Kyle Burridge, 15, of Oswego, N.Y., has been breeding and racing homing pigeons with his father since he was 8 years old. A member of the Syracuse Racing Pigeon Club, Burridge cares for 200 birds and trains them to fly home from up to 300 miles away. The Oswego High School sophomore talked to Upfront about his hobby.
Why do you race pigeons?
My whole family has been doing it forever. And I just think it's fun. The competition is a big part, too. It's just amazing how these birds can fly back from 300 miles away and how accurate and fast they are.
How do you prepare your birds for racing?
Every other day, we'll drive them 5, then 10, eventually 50 miles away, let them go, and have them fly home, just building their instincts of the area around us. We don't feed them before we take them training, which makes them want to come home even more.
What's been the biggest challenge?
Over the past year, we've lost a lot of birds. In most cases, they're probably getting killed by hawks and other animals. We also think it's because of all the technology—the antennas and satellites that are leading them off-track.
Any drawbacks to the hobby?
Just the time it takes: Twenty minutes, twice a day, and then if you're working on the coops, up to three hours just maintaining them. And it can be expensive. Sometimes you'll have to buy birds costing up to $1,000, plus all their food and medication. But it's worth it.
Dust carries the majority of pigeon ailments and it cannot but harm birds that are continually exposed to drawing dust and germs into their systems especially their respiratory tract. A pigeon that is required to fly 500 miles must be able to breathe with complete freedom and take the full benefit of the air it breathes. If not, what chance has it of success? Very little, and no human athlete would have much chance in an endurance test if his breathing system was less than perfect.
The Barrie Examiner, Saturday, August 9, 1997 By Eric Skelton, Photo by J.T. McVeigh
Skies of Simcoe County fill with birds as pigeon racers hold sport's main event today near Barrie
HEADING HOME - Upon release, birds like these immediately start flying toward home, even when released somewhere they've never been before, hundreds of kilometres from the roost
With a tailwind, a championship pigeon can average 110 km/h - about highway speed - over a trip of several hundred kilometres. That's more than twice the top speed a human can run, but then, "Ben Johnson didn't have feathers," notes David Rodgers, of Ivy, one of dozens of Central Ontario breeders who are racing their top birds today.
The skies of Simcoe county will be thick with southbound birds, including some of Rodger's, all of them racing to their home lofts in Barrie, Orillia, and points to the south. August marks the start of the season for flying younger birds, whereas more seasoned pigeons race in spring months, all of them under the wing, so to speak, of the Canadian Union of Racing Pigeons.
Unlike a human athlete, a pigeon can never be barred for life because there are no random drug tests in this sport of honor, in which each breeder records when his own flock returns to roost from a common release point. On Friday night, organizers were to place footbands on hundreds of birds from lofts in Toronto, York Region and Simcoe County and then truck them by the thousand to Burk's Falls for release this morning at 7 A.M. Rodgers has a flock of 25 birds in the Burk's Falls release, along with birds from 50 breeders in Orillia, Barrie, Borden and as far south as Toronto.
PRIDE AND JOY - Tony Paszterko holds one of his prize racers as the Essa Township pigeon breeder and racer readies for this weekend's fundraiser near Ivy. Racers from around Ontario will converge on Ivy, bringing with them nearly four hundred homing pigeons for the event to raise money for Big Brothers.
The distance to each breeder's loft has been measured by satellite to an accuracy of a fraction of a metre. The winner is the breeder whose fastest bird flies home at the highest average speed. Such is the uncanny navigation of the birds that upon release they immediately start flying toward home even when released somewhere they've never been before, hundreds of kilometres from the roost.
It may be a low-profile sport in Canada, but pigeon-breeding and racing is huge in Europe. Among countries of the world, Holland is the pigeon-racing champion, a nation which boasts 80,000 breeders. A premium Dutch pigeon has fetched $268,000. For the past several years, local pigeon racers have also found a way to turn their event into a fundraiser for worthy causes. On Saturday, Huronia Pigeon Racing Promotions is holding a barbecue for the Barrie, Midland and Orillia districts of Big Brothers with games for the kids. The racers have hinted that surprise guests may attend, perhaps even Mariposa Skating Club trainer Doug Leigh and his star student, Elvis Stojko.
Pigeons manipulate the shape of their wings when spooked so they emit a unique whistle during take-off.
Crested pigeons, as the one shown here, emit an audible whistle from their wings whenever they fly, and are known to beat faster and harder when taking off in fear. iStockPhoto
Startled pigeons give off a shrill, rattling whistle when they take flight that signals the flock to scatter, according to a new study.
But it doesn't come from their mouths; a specially-evolved wing feather seems to be the noise-maker, vibrating to sound the alarm.
