The Alberta Open Pigeon Race
The Alberta Open Pigeon Race
It is now over a decade ago that this yearly competition from the hamlet of Parkbeg (50 km west of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan) is taking place between racing pigeon fanciers of mainly Calgary,
Lethbridge and Edmonton.
Organizing a pigeon race open to fanciers in such a large geographic area requires the race distance to be large which in turn leads to not only benefits but also challenges for our athletes.
Visualize a 100 mile club race which includes many pigeon races in North America. The birds are released, orient, and fly toward their home loft. Since these lofts are in a small geographic area, the divergent
angles between the lofts being quite small, almost all birds fly in a large flock toward their city. Unless there is a strong headwind the race distance of 100 miles is usually too short for the flock to become
subdivided into individuals of varying ability. The large flock will therefore usually break up just before reaching the city where the real race begins. Groups of birds reach their home loft together where the
determination of the winner becomes a timing contest, a matter of chance. The birds are then separated in the prize list by seconds or fractions thereof.
The benefits of participating in a long distance race like the Alberta Open include a fairer assessment of the performance of each of these athletes since advantages or disadvantages of loft location,
wind direction, luck, etc. play a smaller role during the competition between pigeons within each city the larger the race distance is.
But competition between birds whose lofts are in different cities is another matter. Differences in wind and weather within such a large geographic area will always favor the birds of one city over another
each year. Any southerly wind component will always favor the Edmonton birds while a northerly one will favor the Calgary birds and this will then usually but not always decide the overall winner. Regardless
of such issues the favorable and unfavorable situations will even out over many years as the weather is different each year.
The challenges encountered for such an event are numerous:
Imagine a large group of young racing pigeons being liberated near Parkbeg, a place none of these birds had ever been near to.
Yet, like magic most of them head towards home and are joined by those who need to fly to the same city. There are many hypotheses how these birds are capable of doing this but the truth is that we
just do not know. I am sure that there will be some birds who cannot decide which way to go and will eventually join a flock of farm pigeons that find food in the fields during the present harvest season.
Although these participants may be bred from excellent racing pigeons even the best produce a certain percentage of offspring that is better suited to join a group of feral pigeons. Only racing
competitions can differentiate between good racing pigeons and those that lack the talents.
The talented ones will orient correctly at the release site and head home. There will therefore be a large group of pigeons that flies towards Calgary, another group will be heading towards Lethbridge,
and a third group will be flying towards Edmonton. Some of the pigeons within each group that may lack endurance or athletic condition will gradually find it increasingly difficult to keep up with the
pace set by the leaders of the group and fall behind. This will be repeated many times as the hours tick by until there are many small groups of racing pigeons strung out along the line of flight.
Provided the race is of long enough duration the leading pack will be getting progressively smaller until there will be only one pigeon out in front - the winner.
Suppose you want to take the family out for a long trip without having any service stations on the way. You wouldn't just get into the car and start driving. Instead you would make some preparations.
You would want to be sure that the car is in good mechanical condition, that there is enough air in the tires and oil in the engine, and that there is enough fuel in the fuel tank. Similar preparations need to be
made for our pigeons but since a pigeon has no way of knowing how long it will need to fly in the coming race the pigeon itself cannot possibly prepare itself. This is the fancier's responsibility.
Above all a pigeon needs to be healthy and be in possession of most of its feathers because it cannot fly without these. It needs to have enough fuel stored in the form of fat for a long distance race.
Depending on the bird's efficiency during flight it will need between 3 and 3.5 gm fat for every hour of flight. A pigeon flies approximately 75 km per hour on a day without any wind. Since these pigeons
may need to fly 600 km from Parkbeg they would need 600km/75km/hr = 8 hours to come home. They would therefore need to have 8 x 3.5gm fat = 28gm fat stored. Should there be a tailwind blowing, the amount of
fuel needed would be less, the opposite being true for a headwind race as was the case this past year 2018 for the birds flying to Edmonton. That year the wind was blowing at 20-25km/hr, gusting to 35km/hr,
pretty well all day. Since the birds couldn't fly on average even 50 km/hr during such weather they required at least 600km/50km/hr = 12 hrs; 12 x 3.5gm fat = 42gm fat stored.
The forgoing means that the fancier also needs to try and predict the weather to enable him/her to prepare his/her birds properly.
We are fortunate that the temperatures late in September are usually moderate in our part of the world but a hot spell is always a possibility. The birds' working muscles produce much heat which needs to
be eliminated. Since birds do not possess sweat glands water is evaporated during panting from the air sacs thereby having a cooling effect on the birds. It also leads to a gradual loss of fluid that can be
replaced by the bird stopping over and drinking. Should there be no surface water available dehydration would increase and gradually lead to hyperthermia, muscle cramps due to electrolyte imbalance,
confusion, and death at only 15% dehydration as there would not be enough blood volume to perfuse all the organs, including the brain, in spite of the compensating mechanisms of increased heart and
We are fortunate that surface water is usually available on the race route. Hopefully the water they find does not have a toxic algal bloom.
Staying undeterred while flying against a headwind of 25 km/hr is a talent not given to every pigeon, especially when flying on the prairies where there is nowhere to hide. Imagine trying to fly at the
average pace of 75 km/hr but being pushed back 1 yard for every 3 yards flown and that for 11 hours. Only the good athlete will not be discouraged but continue and fight all day.
The day is often not long enough for completing a really challenging long distance race. Each bird will then need to look for and hopefully find a safe place to rest. It needs to be protected from prowling cats
and looks for a place high above the ground that is inaccessible to these predators. The tops of steel grain bins would be such a place as it also provides some protection against hungry owls that hunt at night.
Another good place may be found by temporarily joining a feral flock and share their resting place that is usually quite safe. The following morning the pigeon may continue its journey home, sometimes being
accompanied by one or more feral pigeons.
The Alberta Open Pigeon Race
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