Cheating in Bird Racing

I've previously written about people cheating in marathon racing by driving -- or otherwise getting near the end of the race by faster means than running. In China, two people were convicted of cheating in a pigeon race:

The essence of the plan involved training the pigeons to believe they had two homes. The birds had been secretly raised not just in Shanghai but also in Shangqiu.

When the race was held in the spring of last year, the Shanghai Pigeon Association took all the entrants from Shanghai to Shangqiu and released them. Most of the pigeons started flying back to Shanghai.

But the four specially raised pigeons flew instead to their second home in Shangqiu. According to the court, the two men caught the birds there and then carried them on a bullet train back to Shanghai, concealed in milk cartons. (China prohibits live animals on bullet trains.)

When the men arrived in Shanghai, they released the pigeons, which quickly fluttered to their Shanghai loft, seemingly winning the race.

Posted on August 30, 2018 at 6:34 AM • 22 Comments

Comments

FrankAugust 30, 2018 8:00 AM

That still counts. Is there a specific rule against using a bullet train? No. Then it counts.

MAugust 30, 2018 8:13 AM

The most interesting part is probably that they taught the pigeons to locate 2 homes

TatütataAugust 30, 2018 8:14 AM

Next step: GPS trackers on pigeons. Or more probably, BeiDou. Even though I'm not too sure you could engineer a payload small and lightweight enough for an RFC 2549 carrier.

Maybe just an accelerometer and a recorder might do the trick? Or even just a mechanical switch, like in most pedometers? A camera recording the landscape?

Or a radio beacon on the bird, and random checkpoints along the way, eg. with a scanning high-gain antenna with a range of a couple dozen km? How straight does a pigeon homes to its base? The winners will probably be the ones who fly like, er, as the crow flies.

IMO, just another variant of marathon cheating 1 2.

Bruce SchneierAugust 30, 2018 8:58 AM

@M

"The most interesting part is probably that they taught the pigeons to locate 2 homes"

I thought that, too.

J.August 30, 2018 9:26 AM

@M, @Bruce, why is that surprising? I would assume that a migratory bird can memorise the location of several homes, wouldn't it?

WaelAugust 30, 2018 9:30 AM

If I were in that race, my pigeons would have won without bullet trains and without training the pigeons to recognize two homes.

MailmanAugust 30, 2018 10:16 AM

My favorite line in the article:

"According to the Shanghai court, the two men destroyed the evidence, killing the birds to prevent them from becoming stool pigeons. "

HumdeeAugust 30, 2018 12:48 PM

It wasn't the most interesting thing but it was the thing that made me facepalm.

"The men had released the birds too soon, shattering records for the race."

They went through all that effort and then the mess up the very last step??!! I am speechless.

echoAugust 30, 2018 4:26 PM

I'm sure there's a joke about wave-particle duality and RS232 leads buried in here somewhere.

ThunderbirdAugust 30, 2018 5:26 PM

I wondered why they needed to train the birds to have "two homes." It seems training them to return only to the "false" home would have been sufficient. Do they run shorter races where they'd have to be able to go to "home 1"?

It was amusing that the cheaters cheated too well but I imagine the temptation was to err in that direction, otherwise they run the risk of being slow and losing.

They didn't seem like hardened-criminal types: they admitted the scheme as soon as they were confronted.

HumdeeAugust 30, 2018 5:42 PM

"I wondered why they needed to train the birds to have "two homes." It seems training them to return only to the "false" home would have been sufficient."

Nope. because they had to release the birds a second time. If the perpetrators had only trained on the fake home then when the birds were released the second time the birds would have flown back to the fake home and never crossed the finish line.

MAugust 31, 2018 8:01 AM

@J it's surprising because homing pigeons and rock doves (the wild version) are not naturally migratory, so they only have 1 "home". They are usually trained young to return to their loft so I expect they were traveling a lot with those pigeons to teach them to recognize the 2 homes

TatütataAugust 31, 2018 5:42 PM

This item on the most important pigeon race in Europe (Barcelona-Pécrot [BE, on the linguistic divide], ~1050km) in a Belgian medium mentions cheating. It seems that doping is a problem; birds are tested by collecting and sending their droppings to a specialised lab in South Africa, presumably not by using carrier pigeons. According to another page, substances detected include cocaine. A picture of a dove snorting a rail flashes in my brain.

A Nonny BunnySeptember 1, 2018 2:40 PM

@Wael

If I were in that race, my pigeons would have won without bullet trains and without training the pigeons to recognize two homes.
Ah, you have that kind of missile-guiding pigeon they tried in WW2, don't you. That'd smash a record, or at least something.

@Mailman

My favorite line in the article:

"According to the Shanghai court, the two men destroyed the evidence, killing the birds to prevent them from becoming stool pigeons."

Now, if they'd also eaten the evidence, then they'd have become stool pigeons after all.

WaelSeptember 1, 2018 7:10 PM

@A Nonny Bunny,

Ah, you have that kind of missile-guiding pigeon they tried in WW2...

No! I'll prepare the following weapons:
- A set of identical pigeons
- A flock of hawks trained to disrupt the competition
- Some powerful magnetic devices to confuse the built-in homing system of the cheating competition.

WilliamSeptember 6, 2018 12:50 PM

While not pigeons, the new frontier of what the call "mechanical doping" in cycle racing has revealed carbon fiber wheels employing mag lev technology

-- cheating aside, this is some pretty darn cool technology we'll hopefully be seeing in e-bikes and automobiles in the near future because if America can get its citizens to replace all auto trips under 3 miles in length with greener alternatives (walking, cycling, e-bikes, or public transportation) the U.S. would halve its carbon footprint without any additional regulations to industry.

http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/electromagnetic-wheels-are-the-new-frontier-of-mechanical-doping-claims-gazzetta-dello-sport/

jadedSeptember 15, 2018 12:30 PM

A friend once told me of a different way that people have been cheating in pigeon races. The pigeons are banded with RFID tags to identify them when they leave and when they arrive. The cheater wore a ring on his finger with a clone of the tag of his officially entered bird. He held a different bird up to the RFID reader at the start line, and had it pick up his ring. Meanwhile, the real bird was driven to near the finish line and released just before the racers arrived.

Race officials now scan the birds themselves.

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