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Spanish Thief Pouters II: "El Hembreo"  The Use of Hens as Thieving Pouters
by Josť 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 practice 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 Josť 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 color. 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 color 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 embarrassment 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.

Translated by Jose Morales.



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