United Kingdom

They are ALL flying home

Missing racing pigeons that vanished in a suspected solar storm are slowly returning home days after the 'unprecedented' phenomenon, a pigeon racing chief says. 

Thousands of birds failed to return home after races across Britain, and while some have still not emerged, others appeared hours or days after they were expected.

Many of the birds were taking part in a race from Peterborough to the North East on Saturday, and it is estimated 40 per cent of the 9,000 pigeons didn't return.      

Ian Evans, Chief Executive of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association today told Radio 4 that he hopes all of the missing racing pigeons will have returned home 'by this time next week.' 

He added that the birds would typically complete 'relatively short distances' in a matter of hours, but the pigeons were instead emerging 'a couple of days later.'

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

'I'd like to think the number missing today is a lot less and it should get a lot less over the next few days,' Mr Evans, 45, said.   

'Pigeons are actually very clever if they do get tired and into difficulty they'll find another pigeon loft where they can rest up and the people there will take care of them.

'Then when they're fit enough and healthy enough, they will liberate them to return home.

'We would hope that by perhaps this time next week all of them should be home.'

Mr Evans said the 'unprecedented' incident was also reported in the Continent, adding he was speaking to Met Office experts in order to understand what happened.   

'We're still struggling to find out and understand exactly what happened,' he said.

'We always take great care to ensure the weather conditions are good enough for the race to take place because if they're not they simply don't go ahead.

'The conditions were suitable, so the pigeons should have been able to navigate quite easily.' 

He added the RPRA had asked experts to consider whether there was any interference from magnetic fields or solar storms, as it is believed birds use magnetic fields to migrate.

'But early indications are that there wasn't any detrimental impact on those magnetic fields so we're still struggling to understand what happened,' he said. 

'It is important we find out because obviously we don't want anything like that happening again.'

Nicola Maxey, a Met Office spokeswoman, told The Times there has been 'nothing unusual' in the last few weeks which could have impacted the strange behaviour.

She said:  'Looking at space weather, there has been nothing unusual that has happened in the last few weeks. It has all been business as usual. 

'There has been some low-level geomagnetic activity but just fairly regular occurrences, nothing strange or extreme that we haven't seen lots of times before.'

Pictured: Ian Evans, Chief Executive of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association

Mr Evans was unable to put a number on how many birds had not yet come home, but confirmed they were slowly returning. 

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. 

He yesterday 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. 

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. 

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

Mr Evans said yesterday: '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 have also been heavy losses reported in Portugal and Belgium, he said.  

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