Their speed, endurance, and the inborn desire to home are what makes racing pigeons remarkable. It is specifically the Homing Pigeon breed that is used for racing. They have the innate ability to navigate home. Though scientists aren’t sure exactly how the birds do it, they hypothesize that something in their brain allows them to detect the magnetic fields of the earth.
Some amazing pigeon facts include that the racing pigeon’s compass relies on the sun for navigation. Some scientists believe that they can hear ultrasonic sounds and likely use that trait as well as landmarks for navigation. Racing pigeons can see polarized light. If their eyes are covered with opaque contact lenses where they can only see light, then released 200 miles away, they land within 10 feet of the loft! The sport of racing pigeons is thrilling.
Racing Pigeon Lofts
More than training is important for successful racing birds.
“It is the Homing Pigeon’s love of its home which brings it home at fast speed,” said Deone Roberts, Sport Development Manager of the American Racing Pigeon Union. “A well-managed loft includes all the things which instill in the bird a love and desire for its home.”
The young bird needs to learn the outside surroundings of the loft and how to enter the loft prior to free flying.
“A settling cage on the landing board or settling time in the loft aviary allows the young bird to get a reading on his location,” said Roberts. A settling cage is an enclosure that is adjacent to the loft trap and allows the birds to learn how to enter the loft to access food, water, and their flock friends.
“After a week or two of this conditioning, the birds are allowed out of the loft,” said Roberts. “Feed is used to help modify the bird’s behavior to eagerly return home.”
The birds need to learn that if they go into the loft after exercising they will be rewarded with food. Knowing what to feed pigeons is important to keeping them healthy. Several weeks prior to releasing them, if you pair the sound of a whistle, or shaking of a can, with being fed, you can easily signal to the birds when dinner is served. After a few minutes of flying around the loft, shake the can of feed or whistle and the birds should fly down, enter the traps and be rewarded with their diet. Consistency is important to performance.
After a few weeks of letting them out of their loft and getting them to return successfully, it’s time to start building their muscles.
“Conditioning can begin around five miles from the loft, making it easy for the bird to begin the habit of navigation back to its loft home,” said Roberts. “Graduating in distance allows more practice for the bird. Keep the birds at each distance until they are homing within one and a half to two minutes per airline mile.”
Taking the birds at least twice to the same distance is very helpful. Release them from different directions. Roberts recommends gradually increasing the distance by approximately 10 miles until 60 miles is reached. Train them only in good weather when the sun is shining. Only fly your birds until you have had several successful tosses at around 60 miles from the loft. Then you can start mixing other people’s birds to reinforce the training.
Types of Races
There are two types of pigeon racing – club races and one loft races. Club races involve a pigeon owner keeping a loft. The member’s birds are released at one location and all fly back to their individual homes. Calculations are done to determine a winner since the lofts are at different distances from the release point.
One loft races involve all the birds being raised from a single location. The racing pigeons are raised in the loft from the age of six weeks and train together. They are released at the same time and race back to their home. After the race, the owners of the individual pigeons can sell the birds, breed them at another loft or take them home.
The biggest and most prestigious one loft race in the world is the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race (SAMDPR). This race pays out $1.7 million in prizes and the United States has won two years in a row and five times total.
Frank McLaughlin of McLaughlin Lofts started raising pigeons around seven years old and started racing in the Greater Boston Concourse at age 12 in 1974. At 56 years old he has won every possible local and national award. About four years ago the American Racing Pigeon Union gave him a Legend of the Sport Award.
Each spring into the summer he exports over 1,000 United States pigeons to South Africa for the SAMDPR.
“I exported the race winner the last two years,” said McLaughlin. “The winning pigeon from 2017 won $335,000 for the USA fancier.”
“The pigeons shipped to South Africa go as young pigeons and they are settled and trained in South Africa. As long as they are maybe under six months old they can be re-homed to a new location. The Million Dollar Race lets the birds out under giant nets for maybe a month before they are free to fly into the sky.”
It’s Just a Theory
When choosing racing stock, there are a lot of theories. These are theories in the colloquial sense – not scientific theories. These include eye theory, wing theory, palate, windpipe, tongue slit, throat vein, vents, foot scales, squared underwing feathers and the list goes on.“All that you need to know about eye sign is to breed opposite eye colors together,” said McLaughlin. As this will help them navigate with the bright sun.
“All that you need to know about eye sign is to breed opposite eye colors together,” said McLaughlin. As this will help them navigate with the bright sun.
The single best prediction for quality racing pigeons is to choose birds that came from a long line of champions that posses great feathers, buoyancy, and flexibility. Good luck at the races!
Do you participate in the sport of racing pigeons? Have you had success? Do you have some tips to offer? Join the conversation below.