In 1886 King Leopold II of the Belgians gave racing pigeons to the Royal Family as a gift, and they were used to start a racing loft on the Sandringham Estate. Both King Edward VII and King George V enjoyed success with their pigeons, including first prizes in the national race from Lerwick in the Shetland Isles.
Pigeons from the Royal Loft were used as carrier pigeons during the First and Second World Wars, with one bird – ‘Royal Blue’ – winning the Dickin Medal for Gallantry for its role in reporting a lost aircraft in 1940.
Following the war, pigeons returned to racing, notching up further wins in national and international races. HM The Queen maintained an interest in the Royal pigeon lofts and regularly visited when at Sandringham.
160 mature pigeons are currently kept in the lofts, along with 80 young pigeons. Though some of these are ‘stock’ animals used purely for breeding, the majority are used for racing.
Pigeons are entered into one or two club races each week and all national races during the season, enjoying numerous wins each year. Over the years, the pigeons have won every major race in the north and south of the UK.
HM Queen Elizabeth II was patron of a number of pigeon racing societies, in recognition of her interest in the sport, most notably the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and the National Flying Club.
You may like to read this article from Majesty magazine on the history of the Royal family’s interest in pigeon fancying.
Click on a thumbnail below to view a slideshow of Royal related images: