Pigeon racing is the sport of releasing specially trained racing pigeons, which then return to their homes over a carefully measured distance. The time it takes the animal to cover the specified distance is measured and the bird’s rate of travel is one loft racing pedigree and compared with all of the other pigeons in the race to determine which animal returned at the highest speed.
Pigeon racing has been described as a “sport with a single starting gate and a thousand finish lines. In short, competing birds are taken from their lofts and must race home. The time taken and distance are recorded and the fastest bird is declared the winner. Races are generally between 100 kilometres (62 mi) and 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) in distance. In the United States flights of up to 1,800 kilometres (1,100 mi) have been recorded.
Provided it survives the many hazards associated with racing, a single pigeon could compete from about six months of age and still be in competition at over ten years of age. Such feats are uncommon, however, and the average racing career rarely exceeds three years. Hazards can also come from weather conditions on the day of the race. Pigeons can become grounded and disoriented, and therefore not finish the race. In one instance in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1941, a family found a pigeon on their property. Since the bird was sporting an identifying leg band, the Wisconsin Conservation Commission was called, who identified the owner as a man from Green Bay.
Traditional timing method
The traditional method of timing racing pigeons involves rubber rings with unique identification numbers and a specially designed pigeon racing clock. The ring is attached around the bird’s leg before being sent to race. The serial number is recorded, the clock is set and sealed, and the bird carries the ring home. When the first bird returns, its trainer removes the ring and places it in a slot in the clock. The time that the ring was placed in the clock is recorded as the official time that the competing bird arrived home. From this time stamp an average speed is measured and a winner of the race can be found.
Electronic timing method
The latest development and preferred method for timing racing pigeons is the Electronic Timing System. The bird’s arrival is recorded automatically. When using an electronic system, the pigeon fancier does not even have to be at the loft to clock the birds as they return. Birds are fitted with a band that has a tiny RFID chip in it which can be read when the bird comes home. At the home loft the electronic scanning records the pigeons’ arrival. The pad or antenna is placed at the entry point to the loft entrance and as the pigeon crosses it the electronic band is scanned. The clock is attached to the antennas. The serial number of the transponder ring is recorded along with the time of arrival. This is very similar to transponder timing systems used in human races.
One-loft racing originated from local futurity races. Futurity races are when the birds race home from the racing station to their homes. The difference between regular racing and futurity races is futurity races has prize money involved. Usually, the prize is used for a bragging right more so than to win the money. The process of racing could be a bit complicated as handlers of their racing pigeons compete with one another. Some handlers could be better than some when it comes down to racing. Therefore, one-loft racing was created. One-loft racing is the process of training birds bred by many different breeders in the same loft, under the same trainer and in the same conditions (as opposed to trainer against trainer in their own lofts and usually with their own birds).
After 22 to 28 days in the nest (depending on the owner’s preference) the young birds are removed and placed in a section of a large loft or in a smaller loft built for the purpose. After a few days of learning how to locate the water and eating by themselves they are allowed to wander out of the loft and peck around in the garden, while doing this they are constantly observing their surroundings and becoming familiar with them.