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Fascinating (june 15th)


From non-fanciers, you sometimes hear how fascinated they are by racing pigeons. From several hundred kilometres how do they flawlessly find their way home? They have real respect for them. A sports companion who prefers that I not publish his name is equally fascinated by the pigeon’s flawless navigation. Especially since he had gotten some ' GPS rings ' from a Chinese firm that he could put on the pigeons, along with the necessary software. Now he can follow them on their journey home.

After he had done some ‘research,’ his fascination became an obsession because of what the ‘GPS rings’ attached to the leg of the pigeons taught him. What long distance man, does not dream of being able to follow his ‘good one’ on its journey home from Barcelona? Or see where it spends the night? Follow pigeons? With the latest modern tools, you can do much more than that.


You can see where they were and how fast they flew, at what altitude and where and how long they might stop. For example, Michel Beekman and Falco Ebben (both Netherlanders) followed their pigeons several times on their flight home. The findings of both pioneers are strikingly uniform.

I don’t know, whether any Belgian fanciers are also using the rings. Their northern neighbours have always been more progressive. They used darkening systems years before anyone in Belgium had heard of them.


What did these men see from the data collected by their ‘GPS’ rings?

  1. That not a single pigeon flies like an arrow in a straight-line home after release. They all fly in a curve. Sometimes very little, barely perceptible and without much significance, but the arced line is there. And what is so striking? The arc is almost without exception towards the west! Of course, after a short while, the pigeons correct their course, but it is remarkable. Mainly because even with a west wind they still leave towards the west. The amount of data is still insufficient to draw any hard and fast conclusions, but there are too many examples to ignore hastily.
  2. What’s also strange, is that pigeons wearing the GPS rings come home late. Falco had four youngsters from the same pair bearing a GPS ring, and he lost all four youngsters. Can’t really be due to the minimal weight of these rings. It may be that the ring perhaps distorts their ability to orient. If that’s at all possible? I have no idea. Furthermore, Andre v D Wiel has not observed this phenomenon.
  3. It also seems that the birds fly much higher than we think. Up to almost 500 meters. On Michel Beekman’s site, you can see that a pigeon flew at an altitude of zero meters, just above that water’s surface. According to him, the conclusion is clear. Pigeons can ‘sip’ water when flying very low over the water. Like several other species of birds.
  4. Now that we have brought up water, to an extent, pigeons shun flying over water, especially into the wind. They prefer to cross water where it is at its narrowest and veer towards bridges and dikes if they are in the direction of flight. Fanciers in Zeeland and in the Ijsselmeer, area know this all too well.
  5. And… pigeons use highways, again if they are in the general direction of flight. In ‘the early years of GPS rings’ many news outlets wrote reports on the phenomenon. I used to laugh at the idea but have since changed my mind. In Dubai, they also followed pigeons with GPS rings on their journey home. Here again, highways in the desert seem to be a beacon for pigeons on their way home. There on the plots downloaded from the rings, you can see with the naked eye that pigeon even follow the curves in the road. In Reeuwijk they indeed will not laugh at this. There they watch for their pigeons to come home towards the superhighway.
  6. Of course, you can also see where the pigeons train at home. How far they fly from the loft, how fast they fly, how high they go and where they turn. There were no fixed patterns observed. There is no question of a fixed ‘training route.’
  7. The following is also interesting. I once claimed that physique plays a role, that is the longer a pigeon flies, the slower the pigeons begin to fly. Just like skaters, swimmers, runners who also lose speed with longer efforts. The average speed at a distance of 10 km is always slower than at 1 km. At the time I was referring to the Sunday sprint races in Antwerp. They fly from Quievrain and Noyon. The speed of the Noyon races under normal conditions is always lower than that of the Quievrain races. There are exceptions but very few.
  8. What I had claimed about the decreasing speeds, was an assumption from observations on my part, I had no definite proof. But, the evidence is now there, thanks to the GPS rings. The GPS flight trackings clearly show that, as the pigeons fly longer, they do fly slower. So that is a disadvantage for the loft with the longer distances. I have written earlier why overflight can be a disadvantage. However, there are benefits to overflight as well. Thus, both longer lofts and shorter lofts have their advantages and disadvantages. Fortunately so, otherwise the pigeon sport would be even more unfair than it is already as if that were possible.
  9. I once read that after being released it takes 5 minutes for the pigeons to come up to ‘cruising speed.’ That would be to the advantage of the longer lofts. But the GPS rings show that the pigeons after release are at ‘cruising speed’ not in minutes but in seconds. The data doesn’t lie. But, good too. After all, a bad release is in favour of the overflight.

I always thought that healthy pigeon would fly equally fast at short distances under equal conditions. That pigeons had a ‘cruising speed’ like geese, starlings and so on. And that the winners, therefore, are not those pigeons that fly the fastest but those who leave the fastest and choose the shortest route home. Now I’m beginning to doubt it, but I’m sure my doubts will be answered soon. The new resources that we now have available will guarantee, striking new findings in the very near future.

A.S.                                                                                 Thanks to Mr Nick Oud Canada