The ceramic pigeons of Porto may have caught my eye and the feral ones such as these three on a chimney in Estoi are a daily sight. However it is the racing ones which have made me ‘be curious’.
We have seen them exercising most evenings here in Olhão, Tavira and Castro Marim, and I am sure they are just as evident in the west. We have also come across numerous lofts on our walks. Clearly there are lots of pigeon fanciers in the Algarve.
Pigeon racing is popular here, with one of the biggest races in the world – The Golden Race – taking place every September in Monte Gordo. Last year there were teams from over 30 countries taking part. Having learnt about the race I was immediately intrigued – how do all these pigeons know to return to Monte Gordo? Surely they will just nip home, to wherever home is!
Fortunately thanks to the internet and a rainy afternoon I have learnt the answer to my question. I had always understood that pigeons were released at the same time from a distant location, and then they made their way back to wherever their home loft was. Well this is still true, and is the traditional way of racing. However The Golden Race is a different type of pigeon race.
They are still all released at the same time but they all return to the one central loft – hence the name ‘one-loft’ racing. To achieve this each team of pigeons (2 active & 1 reserve) are transferred from their place of birth to the ‘one-loft’ from which they will race. They are moved at around 6 weeks of age, and the new loft becomes their home and that of all the other racing teams.
The loft is managed by the organisation which hosts the race, with some lofts housing up to 6000 pigeons.
Given that lofts must provide at least 1 cubic metre of space per 5 pigeons, and the good lofts provide far more these are big lofts! During the spring months the pigeons are all trained together by a loft manager, learning first to enter the transfer ‘baskets’ before then being released a few miles from the loft. Gradually the distance is increased as is the number of pigeons released at the same time. By the end of the training period all of the teams are regularly flying together over 100km.
The Golden Race in Monte Gordo consists of 5 races in total, taking place over a period of 6 weeks. This year the first race is in mid August and commences in Azaruja, 170 km from the loft. The final race is the big race, and the birds are released in Bragança, a distance of 500 km from Monte Gordo. Prizes of up to €120,000 are awarded in each race, and the winners are the first birds in each race to pass over the electronic sensors at the entrance to the loft. Having watched this video though from last year it seems there is as much fun in participating as there is in winning!