Killer raptors threaten future of Welsh pigeon racing, fans warn
Pigeon racing in Wales could end by 2030, as birds of prey like peregrines, hawks and wood-pigeon “killing machines” move in increasing numbers in the cities.
Peregrine falcons, some of the fastest creatures in the world, soar through the air at speeds of up to 240 mph before hitting pigeons with their sharp talons.
Now the Welsh Homing Pigeon Union Society is calling for a change in the law so that its members can take action to protect their birds from hawks.
Gwyneth Jones, 71, secretary of the Skewen Pigeon Homing Society in Swansea, has housed and raced pigeons for almost 20 years with her partner John, 81.
She said: “We are certainly seeing fewer and fewer of our members registering their pigeons during the racing season. They are too scared and worry about whether there are raptors near where the birds are released.
“At one time, hawks and peregrines nested in the cliffs and in the mountains. Now they nest in places like the BT Tower in Swansea and the Mond Building in Clydach.
“They know where the pigeons are and rush to attack.
“When you raise a pigeon from an egg, it’s heartbreaking to see those hawks spinning overhead while waiting to attack.
“The birds are really brave, flying hundreds of kilometers out of the way home. The idea that they are being targeted by hawks is horrible.
A spokeswoman for the Welsh Homing Pigeon Union said: “The number of raptor attacks against carrier pigeons by hawks and peregrine falcons is increasing, posing a threat to this traditional pastime.
“As a result, the number of people involved in pigeon racing is declining rapidly and the hobby could disappear by 2030. There are currently around 1,900 people involved in pigeon racing in Wales.”
Margaret Evans, President of the Welsh Homing Union Society, based in West Wales, said: “The hawks and peregrines have been joined by the Northern Goshawk who is nothing but a killing machine. .
“Carrier pigeons form close bonds with their owners and birds offer companionship, affection, comfort and, most importantly, pleasure. Fanciers treat their birds like pets and take good care of them.
“It is the only domestic animal to enjoy total freedom on a daily basis and naturally in competition and racing each time they leave their lofts. Therefore, attacks from predatory birds can greatly affect pigeon fanciers.
“We are bird lovers, we don’t want raptors to be culled, we would like them to be relocated in cases where they cause intolerable damage to the pigeons.”
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: ‘The increase in the numbers of our many birds of prey in Wales in recent years has been a notable achievement for our rural environment and has indirectly had an impact on the control of populations of wild pigeons in urban areas.
“However, we understand that the increase in the numbers of hawks and peregrine falcons in particular has also resulted in an increased risk for carrier pigeons.
“Carrier pigeon owners can apply to Natural Resources Wales for a license to control problem raptors under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
“However, pigeon owners would have to demonstrate that they had already tried alternative non-lethal control methods and that these had failed and that the method they proposed would be effective, before such a license could be granted. “