Pigeon clubs are usually confined to small areas to ensure equality of weather conditions, but the birds may fly up to 500 miles. The pigeons, which used to be transported by rail, are now taken to the starting-point in specially constructed road vehicles. The performance of each pigeon is very carefully monitored and recorded, and breeding and feeding rigorously controlled. The speed of the birds varies with wind conditions but they average 40 m.p.h. and speeds up to 90 m.p.h. have been recorded. They are descended from the rock doves (Columba livia
) and have been used since ancient times for carrying messages: Reuters, the international news agency, founded in 1850, relied at first on pigeons. The modern sport developed in the later 19th cent., as the railway network spread, particularly in Belgium
. The Royal National Homing Union of Great Britain
was founded in 1896 and the international body, the Fédération Colombophile Internationale (FCI), in the 1950s. It is one of the most demanding of sports, for breeders and for pigeons. In bad weather a large proportion of the birds do not survive.
J. A. Cannon