Everything you need to know about the little known sport of pigeon racing

Jan 23, 2012, 8:25 a.m.

An ancient sport increasing in popularity around the globe, pigeon racing may not make the front page of the sports section, but it certainly has a loyal following. Although the ancient origins of pigeon racing are not perfectly known, modern racing developed in Belgium in the mid-1800s and swiftly gained popularity in the United States. Today, it is estimated there are more than 15,000 registered racing lofts in the U.S. and the American Racing Pigeon Union has around 700 affiliated racing pigeon clubs in the states. The pigeon's ability to fly vast distances to their home loft has played a vital role in message transmittal over the centuries, but now is used primarily for sporting purposes. At the most basic level, pigeon racing pits bird against bird, trainer against trainer, and the winner is the bird that covers the designated distance at the highest velocity.

The Allure of Pigeon Racing

One of the most fascinating aspects of pigeon racing is the fact that the bird is the athlete, not the human. This makes this burgeoning sport accessible to all who enjoy the challenges involved. Whether as a casual hobbyist or a committed competitor, racing pigeon clubs provide the support, camaraderie and knowledge that every pigeon racing enthusiast needs. Breeding and training the birds are an art with roots going back centuries. Selecting bloodlines, nesting and feeding are all done to the highest standards in the attempt to raise the fastest birds. The most sought after champion birds are valued at over $100,000!

Birds race for distances exceeding 500 miles, encountering difficulties and dangers on their speedy flight back to their home loft. The birds are transported to a starting point then released. Timing the race is mostly electronic today, and the winner may have only a fraction of a second advantage.

Hazards that Can Befall a Racing Pigeon

Since the conditions of pigeon racing are not confined to a track, as in many other racing sports, the pigeons may encounter a number of hazards during training or in an actual race. Both natural and man-made dangers might be encountered. One of the greatest natural threats is a bird of prey that can adeptly snatch a flying bird from the air. Weather conditions might cause grounding or confusion in the birds, delaying their return to the home loft. Man-made hazards include cell phone towers that are suspected of disturbing the pigeon's navigation capabilities.

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