Up to 1,000 racing pigeons vanish during race in 'solar storm'

Up to 1,000 racing pigeons vanish on 92 mile trip from Swindon to South Wales on same day thousands more disappeared across UK in ‘solar storm’

  • The birds vanished on June 19 as thousands from other races also disappeared
  • Many have been spotted in Holland and Majorca though some have returned 
  • Racing experts have blamed freak weather or a ‘series of mini tornadoes’ 

Up to 1,000 racing pigeons have vanished on a 92-mile trip across the UK on the same day that thousands more disappeared across the nation in a ‘solar storm’. 

The birds went missing on a journey from Swindon to South Wales on Saturday June 19.  

Some 10,000 also disappeared during a race in Peterborough in an event on the same day – described by one breeder as ‘one of the very worst racing days in our history.’ 

In total across Britain, 250,000 birds were released on the day and only a fraction returned. 

While some have begun slowly returning home, many are still missing and have been spotted as far away as Holland and Majorca.

Dene Simpson, race controller for the South West Wales Federation of pigeon fanciers, described how a huge number of the birds the group had lovingly reared from chicks vanished into thin air. 

Pigeon fancier Dene Simpson (far left) said only a few hundred of his 1,400 pigeons made it home after they were released for a race on the weekend of ‘freak weather’ this month

The 92-mile journey Dene Simpson’s racing pigeons took from Swindon to Swansea when up to 1,000 went missing in a freak incident experts believe may have been due to a solar storm

 ‘We’d let ours go from Swindon at midday on the same Saturday – that’s a 92 mile journey with the wind behind them, so it shouldn’t have taken that long,’ said the 39-year-old from Swansea.

‘But, of the 1,400 that went out, only about 200 to 300 made it home. And when we looked on social media later on we saw that lots of other federations around the UK had experienced something similar.’

Mr Simpson, who is in charge of checking the weather situation and deciding when and where the birds are released, said there were no warning signs that something odd was about to happen.

‘The forecast had been overcast in the morning but with good visibility – by the afternoon there were clear blue skies back home in Swansea.

Pigeon racing sees the birds released at a start point to then make their way home, and the birds use the Earth’s magnetic field as a guide, which expert Dene Simpson believs could be distorted by freak weather 

‘Which is why I think something invisible to the naked eye occurred, something that messed with the birds’ internal Sat Nav and caused them to veer off course drastically.’

Mr Simpson said that homing pigeons can navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field as a guide, but a freak occurrence such as solar storm could distort their sense of direction.

‘There was definitely something strange going on that day because there were hardly any wild birds in the sky at all beforehand, it was just dead up there,’ he said.

‘Personally, I’ve not ruled out a series of mini tornadoes being to blame.’

Mr Simpson said another member of his federation, which covers Port Talbot, Pontardawe and Llanelli in Wales, has been told that one of his pigeons has been spotted in the Netherlands – ID’d by the tag or ‘life ring’ around its leg.

 ‘It’s upsetting for the boys because they’ve reared these birds by hand, really looked after them,’ he said.

‘And, while money is the last thing on anyone’s mind at a time like this, pigeon fancying can be an expensive hobby. Losing this many birds will have cost a fortune.’ 

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

Ian Evans, Chief Executive of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, said some of the pigeons which disappeared on the puzzling day have begun to return home.

He told Radio 4 last week 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.’   

‘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.’ 

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. 

He 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 Swindon to Swansea race, says 300 birds also went 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.’

‘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,’ he added.

‘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.

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

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.’

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.

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