Pigeon racing secrets revealed – and how it helped Whitby man live with autism
The pigeon sport is a mystery to many.
But a man from Whitby and the CEO of a national pigeon racing association spoke of the immense benefits they have experienced from participating in the unique sport.
Kyle Douglass, 20, has been fascinated by carrier pigeons since the age of three, when his grandfather introduced him to this unique sport.
He now tends his own pigeons on a housing estate near his home in Whitby and trains them in the hopes of someday participating in races.
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But it’s not just running that makes him so attached to birds.
Kyle said, “I have autism so I find it easier to connect with animals than with people. I often fight with humans.
“I have a very strong bond with my colored pigeons. My whites in particular.
“I find it best to be practical, which is why I prefer animals.”
To participate in pigeon racing, owners must gradually train carrier pigeons to return home – whether to a housing estate or a farm – which can take several years.
In races, different competitors will “release” their pigeons from the same location, and then the birds will return home. A scan chip is often used to determine when the pigeon is arriving, and then the winner is found by calculating how fast each bird moves over the distance, which can range from 100 to 1000 km.
Ian Evans, CEO of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA), described it as “the only sport with a start line and a thousand finish lines”.
Kyle currently has 20 pigeons that he takes care of and feeds twice a day on his estate, while his grandfather, he says, now has “around 200”.
Kyle, who hopes to start running after finishing his animal care studies at college, said the fun comes from “watching them come home.”
He explained that he sits with his “kids” for hours to get them used to him and that training them to return home is a gradual process that involves freeing them from more and more distance.
He said, “As you increase their confidence, you increase the distance.
“You have to take care of them. That’s the main thing.
“It’s an expensive and time consuming sport, but it’s nice to see them come home on race day.”
Kyle is part of a pigeon racing group that came together during the lockdown to raise money for the local community by auctioning racing pigeons.
The group has raised nearly £ 40,000 since the lockdown began by auctioning more than 80 carrier pigeons and donated the money for a house extension to support a couple with motor neuron disease, a mobility scooter for a beloved member of the community and also raised money for the local racing club.
Kyle said: “It has been such a difficult year for so many people and I am grateful to those who have supported my auctions so that those who need it most can be supported.”
Carrier pigeons are known to sell for astronomical prices. In December of last year a new record was set when a pigeon was sold for £ 1.4million.
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But there is little money to be made on the racing side, as most people who compete often do so as a hobby, the RPRA CEO said.
Mr Evans said: “You can make money, but it’s not about that. It’s about the competition and the social aspect.
“He has so much to offer people from all walks of life. Even the Queen has her own loft in Sandringham.
“It can teach you a lot of things as you grow up with people of different age groups and different backgrounds. There aren’t a lot of sports where you compete with millionaires and people older than you.”
Mr Evans said the group was making a conscious effort to make the sport more widely known and showcasing it in schools, where they found children and young people with disabilities could benefit.
He said: “From a school perspective, children also learn geography and math through sports.
“There is also a certain history in this because carrier pigeons have been used in our world for hundreds of years.”
He added: “Especially for children with special educational needs, this is something they can engage with. It gives them something to focus on.
“We have some great case studies on the positive impact this can have on children.”
He said it was becoming popular with retirees as well, but it was often difficult to get people involved in the sport due to lack of awareness and the pigeons’ bad reputation.
Mr Evans said: “As a member of a pigeon club you are socially involved.
“There is a stigma in the eyes of some people and it dates back to the 1970s when pest control companies started spreading misinformation about what the creatures were spreading.
“I have kept them since I was nine and have never had a disease from a pigeon.”
He described the creatures as “extraordinary” and said that “being able to do what they are doing at the speed at which they can do it is phenomenal”.
“You can take pigeons out of the south of France in the morning and they’ll be home in Yorkshire for tea time. No other animal can match their speed and endurance.”
But sport is not without its drawbacks. Animal rights activists argue that keeping the birds and flying them for sport is cruel, as many of them die as they are transferred to the start line and on their way back from exhaustion.
Mr Evans said: “There is a negative image. Some groups are opposed to anything about animals. They would like to see the end of any sport involving animals.
“The pigeons are lovely and the racers go out of their way to take care of them and do their best.”