The Peculiar World of Pigeon Racing

Pigeons are subject to our scorn, and for good reason. They’re impossible to get rid of, and they carry a multitude of diseases such as salmonella, histoplasmosis, encephalitis, toxoplasmosis, cryptococcosis and psittacosis.

There’s no doubt about it, pigeons are pests.

And like most pests, they are incredibly surprising animals. In fact, there are pigeons who are bred for racing.

No, this isn’t a joke: there is such a thing as pigeon racing. Even stranger still — there’s people that breed these racing pigeons.

Derived from homing pigeons

The racing pigeon is derived from the domesticated homing pigeons, who were used as messengers, selectively bred to return to their nests no matter how far they strayed.

Their main predecessor was the wild rock pigeon, who possessed magnetoreception: a sense which allows an organism to detect a magnetic field to receive direction, altitude, or location. Magnetoreception is used for orientation and navigation, and helps animals develop regional maps.

It’s almost as though these birds have a built-in GPS system, minus that annoying automated voice telling them where to go.

A brief history of pigeon racing

It can’t be definitively proven, but there are reasons to believe pigeon racing can be traced all the way back to 220 AD. It makes sense; it’s not like they had Seinfeld re-runs to pass time.

The biggest boom in pigeon racing seems to have occurred in Belgium during the mid 19th century. The trainers/breeders, known as pigeon fanciers, actually began cultivating pigeons for fast flight and long distances. They called these pigeons voyageurs, and they spread throughout the rest of the world, along with the racing.

It seems the popularity of this sport has died down due to a lack of public interest, and the simple fact pigeons spread disease and poop everywhere.

Step-by-step breakdown of a pigeon race

  1. Pigeon fanciers join a racing club.
  2. Club decides the release point for a series of racing pigeons.
  3. Pigeons are registered with permanent numbered ring on foot.
  4. The other foot is adorned with a removable numbered tag.
  5. Pigeons are taken to the same place to be released, then arrive at individual lofts.
  6. Travel distances anywhere between 100km-1,000km.
  7. Once at the loft, the race ring number is registered, calculating the arrival time.
  8. Club enters times into a computer containing distances from the race point to each loft.
  9. Distance is divided by time to calculate speed – the fastest speed wins.

Of course, you can only race pigeons after putting them through a rigorous training regimen.

Interesting pigeon racing factoids:

Racing pigeons are tested for doping substances.

  • In 2001, a series of raids across 80 homes led to the confiscation of illegal pigeon PEDs
  • Acetaminophen (aka Tylenol) has been used as a performance enhancer in pigeons

There are very advanced breeding methods

  • Fanciers are very specific on who their pigeons breed with, with the intent to breed the strongest group of racing pigeons
  • Thanks to advanced breeding, racing pigeons can find their home from over 1,600 kilometers away, flying at speeds up to 130 km/h.

 One-loft racing

  • The process of training birds bred by many different breeders in one loft, with one trainer, and the same conditions and racing them
  • It’s the fairest method of proving which bloodline or breeder is best
  • Provides the highest amount of prize money

Pitfalls

Although its popularity has dwindled over the centuries, pigeon racing is still wide spread (the Queen of England herself maintains a loft with nearly 250 pigeons), but it can be inhumane and cruel to its airborne participants.

For example, an investigation by PETA brings into question a 900-mile race where the birds were released in the Channel Islands, France, and Spain. Hundreds of thousands of birds ended up lost or dead due to the hazardous nature of the journey.

Terminix Canada may be in the pigeon removal business, but we believe in environmentally friendly methods and humane forms of pest control!

Finish Line

Pigeons are capable of many feats, only one of which is racing. Studies show they can do math, categorize common items, and detect breast cancer as accurately as humans.

While they are undeniably interesting, pigeons are still disease-ridden pests, aptly described as “rats of the sky”. Their immense visual, cognitive, and physical capabilities make them difficult to manage when they’ve grown to pigeon infestation proportions. They deserve to live peacefully in their own habitat, but need to be dealt with immediately when they are invading our habitat.


That’s where Terminix Canada comes into play. Not only do we get rid of insects infesting your home, but we also specialize raccoon, squirrel, skunk and pigeon infestation in Toronto.

If you want to make sure there’s no pigeons racing around your living space, click here for environmentally friendly pigeon removal in Toronto from Terminix Canada!