Homing Pigeons

I was jealous of my father's homing pigeons.

In friendly competitions, they always won. We never went on vacation because he had to take care of the boids. We always had to leave the party early to go home and take care of the birds - some times we'd return, sometimes not. Dad was always building something for the birds, new crates, nest boxes, aviaries, lofts. All that canvas and all those dowels that went to all those crates.

But last year, when we found some letters my dad wrote from the South Pacific - long before I came along - in them he wrote home about being sorry he missed out on visiting his best friend's loft before he shipped out. Then once he got to Australia and began walking around the neighborhoods, his spirits brightened when he saw pigeon coops so far away from home. Those boids took him home, at least for a moment.
... Cardboard drums of pigeon feed with screened cut-outs for ventilation lined up like sentinels in the garage outside the entrance to the coop. Inside, the birds watched for the familiar face, the familiar jacket and the familiar hunched stance of the man who fed them, the man they thought was God on earth.

These birds flew at more than a thousand yards per minute from one to five hundred miles away to return to the home Dad provided for them in his garage. Their mates were here, their nests were here, and so were their eggs or squabs.

His 'boids' took baths in flat water pans on our lawn. They ate gravel between the grass blades. Their oil-slicked necks glistened under summer's sun. A hundred pigeons lolling around the water like a Roman orgy.

Dad knew each bird, who its parents were and how well they had flown. He knew what to expect from each racer by its pedigree and whether to keep it alive through winter to the spring Old Bird racing season.

A bird that did not perform in races as it should have would have its neck wrung behind the closed garage door. When we figured this out, us kids would stand outside crying.

Even the dumbest homing pigeon was smarter than a roof rat or statue squatter. "Take one of those wild birds ten miles away and you'll never see it again."

Dad trained his birds by taking them on short trips to fly home, and then driving further and further each week until they knew how to get home from at least ten or twenty miles away.

Most of the time the birds would be home at the coop waiting when he pulled in the driveway with the empty crates. I went along for the ride many, many times, counting telephone poles and winking back at truck drivers high up in their rigs at traffic lights.

Some of the pigeons had become old friends of mine. A few of the breeders were more than ten years old. Whenever I found myself with an abundance of patience, I would stoop low in the coop and the birds would feed from my hand. A light pecking and a slight pinch was their way of telling me when the food was gone. If I would be kind enough to allow, they would eat my freckles.

I learned at an young age how to hold a pigeon so it would not fly away. Grasp its legs between the middle and ring finger, palm the tail between thumb and forefinger. A bird in this position is fairly helpless. I could turn it over. I could hold it close. I could pet it. I could study the rainbow colors on its neck.

Before a race or training flight, Dad checked the band number on each or both of the bird's legs. He had put the permanent metal band on the leg when the squab was small enough to cry for its mother and old enough to raise its wing in defiance to Dad.

For twenty years I competed with those birds for Dad's attention. I knew them well. I knew a blue bar from a checker, and a dark checker from a red bar checker. My favorites were the blue bar splashes. They looked like an average pigeon that had perhaps straddled under the ladder of a sloppy painter.

My favorite pigeons were the Judas birds. With their wings clipped, the Chicos were thrown up to flutter to the coop. That would encourage the racers to land sooner. The Chicos were docile, and smaller than the homers, and could get lost two blocks away. ...

from: How Many Hammers Are Enough? in A Father's Place
Copyright © 2005 by Anthony Buccino, all rights reserved.Soho Loft - Belleville, N.J.

Who Knew That After All This Time There Would Be So Many Homing Pigeon Links?

American Racing Pigeon Union

British Homing World

Homing Pigeons - photos

Scholastic Magazine - Homing Pigeons

Homing Pigeons Return to Beijing

Navy Department - Homing Pigeons (March 20, 1918)

International Federation

Science Frontiers: Dark Day for Homing Pigeons

Pravda - Drug Dealers Use Exotic Ways of Drug Trafficking

The Homing Pigeons - by Janet Jagger

Troubled Times - Homing Pigeons Mysteriously Vanish

Abbeyton Lofts

Fancy Threads - PigeonWatch Color Morphs

PigeonWatch - an international study of feral pigeon colors
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Secret of Homing Pigeons Revealed (Reuters) CNN.com

How do homing pigeons navigate? They follow roads

Parisians build home for pigeons in suburbs
By Philip Delves Broughton in Paris

Homing Pigeon Web Quest

WikPedia - Homing Pigeon

Homing pigeons - AskYahoo

Homing Pigeons Through the Wars

Ron Huntley's Rare Color Homing Pigeons

Confused Homing Pigeons and Space Weather

How do Homing Pigeons Navigate?

Learn About Homing Pigeons

A Beginners Guide to Homing & Carrier Pigeons


Pigeons and World War One

First Birds Inn

Seigel Pigeons: Dr. Charles Walcott on Homing Instincts

David Niven: Homing Pigeons

Homing in Pigeons: The Role of the Hippocampal Formation in the Representation of Landmarks Used for Navigation

Liberation (at the beginning of a race)

Racing Home...

Homing Pigeons vs. Cellphone Towers


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gee said...

Hi my name is Gee. I just have a question to ask I thought you may be able to help me. A couple of months ago a Pigeon crashed into my glass door. The pigion is fine and seems to be able to fly. I contacted the owner but he was happier if we kept him. The pigeon stayes in my back yard all the time. I was wondering if I took him somewhere would he fly back to my house or would he get lost. I feel bad that he just wonders around the yard and think he may be bored. Do you have any advise for me.
My E-mail is geegeraldine@hotmail.com Thanks.

Anthony Buccino said...

The homing pigeon you describe, once it is healthy should be able to fly home when it is able. If it was able to fly away, once you released it in your yard it would be gone. I would guess that since it is still with you, it hasn't the strength to fly home.

Depending on how far away the owner lives from you, he should try to make other arrangements for the bird's return than to have you care for it until it is well.

It is quite observant of you to realize that since the pigeon had a metal band on its leg that it was a pure breed homing pigeon with a home and not a wild bird.

On behalf of homing pigeon fanciers all over, thanks for taking care of this wayward bird.

Fuccilli said...

Hi my name is Roseann and live in Jersey City (Heights). Tonight my husband found and brought home a racing pigeon with a broken wing. He fed it some bread and water and now it is in our living room. I tried to call the Hudson County Racing Assoc. in Hoboken but there was no answer. I tried to go online to see if there is a registra of band numbers but cannot find any. We came across your page and really hope you can help us. We have his band number and I know of two coops in our neighborhood. Can you help us in how to go about finding his owner? Would the owner get rid of him because of his wing? I hope not.
My dad had a coop and raced so it's kind of personal to me.
Our email is piscesx3@comcast.net
Thanks a million