10,000 pigeons VANISH during 170-mile race from Peterborough to North Yorkshire – as breeders fear birds were confused by ‘solar storm above clouds’

  • Thousands of pigeons took part in the race held in Peterborough over weekend
  • However, it is estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 didn’t make it home
  • Around 40 per cent of 9,000 birds from the North East are among the missing
  • It is thought a freak solar storm ‘above the clouds’ sent the birds into disarray 

Anxious pigeon fanciers have appealed for help after up to 10,000 birds vanished during a race in Peterborough.

One breeder described the puzzling event as ‘one of the very worst racing days in our history.’

The birds, many based in the North East of England, became lost in a race from Peterborough at the weekend.

Their owners believe a ‘solar storm above the clouds’ may have disorientated the birds and thrown off their normally infallible homing instinct.

Around 9,000 birds from the North East alone were in the race and it is estimated that 40% of them didn’t return home.

The full number from around the country hasn’t yet been calculated but is thought to be between 5,000 and 10,000 missing.

Richard Sayers, based in Skinningrove, North Yorkshire, 170 miles from the race, says 300 birds are missing from lofts in the fishing village, where pigeon racing is a way of life to many. 

Richard Sayers (centre, with his family and birds), based in Skinningrove, North Yorkshire, 170 miles from the race, says 300 birds are missing from lofts in the fishing village

He appealed to people to give shelter to the missing birds, reminding the public of the part pigeons played carrying vital messages during the world wars.

Mr Sayers said: ‘We’ve seen one of the very worst ever racing days in our history. Around 300 birds are missing from this village alone and thousands across the North East.

‘But it’s the same story right across the country, the birds set out from Peterborough and didn’t make it home, they have vanished.

‘Most of the breeders I’m talking to are blaming the atmospheric conditions, possibly a solar storm above the clouds that created static in the atmosphere, but no one really knows.

‘It’s a worrying situation for breeders and we’re asking people who come across the birds to do their best to look after them for us.

‘We’re asking anyone who comes across a racing pigeon to feed, water and let it rest and there’s an 80% chance the birds will get on their way after a few days.

‘Each pigeon has an identification ring on with a code and number.

‘We needed our little birds’ help in the major conflicts and they saved 1000s of lives by carrying messages, now we can do our little bit to help them.’

Mr Sayers flies his homing birds as Sayers Bros & son from Skinningrove in the East Cleveland Federation. The partnership has kept birds for around 50 years.

Roughly between 30% and 40% of the Skinningrove birds are missing, around 300 birds, he said. In the East Cleveland Federation the figure is estimated to be 1,000.

Across the North East section, the estimate is between 3,500 and 5,500 missing.

Pigeon racing sees the birds released at a start point to then make their way home.

The time it takes the pigeon to cover the specified distance is measured and the bird’s rate of travel is calculated and compared with all of the other pigeons in the race to determine which one returned at the highest speed 

Ian Evans, CEO of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, said an as yet unidentified solar phenomenon on Saturday brought ‘unprecedented’ pigeon losses across the UK.

There were also heavy losses at races in Portugal and in Belgium – but no one knows why.

Mr Sayers flies his homing birds as Sayers Bros & son from Skinningrove in the East Cleveland Federation. The partnership has kept birds for around 50 years

It is thought solar winds may have been part of the cause, because they can interrupt the earth’s magnetic field.

The huge losses of birds – still as yet not fully calculated – has led to the RPRA hold talks with the Met Office to try to get reports on the possibility of unusual solar activity so that racing can be cancelled if necessary.

Mr Evans said: ‘We became aware quite quickly that something very unusual was happening on Saturday.

‘I’m 45 and have kept pigeons since I was nine years of age and I have never heard of anything like this, it was extremely unusual and is a real mystery.

‘On the face of it the weather conditions across the country were good, there was nothing to suggest that any birds would struggle to get home.

‘In fact in many parts the conditions were favourable and you might have expected some good times.

‘But in the events thousands of birds simply didn’t return and as yet are still to return, which of course is a concern to the owners and breeders.

‘Something happened that disrupted the navigational abilities of the birds. We believe it may have had something to do with solar wind activity which can distort the earth’s magnetic field.

‘There is a theory that this is what the birds use to find their way home with such accuracy.

‘There was certainly something happening because birds released from locations all over the country disappeared and we’ve had many many reports of strays since.

‘It wasn’t just in this country either, we’ve had reports of heavy losses in Portugal and in Belgium as well.

‘The result of all this is that we have re-entered talks with the Met Office to see whether we can get a specialised report to be used by pigeon racing.

‘It would identify not just the weather, but also give us warning of any unusual meteorological activity.

‘That would enable us to stop races going ahead and prevent days such as the one we experienced on Saturday.

‘We are obviously hoping that the majority of these birds find their way home given time.’

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