About The Sport

This section was put together in order to provide information & facts to people who are not involved in the sport of racing pigeons. I hope after reading the answers to these frequently asked questions that you feel informed about the sport of Racing Pigeons, and as a result of this information you will understand why so many people in Ireland and across the world are attracted to this sport.

There are a lot of people who have a negative mental picture of pigeon racing as a sport.However, as you have come this far, I assume that you are interested in learning about the sport, and will hold an open mind while reading the below. I am confident that after reading this section you will agree that this is a fantastic sport, past time and hobby which people of all ages from all different backgrounds can enjoy.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or comments.

Keith Stafford
The Editor

E-mail: editor@racingpigeon.ie

A Special Thank You
Before proceeding I would like to thank the many individuals and groups who have contributed to the answers below. Many of these have a great deal of expertise and also years of knowledge which have contributed to the section.
I would like to express gratitude to the Canadian Racing Pigeon Union who published a document'Homing Pigeons - Perception vs Reality' which was composed by the Avian Assistance Council. This AAC is a group of attorneys from Canada who have both a professional and a personal interest in the welfare of homing pigeons. Much of the information below is based on the above document, which is a very valuable document for anyone wishing to have their queries on racing pigeons answered.

Where did pigeon racing begin?
Pigeon Racing began in Belgium around the 1800's. By 1870 there were approximately 10,000 lofts in Belgium, but previous to this pigeons were used as message carriers.

In which countries are homing pigeons raced these days?
As well as across Ireland, Homing Pigeons are raced in Belgium, Holland, United Kingdom, France, Japan, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, South Africa, United States, India, Argentina, Hungary and Mainland China.

What is the structure of the sport?
The Sport of Racing Pigeons in Ireland is extremely well organized, as it is in many other countries. Each Individual Fancier or a Partnership of Fanciers would become members of a Racing Pigeon Club in order to compete.They would race against other members in their club on a weekly basis in racing Season which operates between April and September.Likewise, each club must be a member of a Federation and this gives each club the opportunity to compete against each.Finally, there is a Union which is made up of a number of federations. Under this union, numerous federations would compete in a small number of races each year. In a hierarchy structure rules for governing the sport are passed down the tree, therefore ensuring the stability, organisation, and efficiency of the sport.

How are pigeons initially trained to return to a loft?
Young Birds are bred each year usually between December and March. It takes approximately 1 month for a pair of pigeons to lay eggs and for those eggs to hatch out. A further 24 to 28 Days after the eggs have hatched the young birds will be "weaned" away from their parents. From here pigeon fanciers have different methods, but the most common method is to let the pigeons out to walk around the garden and get used to the area a long time before the young birds are able to fly.

The young birds will make small steps, with the first target being a flight to the loft roof, then maybe the roof of the house and eventually up in to the sky flying around. When the young birds are flying well around the vicinity of their loft, then the fancier takes the next step. The young birds would be placed in a pigeon basket, driven a couple of miles away from the loft and released. This would become a regular occurrence, and each time the distance would be increased providing the young are returning in good time from the previous training position. Eventually the young birds will reach a regular training routine of 30 to 50 miles per day. This will put them in good shape for when they reach their first race of approximately 70 miles. The races then increase on a weekly basis to distances of approximately 250 miles.

It is worth mentioning here that the racing pigeon must be a loyal companion to the pigeon fancier. The young pigeons require a love for their home, and without the care and attention of their owners, the pigeons would not have motivation and a desire for returning home.

Where do pigeons race from?
Fanciers in Ireland would race from a number of different locations within Ireland itself, including Arklow, Waterford and Cork on a weekly basis. However, there are certain races each year from the United Kingdom, and as far as France.

What are some of the best racing results?
There are many outstanding performances in this sport, including very high velocity wins and success stories against 10,000+ pigeons. However, the one that sticks out most in my mind is a pigeon of a well known Dublin Fancier who had been retired to a breeding loft, only to be re - introduced back into the racing loft at the ripe age of 10 years old .

The outcome? A 375 Mile win from France and also being the only pigeon to return on the day of liberation within its club!A remarkable performance and one that put the younger pigeons to shame.

How are race results recorded without corruption?
In order to ensure that this sport operates without corruption a number of systems are in place. Each pigeon sent to a race will have a rubber ring placed on its foot. There is a unique number on both the outside and inside of the ring, and these particulars are recorded for each pigeon sent to a race. When the pigeon returns from the race to the loft, the owner will remove the rubber ring and place it in a clocking device, which will record the exact time the pigeon returns at.These clocking devices which have been set by club officials, will be opened after the race and the times of each bird will be compared, with the eventual winner of the race being the highest velocity, as members would obviously be racing from different distances.

