Pigeon enthusiasts are appealing for help after 10,000 prized birds vanished into thin air during a race.
Worried breeders fear the birds may have lost their bearings following a solar storm, which has left them unable to find their way home.
The pigeons, which belonged to fanciers from all over the UK, had been released in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, and were making their way back to their lofts against the clock. But when large numbers failed to arrive home as expected, it was clear something was wrong.
Pigeon racing officials are still trying to calculate how many birds are missing, but it is feared as many as 10,000 could be lost.
Owners have appealed to anyone who finds a disorientated pigeon to look after it by feeding it, giving it water and allowing it to rest. Once the birds have recovered, it is likely their infallible homing instincts will kick in and they will head back to their lofts.
The atmospheric phenomenon thought to be responsible did not just affect the UK, also having an impact on pigeon races in Portugal and Belgium.
'It was extremely unusual and is a real mystery'
Ian Evans, the chief executive officer of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA), said the reason for the incident remained a bit of a mystery. But he said it was believed an electrical storm or solar winds on Saturday may have interrupted the Earth’s magnetic field, leaving the birds disorientated.
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.”
Evans said the RPRA has re-entered talks with the Met Office to see whether it can get a specialised report to be used by pigeon racing. He added. “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.”
Atmospheric conditions blamed
Richard Sayers, a pigeon fancier from Skinningrove in North Yorkshire, said 300 birds were missing from his village alone, with thousands vanishing across the North East.
He said: “We’ve seen one of the very worst ever racing days in our history. 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. We’re asking anyone who comes across a racing pigeon to feed, water and let it rest, and there’s an 80 per cent chance the birds will get on their way after a few days.”
Each pigeon has an identification ring with a code and number.
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