West London racing pigeon owners don’t fancy their chances against hospital resident

Posted on May 11th, 2012

West London racing pigeon owners fear their birds will soon be on the menu of a deadly feathered resident – a peregrine falcon.

Local pigeon fanciers say the arrival of chicks in the peregrine’s nest above Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith causes great reason for alarm.

Pedigree pigeons and song birds form the staple diet of the peregrine falcon and members of a London pigeon club are voicing serious concerns for their birds’ safety.

George Morris lives in in East Acton and has been keeping racing pigeons in a loft in his garden for 51 years.

“Peregrine falcons no longer face extinction and are the UK’s top avian predator, which explains why a pigeon fancier who lives about a mile from Charing Cross Hospital has already had his team of racing birds killed by the bird nesting there” commented George, a member of Isleworth South Road Flying Club – for pigeon fanciers.

Peregrine falcons hunt over an area of up to 15 miles from their nests and quickly learn and adapt to preying on animals at specific points in the day. There are around 60 pigeon fanciers within this 15-mile zone and George fears for the life of his birds.

He continued:

“I live about three or four miles away from the hospital, as do many fellow pigeon fanciers. As the peregrine’s chicks have now hatched, it’s almost certainly a matter of time until our birds become a food source. Sadly, these birds of prey 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. We feel it’s time to bring this to the public’s attention.

“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.”

George 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 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.

Local keepers of racing pigeons argue that they need to let out their birds for exercise and training regularly – and the hospital’s hungry peregrine and chicks pose a direct threat.

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.

George 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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