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Carrying on from my last post about the feral pigeons in my garden, I noticed a larger and suspiciously “noble” looking pigeon amongst the flock. Upon closer inspection I saw that the pigeon has a white ring around its leg. This threw me a bit since I’ve never seen a checkered racing pigeon before, only blue bars, although I know racing pigeons can come in a variety of colours.

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Checkered racing pigeon

The racing pigeon looks healthy and strong (and very beautiful!), with no signs of any problems with his flight and I can only speculate that he became lost during a race and decided to team up with the feral pigeons for safety, companionship and intel on the good food locations. I don’t know how long he’ll stay with the feral pigeons before deciding to return to his home. He may never return if he falls in love with a feral. :)

Racing pigeons generally do well in the wild if they join a feral pigeon flock, unlike fancy pigeons that may have some unusual feather shapes that make it hard for them to fly away from predators quickly (please read my post about the welfare of fancy pigeons). This is one reason why you should never release a fancy pigeon into the wild. Racing pigeons, however, are bred to fly fast and strong, and I’ve seen racing pigeons stick with feral pigeons so I believe that they are capable of surviving in the wild. Maybe their genetic contribution to the feral population helps with the overall genetic health of wild pigeons? I have seen feral pigeons that look like they have racing blood in them (it’s often the shape of the head and beak that gives them away: very “Roman nose”).

I wonder: If I go out into the garden and hold some food in my hand, would the racer fly down to me?

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Can you spot the racer?

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology were conducting research into feral pigeon behaviour and colour distinctions/morphs, however, they have now discontinued it. I don’t know what the results of their research is, but I’d be very interested to know. However, this website has taken up the challenge of finding more about pigeon colour variation: Feral Pigeon Project

Pigeon colour morphs:

pigeon color morphs


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Such a handsome pigeon!

Racing (or homing) pigeons are bred to fly home in a race against time. Some get lost and land in gardens, tired and hungry. Some get attacked by sparrow hawks and are found injured.

I love racing pigeons. They’re big, chunky birds with lovely faces. The ones that I have seen are mostly healthy and just tired and hungry from getting lost. I’ve also seen ones that have been attacked by sparrow hawks and have injuries and feather loss. A few I’ve seen are seriously ill and thin and require longer care.

The saddest case that I’ve come across was a racing pigeon that appeared with a feral pigeon to the garden at my work. At first glance it looked like it was a healthy lost racer that had paired up with a feral and come down for food and water. But after watching them a moment I realised that the racer had a horrific injury to its crop – a gaping hole from which all the seed the racer picked up fell out of. It was horrible to watch. We set up a humane cage trap to capture the racer, and after a day and a half we finally caught it. The crop injury was too big and the vet was unable to repair it so the poor racing pigeon was put to sleep. I was very upset about it because I kept thinking about how much the racer had suffered: it had been so hungry and kept trying to eat but the seed just fell out as soon as it was swallowed.

The guidelines for finding a racer is to check the numbers on the leg band and contact the owner. It is their pigeon and should be returned – if they want it back, that is. Some racing pigeon owners want their lost or injured pigeons back, but some don’t. If you find a racer and have contacted the owner, please let them know that you will find an alternative home if they don’t want the pigeon back (e.g. at a pigeon friendly rescue centre). Give them that option. Some people say that the owners will just kill the pigeon if it is returned because an injured racer or a racer that gets lost is not worth anything (since it did not or is not capable of winning the race). Other people say that the owners will give the racing pigeon a second chance (e.g. it may be a young pigeon that needs more training). Since I have only ever once personally spoken to a racing pigeon owner (who did want his bird back), I cannot state anything as a fact – only what I have heard from others who have had contact.

This post tells a positive tale: Pigeon Rescue

The following racing websites advise you what to do if you find a lost racer:

http://www.homingpigeons.co.uk/straypigeons.htm

http://www.homingpigeons.co.uk/lostpigeon.htm

http://www.pigeonbasics.org/lostbirds.php

I am intruiged about racing pigeons – about the race and how they train them, etc. And I guess I would visit a racing pigeon loft and meet the people behind it all – just to see for myself what it’s all about. On the one hand I can understand the fascination, dedication and interest in the art of racing pigeons, on the other hand, however, I don’t like the exploitation of the birds. Are they racing them solely for money and prestige? Or do they really like pigeons and want to be with them? I guess, as with any hobby, activity or venture,  it can be either, neither or a little bit of both. It takes all sorts.

But, as I said in the beginning, I love racing pigeons because they are big and chunky with lovely faces. And they usually have a great personality to match. Some are feisty and tell you off, and others I’ve held just sit calmly in your hand with not a care in the world. Wonderful creatures!