The fascinating world of racing pigeons

What makes teenagers, adult men and women so interested in the world of racing pigeons?

Messengers of note
No good battle could have been fought with confidence if the racing pigeon soldiers, acting as ­messengers of war, were not on duty. Pigeon fanciers and non-fanciers are all equally fascinated by the racing pigeon’s remarkable homing skills. There are many theories about how it knows the way home. Many of these theories sound authentic, but are mostly based on speculation. One ­theory is based on the earth’s magnetic field.

Once the bird is released in an alien terrain, it simply flies back to the field of its known magnetism. A theory which is linked to the magnetic field analysis is the possibility of an inner compass read by the pigeon against the position of the sun. This theory is of no value as pigeons are also capable of ­orientating in cloudy skies and at night. Another theory was that pigeons could not orientate as well when their ears were closed, but that was also contradicted.

Impeccable vision
Experiments with pigeons used as factory workers with hi-tech equipment has made headlines – pigeons are highly capable of recognising defective items in machine plants. The birds are trained to peck against a window when a faulty item is passed and are rewarded with a delicacy. Much as geese react alarmingly when a stranger arrives, a racing pigeon also reacts with a coo at the appearance of a stranger in the backyard. A pigeon can see a mealie kernel on the ground from the roof of a house and spot a falcon in the sky long before we can see it. It also has all-round vision.

Symbol of romance and peace
Doves have always been symbolised as animals of purity, peace, goodwill and innocence. This is why pictures of them grace the writings of poets and the teacups of kings and queens. ­During great events of political and historical significance, racing pigeons are publicly released to fly out to commemorate the occasion. Pigeons are also publicly released during a marriage ceremony to dignify the unity of the newlyweds. At funerals, the release of pigeons brings comfort to the mourners as they fly out.

Therapy during pain and trauma
A pigeon fancier in New Zealand ­suffers extreme back pain after a motorboat accident that has left him fastened to a wheelchair. The cooing of his racing birds eases and takes his mind off his pain and discomfort. When my father passed away, I remember sitting on the steps near the pigeon loft feeling lonely and abandoned. Just then one of my favourite pigeons went into a cooing extravaganza, ­echoing the sound of mourning. She had never done that before and she never did it again after that incident. In the end, our inexplicable passion for these amazing creatures is born out of bonding and mutual affection.