Beer and Strippers (it’s not what you think)
Before anyone gets too excited, I’m talking about pigeon racing. A beer is just a way to pass the time while waiting for the birds to come home, something the average pigeon enthusiast spends a LOT of time doing. A stripper is a bird which has the flights (wing feathers) of one wing stripped or taped together so it can’t fly very high.
The intention is to lure the homecoming bird into the loft as quickly as possible by releasing the stripper so that it flutters into the loft. The theory is that seeing another bird will convince the incoming bird to drop straight into the loft. Well, theoretically. We have had birds make it onto the roof – with a stripped wing – and then sit there hobnobbing with the race bird while the owner tears his hair out below. Racing is hugely competitive and split seconds can be the difference between winners and also-rans.
The first trick is to be able to identify an incoming bird. It is horribly easy to confuse a small bird close by with a much larger bird further away. My husband raced pigeons for many years and can identify the type of bird by the way it flies, even close relatives like rock pigeons and homing pigeons. Me? I once nearly threw a stripper for a passing 747. Look, all I saw was a dark blob in the sky! My husband practically fell over laughing.
An added complication is that the birds travel strictly one-way. They only return to their lofts. This means that in a race they are all released together, but then all fly to their own homes. This means a lot of calculating – called over or under flight – to find out who actually won.
Small birds of all species generally have a quite undeserved reputation as sweet little things. Pigeons? Forget it. They can be merciless if a chick wanders into their territory, or if a bird is sick or injured. And the birds that are most aggressive are often the best racers.
I have always wondered why the dove is considered the bird of peace. Whoever chose it either knew nothing about birds, or a whole lot about humans…