Grown men with the stare of ten-year-old boys, excited and fascinated. Sweating a large bet or several and hoping for the kudos that comes with winning this curious competition. Searching for their brightly coloured cock pigeons, hoping they have the charisma of George Hamilton, the chat up lines of Bill Clinton, and the staying power of Rocky Balboa.
I’m talking about Palomas Pintadas – Painted Pigeons.
This is a competition held in towns in the Valencian and Murcia regions by Colombófilos – pigeon fanciers. If you live in the campo or on the outskirts of some inland pueblo you may have seen these intruders trudging through and around your property. Crushing you daffodils without regard to trespass as they search frantically for their pigeons now easy recognised because they have been painted in a pattern of bright colours.
The object of the competition: first they release the cock pigeons, then they release the hen with a white feather hooked to her tail and the chase begins. The pigeon owners follow them on foot wielding cameras and walking sticks, while a judge with a two-way radio determines which pigeon has spent the most time with the hen or schmoose the longest.
Points are awarded to each pigeon for air pursuit—freeing the hen from the flock. Ground pursuit – points for each time a cock tries to free the hen from the flock and ultimately achieving the most points for copulation.
It is said that the most amusing part of this competition is watching the palomistas chase down their birds and some go to great lengths to recover them, climbing walls and clambering up roofs. A law past by Franco, because he was an enthusiast, gives them full rights to access other people’s properties and if they have to close roads in order to pursue their hobby they have the right.
Special dry powder pigments are used to paint the pigeons or picas. The paint is mixed with pure alcohol rather than water so it evaporates quickly leaving only the colour, which remains until it moults. The purpose of this is so the judges can identify each bird.
This competitions or sueltas can be held by a local group on a small scale or a huge affair attracting competitors to pitch their cocks against rival fancier’s, a championship with staying power that can go on for days. The prize money varies in different places and can be as high as 10,000 Euros for the winner.
If you would like to find out more about picas and sueltas here is a comprehensive site, which also shows you how you can get into this sport – http://www.cichlidlovers.com/birds_pica2.htm