In urban parks and city squares the world over pigeons humbly peck away at the ground, wobble up to passersby in search of handouts, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. For decades, they've also jealously guarded a mystery of science: how does a flock of perhaps hundreds of pigeons flee simultaneously?
Mae Hingee and Robert Magrath of the Australian National University in Canberra have found the answer hiding in the wings of Crested Pigeons (Ocyphaps lophotes). The foot-long birds emit an audible whistle from their wings whenever they fly, and are known to beat faster and harder when taking off in fear.
Magrath and Hingee recorded the sound of the birds flying happily around a feeder, then sent in a decoy of a hawk, and recorded their flight from the faux predator.
When the researchers later played the sound back for a flock of birds, they didn't so much as twitch at the normal recording. But the rapid clap-clap-clap of the alarmed bird sent them fleeing. Similarly, when the volume or speed of the recording was manipulated, birds only reacted to emergency wing whistles.
"Alarmed take-off whistles were louder and had a faster tempo than routine take-offs," Magrath said. "The sound of the whistle -- probably including the tempo -- is the key feature letting others know whether the bird that took off was alarmed, not how loud it is."
Their findings were published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Academy B.
Without high-speed cameras to take footage of fleeing birds' wings, it's hard to say exactly how they produce the whistle. But one of the primary feathers on each wing is much narrower than the rest, like a reed. Magrath suspects the feather vibrates to make the high-pitched sound, and the clapping comes when it clangs against adjacent feathers.
Crested Pigeons are only common in Australia, but Seth Coleman of Gonzaga University believes wing whistles could be an important means of communication for a host of other species.
"Whistles seem to be ubiquitous among the pigeon and dove family," he said. "All birds have feathers, and all flying birds make some sort of noise when they fly. It's an enormous evolutionary opportunity to be able to co-opt that for communication."
Their discovery could also one day be useful as a repellent in areas where birds are unwelcome guests, such as park statues or airports.
On the morning of the race all hens are allowed out for a good fly and when they trap in, to the widowhood loft naturally, they are fed and are locked in their nest boxes to await the home coming of the cocks.
When the hens are not shown on shipping night they are exercised after the cocks are gone and trapped into the cocks loft and fed there.
Germany and Holland show new humane ways that enable people and pigeons in cities to live side by side.
Pigeon loft on the roof of the Bijenkorf store in Amsterdam
Pigeons and city life go hand in hand, but it's a love-hate relationship.
We feed them in the park, we photograph them around tourists attractions in city centres and there is always the air of romance and perhaps melancholy seeing pigeons take off from town squares at sunset on late autumn evenings. In fact, cities wouldn't be quite the same without our inquisitive feathered residents. But at the same time, many town dwellers around the world have also scorned pigeons as pests and vermin, often resulting in solutions that cause a painful, slow death either by traps or poison. And we have all seen the sad sight of limping pigeons who have had their feet ripped apart by sharp metal traps.
But now, groundbreaking new projects have been springing up in Germany and Holland, providing habitats for pigeons on city rooftops in a clean, controlled environment.
Innovative designs of pigeon lofts allow easy maintenance, whereby population numbers can be regulated by replacing eggs with plaster ones. Because of regular feeding inside the lofts, the pigeons sleep and brood there instead of window ledges and gutters where they can cause a nuisance.
Landelijke Werkgroep Duivenoverlast is a group in Holland who are actively promoting this new approach to pigeon problems in cities. They point out that the age-old methods of capture and killing of pigeons doesn't cure the problem. They will always return, and often in higher numbers because the remaining birds are driven to reproduce more frequently to make up for those killed.
With the new easily accessible lofts being situated in Dutch and German cities, along with low-shock wiring to deter pigeons from unwanted areas, these new projects are hoped to inspire the councils of other world cities like London, New York and Rome to reconsider their approach to the "nuisance" of pigeons.
A British racing pigeon that went missing over the English Channel was discovered on the other side of the Atlantic — after hitching a ride to New York on the QE2 luxury liner.
The pigeon, appropriately named “Liberty,” set off from Nantes in France four weeks ago on what was supposed to be a nine-hour, 400-mile homing race back to Derbyshire, England.
Caught in fog over the Channel, the three-year-old hen took a wrong turn and settled on the cruise liner leaving Southhampton heading for New York.
Can Pigeons Get Suntans? Two weeks ago, as the QE2 neared the Caribbean, it faxed the Royal Pigeon Racing Association to say that it had found and safely captured “Liberty” along with another racing pigeon from the same race. The two pigeons were apparently sunning themselves on deck when they were discovered.
The feathered freeloaders were caught by crew members who identified them by their leg tags. As the birds were too far asea to safely reach home, they were placed in the cruiseliner’s kennels for safe-keeping.
