A Short History of Pigeon Racing
Modern pigeon racing had its beginning in the early 1800's in Belgium. However, man has long used pigeons as pets, as a source of food and as message carriers possibly as far back in time as 5,000 years ago.
Neolithic man began taming animals around 8,000 years ago. The pigeon, a seed eater would have been relatively easy to domesticate. Certainly, as man began to grow grains, the pigeon is a species that would have naturally gravitated around human settlements and farms.
At the height of the Moorish Empire, The Arabs used pigeons as messengers. In the dark Ages and Medieval times, from Bagdad in the Middle East to the Barbary Coast in north Africa, Arabs officialdom employed carrier pigeons. Genghis Kahn also reputedly made use of pigeons as his empire expanded.
Carrier pigeons were a major component in the expansion of the industrial revolution. Reuters News Agency was begun with homing pigeons. The symbol for many European postal systems is a stylized figure of a carrier (homing) pigeon, to this day.
Pigeon racing in Belgium probably began with the use of Persian messenger pigeons as the foundation stock. Crossed with local pigeons, the modern racing homer gradually developed into what we know it as today. That development continues unabated.
The first long distance pigeon race was in Belgium in 1818. In 1820 a race was flown from Paris to Liege, and in 1823 from London to Antwerp. By 1870 there were 150 racing societies in Belgium and over 10,000 lofts. Neighbouring Holland became fascinated with the hobby and wholeheartedly joined in. After 1875 the hobby of pigeon racing gained popularity in England. Today there are approximately 90,000 lofts in both Belgium and Holland while there are some 100,000 lofts in England.
The hobby was introduced to the United States in the nineteenth century. It also gained a foothold in parts of France. It is now becoming popular in Japan, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Mainland China. There are flyers in India, Argentina and Hungary. However, the birthplace of the sport as we know it Belgium, remains the center of the fancy.
At present there are approximately 20,000 registered racing pigeon lofts in North America. In the past five years interest in pigeon racing in this country has been growing. It is thought that this is mainly due to the popularity and escalating number of young bird futurities. This hobby has developed into a wholesome backyard sport in which the entire family can participate. The tendency toward enterprise and competition is nicely met by this trend in the hobby.
A Pigeon Race
The pigeons are brought to the club on shipping night,usually Friday night. The birds are marked on the race sheets and are race banded with a rubber race band. The race band has a a number which is marked on the race sheet against the pigeons life band number. The modern system of clocking birds with electronic devices requires that the birds electronic race band is scanned in on shipping night and a race entry for the birds from each loft is printed out.
After race marking the birds are put into the race baskets. The number of pigeons put into each basket is determined by the temperature and time they have to spend in the basket before release at the race point. The warmer the weather expected in transport to the race point the fewer the number of pigeons in the basket. The same holds true for longer trips, the longer the time they are expected to be in the basket the fewer the number of birds in the shipping basket.
The pigeons are loaded into the Federation trailer. Usually several clubs ship on the same trailer to save on transportation costs. Shipping and releasing together also affords the opportunity to combine the club race results into a Combine or Federation result. This allows for competition against larger numbers.
The trailer has a watering system and carries a supply of fresh water for the pigeons. If the pigeons are held over, due to weather conditions at the races station the trailer also carries a supply of food for the birds. The race could be as long as 1,000 km or 600 miles. The birds will have a tough time making it home the same day from a race this long. Long distances are only flown a few times every year and the pigeons that fly them are bred for this specialty. Races of 800 km or 500 miles under normal weather conditions will be completed the same day. Most race distances are between 200 km and 500 km. At an average speed of 1200 meters/minute these races only take a few hours to complete.