According to our enquiries and the findings of our field teams, most woodpigeon hunters start their season on Michaelmas Day, namely 29 September, and end it on the eve of St Martin's Day, 11 November.
In an ordinary year, when the weather conditions are not too good or too bad, there are usually 5 passages. The first, small, from 25 September to 1 October. The second, medium, from 6 to 10 October. The third, very strong, between 10 and 20 October. It is within this interval that the Saint Luke's Day is found, a day eagerly awaited by all small game hunting enthusiasts and all woodpigeon hunters. The fourth, less strong, between 20 and 31 October, and the last, more variable, but usually weaker, between 1 and 10 November.
From this date onwards, the woodpigeons become less frequent. However, on St Martin's Day, passages have already been observed provided the weather is mild and rainy.
As a general rule, a passage lasts 3 days. On the first day, the birds appear in the morning at around 8 a.m. and become more numerous from 10 a.m. to midday, ceasing at around 3 p.m. and continuing at the end of the day until nightfall.
On the second day, the flow intensifies: the first woodpigeons are observed at dawn and continue almost uninterruptedly throughout the day.
On the third day, the beautiful blue birds are still seen overhead, although past observations show that the passage decreases towards midday and almost disappears in the middle of the afternoon. The passage then stops. Nevertheless, it is important not to take this information at face value: there are many factors that can disrupt the behaviour of woodpigeons and their passage routes.
The question then becomes: where do the woodpigeons spend the winter? First of all, it should be noted that the journey of this wild game bird is not completed all in one go. Wood pigeons that depart from the furthest points, i.e. Austria, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Germany, head for either France or Belgium. Those that reach Belgium generally follow the coastline, the Gulf of Biscay, and pass over the Basses-Pyrénées to warmer climes.
Those having passed through the north and centre of France continue their journey beyond the south of France, like the previous ones. Others reach the South of France, cross the Mediterranean to spend the winter in Africa. In any event, the majority converge on the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the Hautes-Pyrénées, Haute-Garonne, Ariège, or the Pyrénées-Orientales.
Like all travelling birds, the wind is a powerful ally in the many miles that the pigeons have to fly. It helps them to fly fast, especially if they can sense bad weather on the horizon. If the weather conditions are no longer favourable, they stop their flight. They then typically nest in oak and beech forests to rest and feed.
The woodpigeon can travel with a headwind, tailwind, or even a sidewind. Like sailors' boats, they are therefore subject to the whims of the wind. With the west wind, it is carried towards the east; with an easterly wind, it is "thrown" towards the west. it is especially with the north wind that it "shoots" straight ahead. It should be noted, for example, that if the wind is strong, it takes advantage of the relief of the countries it crosses: it then takes to the valleys providing enclosure in order to reach the southern regions where its instincts lead it.
As mentioned above, the weather and the prevailing winds influence the flight intensity of the woodpigeon, and also its flight pattern. It is therefore essential for hunters to know which way the wind is blowing in order to get into their pigeon hide to have the maximum chance of landing this mythical blue bird.
The west wind: this is the worst wind: wood pigeons rarely appear in such conditions.
The north wind: unlike the west wind, it is much more favourable for the passage. With it, the flights are not bigger but there are more of them. However, it is customary to say that in this type of windy condition, the woodpigeons "whizz at full speed" straight ahead. You can hardly make them out overhead because they are so high up in the air. However, if the wind does shift or weaken in the afternoon, it is possible that the beautiful blue bird will move inland to look for food.
The East wind: this is a good wind, promising nice weather and a mild temperature. Flights are steady, a little high but slow, and the woodpigeons stop readily.
The south wind: it is good for well-sheltered hunting, but not so good and even bad for other types. The intensity of the flights is rather low, although they are numerous and close to the surface.
The blue woodpigeon has the habit of "taking up residence" as soon as the day fades away. It is therefore not their habit to travel at night. It is a very special sight to witness woodpigeons settling down for the night. Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to be present at one of these events will be amazed for life: to see hundreds of woodpigeons circling in the sky, sometimes for long minutes, breaking their wings and landing by the hundreds on the branches of the surrounding trees is majestic.