Question: What peculiar sport turns friendly neighbors into bitter rivals in a match of bird-kidnapping?
Answer: Scottish doo-flying
If you spot a pigeon flying overhead in a Scottish city, it may not be your typical feral street fowl, but rather a prized possession and player in a cut-throat competition. The game is doo-flying—a contest involving the luring and capturing of birds to hold as your own. It turns neighbors into opponents while bringing pride to communities that have fallen on hard times.
“Doo” is a Scottish word for a pigeon—in particular, the breed known as the Horseman Thief Pouter which stand prettier and prouder than you average street pigeon. Those who keep the pigeons are known as “doomen” and look after the birds as if they were their own children. This peculiar yet popular hobby has been practiced since the Victorian era, and the tradition has been passed down from fathers to their sons (and now their daughters too) for generations.
Here’s how it works: a dooman releases one of his prized pigeons into the air. A rival neighbor will spot the bird soaring above and then choose one of his own birds to release. The two doomen watch attentively from below, cooing and cawing in hopes that the two birds will find each other and begin to mate. When one bird finally lures the other one back to its home base, that dooman will pull a rope attached to a net and capture the bird. He then adds the doo to his collection, as well as earns bragging rights with his neighbor. The better the doos are at attracting mates, the more the owner can collect.
Caring for, grooming, and training the pigeons is a large source of pride in communities where unemployment rates, substance abuse and crime runs high. For young kids, doo-flying provides a sense of focus and structure to help stay out of trouble. And for both teens and adults, it offers a hobby to stay on the straight and narrow.
The game is a test of patience, and while it requires skill from its human players, most of it is left to the birds. For serious doomen, entire weekends are spent watching their birds soar over the neighborhood. Doomen trade and sell birds during events in the city, searching for one that will bring home the most mates. They groom them to make them look more attractive, oftentimes bleaching the feathers with peroxide.
The addicting game brings out a variety of emotions from anger to excitement and love and takes a range of skills in order to be successful. So if you’re walking through the city streets, don’t be surprised if you see Scots proudly calling their birds home.
6 More Strange Scottish Sports:
- Caber Toss: A signature of the Scottish Highland games, the caber toss is a show of sheer strength. In this game, athletes heave wooden poles in the air so they turn end over end. The winner is not the one who can throw the caber the furthest but the one who throws it the straightest end over end.
- Octopush: Also known as underwater hockey, Octopush in the U.K. is a game in which two teams compete to maneuver a puck across the bottom of a swimming pool. First played in England in 1954, the game now has many octopush clubs throughout Scotland which partake in competitions across the U.K.
- Stone Skimming: While we’ve all surely skipped stones on a body of water before, in Scotland this is a widely played and competitive sport. Every year the World Stone Skimming Competition is held on Easdale Island, Scotland. Participants are judged on the length and the number of skips created.
- Haggis Hurling: One of the strangest Scottish sports involves ones of its most beloved delicacies—haggis. In the World Haggis Championship, athletes hurl the haggis in the air attempting to throw it to the furthest distance possible while still keeping the haggis intact.
- The Ba’: In the town of Kirkwall, Scotland, a rowdy game known as Ba’ is enjoyed on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. In the lively event, players run through the streets in order to get a hold of a handmade cork-filled leather ball to score a goal and win the game.
- Shinty: Another staple of the Scottish Highlands, this stick and ball sport is similar to field hockey. One of the few differences between these aggressive games is that in shinty, the ball can be hit in the air and both sides of the stick can be used.
Discover more quirky Scottish traditions when you join us for our New! Scotland Revealed: Legends, Lochs & Highland Landscapes adventure.