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.
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.
Past sports promotions
Past sports promotions