Wherever there are pigeons, there will probably be a pigeon club. Wherever there is a pigeon club, there is pigeon racing.
For many people breeding and racing pigeons is a full-time job. Pigeon breeders/racers must be dedicated to breed, train, and take care of hundreds of pigeons 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. All the hours spent working with the pigeons, come to fruition for only a few months each year when the pigeons are racing. It is a never-ending job, but well worth it if the pigeon wins the race. There are several breeds of pigeons, but the Racing Homer is the one used for this sport. It has a unique sense of direction which makes it excellent for racing. Each pigeon is banded with a date on one leg and an electronic chip on the other which records the distance and time for each race.
With the birth of each baby pigeon, hours are spent training it for flight distance and navigation. They are trained in either sprint racing or long-distance racing. Breeders determine the type of racer by taking into consideration the physical features and behavior of the pigeon. Ones that do not like to be handled and have broad shoulders make good sprint racers. Some of the characteristics of a long-distance racer are a straight tail, good balance, and they handle well. Pigeons that do not meet either of these criteria, might be sold as they will probably not win any races.
Just as important as having a superior racing breed is the loft (which is what the pigeon’s home is called). The perfect spot enables all four sides of the loft to be seen from the sky by the bird. The fewer trees and other coverage, the better. It needs to be built where it receives as much natural light as possible. It should face away from harsh cold weather. It is imperative the loft is raised off the ground. This allows for air circulation, water drainage, and discourages rodents from nesting.
One of the first things trainers do is teach the young pigeons where their home loft is located. The race ends for each pigeon when they arrive home. This is an essential navigation skill they must be able to do.
The first flights are only a few blocks from their loft. After successfully completing these short distance flights, the distance increases gradually in miles. Races range from 100 miles for young pigeons up to 600 miles for older experienced ones. In a given day, a pigeon can fly up to 700 miles with an average speed of 77 mph. (That is longer and faster than most people drive in a day.)
The pigeons are transported to the spot where the race will begin in specially designed trailers that can hold up to 3700 pigeons. The number of pigeons who successfully arrive back to their home loft is 99 percent. Even though the races can cover a long distance, the winner could finish only seconds ahead of the others. Very close races are the norm.
The next time you see a single pigeon flying overhead, it could be a winner!

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