Pigeon racing takes off in West Berkshire
birds fly over Newbury after restrictions lift
Did you know that carrier pigeons take the highways to get home?
Or that the most money ever paid for a carrier pigeon was $ 1.5 million?
No, neither do I – there is a lot more to pigeon sport than it seems.
The racing season resumed last week, six weeks later than expected, and was the first sport to return after the coronavirus outbreak.
And that means that thousands of pigeons that were locked up during winter and spring are now back in action, returning to their lofts from all parts of the country and beyond.
About 150 of these birds belong to the pigeon fancier Kieron Marcham from Eling, near the Hermitage, member of the RPC Didcot and Wantage.
He explained, “The season is divided into two parts: the old bird season which runs until mid-July, and then the young bird season which continues until September.
“All birds have a lifeline on their paw. Different colors indicate the bird’s year of birth and each has a distinct number.
The birds are also separated into breeding pairs and runners.
Breeders are successful birds that are done running and, like dogs and horses, they all have pedigrees.
Good club birds can cost anywhere from £ 200 to £ 500, but in 2013 a five-year-old bird named Armando was bought by a Chinese enthusiast for $ 1.5 million.
That’s a staggering number, especially when you see the numbers involved in club racing.
Marcham said: “Usually there is a prize fund of around £ 50 per race – £ 20 for first place, then £ 15, £ 10 and £ 5.
“It costs around 80p to enter a pigeon in a club race and around £ 4 for an international race and I normally enter 20-30 pigeons in a race each week.”
Club Wantage generally runs from West Country and Marcham said released Saturday morning.
“There are normally between 300 and 500 pigeons for a club race and around 4000 for an international race. “
How the birds find their way home remains one of the mysteries of the natural world.
Marcham said: “Some people believe they are following landmarks and roads and others say it has to do with magnetic fields.
“But the birds definitely follow the roads.
“As part of their training, I will take the birds to various points along the flight route and let them go home and build their endurance.
“We normally run from Yeovil, Exeter or Honiton and we know that when they see the A303 they will follow it home.”
Obviously, all birds have different end points, so the winners are determined by velocity.
Marcham said: “Each loft is located on an Ordnance Survey map and from there you can get the distance between the release point and the loft.
“You then record the time they return and determine the speed from that.”
Food and weather conditions play an important role in running performance.
Marcham said: “There are many kinds of food for different kinds of races.
“These days, it’s not just standard farm seeds for peatlands – sunflower seeds, corn seeds and so on can all contribute to a bird’s performance.
“And the direction of the wind is also vital.
“If a bird flies towards one part of the country, the wind may be behind it, pushing it, while those flying in the other direction will be in a headwind.
“You always lose birds in a race.
“They can get lost or injured, but one of the biggest problems in recent years has been the increase in the number of peregrine falcons, which prey on pigeons.”
Marcham looks forward to the first international competition of the season on July 4th, when the pigeons will be released from Fougères in Brittany.
But he is concerned about the long-term future of the sport.
He said: “It can be quite expensive and time consuming and there aren’t many young people participating in it anymore.
“In the years to come, it will become more specialized.