The British Royal Pigeon Racing Association tracked down owner Vince Webster.
“I doubt they have pigeon food on the QE2 so they probably gave her a bit of caviar or something,” Webster told reporters.
Webster has been raising racing pigeons for 34 years but has never had one go quite so far astray. This adventure took Liberty to New York, the Caribbean and back to Southhampton — a 5,000-mile diversion.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
Darker coloured pigeons are healthier, researchers in France have discovered.
A study of urban pigeons in central Paris has shown that birds with higher levels of the dark pigment melanin have stronger immune systems.
They are also better able to fend off parasites.
Writing in the Journal of Avian Biology, the researchers say the findings may help explain why different coloured birds have adapted to different environments.
Lisa Jacquin, and her colleagues from the National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris, carried out the research in conjunction with Dr Simon Ducatez from the Natural History Museum in Brunoy.
The researchers explored why birds of the same species are often coloured differently.
By assessing the colouration and state of health of 195 free-living urban pigeons, they found that darker pigeons had lower concentrations of a blood parasite called haemosporidian. Their immune systems also responded faster to infection, compared to their pale-feathered cousins.
Currently there are two theories about why animals of the same species can be coloured differently.
First, it may be that their environment is causing the colour difference, a theory called the "exposure" hypothesis.
An alternative theory is that birds have evolved genes which code differently for melanin expression, a theory called the "genetic link" hypothesis.
"We tried to disentangle the 'genetic link' and the 'exposure' hypothesis in free-living feral pigeons Columba livia," Ms Jacquin reported.
Her team's research suggests that the birds may have evolved to produce higher levels of melanin in order to protect their immune systems.
This could also explain why there are higher populations of dark feathered birds in urban areas, where parasite prevalence is higher.
"The finding that immune responsiveness and parasite intensity correlates with colouration suggests that melanin-based colouration could play a role in sexual selection," explains Ms Jacquin.
So darker birds may be healthier and also appear more attractive to the opposite sex.
LANCASTER, Pa. — Animal welfare advocates are celebrating a state Senate committee vote on a measure that would outlaw pigeon shoots and other target shoots with live animals, which they say is the first such vote on the issue in almost a dozen years.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-3 in favor of the measure, which prohibits "use of live animals or fowl for targets at trap shoot or block shoot" gatherings. Anyone who organizes, operates or conducts such an activity would be guilty of a summary offense under the state's animal cruelty statute. The measure now heads to the full Senate.
"I'm elated," said Heidi Prescott, senior vice president of campaigns for the Humane Society of the United States, which says it's the first time such a bill has been voted on in the commonwealth in 11 years. She said she isn't sure why such measures have stalled for so long, given how much opposition there is to pigeon shooting among the general public.
"They see it as cruelty, like dog-fighting or cockfighting," she said. "It's a horrifying practice."
If the bill becomes law, Prescott said she expects Pennsylvania pigeon shoots to become obsolete, because they take place in the open. Unlike cockfighting, for example, pigeon shoots can't occur behind closed doors, she said.
A 1999 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision ruled that cruelty officers could bring charges against pigeon-shoot participants, which led to the end of the Hegins Labor Day Pigeon Shoot in Schuylkill County, Prescott said.
"But that was not enough to shut them (all) down," she said. Pigeon shoots still took place at private clubs in Berks, Dauphin and Bucks counties.
"Pennsylvania is the only state where live pigeon shoots are openly staged," Prescott said.
The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action released a statement after the vote calling bird shooting a "historic and legitimate activity steeped in tradition with many participants throughout the commonwealth and around the world."
"For over a century, shoots have been held in Pennsylvania by law-abiding, ethical shooting enthusiasts, hunters, and sportsmen who would not tolerate an activity that would constitute cruelty to animals," the statement said. The group said the efforts to ban the practice are not merely about bird shooting but about "banning all hunting species by species."
Several state senators told the Lancaster Sunday News that they will be studying the measure and talking to constituents before deciding whether to give it their support.
Information from: Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era , http://lancasteronline.com
Manny De Medeiros displays one of the prize giant runt pigeons he raises with his father, Manny Sr.
By day, Manny De Medeiros is surrounded by the tailored suits of Bay Street.
By night, he is all pigeon.
De Medeiros and his father have been breeding giant runt pigeons for 30 years near Dupont St. and Lansdowne Ave. They are plump, clumsy birds too big to fly, but not to amble.
“I fell in love the first time I saw them. It’s a part of me I can’t let go,” De Medeiros says. Thirty nine years old, he still remembers the day back in 1982 that he bought a pair of hefty show birds out of the back of a truck.
