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Racing pigeons still missing after getting lost in storm over France

Thousands of the birds became disoriented with one even showing up on a sailing yacht near Sardinia

A photo of a racing pigeon flying in a blue sky

The racing pigeons were suspected lost over France, with one even coming to land on a sailing boat off the coast of Sardinia Pic: Frank Cornelissen / Shutterstock

Thousands of racing pigeons taking part in an international competition are still missing after becoming  disoriented while flying over France, likely due to a storm near to where they were released.

The race’s 26,000 birds were released into the sky in Narbonne (Aude) with their course set for Belgium.

Belgian pigeon racing association l'Indépendante de Liège organises and oversees the international event every year with representatives from Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands and France participating.

On the same day (Friday, July 29), around 30km from the departure point, a storm was brewing – which organisers say disoriented many of the birds. Some landed in Germany, far from their intended destination but many others simply disappeared from the radar.

Financial loss

The lost birds represent a significant financial loss for many participants, running into several thousand euros, especially if their birds come from a good lineage and have received two or three years’ training.

Some blame the race organisers for failing to cancel the race as a result of the storm. 

Jef Cupers, from pigeon association la Fédération colombophile belge, told Belgian news: “The fault lies with the l'Indépendante de Liège. We still don’t understand why they released the pigeons. This catastrophe will have consequences. They will surely not be able to organise flights next year.” 

But the president of the association, Pascal Bodengien, told Belgian TV that the situation was an “emotional and financial tragedy” and that it was simply “very sad”.

One Belgian was happy, however: Joseph Liégois won the competition in the ‘old’ category, after his pigeon arrived first, having successfully flown 817 kilometres in 12 hours.

Sail bird

Far from the race, one of the pigeons was even found by a couple on holiday on a sailing boat off the coast of Sardinia. 

Marc and Christine Gauthrot from Leucate in Aude picked up the pigeon the day after the birds were released.

Mr Gauthrot told France 3: “Late in the evening, it was almost dark. We saw this bird trying to land on the boat. Five attempts and it settled on a bar of the mast. It stayed there for a long time before coming down to the deck.”

The couple had read about the race on the news, and quickly contacted the French pigeon federation to report the bird, who said its matriculation number showed it was a German pigeon. The couple has written to the German federation, but so far received no response.

The couple said: “We would like to find its owner or at least someone interested in this pigeon in Sardinia.” They joked: “We’re going to ask for a ransom!”

In the meantime, the couple is feeding the bird with bread and offering it clean water to drink. They said: “We might go diving or leave the boat, but [the pigeon] finds us again, no matter where we are!”

The couple is hoping to find the bird’s owners soon, before they depart the port in Sardinia and return home. The pigeon would likely not survive the return trip due to its state of exhaustion and the long distances involved.

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