What is it with the Pigeons?
Facing my fear...
Okay, I am going to let you in on a little secret. I am ornithophobic … that is I have a fear of birds. It all started when I asked my parents to buy me a dog, and they got me a parakeet that dive-bombed my hand when I attempted to clean the cage. It certainly was made worse by the Hitchcock classic “The Birds”. This is not a life-altering fear…I don’t get heart palpitations or run away in a panic. But those flying rodents called pigeons are not my favorite thing.
Lisbon’s Pigeon Problem
Back in 2017, the Wall Street Journal announced that Lisbon had a pigeon population problem. (I did not read this article before we moved to Portugal.) But as we have learned, the Portuguese are a kind and generous people. They didn’t do what I would have. Instead:
They have built basically a luxury hotel for birds. The plan - lure the pigeons there to nest, then caretakers sneak in and steal their eggs. The birdhouse has fresh water, gourmet bird food, even a nursery, which makes you wonder if the pigeons are somehow outsmarting the humans here. — Morning Edition, NPR
In researching this post I learned that pigeons are actually relatively intelligent. Wasserman has concluded that they are as bright as a 3-year-old child. That’s smarter than a cat (so there you cat people), and roughly the same as a dog (sorry Onix).
The pigeon can also recognise all 26 letters of the English language as well as being able to conceptualise. In scientific tests pigeons have been found to be able to differentiate between photographs and even differentiate between two different human beings in a photograph when rewarded with food for doing so. — 21 Amazing Facts Abotu Pigeons
Pigeons and VRSA
But the pigeon problem is not only in Lisbon. We have a bunch of them here! People leave piles of bread on the ground for them. Last weekend, we observed an older man, sitting in the town square, picking up birds and kissing them on the head. 🤮
I suppose there are a lot of pigeons here because we have our fair share of pigeon “fanciers”. You pass pigeon “lofts” when driving into VRSA. It doesn’t matter if you are coming from the toll road or via N-125 … you will see a bunch of them. On most occasions, you will also find men there. I am not sure if they care for the birds, hang out with their buddies, or just get away from their wives and kids. But I suspect at least some of the time they are training their flock for the big race.
Golden Algarve - Million Euro Pigeon Race
The practice of using pigeons to deliver messages is believed to go all the way back to Roman times. More recently, we recall their use during WWII. It is the pigeon’s homing instinct to return to their native territory which makes them perfect for racing.
Before it arrived in the western Iberian Peninsula, however, the sport developed in northern Europe. Records show that the first location where it gained popularity may have been Belgium during the mid 19th century. Today, each country has their own set of rules and, in Portugal, fanciers – the name for pigeon breeders – are allowed to enter 15 pigeons per team, and up to three teams, usually designated A, B, and C. — Culturetrip.com
It is estimated that there are 500 pigeon clubs in Portugal and, of course, the sport is governed by a federation. And while “keeping” pigeons may be a fairly economical pursuit, purchasing champion birds and entering them into contests is not. A well-bred pigeon can cost thousands of dollars. You will also pay a hefty registration fee to participate in the Golden Algarve which will begin later this summer. The longest of all the races is the 500km - Bragança -Golden Race. In all €1.1 Million will be awarded, the Golden Race garnering a €200,000 prize (plus a trophy and band). I suspect band means something other than “marching”, “Queen”, or “garage”. But I will leave that for you to research.
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