Pigeon racing in Lanarkshire and why the much-loved sport has been flying high for centuries

It might not be the most popular sport out there, but there are a few Lanarkshire locals devout with an undying passion for pigeon racing.

The activity can see birds travel over 500 miles in a matter of hours as they’re tightly clocked in fierce competitions around the world.

Pigeons are taken to a chosen locations and released, tasked with returning to their respective homes the fastest.

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Better known as ‘homing’, the time it takes the animal to cover the distance is measured against its rate of travel, calculating which bird returns home at the highest speed.

And as local group Coalburn and District Homing Club showed with a wealth of sparkling trophies at their recent awards night, the prizes can be quite impressive for this unique sport.

But on January 29, the annual gathering felt more like a reunion and a celebration of club members who were once more able to meet, having not seen each other since before the pandemic.

Coalburn and District Homing Club

The trophy presentation and dance was held at Harris and Ollie’s in Lesmahagow with guests and fellow pigeon fanciers from Tranent coming along with over 50 others on the night.

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New member of the Lanarkshire club, and writer in many pigeon racing publications Mary Thomson, spoke with Lanarkshire Live about her love for homing and how she wants to see it promoted more in local areas.

She hopes more youngsters gain an interest in the sport as she told of the fantastic things pigeons can do.

Mary told us: “Pigeon racing goes back hundreds of years, as well as during war times when pigeons were bred and taken in boxes to deliver messages across different countries.

“Pigeons are actually quite clever animals. But it’s a dying sport.

“New housing estates, local councils as well as birds of prey are all challenges for homing nowadays.

“We used to try and promote it in schools, but you can’t do that anymore.

“In places like the Netherlands and Belgium, they take pigeon racing to a whole different level.”

Frankie the pigeon was gifted to Mary at the club and it’s raced over 200 miles already

Racing pigeons are specially bred and trained with some worth a fortune, with Mary telling us about a pigeon that recently sold for £30,000 in Blackpool.

“The things these pigeons can do, they can fly over 500 miles in one day,” she added. “They can be released at 5am and return home by 5pm if it’s a good race.

“It’s just trying to get the word across to people, and it might even strike up with some wee boy that’s maybe not into football for example.”

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The Coalburn awards evening was the first time since before COVID that members and racers were able to meet.

“There were some beautiful trophies awarded on the night,” Mary added.

“I was blown away by how good the club was and how involved everybody was. It was packed.”

“I do not believe I have been to such a well supported event for such a long time. It was especially nice to see the young families attending, with there young children.

“I have only been to the Coalburn social on two occasions and on both times they were always well attended. Secretary Hazel Harrison goes above and beyond to make sure every detail is well thought and everything runs smoothly.”

The amount of equipment used in pigeon racing is extensive and it has evolved over the years.

The pigeons have electronic timing systems to accurately record their traveling times which is essential given how close races can be – sometimes coming down to just seconds.

They are also transported in specialized trailers to ensure fair conditions for pigeons that are racing and so they can all be recording on their release at the exact same time.

Each of the pigeons get a metal tracker put round their leg, and when they come home from the race, it will beep for it to be timed in.

Racing season runs from April to September.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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