Meet the homing pigeons who could soon be homeless
23rd November 2021

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Coo-ee! I’m off to see a pigeon. Well, about 25 of them actually, and these are not just any old pigeons. No, these members of the genus Columba have been making headlines, because their owner, the aptly-named Alan Pidgley, has recently been fined nearly £1,000 because of the noise they make.

He has eight weeks to appeal the decision by Southampton Magistrates Court or he will lose the birds. And he risks another fine if they make a racket again.

They were louder than “passing jets”, according to environmental health officers, which is a pretty loud noise for any bird to make, especially one best known for its cooing.

These are pigeons I have to see, or at least hear. New Forest, here I come.

Now I’m a girl who knows about pigeons. As a child I was taken by my grandmother to Trafalgar Square, where pigeons not only alighted upon me and my little pots of birdseed (you can’t do that any more, alas), but one disgraced itself upon my jacket. I was only 10 and alarmed, but my grandmother assured me it was good luck.

My first film ever was Mary Poppins and I agreed withWalt Disney that the best song in it was Feed The Birds and so I feel quietly confident as I march up the path to Alan’s house in Hordle, Hampshire.

Anyway, that’s quite a lot of furry, feathered and fin-bearing friends. I’m guessing Alan rather likes the beasts of the field?

“I’ve always been an animal lover,” he says. “I was brought up in the country, in the New Forest, and I knew the ins and outs of the birds and wildlife.

“We boys got together to wander through the forest ‑ this was before phones. It was part of nature. And my wife is Hindu: she loves all animals. Feeding pigeons is part of her religion. What happened really upset her.”

What happened was that a couple of years ago Alan became aware of a man selling a flock of homing pigeons due to ill-health (his, not the pigeons’), bought them and rehomed them in a coop in his back garden.

On the door there is a sign saying, Mr Pidgley’s Pigeon Loft. This is a boy who is keen on his birds.

In actual fact, at 70, Alan is hardly a boy: retired from the very council that recently took him to court, he has been married to Tarammattee, 61, an NHS phlebotomist, for eight years. 

Tara, as everyone calls her, is originally from Mauritius. Between them they have five children, eight grandchildren, and an awful, awful lot of representatives of the animal and aquatic community.

Outside the house is a pond of koi carp; inside there are three fish tanks. Apart from a dog and the 25 rescued homing pigeons, there are five rescued tortoises, three rescued chickens and eight rescued rabbits. 

Actually, Alan started with just the one rescued rabbit, but then his daughter gave him another one, nature took its course and the rabbits began to breed like, er… You got there before me.

The original flock of pigeons was also smaller, at 15, before another 10 came along to join the fun.

“I shut them in for 10 days, because they’re homing pigeons and would have gone back to their previous owners. For the last three days I didn’t feed them, to make sure that when I released them they came back for food.” 

But even though Alan was following expert advice, one neighbour wasn’t happy right from the start.

“They were unsettled and made a bit of noise,” he explains. But despite Alan moving the birds further away from the house, an amicable resolution proved unattainable. Hence the court case, the £500 fine plus £450 costs and the potential loss of his flock.

Alan’s indignation is palpable. “I love them,” he says. “I’m retired, so they’re my hobby and if I have to get rid of them it will break my heart.” 

He has bonded with the pigeons, he says. “When I went out on the roof to repair it, they came out and watched me. They occupy me. If I got rid of them, I’d have to find someone local to take them but I’d go and feed them. But it’s so nice having them.”

He is certainly not alone: there are thought to be about 60,000 pigeon enthusiasts in the UK, and about 42,000 of those take part in pigeon races.

And lest you were tempted to think of this sport as a rather common pursuit, indulged in by chaps with a taste for real ale and cloth caps, let me just say this: one of those enthusiasts is Her Majesty the Queen, who keeps 170 racing pigeons in the lofts in Sandringham.

Although, I suppose, in her case, there are no near neighbours to complain about the noise.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that our monarch is a pigeon fancier with her love of the Turf. 

Racing pigeons are even faster than race horses: their average speed is 50mph and 70 to 80mph is not unheard of with a good tailwind.

But according to Alan, there’s a big difference between pigeon fanciers and some of those who race pigeons. 

“If a racing pigeon goes astray, the owner says, ‘Go ahead and pull its neck,'” he says with a shudder. “For them, it’s a sport. For me, they are pets.”

Do they ever disgrace themselves on him? I ask, thinking back to my Trafalgar Square experience. “Sometimes,” says Alan with a shrug. “That’s just the way it is.”

Right, to the two most important questions. Has he ever seen The Birds? Alan looks almost offended.

“It’s a horror film,” he says rather coldly. “I have never known birds to do that.

“Gulls might take an ice cream out of your hand but apart from that I’ve never known birds to hurt anyone.”

And finally, Mr Pidgley, have you heard of nominative determinism?

“I’m not familiar with the term,” he replies.

“It’s when someone’s name determines their career,” I say, “such as when someone called Alan Cook becomes a chef. You’re Alan Pidgley and you’re a pigeon fancier.

“That’s strange,” he admits, after a moment of thought.

“Maybe that’s why my neighbours bought me that door sign. That’s weird.”

For what it’s worth, Alan and his pigeons seem delightful types.

He is clearly a family man ‑ his stepdaughter and her own baby are around and made a fuss of ‑ and the pigeons don’t seem to wish any harm on anyone.

The appeal is pending. Watch this space.

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