All the Queen’s … Pigeons

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The Queen and her racing pigeons.

It’s widely known that Queen Elizabeth II is extremely fond of horse racing but did you know that she’s also a pigeon fancier? She keeps a stable (if that’s the right word) of racing pigeons in the grounds of the Norfolk royal residence, Sandringham.

She has over two hundred pigeons and is said to be extremely knowledgeable about the birds, their care and of course, about pigeon racing.

But she isn’t the first of Britain’s monarchs to be interested in this. The first ‘royal pigeons’ were given as gifts to the then Prince of Wales later (King Edward VII) by King Leopold II of Belgium. It was the Belgians who first began the sport of pigeon racing in modern times. Both Edward and his son, George V, enjoyed the sport of pigeon racing.

The next monarchs on the list were rather preoccupied by other matters and their interest in racing pigeons isn’t recorded.  The next king, Edward VIII was, as we know, famously distracted from his royal role by his infatuation with his mistress-then-wife, Wallis Simpson.

When he abdicated in order to marry her, his younger brother became king but he too had other matters to deal with during his reign – matters that were more important than a mere mistress – because during the majority of his time on the throne England was at war with Germany.

But during the Second World War, King George VI didn’t forget about his pigeons. Just like other members of the royal household, they had to play their part in the hostilities. They became carrier pigeons working delivering messages from Europe to the UK and vice versa. In fact, one bird named Royal Blue was awarded a medal for his heroic work.


Royal Pigeon Keepers

Over the years, there have been five royal employees who have been specifically hired as experts in their field to look after the approximate two hundred and forty pigeons in the queen’s racing lofts. The birds race almost every week.

The pigeon racing fraternity in the UK is vast. When Carlo Napolitano, who had looked after the queen’s pigeons since 1992, died in May 2011 there were hundreds of applications for his job from pigeon experts from around the United Kingdom.

Will pigeon racing survive?

PETA has been campaigning against pigeon racing in recent years. It’s certainly true that not all racing pigeons make their way home. But the dangers that the birds face are those that any bird flying wild would encounter such as bad weather or birds of prey. That’s nature for you.

I haven’t been able to find out how many racing pigeons die in the UK but statistics show that 950 million other birds are slaughtered for human consumption. I do trust the the members of PETA are not chowing down on chicken wings as they plan to lobby against this traditional sport.



Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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