De Medeiros, who works in technology at the Bank of Montreal, keeps his pigeons at his father’s house in the west end. It’s a hobby that requires more time than anything, which is one of the reasons he’s likely the only practicing pigeon fancier on Bay Street.
“Sometimes I tell them (my coworkers) I’m going to a show in the U.S. and they say, ‘A muscle car show?’”
Pigeons are a public relations challenge. Many people consider the birds street vermin. De Medeiros has been asked, more than a few times whether he’s breeding them for a hearty meal. Others accuse the pigeons of pooping beyond his father’s property line.
De Medeiros says that’s impossible.
“I can’t let my birds out. They’d get demolished by predators,” he explained.
City bylaws say residents can keep pigeons as long as they don’t stray perch or roost outside of the owner’s property. Like all animals in the city, they must live in sanitary conditions. The elder De Medeiros, also named Manny, spends four hours a day in the backyard pigeon loft feeding and cleaning. The loft takes up a good portion of the garage. It has an outdoor run, large cages for breeding and a small room for young pigeons to strut freely. It looks like a cross between a veterinarian’s office and a workshop. It doesn’t smell like there are 74 birds inside its walls.
Stacks of photos in the De Medeiros home show off scenes of Portugal, the family’s homeland. Others show nieces and nephews in their wedding finery. Others show robust pigeons.
Manny Sr. is filled with effusive phrase for all three.
“Beautiful,” he says.
His eyes are wide as he goes back and forth to the cabinet to showcase the various medications he stocks for the pigeons. Some are for aching joints, others for colds and parasites.
He leafs through his 1977 pigeon manual and points at each bird and smiles. Then, a picture of a red giant runt falls out from between the pages.
He beams at the memory.
“He’s the best,” he says.
When the father and son duo started showing the birds, they belonged to the Ontario Giant Runt Club, on Brock Ave.
If you walk into the club these days, you will find Joe Jesus and a few other retired men watching television and talking pigeons in the cluttered clubhouse. The walls are filled with large composite picture frames, the kind a grandmother would use to showcase her grandchildren. Inside the oval mats of these picture frames, however, are old photographs of beady-eyed birds.
The group has one show a year and don’t stray too far from home.
Jesus has raised pigeons since he was a little boy. His strategy is simple.
“It’s not secret. Feed ‘em nice, treat ‘em nice, make them good friends.”
Jesus said keeping pigeons is an aging hobby, and some of the members have died, “like me pretty soon,” he jokes.
De Medeiros left from the Ontario Giant Runt Club and formed the Giant Runt Club of Canada in 1993, with the aim of holding more shows, and travelling abroad. He has breeders from the GTA and southern Ontario. Their annual show is happening on January 22 at the Brampton fairgrounds.
The poop on giant runt pigeons
The giant runt breed has been around since the days of Imperial Rome, when they were known as banquet pigeons. The English started calling them “runt” and the Americans added the “giant” when the birds came across the Atlantic with European settlers. Initially used for food, Americans turned them into show birds when they crossbred them with other strains of pigeon, he explained.
The breed is not as popular as racing homers, powders, or fantail pigeons. They are a challenge because of their size. Breeding is especially difficult.
To win a trophy, a giant runt must have a broad head, a beak of medium length, bright eyes and a full breast for a robust look. Many of the birds weigh between three and four pounds.
The De Medeiros family has won hundreds of prizes in Canada and the U.S for their birds. And while he’d never give away a champion bird, the elder De Medeiros has been known to offer a trophy to a curious visitor, regardless of their pigeon prowess.
Yesterday when taking down Bill Sheridan's Old Bird racing loft, we found a feeding program stapled to one of the interior walls. Although it does not include integral information as to the supplements, training and racing program assigned with this feeding system, it does prove that successful fliers plan their season. Perhaps we'll find additional information in the many journals he left behind.
Bill raced in the Up North Combine and enjoyed a neutral flying location in central Ontario, Canada. Race day is Saturday.
SAT PM - Lite mix, Water - 1 Tsp Winsmore Gatorade
SUN AM - Barley
SUN PM - Barley
MON AM - 1/2 Barley, 1/2 Race mix
MON PM - 1/2 Barley, 1/2 Race mix
TUES AM - Race mix
TUES PM - Race mix
WED AM - Lite mix, Vitamin powder & Brewer's Yeast
WED PM - 1/2 Lite mix, 1/2 Corn
THURS AM - Lite Mix
THURS PM - 100% Corn
FRI 8 AM - Small seeds, Lite mix, Corn 1st all will eat, Safflower for longer races
Jules Gallez was a true Historian. Publisher of The history of the Belgian Racing Pigeon & 101 methods series of books. These collections consolidate some of the best kept "secrets" in the pigeon racing game. Many fanciers spend a life time searching for these secrets .... and they're just lying boldly on his pages.
