There are at least four main types of competitive pigeon sport:
Though not quite a sport, fancy breeds of pigeons are also bred to standards and judged in a competitive fashion. Levi in his book The Pigeon describes all aspects of pigeon keeping. For exhibition purposes sport pigeons are sometimes grouped as Flying/Sporting Pigeons.
Pigeon racing is the sport of releasing specially trained racing pigeons, which then return to their homes over a carefully measured distance. The time it takes the animal to cover the specified distance is measured and the birds rate of travel is calculated and compared with all of the other pigeons in the race to determine which animal returned at the highest speed.
Pigeon racing requires a specific breed of pigeon bred for the sport, the "Racing Homer". Competing pigeons are specially trained and conditioned for races that vary in distance for approximately to 100 to 1000 km.
The winner of a pigeon race is the bird with the highest velocity,measured in ypm/mpm, this calculation demands the distance be divided in to yards, divide the yards by the number of seconds it took the bird to return then multiply by 60. Therefore Races can often be won and lost by seconds, and to measure this, many different timing apparatus have been developed. The traditional timing method involves rubber rings being placed into a specially designed clock, whereas a newer development uses RFID tags to record arrival time.
While there is no definite proof, there are compelling reasons to think the sport of racing pigeons may go back as least as far as 220 AD or possibly earlier. The sport achieved a great deal of popularity in Belgium in the mid 19th century. The pigeon fanciers of Belgium were so taken with the hobby that they began to develop pigeons specially cultivated for fast flight and long endurance called Voyageurs. From Belgium the modern version of the sport and the Voyageurs which the Flemish fanciers developed spread to most parts of the world. Once quite popular, the sport has experienced a downturn in participants in someparts of the world in recent years, possibly due to the rising cost of living, aging fanciers, and a severe lack of public interest.
One recent development in the sport of pigeon racing is "one loft racing", where birds are raced against each other under the same training regime, in an effort to test the best birds rather than the best trainer.
Tumbler pigeons are varieties of domesticated pigeons descendant from the Rock Dove that have been selected for their ability to tumble or roll over backwards in flight.
This ability has been known in domesticated breeds of pigeons for centuries. In Wendell Levi's book The Pigeon, reference is made to pigeons with this tumbling ability existing in India before the year 1590. Charles Darwin, in his book The Origin of Species, makes reference to the Short Faced Tumbler which was a popular breed during his lifetime, and still can be found exhibited at pigeon shows today.
There are many different breeds that have descended from the original tumbler stocks. Some of the more popular breeds today include:
A Tippler is a breed of domestic pigeon bred to participate in endurance competitions. Flying results of up to 22 hours (non-stop) have been reported (see photo at right).