As I recorded in my last article we had suffered the wettest winter on record, the sun has now finally put in an appearance but we are still getting plenty of rain showers in between the periods of sunshine. I started to write this in the spring but as I come to finish the article it is now officially the start of summer.

Old bird racing got underway here in late April and apart from the 3rd race which was also our first channel race the racing has mainly been very fast with tail winds and velocities up to 2200 ypm. The channel race from Falaise was a different story with a very strong almost head wind, only a small number of game pigeons homed on the day and a number of missing pigeons have been reported in Belgium and Holland. Anticipating a difficult race I only sent two experienced cocks and one spare nine year old hen. The two cocks made it home on the day, the first finishing in 10th place and the old hen being wiser or more cunning homed early on the third morning when the wind had at last abated.

Again this year I am racing a dozen widowhood cocks and both the cocks and myself having learned a thing or two last year, this year I’ve seen the pigeons come very well picking up prizes each week including one red card so far. On the negative side my first training toss with eight late breds turned out badly as a peregrine got into them, I eventually got six back, two with tail and wing damage. The first pigeon home from this toss was then taken around the loft by a goshawk about a week later, another was also lost leaving only four survivors and one of these has not been raced being the mate to one of my widowhood cocks. One of these four I lost for 10 days. He was racing from Kingsdown inland but they arrived here at the same time as our National birds from Carentan (France) and with the very strong tail wind I suspect he got caught up with the National birds (there were 9300 entered in the National) and was probably carried on up north and being inexperienced must have ended up many miles from home. He is out of my best Cannon pair which have that survivability factor I mentioned in the last article and has turned up dirty and skinny having been living rough but I am happy to have him back as he will have learned from the experience. This is typical of the struggle of racing late breds in this country as I mentioned in my previous article, even the yearlings find it tough going especially early in the season and many have fallen by the wayside already including one of mine.


I have been asked to give my ideas on training pigeons and while others have written on the subject before me I have compiled my thoughts and ideas as follows which I hope may be of some use to readers. One well known scribe from the past wrote that you cannot teach a pigeon geography anymore than you can teach it mathematics and the only purpose in training pigeons is to get them fit and get them into the habit of flying a straight course home rather than meandering around in circles as they do when loft flying. There is a lot of merit in what he wrote, however on the other hand another equally acclaimed author wrote of experiments conducted during World War II that showed pigeons were indeed able to pick out locations and land marks. In one test pigeons were trained from three different locations and observers posted at the first and second training points recorded that when released from the third point, the pigeons flew to the 2nd spot then the 1st one before heading home. They followed this round about route for about a week before heading directly home from the third release point. Similarly how often have we heard about a stray pigeon that when liberated near to where it originates from only to have it return back to the loft that it strayed into. Another example that I have mentioned in previous reports is that of the Welsh stray that dropped into my loft again on the same weekend exactly one year later when he was raced from the same race point in France. The point is that pigeons do have an uncanny ability to pinpoint a location and scientists studying the homing ability of the humble pigeon have confirmed this in controlled experiments using tracking devices attached to the back of the pigeon.
How does this help us in setting up a training regime? Well the conventional wisdom is that pigeons should be trained along the line of flight that they will be raced along with the toss distances starting close to home and gradually increasing out to virtually the first race point. Some fanciers will start at about two miles working out to about 40 or 50 miles with multiple tosses being given from the point where they want their pigeons to break out from the drag. This type of training I believe is very suitable for what is known as corridor racing whereby the pigeons are racing up a relatively narrow band width into a compact area when to win you need a pigeon to break near the home area and trap like lightning. In this sort of racing, breaking out and training to trap quickly are the most important factors. A pigeon that does a victory lap around the home loft or one that deviates slightly off line following the drag over the final part of the journey will drop 20 or more placings on the result sheet in a matter of 30 seconds or so.