Personalities that have made a difference in the world of pigeon racing
Chuck Stensrud of rural Janesville races pigeons for a hobby. He belongs to a club called Gopher State Racers. Stensrud said he has birds that have flown 500 miles on a single race day.
JANESVILLE — Some play golf. Some plant potatoes. Some collect old tractors. And then there’s Chuck Stensrud of rural Janesville. He flies racing pigeons.
Stensrud and his special birds literally travel middle America for special pigeon racing events. After the birds are liberated, Stensrud drives back to Janesville. His racing pigeons, however, fly home — and usually get there before he does.
Rare birds? Not really. The racing homer was developed in Europe in the 1800s. It is a blend of five different breeds of domestic pigeons. Originally they were bred to carry messages and were used by the military as recently as World War II.
Today they are raced for pleasure. Stensrud belongs to a club called Gopher State Racers. Two national organizations of Racing Pigeon clubs exist in the United States. The organization that Gopher State Racers is a part of consists of about 700 clubs. Clubs are organized along geographic boundaries — the intent for club members to live in proximity to each other so there is less racing advantage due to distance or prevailing winds within a club.
This unusual hobby is indeed a competitive sport. “We fly in competition within our club plus there are two other clubs in our combine which we also compete against. We compete with other clubs at the state level and at the Midwest level,” Stensrud said. He said there are probably a dozen racing pigeon clubs in Minnesota.
On a quiet Saturday afternoon this spring, he, his pickup and three baskets, each with eight to 12 birds, were parked along a country road near St. Clair. “This is the first time out this year for my birds so this is just a warm-up flight,” Stensrud said. “We’re only about eight to 10 miles from my house.”
Baby birds must be “settled” to their loft upon leaving the nest. The first thing they have to learn is how to get back into the loft. As they get stronger, they make their “maiden flight” around the yard and back to the loft. With each passing day, they fly farther until pretty soon they are “traveling” for up to an hour at a time and will venture several miles into the countryside.
Their homing instinct brings them to within 12 to 15 miles of the loft, but from there on they must know the area. Almost everyone breeds and raises their own birds, and each bird has an imprint of its home loft.
“They always try to come back to the loft,” Stensrud said. “I had a bird that I had sold eight years previously that got loose from its owner and came back to my loft. That was only about 40 miles.”
Stensrud said he has birds that have flown 500 miles on a single race day. A race is from a given liberation point to the bird’s home loft. The race winner is determined by speed, essentially yards per minute.
“We know the longitude and latitude of the release point, and the same information for the home loft. We compute the distance down to one-tenth of a yard. We know the release time, the arrival time at home loft, so we compute the elapsed time. From that we figure the speed in yards per minute and the fastest bird wins.”
An electronic chip fastened to a pigeon’s leg registers the arrival time of each racing pigeon back in its home loft. Racing pigeons average about 35 miles an hour, but they have been clocked as high as 75 and 80 mph. “I’ve had pigeons released in Rapid City, S.D., at 6:30 in the morning and they were home at 4:30 that afternoon,” Stensrud said.
What is this “homing instinct” of the carrier pigeon? Scientists have experimented with the birds and theorize they can sense the earth’s magnetic fields. They home better on sunny days, but sunspots have an adverse effect upon returns.
Old birds, young birds
There are two seasons each year: Old Birds and Young Birds. The old bird season is for birds hatched in previous years, their races held during May and June. Young birds are those hatched during the current year, and their races are held in August and September. With younger birds, only a couple are released and they are taken shorter distances from the home loft.
During “spring training” for his birds, each time Stensrud takes a bird out he doubles the distance. On this day it was only about 10 miles back to the loft, but the first race of the 2010 season is 100 miles. Birds, just like marathon runners, need to be in shape.
How did Stensrud get into this unique hobby?
“I first read about it as a boy when racing pigeons were used as carrier pigeons for relaying messages,” he said. “So I caught some barn pigeons and made pets out of them. After high school I bought some homing pigeons. I flew my first race in 1970 and I’ve been racing ever since.”
He doesn’t know precise “flight patterns” of his birds but estimates they’re flying at 300 to 400 feet. That depends, however, upon winds on any given day. When the birds are flying into a headwind, they will fly low to the ground, sometimes so low that they have to go up and over fence lines. He doesn’t sell “breeding stock,” but he does raise a few baby pigeons as gifts to folks who want to get into the sport.
He mixes his own feed, with different rations for different times of the year. Corn, wheat, millet, milo, safflower, sunflower seeds and a couple of different kinds of peas are part of the formula.
