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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 August, 2004, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Pigeon predators face foul taste
A racing pigeon
Pigeon fanciers can pay thousands of pounds for a prize bird
The UK's pigeon fanciers have come up with a plan to protect their birds from predators - make them taste foul.

The Royal Pigeon Racing Association said it had been spurred into action after growing numbers of birds were being eaten by birds of prey.

The organisation told the Sunday Telegraph it plans to spray them with chemicals or feed them special diets to make them unpleasant to eat.

Pigeon numbers have dropped after conservation efforts to save predators.

Costly pigeons

Pigeon owners say they have no choice but to try "taste aversion" if they are going to keep racing their birds.

"I get members phoning me up saying: we can't bear the losses any more," Peter Bryant of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association told BBC News Online.

"For retired people, pigeon racing really keeps them going. A substantial reason why they are losing the birds is because of the peregrines."

Peregrine falcon -  Geoff Simpson/RSPB Images
Birds of prey have increased in number after conservation efforts

He said pigeon fanciers - who number 55,000 in the UK - have tried all sorts of strategies to stump falcons, including painting "eagle eyes" on their birds or attaching sequins to their feathers.

But research carried out at Lancaster University showed neither tactic has had much effect, he added.

Meanwhile, Britain's peregrine falcon population has boomed and is now thought to total almost 3,000.

As long as they are non-lethal to the peregrine and the pigeon and there are no welfare concerns, this sounds like a significant step forward
Grahame Madge, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
"A fancier may pay 1,000 to 3,000 for a racing bird. To lose one of those birds to a peregrine is not very economical," Mr Bryant continued.

But he stressed that research would be conducted to ensure a pigeon's racing ability was not impacted by the sprays or supplements.

Some of the sprays, which have been tried out on hens in Canada, are a bit like Kentucky Fried Chicken coating, he said.

"This may not work... as the birds' plumage needs to be in tip-top condition."

Grahame Madge of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds welcomed the new tactics.

"As long as they are non-lethal to the peregrine and the pigeon and there are no welfare concerns, this sounds like a significant step forward," he told the Sunday Telegraph.

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