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Hawks and old age threaten Croydon pigeon racing

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PIGEONS are commonly dismissed as 'flying rats' and the public have even been banned from feeding them in Trafalgar Square.

But did you know that they are the Queen's favourite bird and they can change hands for tens of thousands of pounds in Japan?

Pigeon racing in this country is on its last legs and Croydon's own Woodside Flying Club desperately needs new members to keep it going.

The club, based at Woodside Social Club, Enmore Road, is down to just 12 members and the old-fashioned sport is not attracting the youthful crowd it needs to survive.

Club secretary Maria Hayden said: "We had 50 members about 20 years ago but the problem is everyone has got too old and a lot of members have died.

"We need a bit of young blood to come and join us."

The pursuit of pigeon racing has expanded out to Asia, where 'stud' pigeons are a valuable commodity.

Pigeon trainer Wicky Bullen recently turned down £40,000 from a Japanese trainer who wanted to breed winners with the pigeon.

The Queen is such a big fan of pigeon racing that she has her own loft and loft manager to look after her feathered friends. The birds themselves only race from April to September and are largely rested in the close season.

But their lives are not as cushy as they sound and they are coming under threat from predatory hawks.

Maria added: "We send them out to race and they come back with their bodies ripped open. The hawks are getting cleverer and they have started working out where our starting points are.

"It's quite brutal at times. I think it's because the hawks were made protected."

Members take pigeons to far-flung parts of England and France to let the pigeons go before setting off home.

The club operates out of a huge metal portable cabin and shed in Woodside Social Club's garden, where members congregate to wait for race results, assuming the pigeons flew home safely.

However, for champion birds it is not a tale of rags-to-riches as street pigeons are considered unsuitable for racing. Maria said: "We don't really want to be associated with street pigeons. They are nothing like our birds.

"We rear them and train them from birth."

But the pigeons are not treated as pets and are not given names from birth.

Maria said: "We don't really give them names but they get a number very soon after birth.

"We would only give them a name if they won a race and needed something for the results sheet. Then we would let the winning trainer pick a name."

Hawks and old age threaten Croydon pigeon racing


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