The above process would be over seen by club officials from start to finish, and a number of systems are in place to ensure that corruption does not affect the sport, with spot checks carried out on a regular basis.

Is a racing loft a nuisance for neighbours?
The keeping of domestic racing or fancy pigeons, a hobby enjoyed by thousands across the world, is occasionally challenged because of false and misleading information related to the common feral pigeon which populates nearly every city park. Common or feral pigeons bear the same relationship to domestic racing and fancy pigeons as wild mustangs bear to the thoroughbred racehorses. The serious breeders of racing and fancy pigeons consider feral pigeons a nuisance.

Registered racing and fancy pigeons are kept in specially built and equipped lofts. Fancy pigeon are seldom; if ever let out of their lofts. Racing pigeons, also known as homing pigeons, are kept inside their lofts by fanciers except when they are on training flights or competing in races, in either case, they are on a strict routine. They do not "laze" about on buildings or neighbour's homes, as the common, unbanded feral pigeon is wont to do.

The above paragraph was taken from the Article 'Homing Pigeons - Perception vs. Reality' which was composed by the Avian Assistance Council, Canada.

However, Racing Pigeon Clubs would have strict rules for the governing of their members. These rules would cover lofts and flight times etc. If you feel that someone is causing problems with their loft then please contact the members club with the issues, and they will be more than happy to assist you with a resolution.

Are humans at risk of disease from racing pigeons?
"ZOONOSES is the term for animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

Rabies, salmonella, toxoplasmosis and streptococcus are a few of the diseases man can get from animals. Rabies comes from raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats and dogs. Salmonella can come from chicken eggs and turtles. Toxoplasmosis is found in cat feces and Streptococcus can be carried in a dog's throat. In addition, roundworms are transmitted to humans by contact with dog, horse, cow and cat feces.None of these diseases are caused by pigeons. This is because pigeons have no common vector with humans. Parasites are vectors. Pigeon parasites cannot and do not live on or in humans, and vice versa. One reason is that pigeons have a body temperature of 107 degrees. Their parasites cannot live at our cool 98.6 degrees. Dogs and cats, on the other hand, have temperatures of 101.5 to 102. This is within the range of human temperature and each can, to some degree, accommodate the vectors of the other."

The above paragraph was taken from the Article 'Homing Pigeons - Perception vs. Reality' which was composed by the Avian Assistance Council, Canada.

Are Racing Pigeons unhealthy and diseased birds?
As mentioned above, Racing Pigeons compete from April to September each year.These pigeons compete in races varying from a sprint race approximately 70 miles which they can complete within one hour, to a channel race approximately 500 Miles which they are expected to return from within one day.

They can race to velocities of up to 2000 yards per minute or better, and compete against thousands of pigeons on a weekly basis for top prizes. However, in order to for a racing pigeon to compete at these levels, they must be kept in perfect condition. This equates to being fit, healthy and cared for to the highest standards.

Unfortunately some people have an image of a pigeon as the wild, uncared for pigeons that you see on the streets and on buildings around cities. Comparing a Racing Pigeon to the Common Pigeon you see on the streets, is the equivalent of comparing a wild stray dog to a racing greyhound, or a wild horse to a show jumping or racing horse. I'm sure you will agree that if you placed a wild dog in a trap in your local greyhound track it would be left behind, or if you attempted to jump "the wall" with a wild horse they outcome may be painful. Similarly, the common pigeon you see on the side of the street path has no comparison to the racing pigeon. The Racing Pigeon is an athlete.

pigeons in venice
Wild Pigeons At St Mark's Square, Venice

What is Pigeon Lung?
Pigeon keeper's lung or Hypersensitive pneumontis, is similar to "coal miner's lung", "parakeet breeder's lung", "canary breeder's lung", and "parrot breeder's lung". It is not a disease in any sense of the word. It is an allergy to dust from pigeon feathers. It is not a disease that can be transmitted, just as hay fever cannot be transmitted. More humans are allergic to dog, cat and rabbit "dander" than to pigeon "dust". And if the racing and homing or fancy pigeons are kept in a loft, the chances of a neighbour suffering an allergic reaction are nil.

The above paragraph was taken from the Article 'Homing Pigeons - Perception vs. Reality' which was composed by the Avian Assistance Council, Canada. More information regarding Pigeon Lung can be found at the Pigeon-Lung Medical Research.