns like stenciling, which didn’t previously exist.” 

Sharp lines of black appear stenciled around each tail feather’s stark white outer fan, or vice versa. The breed’s striking outcome was years in the making, and Kerns owns the naming rights. His records trace pedigrees back 20 generations. 

“Now I’m trying to get the curl on the frill back’s wing into the saint,” Kerns added. “It would be completely new. I’ve been working on it 10 years now, and still in progress.” 

But when a breeding project pays off, he said, seeing the desired feathers come in “is just like Christmas.”