Pigeon Racing in Norway: Norwegians seeking contact
As chairman of the PV “Meteoor” in Tuitjehorn/Warmenhuizen N-H, the Netherlands, Sergio Ferreira (the organizer of the Algarve race (one loft race) who has a large international network of pigeon racing contacts) introduced me to Norwegian pigeon racing enthusiasts. I speak Norwegian as my wife comes from Norway and we own a cabin over there.
I got the chance to meet the members of a pigeon racing club from Bergen, Norway and found that they were looking for a fellow pigeon racing club in the Netherlands for exchanging knowledge, experiences and possibly pigeons. The pigeon racing club in Bergen is almost a 100 years old. Despite the fact that Bergen lies in the south of Norway, this pigeon racing club is most likely the most northern pigeon racing club of Europe.
On the 22nd and 23rd of July Stein Thorsen (62) hosted me at Askøy near Bergen, an “øy” is an island in area surrounding Bergen and is connected to the main land via a suspension bridge. The recently held world cycling championship used this bridge and island as a part of the course, and could be beautifully seen on television. Stein Thorsen is the chairman of “Gruppe 6” of the NBF (Norsk Brevdue Forbund * 1912), consisting out of 5 segments with approximately 40 enthusiasts.
After a warm and lovely welcome the following two days were fully focused on pigeons. We have visited and admired his pigeon house, which also consisted out of a small office. This small office reminded me of a documentation center with information on his pigeon family/tribe and their results. The entire pigeon family resolves around his “Stein Turbo” ring Norge 01-16188 A. This pigeon was present in the pigeon house and has given offspring until 2016. He has come first and fourth in a national competition from Byske, northern Sweden over 860 kilometers! Crossing snowed mountain tops and highlands with varying weather conditions. At the age of 10 he also came first in a national show at the “flown old male pigeons”.
In the whole of Norway there are 5,3 million inhabitants of which 2/3 lives in an area where it is possible to perform pigeon racing. In that area there are approximately 500 active pigeon enthusiasts.
In two days we visited some of the prominent members of the club, amongst which was the national champion of 2017. A combination of two boys, my guess would be at the end of their 30’s, flying under the name “Bø&Blom”.
People tend to live further apart than the Dutch enthusiasts, driving for an hour considered to be very normal in Norway. What stood out for me at every visit was the enthusiasm, motivation and hospitality of the people we visited. You will be spoiled with coffee and pastry with fruit and cream. People are not in a rush and are willing to engage in good conversations. I have held a lot of pigeons with beautiful results and my opinion on the pigeons was valued.
The good accommodations with large amount of breeders and young pigeons are necessary due to the high losses by birds of prey. These losses sound extreme to us, as they may lose 30 to 40% per year due to the birds of prey. The losses occur during the yield/delivery of the young ones and during flying. The pigeons train in severe weather conditions with high winds and rain, and become used to this. Pigeons in training (young and older pigeons) stay very close to their pigeon house. The pigeon house is seen as a safe harbour with a low risk for the birds of prey.
A lot of pigeon racing enthusiasts stay near the pigeon house during the training period and will warn their pigeons with a whistle when predators are coming. Mostly young pigeons are the victims of the birds of prey, and I have been told that “All pigeons that are not as fast as lightning before the end of June will be eaten.”.
The pigeons originate from Belgium and have arrived in Norway via other Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Sweden. These countries formed a union until the beginning of 1900 and their languages are closely connected, comparable to how Flemmish and Afrikaans are related to Dutch. Therefore the communication was relatively easy between these countries. Also there was some input of Belgium origin through the UK.
The current successful pigeons in this region mostly originate from the most recent input which was in the ‘80s of the previous century via Sweden. This input came from Emiel Deweerdt from Kortemark B. and descendants of the originally Gebr. Janssen pigeons from the van der Flaes, Vos de Bijter en Schoon Voske via Frederikshof, family Romein. This input has evolved over 35 years to become the current racing pigeon of this region. A type which we would call old-fashioned with a lot of silky soft plume (almost similar to duck down), medium-large to large and equipped with muscles with a lot of strain and sensitivity. They are willingly, calm and confident pigeons that can travel for hundreds of kilometers without panicking and will not give up. The various pigeon houses are so far apart that they have to find their own direction pretty soon.
