Racing pigeon owners don’t fancy their chances against church resident

Racing pigeon owners fear their birds will soon be on the menu of a local and deadly church resident – a peregrine falcon.

Nottinghamshire pigeon fanciers say the arrival of eggs in the peregrine’s nest above Gedling Church causes great reason for alarm.

“Every time I’ve released my birds in the past week, they have been attacked by the falcon” commented local racing pigeon owner Phillip Cresswell.

“I have seen my racing birds killed by these predators.”

Pedigree pigeons and song birds form the staple diet of the peregrine falcon, which hunts over an area of up to 15 miles from its nest.

There are around 100 pigeon fanciers within this mile radius from Gedling and Phillip fears for the life of his and other birds.

He is the president of the Carlton and District Flying Club and has been keeping racing pigeons in a loft in his garden in Gedling for 35 years.

Phillip added:

“I’m now too frightened to let my birds out. I love pigeon racing as do my birds but it’s become almost impossible to let them have the exercise they need to compete.

“I live about a mile away from the church – and the birds belonging to many pigeon fanciers in the area are also at high risk.

“As the peregrine has three eggs with chicks about to hatch, it’s almost certainly a matter of time until our birds become a food source.”

Peregrine falcons no longer face extinction and are the UK’s top avian predator.

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

“Sadly, these birds of prey don’t discriminate between feral and racing pigeons.

“Like most animal lovers we are extremely attached to our birds and do not relish the prospect of them being picked off mid-flight by a predator.”

He explained that soaring peregrine falcon numbers in the UK are also having a detrimental effect on the population of other native breeds such as songbirds.

In the 1960s, the peregrine falcon almost became 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.

“The skies around Gedling are very quiet nowadays because of this bird of prey problem.”

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

Local keepers of racing pigeons argue that they need to let out their birds for exercise and training regularly, and Gedling Church’s hungry peregrine poses a direct threat.

Phillip continued:

“We feel it’s about time that the racing pigeon gained the recognition and reputation it deserves.

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

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.

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.