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.

map of race course
  • Challenges

    The challenges encountered for such an event are numerous:
  • Orientation


  • Fuel

    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.
  • Dehydration

    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 respiratory rates.
    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.
  • Headwinds

    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.
  • Staying Overnight

    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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