If on the other hand where we are looking at training for National and International racing or your loft is located outside the area of the main drag then a different approach is called for. Take for example my own Federation the South Coast Fed in southern England in which the premier racing is channel from the continent and many members also belong to the specialist clubs that fly the nationals and internationals. Let’s consider first those fanciers that live along the south coast, no way can they train a line of flight programme across the channel so what they do is train from the west, east and north and when the pigeons are eventually raced from France they are racing at roughly speaking either directly opposite from where they were trained (north) or approximately 90 degrees from the west or easterly training line. Where I am located about 30 miles inland it is not so extreme as we can train down the south coast in a V shape giving the birds coverage over the range of the coastline where they will most likely cross over the channel into the UK depending on the wind direction. However all our early racing is from the west country so that when they go over to France the line of flight is still about 70 degrees away from where they have been previously raced from. When it comes to the Nationals the pigeons are racing across a very wide front to many different parts of Britain and the successful pigeons are those that break out very early close to the race point and head for home on their own.

I have read in Australia that some clubs alternate the race points and line of flight each year so the pigeons would need to learn a new route each successive season, which is perhaps a little like our national programme in that such racing calls for a pigeon that can think for itself and adapt to a new line of flight. In this situation a different training approach is required.
What the majority of successful fanciers in my area do is initially train their pigeons down to the coast and also on the westerly line out to about 40 miles. Once the birds are coming well they then toss them in small groups, two up at a time being very popular and also single up. The idea is to get the pigeons confident to fly on their own, I also give mine the odd toss in the opposite direction ie north and north-east, as in the early shorter races on a fast day and being one of the front markers mine get carried over and this training gives them some experience in working back. The idea here is simply to give each pigeon a chance to build up its confidence in flying alone and navigating on its own instead of just following the drag flock home.
How far to take the youngsters on their first toss is another consideration, one of the most successful fanciers in my patch takes his youngsters at least 25 miles and sometimes up to 40 miles for their first toss and he loses very few. However most of us are not game to go to this extreme and like myself will start at around eight miles. One of the big problems we have are the all too frequent raptor attacks, particularly with young inexperienced birds as they will scatter in all directions resulting in many being lost. There are plenty of reports of fanciers losing half or more of their young bird team in a bad early toss when they have been hit by a bird of prey. There doesn’t seem to be any way of overcoming this and it is a case of the pigeons having to be trained so let’s hope for the best.
Another training system used by a successful fancier in my local club has been developed as a result of his loft being plagued by goshawks, instead of loft flying his pigeons they go for a short toss virtually every day five to ten miles, often being singled up and on arrival at home they go straight inside. I also read recently of a an unusual system practiced by a successful father and son partnership who race on the north road, as neither of them drive they give their pigeons repeated tosses from a park across the road from their loft. Apparently the pigeons go up over their house and trap straight into the loft and going by this loft’s excellent race results their pigeons must do the same thing on race day, out of the race panniers, straight home and into the trap.
Regarding the fitness aspect, there are those fanciers that toss down the road frequently and other equally successful fanciers who keep their pigeons fit by working them around the loft by flagging them and other similar means. The Belgium champion Michael Van Lint uses helium balloons on strings to keep his team in the air around the loft. The risk with flagging is that the pigeons will land on nearby roofs when they have had enough, personally I find that once they have warmed up after ten minutes or so they will keep flying quite well on their own without the necessity to flag them. The widowhood cocks tend to land and take off frequently which takes a lot more energy than simply circling around the loft which keeps them fit with a one hour session twice a day. One also has to consider how often the birds are being raced and if they are raced virtually every week then they do not need much flying in between races and rest is just as if not more important so that the pigeons recover their reserves as quickly as possible. To conclude it is really a matter for the individual fancier to decide what system will work best depending on the type of racing they intend to do and their individual circumstances.

Finally, another subject that has hit the pigeon fancy press recently is the question of drug testing. Late last year it was reported that tests run on Belgium pigeons were carried out in another country and one in four, yes you read that correctly, 25% tested positive for banned substances. Here in the UK there has been a tightening up on testing and the RPRA provide drug testing kits to encourage all clubs and organisations to stamp out this illegal practice.
Till next time, good racing to all.

Brian Batchelor Elstead UK









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