PIGEON-FLYING, the sport of racing homing-pigeons bred and trained for the purpose. It is of very recent date, although the use of birds as a means of carrying messages (see PIGEON POST) is of great antiquity. Belgium may be considered as par excellence the home of the sport, the first birds flown there probably coming from Holland. Long-distance flying began in 1818, with a match of 100 m., while in 1820 there was a race from Paris to Liege, and three years later the first race from London to Belgium. The sport is now a favourite one in Great Britain, the United States, France, and, to a less degree, in some other countries, although nowhere attaining the general popularity which it enjoys in Belgium, where nearly every village has its Societe colombophile, millions of pigeons being sent over the French border to be raced back. The annual Belgian concours national, a race of about 500 m. from Toulouse to Brussels, was inaugurated in 1881, in which year the first regular races in Great Britain, from Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance to London, took place. The velocity attained at that time was about 1250 yds. per minute, but this was soon surpassed in the races of the London Columbarian Society, one of the winners in which attained a speed of 1836 yds. per minute.
The sport was introduced into the United States about the year 1875, although regular racing did not begin until 1878. Since then it has gained widespread popularity, the American record for old birds at 30x3 m. being 1848 yds. per minute and for young birds (yearlings) 1665 yds., while the distance record is 1004 m. The American " blue ribbon " championships are held at 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 m. The speed of homing-pigeons depends very greatly upon the state of the atmosphere. In the race from Montargis to Brussels in 1876 in bright and clear weather, all the prize-winners made the distance of 270 m. within three and one-quarter hours, while in the same race in 1877, on a thick and stormy day, thirty hours passed before the first bird arrived.
Training. The loft should be on a commanding site. It is best made in the shape of a large room, suitably subdivided, protected from vermin, and provided with drinking troughs, rock salt and crushed mortar for the birds' use. It should be fitted with a sufficient number of nests about 2 ft. long, 20 in. in breadth and height. Arrangements should be made for allowing the pigeons to fly out daily for exercise; and they should be trained to re-enter the loft through bolting wires, which open inwards only, into a small chamber, to which an electric arrangement may be fitted so as to sound a bell and warn the owner of the arrival of a bird. The food of birds in training consists of vetch, beans, maize, peas, broken rice and millet, in various proportions, according to the country, climate and season of the year, the daily allowance for each bird being about 40 grammes weight. Young birds may be fed on rice in the husk and bread. They are called " squealers " for a week or two after birth, and then " squeakers " until about three months old. Each brood consists of two eggs, on which both parents sit in turn, the cock only for a few hours in the middle of the day. When the young are being brought up, only one of the parent birds is taken out at a time. One meal per day, given before the birds are let out in the morning, is sufficient. Training should commence in warm weather, when the bird is about four months old, and it consists in taking it out in a closed wicker basket and liberating or " tossing " it at gradually increasing distances from its loft, with several days interval of rest between the flights. The usual preliminary distances are I, 2, 5, 10 and 15 or 20 m. These tosses should all be made on the same line between the loft and, say, some neighbouring city, in order that a bird may always have to fly in the same general direction during the season. About 100 m. may be expected of birds the first season; they reach their full distances only about the fifth year. It is considered better to train the young homers atone, so that they may become independent of the older birds. When thoroughly trained they may be flown over long distances about once a week. The Belgian fanciers generally divide their birds into two classes, one for breeding and the other for racing, though the latter are allowed to breed within certain limits. Some fanciers always choose birds with chicks in the nest for long journeys, claiming that they return faster with this incentive. A seamless metal ring marked with the owner's name is slipped over the foot of the pigeon when only a few days old, and during its racing career the longer wing-feathers are stamped with the bird's records. At the start of a race the competing birds are tossed together by a starter who takes the time. Upon being released the homer ascends rapidly in spirals until, apparently descrying some familiar landmark on the horizon, it will fly straight and swiftly towards it. As the birds enter their home-lofts the time is taken by the owner. A bird is not considered to have got " home " until it has actually passed through the door of its loft.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)