East Kilbride pigeon fancier speaks out on bird of prey attacks

Posted on June 22nd, 2012

A Scottish pigeon racing enthusiast who has been involved in the sport for nearly 50 years has spoken out about his concerns for its future.

Pigeon fanciers in East Kilbride say soaring bird of prey populations cause great reason for alarm.

“One of my pigeons was very recently killed in a race, while flying home across the moor at Richmond North Yorkshire. It was found and reported by a dog walker” commented 62-year-old Eaglesham pigeon owner Gordon Orr.

“The problem we face from birds of prey is right in our back gardens, but it’s also a national concern. It’s now so bad that sometimes the pigeons won’t leave their lofts.”

Gordon says that this problem is ruining his sport and that there is nothing pigeon racing enthusiasts can do to protect their pigeons.

He added:

“I have had two pigeons killed just outside the pigeon loft in my back garden. It’s very upsetting, I fear for the life of my birds daily.”

Gordon keeps 100 racing pigeons and explains that there are many others with lofts in his local area who all experience the same problem. He fears the escalating issue could mean the death of not just his birds but eventually, pigeon racing.

The Eaglesham pigeon fancier is desperate for the impact of peregrine falcons and sparrowhawks on racing pigeons to be recognised. He says the predation problem is devastating the sport, and has been a growing issue for years.

He is a member of the East Kilbride Homing Club and has been racing pigeons for 47 years.

“All the fanciers I know are getting attacks by birds of prey.”

He says that the damage these do to pigeons extends beyond the killing of the one bird attacked.

“If a sparrowhawk or peregrine falcon swoops on a flock of say 30 pigeons while in their line of flight, they might only catch and kill one, but the other birds will often end up damaging of killing themselves in their panic to get away.

“Pigeons will panic and dive into the nearest area to try and escape – which sometimes results in them killing themselves by hitting the ground, trees or a building.

“Racing pigeons are also known to fly hundreds of miles in the wrong direction to escape, leading to exhaustion and getting lost.”

Gordon believes that the installation of manmade peregrine nesting sites in cities and towns is responsible for this growing problem and should at least be reduced, to protect the safety of racing pigeons.

“Pigeon fanciers are bird lovers – we’re not against birds of prey. We just want their populations to be left alone to breed at a more natural rate. This would really help reduce the threat to our pigeons. Nature should be allowed to take its course.

“We are extremely attached to our birds. Any cat or dog owner would be distraught if their pet was attacked or killed and so are we when our pigeons return attacked or worse, dead.

“The scale of the problem here means more of our birds will become a food source. These birds of prey don’t discriminate between feral and racing pigeons.”

A research paper commissioned by the Scottish (pigeon) Homing Union, published in 2000, highlighted that at that time, there were 34,000 breeding pairs of sparrowhawks in the UK alone; 7,000 of these were in Scotland.

Sparrowhawks kill 100 million songbirds each year in the UK, equating to between 20-25 million in Scotland alone. Research by the Hawk & Owl Trust found 85.7 per cent of pigeon lofts surveyed in Scotland suffered from attacks by sparrowhawks – an average of 10 pigeons per loft were lost to sparrowhawks.

In 2002 the British Trust for Ornithology estimated to be around 1420 breeding pairs of peregrine falcons in the UK – 50 per cent of these were located in Scotland. If a steady supply of racing pigeons is available, a peregrine will eat an average of 300 in one year.

As the population growth of these birds of prey has shown to be healthy, it is now thought that the above numbers will have increased significantly.

“Pigeon fanciers need to let out their birds for exercise and training regularly. But many are not just too frightened to, after suffering so many of these attacks.”

Many British lives were saved during World War II, thanks to the efforts of pigeons carrying information across enemy lines and concerned pigeon fanciers in the area think these birds deserve to be protected.

Gordon believes the racing pigeon suffers an unjust reputation.

“They are far from being vermin. Feral and racing pigeons are a world apart.”

Pigeon racing is a long-standing British tradition; The Queen is the patron of the sport and has around 200 racing pigeons in the royal lofts at Sandringham. There are about 60,000 fanciers in the UK, 42,000 of these race their pigeons from April to September, using the winter months for breeding and husbandry.

UK pigeon fanciers have formed the national Raptor Alliance to lobby for change in the protection of their racing birds. Currently, birds owned by pigeon fanciers in the UK have no legal protection against increasing attacks from soaring sparrowhawk and peregrine falcon populations.