Pigeon racing in Lanarkshire and why this much-loved sport has been flying high for centuries

It may not be the most popular sport, but there are some devout Lanarkshires with an undying passion for pigeon racing.

The activity can see the birds cover more than 500 miles in a matter of hours as they are closely timed in fierce competition around the world.

The pigeons are taken to chosen locations and released, instructed to return to their respective homes as quickly as possible.

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Better known as “homing”, the time it takes the animal to cover the distance is measured against its speed of movement, calculating which bird returns home at the fastest speed.

And as local band Coalburn and District Homing Club showed with a host of sparkling trophies at their recent awards night, the prizes can be quite impressive for this unique sport.

But on January 29, the annual gathering was more like a reunion and celebration of club members getting to meet again, having not seen each other since before the pandemic.

Coalburn and District Homing Club

The trophy presentation and dancing took place at Harris and Ollie’s home in Lesmahagow with guests and other Tranent fanciers accompanied by over 50 other people on the night.

New member of the Lanarkshire club and writer for numerous pigeon racing publications, Mary Thomson spoke with Lanarkshire Live about her love for homing and how she wants to see it promoted more in local areas.

She hopes that more young people will become interested in the sport by telling about the fantastic things that pigeons can do.

Mary told us: “Pigeon racing dates back hundreds of years, as well as in times of war, when pigeons were bred and taken in boxes to carry messages across different countries.

“Pigeons are actually quite intelligent animals. But it’s a dying sport.

“New housing estates, town halls and birds of prey are all challenges for homeing today.

“We used to try to promote it in schools, but you can’t do that anymore.

“In places like the Netherlands and Belgium they take pigeon racing to a whole new level.”

Frankie the pigeon was gifted to Mary at the club and he has already traveled over 200 miles

Racing pigeons are specially bred and trained with some worth a fortune, with Mary telling us of a pigeon that recently sold for £30,000 in Blackpool.

“The things these pigeons can do, they can fly over 500 miles in a day,” she added. “They can be released at 5 a.m. and go home at 5 p.m. if it’s a good race.

“It’s just to try to get the message out to people, and it might even affect a little boy who maybe doesn’t like football for example.”

The Coalburn Awards Night was the first time since pre-COVID that members and riders could meet.

“Beautiful trophies were awarded that night,” added Mary.

“I was blown away by the quality of the club and the involvement of everyone. It was packed.”

“I don’t think I’ve been to such a well-supported event for so long. It was especially nice to see the young families there, with their young children.

“I’ve only been to the Coalburn party twice and both times they’ve always been very well attended. Secretary Hazel Harrison goes above and beyond to make sure every detail is thought out and everything goes smoothly. Good.”

The amount of equipment used in pigeon racing is large and has evolved over the years.

The pigeons have electronic timing systems to accurately record their travel times, which is essential given the proximity of the races – sometimes in just seconds.

They are also transported in specialist trailers to ensure a level playing field for the racing pigeons and so that they can all check in as they leave at the same time.

Each of the pigeons is given a metal tracker around their leg, and when they return from racing they beep so they are timed.

The racing season runs from April to September.

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