Pigeon facts

Did you know?

  • There are 60,000 pigeon enthusiasts (known as fanciers) in the UK; 42,000 of these keep and race pigeons.
  • Winning racing pigeons can auction for thousands.  In February 2012, the world’s most expensive pigeon sold for $328,000 (£207,132), to a Chinese shipping magnate.
  • Queen Elizabeth II is a patron of pigeon racing and has 170 racing pigeons in her royal lofts at Sandringham. These are cared for by a royal loft manager.
  • A pigeon’s racing career generally spans three or four years.  Pigeons can live for much longer – 20 years isn’t uncommon.
  • Pedigree pigeons can fly further and at faster, more impressive speeds than racehorses. Racing birds can cover vast distances at an average speed of 50mph, or 70-80mph if there is a tailwind.  Speeds of up to 110mph have been recorded by the top racers – that’s faster than a cheetah.
  • The fittest racing pigeons fly up to 700 miles in marathon races.
  • Racing pigeons use natural and manmade landmarks such as roundabouts to navigate and find their way home.
  • The training and racing season for pigeons in the UK runs from April to September every year; breeding season runs from January to March.
  • Between April and September there are weekly pigeon club races around the UK.
  • Racing pigeons carry a plastic and metal ring on one of their legs, with a unique identification number that can be used to traced the owner.  Lost racing pigeons can be reported online, to be reunited with their owner.
  • Over one million pigeon racing leg rings are issued by the Royal Pigeon Racing Association every year.
  • There are two weekly magazines serving pigeon racing in the UK:  British Homing World and The Racing Pigeon.
  • Every year, pigeon fanciers across the UK raise thousands of pounds for charity.

A potted history

The heritage of pigeon racing can be traced back to 220 AD.

In 1896, a pigeon post service was introduced, carrying messages between New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef. The last pigeon post service closed in 2004.

During the Second World War, 32 messenger pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal for “displaying conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty”.  If only they had somewhere to pin them.

Homing pigeon Cher Ami carried a message in the First World War that saved 194 American soldiers and returned home, despite having been shot through the breast and losing a leg.  He was awarded the Croix de Guerre.