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Pigeon racing has been described as the "sport with a single starting gate and a thousand finish lines. In short, competing birds are taken from their lofts and must race home. The time taken and distance are recorded and the fastest bird is declared the winner. Races are generally between 100 kilometres (62 mi) and 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) in distance. In the United States flights of up to 1,800 kilometres (1,100 mi) have been recorded.

Provided it survives the many hazards associated with racing, a single pigeon could compete from about six months of age and still be in competition at over ten years of age. Such feats are uncommon; the average racing career rarely exceeds three years.Hazards can also come from weather conditions on the day of the race. Pigeons can become grounded and disoriented, and therefore not finish the race.

In the early days of racing, paint was used to identify birds for owners. Belgium then developed a ⅛-inch brass leg band, that was sent to racers in America to use. Since then, to compete in a race, it must wear a permanent, unique numbered ring or band that is placed on its leg at about five days old. For a race to be conducted, the competing pigeons must be entered into the race, usually at the organisation's clubhouse, and taken away from their home to be released at a predetermined time and location. The distance between the bird's home loft and the race point is carefully measured by GPS and the time taken by the bird to return is measured using one of the two acceptable timing methods. Sometimes in some leagues, there are two divisions: one for the young birds (usually yearlings in their first year of competition) and another for older birds.
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