The Great Pigeon Race

When I was a little girl, my mom had a very special book made just for me. It was from Sesame Street and it was created on an actual type writer. They wrote me and my sister into the story with Bert and Ernie titled “The Great Pigeon Race.” In the story, Bert had a pigeon and the pigeon was training for a pigeon race. They had him dressed in a workout costume and they worked on his strength training so he could win the race. I always just thought it was a cute and clever little story with no knowledge that this actually exists in the world. Maybe the writers of that Sesame Street book actually lived in Malta.

It’s Saturday morning here in Malta. It’s the middle of the night still for my friends and family back in the states. Saturday in Malta has a new meaning to me now that I’m learning about new things that go on here. The pigeons for example are a big deal over here. When I was 18 we toured around Europe before heading off to college. When we got to Italy, we could buy bags of bird seed and the pigeons would come land in your hand and eat the seeds. I was too afraid to hold out the seeds to I watched as others did it and I also put some on the ground for them. I still have the photos of that day.

Here in Malta we were eating lunch one day and watching so many pigeons walk around Valletta square not afraid of the people and eating anything we were willing to drop. I was told that pigeons are a nuisance and that Italy and Malta as well as other areas in Europe are poisoning the pigeons to get rid of them. I find this appalling and inhumane and I also think if you are on that side of the deal and not realizing how intelligent the pigeons really are..well let me introduce you to a whole new game of pigeon racing!

Every morning when the morning school van drops us off at the school and I have to stand outside and wait another 40 minutes for the next van driver to take us home, I notice this flock of birds flying in a figure 8 over the school. Finally the other day I asked what kind of birds they were. This is when I learned such cool facts of pigeons and teams and racing. So…here is the deal. A house with a flag on top signals that their team of pigeons are out and training. When the flag is removed, the pigeons fly back to the roof and then proceed to line up single file and fly down into their cages. Don’t believe me? Watch this!!

And for their landing

Here are the details: To buy a team of pigeons, they come in groups of 25 for 150 Euros. Once you get your 25 they come with an ankle bracelet of ID and they get an injection of steroids to build their strength before beginning their training. They get them very young and the young babies learn from the elders how and what to do. This answers the common question of “how do you get them to not fly away?” They are not fed until after their morning training. A person can buy however many teams of 25 they can afford. My friends husband has 100 pigeons and he races them every weekend. So, here is the kicker that I think is just nuts- every Friday they pack up their birds in their crates and load them onto the boat to go over to Sicily. Then on Saturday they start their race. The starting line is in Cicely and the finish line is back in Malta. Every weekend tons of people gather to see the birds come in from their race. How crazy cool is that?! Now I have to ask, rather than poisoning them why not put them into training and let them live out their lives free to fly and be fed daily and be racing pigeons? Also, luckily at least in Valetta and other parts of Malta, the pigeons still roam the streets; they just aren’t bought bags of seeds for photos. But they are in fact still alive and kicking and I hope and pray that they get to remain that way.

I took video the following day of the pigeons but I didn’t get to see where they landed this time. Enjoy!

4 Thoughts to “The Great Pigeon Race”

  1. Jan Marcussen

    Very interesting! I’ve never heard of this sport before so thank you for educating us!

    1. Isn’t that so fun to learn? So fun now to spot the circles of differing pigeon teams training all around us here.

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