Ellesmere Port racing pigeon owners warn predation will kill sport

Posted on May 31st, 2012

A third generation pigeon fancier in Ellesmere Port fears a local deadly predator will kill off his beloved sport.

Racing pigeon attacks and kills perpetrated by peregrine falcons in Merseyside present “too big a problem to endure” according to Geoff Blackhall.

He said: “I have seen six of my baby pigeons taken by peregrine falcons – straight from my pigeon loft.”

“It’s so frustrating to see this happen and be powerless to do anything.”

There are around 50 pigeon fanciers in the Ellesmere Port area, who now fear that letting their birds out for exercise or to race will result in them being injured or killed.

“I have personally experienced many peregrine attacks on my birds recently, as have fellow local pigeon fanciers.”

“Three months ago I moved to the area from South Wales and already have lost eight young pigeons to hawks.

“I only started letting the birds out three weeks ago.”

He says that this problem is not unique to the area, but an issue experienced nationally by fanciers.

“Friends of mine back in Wales are suffering the same, if not worse.

“I know of one fancier there who has lost over 35 birds already this year – to predatory birds.”

Geoff and other local pigeon fanciers say the pigeon attacks from peregrines are on the increase due to manmade nests being introduced on public and commercial buildings to encourage birds of prey.

There are reported to be two pairs of peregrines nesting on the roof of the nearby Vauxhall factory.

Geoff continued:

“We have also heard of plans for more peregrine nesting sites to be introduced on council buildings in the town centre and on the tall building in the local docks.

“The safety of our birds is under serious threat and we can’t see any way to protect them from a fate now almost inevitable.”

Pedigree pigeons and song birds are diet staples of the peregrine falcon.

Peregrine falcons are the UK’s top avian predator and can hunt over an area of up to 15 miles from their nests. Geoff says that he and other 50 pigeon fanciers within this 15-mile zone fear for the life of their birds.

He fears the escalating problem could mean the death of not just his birds, but very soon, the sport itself.

He continued:

“Falcons don’t discriminate between feral and racing pigeons.

“We are desperate for the impact of these birds on our racing pigeons to be recognised. This predation problem is devastating our sport and has been on the increase for years.

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

Geoff explains that when peregrines attack pigeons in flight, it isn’t just one bird that is affected.

“They might only catch and kill one or two, but the other racing pigeons will often end up damaging or killing themselves in their desperation to get away.

“Pigeons will panic and dive into the nearest area to try and escape – it’s not uncommon for them to panic fly into trees, buildings, or the ground.

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

In the 1960s, the peregrine falcon was almost extinct in Britain. Killed during the Second World War to stop them preying on messenger pigeons, peregrines then suffered the impact of pesticides. But new levels of protection and restrictions on pesticide have helped the bird of prey to recover.

Peregrines are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act – however racing pigeons have no legal protection from the increasing threat from birds of prey.

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.

Geoff believes that the installation of manmade peregrine nesting sites in cities and towns should be stopped, or at least reduced, to protect the safety of racing pigeons.

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

“Its not only peregrines, but also sparrowhawks which continue to attack our birds. Now is the breeding season which means we that we go through a spell of older birds of pretty teaching their young to hunt.”

Geoff believes the racing pigeon suffers an unjust reputation.

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

Pigeon racing is a long-standing British tradition; HRH 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 who 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 the 60,000 pigeon fanciers in the UK have no legal protection against increasing attacks from soaring sparrowhawk and peregrine falcon populations.

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