RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – The Richmond Wildlife Center urges the public to be on the lookout for banded pigeons that may be injured while trying to fly back home.

According to the organization’s Facebook page, Saturday marked the annual World Trade Center Memorial Pigeon Race. Banded birds were shipped from Bronx, NY to Lynchburg, VA and then were supposed to “race” back to their lofts in New York.

“Pigeon races have been going on for centuries, having started in Belgium,” said Melissa Stanley, Executive Director for the Richmond Wildlife Center. “This past weekend was one of the biggest races on the east coast.”

According to the Facebook post, many of these birds typically don’t make the 370-mile flight back home.

“Birds of prey are hunting, storing up reserves for migration or for those sticking around Virginia for the winter,” Stanley said. “[They’re] building up reserves for winter when food becomes more scarce.”

At least one banded pigeon was brought to the center from Church Hill after it was attacked by a hawk. It suffered a major bacterial infection. But by just looking at the pigeon you wouldn’t be able to see its injuries.

“There was a puncture under its wing and over its back,” Stanley said. “This bird was particularly lucky it managed to escape. A lot of times these pigeons, which are domesticated and live with people, are not so familiar with predators, such as hawks, and they get picked off.”

Domesticated pigeons are usually distinguishable thanks to the bands attached to their legs.

The band will tell vets the club the pigeon belongs to and when it was hatched – similar to a license on a dog collar.

“These are birds that pigeoneers typically do want back,” Stanley said.

Sometimes the pigeons will have another band on the other leg signifying a race.

“These are only on the birds when they’re in an actual race,” Stanley added.

Pigeon races happen all year round, with plenty of clubs located in Central Virginia.

However, Stanley urges the public to be aware of these birds – if they’re on the ground they’re more than likely injured.

“Every pigeon that we’ve ever admitted needed veterinary attention,” she said. “Often times when they do go down their immune systems are compromised and then they break with various diseases and parasites and have other issues.”

At this point Stanley isn’t sure whether this pigeon took part in the homing race to New York Saturday.

“Pigeons have a fascinating history and have one of the best homing instincts,” she said. “If you think about birds in general they migrate to the same locations over and over again all their lives and pigeons are no different. You raise them in a loft and they learn that the loft is home.”

Now Stanley’s focus is on making sure it recovers and spreading the word about these kinds of injuries.

“If you find a banded pigeon that is down and you’re able to catch it, please don’t follow the bad advice of feeding it, watering it and letting it go,” she said. “Often times that’s not enough.”

In order to transport the pigeon to the center please do the following:

  • Place it in a box with air-holes or a cat carrier. Make sure there are towels inside for comfort.
  • Fill a water dish, as least 2 inches deep, and place it inside. (Pigeons need to be able to stick their entire beak in the water)
  • You can offer them seeds, but not seeds with shells on them

“When you’re giving them their food, make sure you put it right next to their water,” Stanley said. “Pigeons eat and then drink, eat and then drink. You’ll find the next morning that they’ve soaked some of their seed in water.”

There are different kinds of competitions these pigeons may take part in:

  • Racing competitions: Pigeons race back to the loft and those that get home the fastest win.
  • Homing competitions: Pigeons have to find their way home from long distances. The fastest one home wins.
  • Roller competitions: Pigeons that are bred for a specific gene that causes a mini-seizure in flight that makes them roll in the air.
  • Tumbler competitions: Similar to a roller competition but the action is on the ground.

“They’re used to relying on humans to be taken care of,” Stanley said. “If they have bands and they’re in a competition they’re very well taken care of. There’s thousands of dollars that goes into these birds.”


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