“It’s the only hobby I’ve ever had, and it truly is a great sport. In Europe, especially Holland and Belgium, racing pigeons is as popular as baseball is in the United States. Yep, give it a try and it grows on you.”
Former boxer Mike Tyson with his birds on the set of his six-part documentary Taking on Tyson, in this undated publicity photograph.
MAT SZWAJKOS FOR ANIMAL PLANET
Rob Salem Television Columnist
The last thing you’d expect is for Mike Tyson to touch you.
Actually, the last thing you’d expect, if Tyson did touch you, would ever being able to get up off the floor.
Fortunately, it isn’t that kind of touching.
Taking on Tyson, a new six-part Animal Planet documentary (debuting Thursday at 9 p.m.), does however pack an emotional punch as the former world champion boxer returns home to re-embrace his first love: of all things, raising pigeons.
Incongruous as it may seem, a lot of the kids in the tough Brooklyn neighbourhood where Tyson grew up spent much of their time — when they weren’t beating on each other — tending to rooftop coops.
Indeed, Tyson’s first fight was over a bird, throwing his first punch at a neighbourhood bully (yes, “Iron” Mike was actually once bullied) who had killed one of his beloved pigeon pals.
“I have a pretty colourful past,” Tyson acknowledged at the TV press previews in January.
“We got (to) a pretty dark place for me and we discuss it a little bit. But the main insight is the birds, and what we have the birds doing and what they mean in our lives, and you’re going to see that once you view the program.”
And that’s the second big surprise: how beautifully shot this show is — looking down from the rooftops, the mean streets of Brooklyn and Jersey City somehow don’t seem that mean at all.
And neither does the much-maligned Tyson, as he seeks clarity, redemption and a new lease on life, re-embracing raising birds and taking it to the next level, racing them.
Even more colourful are the odd characters up on those rooftops with him, from Vinnie Torre, the master sensei of competitive pigeon racing, to local landlord Mario Costa, a Tyson friend and mentor from early in his fighting career, whose superficially gangsterlike exterior (à la Silvio Dante of The Sopranos) hides a heart of gold.
“It’s about so much more than me,” Tyson says of the series, “because once you see the rest of the characters, their personalities are going to dwarf my personality.
“I’m still Mike Tyson. I’m colourful, too. But with these guys, it’s just another level, you know?”
Tyson was as surprised as anyone when Animal Planet suggested the show.
“The promoter called up and said ‘Mike, somebody wants to talk to you about doing a show about pigeons.’
“I talked to my lawyer (and) he spoke with the Animal Planet, and it was true. And I said, ‘Wow, this is going to get a chance for me to broaden the horizons of people who are ignorant or perhaps neophytes on the lives of flying pigeons.’”
And Tyson turns out to be a uniquely enthusiastic and well-informed spokesman.
“You have to understand . . . the history of pigeons goes so much further than what we may anticipate, you know? The pigeons are man’s first feathered friend, before any animal, before a chicken, before anything.
“They were the first money in ancient times. For instance, when Napoleon was happening, when he was going to the battle on Waterloo, he was fighting this general from England named Wellington, and then Wellington won the war.
“And there was a spy there, not necessarily a spy, but just someone there for the interest of the Rothschilds, so to speak. He released a homing pigeon. The homing pigeon got back to the Rothschild family. He told the results of the war and they took all their money from banking and they bet it on the war and that’s how they made massive of billions of dollars . . . it was from the pigeon. That’s how they got the information.
“They go all the way to the royal level, to the Queen of England and the royal families of Europe. Everyone has racing pigeons. It’s just a cultural thing.”
And for Tyson and his friends, it is something more.
“This is what we do,” he says. “Our lives are dedicated to pigeons. Even though I’m out there fighting people, getting locked up, getting in trouble, whatever it may be, in my life (this) has been always consistent.
“It’s more than . . . something that we do for a hobby. This is something we’re going to do until the day we die.”
A fight over food between a pigeon and a grey squirrel was captured by British photographer Simon Dack in his garden in Brighton. Impressed by the rodent's boxing display, he has nicknamed him Squirrel Putemupkins. He said: "Perhaps he's the boisterous big brother of Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin." (Photo: sina.com)
A fight over food between a pigeon and a grey squirrel was captured by British photographer Simon Dack in his garden in Brighton. (Photo: sina.com)
Status symbols usually don’t vary across the globe. They usually include: expensive jewels, luxurious yachts, stately mansions and private jets, just to name a few.
That last one may come as a shocker to some and may even break a new and different kind of mold. A very rich Chinese buyer recently paid $200,000 for a racing pigeon, named Blue Prince, at a Belgium auction, setting a new world record.