Our house lies on the coast and on racing days we have never seen more than two pigeons come by, usually just one. What I have seen a lot where the “iceheads” with the red foxes but also certainly with the “krassen” and the blue’s. The input of the pigeons with a Janssen family background may have contributed to a certain resistance against inbreeding. Because it is definitely no exception to see a certain pigeon three times in the family tree of a winning pigeon. The in our view extreme weather conditions will have most certainly contributed to the natural selection leading to this evolution.
Despite the fact that there are a lot of international contacts and a large amount of money is spent in Belgium and Holland, the results are often disappointing. In Denmark and the south of Sweden the input of pigeons has been more successful. I believe that the reason for this is that the good pigeons in both regions (by evolution from both sides) are difficult to match.
The input of pigeons brings speed but also comes with a loss of toughness and perseverance. The living and competition environments are too different from one another. This realization has also come with the Norwegians who refer to England and Scotland for their input.
When there were less birds of prey the Norwegian pigeon racing season was longer and they raced in a classic form of “widowhood”. Now the main race is a “nesting game”. The pigeon racing season around the Bergen area is fully adjusted to the birds of prey and lasts with older pigeons just for two months, May and June.
After these months the birds of prey are in a greater need for food to feed their babies. Young ones who have almost completely lost their feathers at this stage will be educated and will start flying in September and October. The weather is less ideal but the birds of prey have moved on further south.
Until approximately 15 years ago, they flew from the south on long distance flights where the pigeons had to cross the Skagerrak from Denmark. The conditions were tough and distances were very long. Losses of more than 20% per flight were no exception, but the winners would return as heroes. Sadly the heroes would often die on their second or third attempt in these races. This is why the race was changed to the eastern and north-eastern direction and from Sweden. This meant that the pigeons no longer had to cross the sea but now had to fly across snowed mountaintops and highlands of 1300 m1.
These tough conditions and unpredictable weather conditions are the cause that flights longer than 350km are sometimes open for more than four hours. Losses of 10% are not unusual for these flights. Five years ago the “Vitesse” and young pigeon races (until 200km) started up. These races are held along the coast in the northern area. These type of races have had the best results, the weather is more predictable and often a north or north-western wind is present which decreases the race time and decreases the losses.
Popular “one-Loft races”
The short pigeon racing season makes it very attractive to participate in the “one-Loft races”. This year the members of his segment have brought 10 young pigeons together for the SBU championship in Mira. These were transported to Portugal by plane, and it appeared that they were very successful. The first pigeon (4 min. clear) with the (un)official world championship 2017 in Mira Portugal was a Norwegian and has won € 24.000,–. The 8th place in Mira and the 2nd pigeon in Greece also was from a member of their club. The first arriving, but timed as third pigeon in Denmark also belong to someone of the club. And Stein Thorsen owned the pigeon which arrived as 27th in the Algarve.
People only go to the club to put the pigeons in a basket. The results and processing of the results is all done digitally, the systems are very much comparable to the Dutch ones. I did get the impression that the digitization is more progressed than in the Netherlands, almost everybody use digitally and you can use almost everywhere with your phone.
If you click on the results from the enthusiast you will see his NAW details, email address, phone number and his address. If you click on the pigeon you will see his earlier rankings.
People organize national days and shows, given the distance you have to cross this often means that you have to drive a day or take a plane to get there. For such an event it is common to take at least two days time. So for visiting manifestations such as Blackpool or visiting the “one-loft races”, people spend time and money. Next to this, the “one-loft races” often take place in the low season.
New pigeon friend
What I gained from this visit is a new pigeon friend and two amazing male pigeons to breed and experiment with. Are there more people who would be interested? Pay a visit to the website of NBF https://www.brevduesport.no/. Norwegian is a Germanic language that had a lot of influence in the English of nowadays. If you are good with languages and know English and German, you will be able to understand most.
Admiration and awe
I have gained even more admiration for the performance of racing pigeons, and this has given us. The pigeons have to fly between mountain tops and have to climb from the valley all the way through the clouds to get passed the highlands. Temperatures in these flights can vary from +25degC to just above 0degC. If you consider these circumstances, it is a miracle that the pigeons make it home after their longest flight of 860km.
Us pigeon racers are so privileged to work with these birds. Let’s be proud of this and treat them with care!