Pigeon racing is a sport in which specially bred and trained homing pigeons, known as “racing homers,” are released hundreds of miles away from their home loft and then timed for how quickly they return. Unlike common street pigeons, racing pigeons have a homing instinct that, when coupled with their extraordinary strength and endurance, makes them incredible athletes and has earned them the nickname “thoroughbreds of the sky.”
Here’s how it works:
The day before the race, each pigeon fancier (a person who raises pigeons) will load his or her team of competing birds into a traveling crate to keep them safe while they are transported to the race.
Then, all of the pigeon fanciers gather their local clubhouse and load their crates onto a special truck designed to transport them.
Once all of the crates are loaded, the truck driver drives the birds to the liberation site (the place where the birds will be released). Shorter races are usually cover a distance of about 50 miles and longer races can be up to 600 miles.
The morning of the race, the truck driver feeds the birds and give them water. When the race is about to begin, the truck driver starts counting down from ten. “Ten, nine, eight!” he shouts. When he reaches one, he turns a handle, which opens all of the crates at the same time, releasing the racing pigeons.
The racing pigeons take off and circle overhead until they get their bearings. One of the first things they do is look for the sun. Remember, the sun rises in the east, so once they spot the sun, they know which direction they’re heading. Then, they must rely on their homing instinct and training to find the fastest route home.
Back at their home lofts, the pigeon fanciers wait patiently for their birds to arrive.
Once they do, they must quickly land on an electronic landing pad that recognizes the race band on their leg and records their arrival time. Even though these races take place over long distances, they are often won or lost by seconds. Once each bird “clocks in,” they are eager to get back inside the loft for a bowl of victory seed.
Once all of the birds have arrived, the pigeon fanciers meet up at their clubhouse and compare their birds’ arrival times and calculate which birds returned home the fastest. As you probably guessed, the fastest birds win the top prizes.