Highly pedigreed, (he better be at that price), the bird is of the elitist, crème de la crème class of Belgian racing pigeons. This same auction recently sold a colony of 218 such birds for $1.8 million!
Pigeon racing has a long and noble history in Western Europe dating back to the days of ancient Rome. It was the exclusive pastime of royalty and an old legend tells the tale of pigeon bearing news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo to the Rothschild family.
The pigeon race is a simple procedure. Birds are released hundreds of miles from their home or “loft” and the first birds back win the race. Immensely popular in China, a land of many gamblers, the races have become sponsored events with big pay-offs, like horse racing in America.
No one can say for sure why this sport hasn’t climaxed in the United States, but some say it is connected to the fact that most Americans think of pigeons as city scavengers, or a Woody Allen so aptly put it, “rats with wings.”
One famous American, namely, boxer, Mike Tyson, has his own pigeon-racing show. That just might be enough celebrity for the sport to catch on in the United States.
But whether it does or it doesn’t, $200,000 for a pigeon is way beyond chicken feed.
Richard Topus helped American spies and the military in the swift, silent use of birds in wartime.
In January 1942, barely a month after Pearl Harbor, the United States War Department sounded a call to enlist. It wasn’t men they wanted — not this time. The Army was looking for pigeons.
To the thousands of American men and boys who raced homing pigeons, a popular sport in the early 20th century and afterward, the government’s message was clear: Uncle Sam Wants Your Birds.
Richard Topus was one of those boys. He had no birds of his own to give, but he had another, unassailable asset: he was from Brooklyn, where pigeon racing had long held the status of a secular religion. His already vast experience with pigeons — long, ardent hours spent tending and racing them after school and on weekends — qualified him, when he was still a teenager, to train American spies and other military personnel in the swift, silent use of the birds in wartime.
World War II saw the last wide-scale use of pigeons as agents of combat intelligence. Mr. Topus, just 18 when he enlisted in the Army, was among the last of the several thousand pigeoneers, as military handlers of the birds were known, who served the United States in the war.
A lifelong pigeon enthusiast who became a successful executive in the food industry, Mr. Topus died on Dec. 5 in Scottsdale, Ariz., at the age of 84. The cause was kidney failure, his son Andrew said.
Richard Topus was born in Brooklyn on March 15, 1924, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Growing up in Flatbush, he fell in love with the pigeons his neighbors kept on their rooftops in spacious coops known as lofts. His parents would not let him have a loft of his own — they feared it would interfere with schoolwork, Andrew Topus said — but he befriended several local men who taught him to handle their birds. Two of them had been pigeoneers in World War I, when the United States Army Pigeon Service was formally established.
Pigeons have been used as wartime messengers at least since antiquity. Before the advent of radio communications, the birds were routinely used as airborne couriers, carrying messages in tiny capsules strapped to their legs. A homing pigeon can find its way back to its loft from nearly a thousand miles away. Over short distances, it can fly a mile a minute. It can go where human couriers often cannot, flying over rough terrain and behind enemy lines.
By the early 20th century, advances in communications technology seemed to herald the end of combat pigeoneering. In 1903, a headline in The New York Times confidently declared, “No Further Need of Army Pigeons: They Have Been Superseded by the Adoption of Wireless Telegraph Systems.”
But technology, the Army discovered, has its drawbacks. Radio transmissions can be intercepted. Triangulated, they can reveal the sender’s location. In World War I, pigeons proved their continued usefulness in times of enforced radio silence. After the United States entered World War II, the Army put out the call for birds to racing clubs nationwide. Tens of thousands were donated.
In all, more than 50,000 pigeons served the United States in the war. Many were shot down. Others were set upon by falcons released by the Nazis to intercept them. (The British countered by releasing their own falcons to pursue German messenger pigeons. But since falcons found Allied and Axis birds equally delicious, their deployment as defensive weapons was soon abandoned by both sides.)
But many American pigeons did reach their destinations safely, relaying vital messages from soldiers in the field to Allied commanders. The information they carried — including reports on troop movements and tiny hand-sketched maps — has been widely credited with saving thousands of lives during the war.
Mr. Topus enlisted in early 1942 and was assigned to the Army Signal Corps, which included the Pigeon Service. He was eventually stationed at Camp Ritchie in Maryland, one of several installations around the country at which Army pigeons were raised and trained. There, he joined a small group of pigeoneers, not much bigger than a dozen men.
Camp Ritchie specialized in intelligence training, and Mr. Topus and his colleagues schooled men and birds in the art of war. They taught the men to feed and care for the birds; to fasten on the tiny capsules containing messages written on lightweight paper; to drop pigeons from airplanes; and to jump out of airplanes themselves, with pigeons tucked against their chests. The Army had the Maidenform Brassiere Company make paratroopers’ vests with special pigeon pockets.
