Leeroy Jones of Ponoka and Ivan Bauer of Stettler, members of the Central Alberta Racing Pigeon Club released approximately 200 homing pigeons south of Coronation Monday, Aug. 17 in the first race of several scheduled for this fall. Bauer reported excellent results from the race, stating the birds were home before he got home. ECA Review/J.Webster
Racing pigeons aren’t like your everyday bird. While they may look similar to the pigeons inhabiting barns or feeding in a park, they are a unique breed.
Known for their powerful homing instincts and flying abilities, these special pigeons know where they are headed and about 200 of them took flight from Coronation Monday morning, Aug. 17 in a race to their respective lofts or homes.
The Central Alberta Racing Pigeon Club, which has been in existence since 2003, hosts several races each year, according to club member Ivan Bauer of Stettler.
While the seven or eight members of the club race pigeons primarily for bragging rights, the worldwide sport of pigeon racing is quite lucrative. Cash prizes for the larger races can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The star racers on the world racing scene will fetch a purchase price in the hundreds of thousands and then be used as breeding stock for the next up and coming generation of racers. Local birds sold for breeding are more reasonably priced at $50-$75 each, but even locally, initial breeding stock can cost in the thousands.
Bauer explained how the birds are tracked to determine the winner of a race.
Each racing bird has an electronic band around its leg that is tracked by GPS. Every bird is registered prior to the race and its number entered into a computer program. When the birds are released at the start point of the race, the GPS coordinates are recorded. As each bird returns to its loft, an electronic device at the loft records the time the bird returned.
Birds can fly up to 50 miles an hour at a steady pace depending on weather conditions or hazards, like hawks preying on the pigeons.
More mature flyers can fly 400 or 500 miles or longer in a single race while yearling birds generally train for shorter trips under 250 miles.
When birds are released at the beginning of a race, they will often fly together, even ‘loft hopping’ or stopping at other lofts until they reach their own. The birds can live to 20 years of age but their racing years are the first seven or eight.
Bauer allows his birds to hatch out chicks no more than once a year. They would set more often but that would result in too large a flock. Both male and female pigeons, who mate for life unless one of the pair dies, take turns sitting on the eggs.
Bauer explained that pigeons are not at all as messy as their reputation indicates. The birds and their loft are kept clean, while the birds are inoculated and fed a particular diet to keep them healthy.