The birds, for their part, were trained to fly back to lofts whose locations were changed constantly. This skill was crucial: once the pigeons were released by troops in Europe, the Pacific or another theater, they would need to fly back to mobile combat lofts in those places rather than light out for the United States. Mr. Topus and his colleagues also bred pigeons, seeking optimal combinations of speed and endurance.
After the war, Mr. Topus earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from Hofstra University. While he was a student, he earned money selling eggs — chicken eggs — door to door and afterward started a wholesale egg business. In the late 1950s, Mr. Topus became the first salesman at Friendship Food Products, a dairy company then based in Maspeth, Queens; he retired as executive vice president for sales and marketing. (The company, today based in Jericho, N.Y. and a subsidiary of Dean Foods, is now known as Friendship Dairies.)
In the 1960s and early ’70s, Mr. Topus taught marketing at Hofstra; the C. W. Post campus of Long Island University; and the State University of New York, Farmingdale, where he started a management-training program for supermarket professionals. In later years, after retiring to Scottsdale, he taught at Arizona State University and was also a securities arbitrator, hearing disputes between stockbrokers and their clients.
Besides his son Andrew, of Chicago, Mr. Topus is survived by his wife, the former Jacqueline Buehler, whom he married in 1948; two other children, Nina Davis of Newton, Mass.; and David, of Atlanta; and four grandchildren.
Though the Army phased out pigeons in the late 1950s, Mr. Topus raced them avidly till nearly the end of his life. He left a covert, enduring legacy of his hobby at Friendship, for which he oversaw the design of the highly recognizable company logo, a graceful bird in flight, in the early 1960s.
From that day to this, the bird has adorned cartons of the company’s cottage cheese, sour cream, buttermilk and other products. To legions of unsuspecting consumers, Andrew Topus said last week, the bird looks like a dove. But to anyone who really knew his father, it is a pigeon, plain as day.
A version of this article appeared in print on December 14, 2008, on page A42 of the New York edition.
The sport of pigeon racing needs only to grow by one new loft at a time.
The acceptance of our sport in rural areas is natural. However, tolerance within city limits is only possible through awareness and understanding. Ignorance has created catch-all bylaws which restricts the growth of our great sport within most city limits.
Grass root promotions supported by media's such as this Blog site can help the general public in understanding our sport of Pigeon Racing.
Local Clubs have created some pretty exciting promotions over the years. Promotions, that if shared with other Racing Pigeon organizations could accelerate the growth of our sport. Please share your past sport coverage, achievements or ideas by emailing Mike at:
Update: Rick has been able to find home for all his remaining birds.
He thanks all who responded. It's only been 24 hours since the birds were moved, and already he misses them. I'm sure he'll be back as soon as he's healthy again.
Thanks, again for the great response.
Rick Morris, of Innisfil, Ontario, a long time flying member of the Borden Racing Pigeon Club has to temporarily take leave of the sport while looking after some health issues. A very successful flyer whose family of birds were founded on Dave Ottaway's Jansssen, Smeulders, and Meulemans.
Rick has approximately 40 birds that need a new home. All reasonable offers will be considered. If interested in these quality birds, please contact Rick directly at (705) 456-3049 between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM. Don't be afraid to leave a message if Rick doesn't answer as quickly as he use to.
You cannot breed a mealy from a pair of blues, nor can you breed a red from a pair of chequers.
What you can do is breed a bird which looks very much like a mealy or red and that is an opal. When you have viewed such a bird it is easy to seen how it can be confused with a mealy.
Opals have been produced in many recently introduced Belgian strains. Captain Cutcliffe has produced them in the Bostyn birds; Louella has produced them in Verheye, Van Wildemeersch, Toye, and Ko Nipius; Powell & Durling in Desmet-Matthys; Mr & Mrs Prince in Dordin and Cattrysse. The mealy Verheyes reported are not mealys but barred opals.
A Mealy hen paired to a blue will breed mealy cocks and blue hens. A barred opal hen paired to a blue cock breeds some blue cocks. Thus the fact that it is an opal can be proved by breeding.
Bred by Noel PEIREN, Imported by Claude Rothgiesser, Son of "Red Pau Cock" which scored 3 times in Pau (600 Miles) Nationals and daughter of "Barcelona 136 Cock" who scored 5th Barcelona National. Good breeder including 1st Open Matheson Y/L, 4th Longlac, 3rd Latchford, 4th Smooth Rock Falls, 4th Open AU Band Race Y/B Smooth Rock Falls, 3rd Burks Falls, 2nd Estaire, 1st Matheson, and 1st Latchford