Monday, August 31, 2009
excerpt from the 08.31.09 post by the Examiner
Darwin was an avid pigeon breeder and was involved in breeder clubs. He imported pigeons with various exaggerated traits. He acknowledges that all pigeons are descendents of the rock pigeon. This pigeon is the same pigeon that can be found in most city parks around the world. Through selective breeding for hundreds or even thousands of years, these pigeons from around the world had many drastic variations including fantails, tumbler pigeons, large crops, etc.
The rock pigeon: a case of human ambivalence
Even without a field guide, everyone can identify the rock pigeon (Columba livia), the ubiquitous urban bird also known as the common pigeon.
Like house sparrows, pigeons are well-adapted to living around people. By nature, they are cliff dwellers, so in towns and cities they build their nests on the ledges of buildings and under bridges (this makes Pittsburgh a desirable pigeon home). Ground feeders and fond of human diets, they gladly peck at everything edible (and sometimes inedible) we throw on the ground. Not shy or skittish, they have high tolerance for human habits and thrive wherever we thrive. Watch them bob their heads as they walk around the city and you might conclude they are nodding assent to the world we have created for them.
Their tolerance for us is not always reciprocated. Every so often, a city government decides pigeons are vermin and drives them out of habitats where they long prospered. A few years ago the mayor of London declared war on the pigeons of Trafalgar Square and the birds, once favorites of tourists and locals alike, are now gone. Recently, Venice outlawed the feeding of pigeons in Piazza San Marco, although there, too, the birds were traditionally considered an essential part of the square's ambience.
There is an element of ingratitude and historical amnesia in these actions. During both World Wars, pigeons, famous for their homing instincts, were used for surveillance and reconnaissance and at least one pigeon was decorated with military honors.
Scientific opinion does not agree with London and Venice's contempt of Columba livia. Ornithologists are intrigued by the pigeons' intelligence, strong navigational abilities, and variety of colors and patterns in their markings (28 color types have been found). For those who are interested in pigeons and would like to learn how scientific research is done, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has set up Project Pigeon Watch, which invites people all over the world to study the color morphs of their local pigeon population. Perhaps Columba livia should become the symbol of the global village?
Keep an eye out for John as he goes on the road.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Frank’s love for pigeons started in 1960 when he was introduced to fancy pigeons while in elementary school. By 1965, he had his first pair of homers. He took a brief break while in school. Returning in 1975, he jumped back into the sport in true Greenhall fashion – with total and complete commitment!
Many may remember that Frank helped organize a massive pigeon release for the opening of the 1980 Olympic games in Lake Placid, New York. During this same period of time, he wrote articles for the Racing Pigeon Bulletin and helped coordinate the AU’s Help-A-Beginner Program. Frank remained active with the HAB program as a mentor always offering the most of himself and his expertise to his beginners.
All of the clubs that Frank flew with benefited from his service. He held virtually all club officer positions at one time or another pitching in to help anywhere it was needed. He flew with the Scholarie Valley RPC and Amsterdam ARP in New York. While he and his family were living in Delaware, he belonged to and competed with the Wilmington and Newark clubs, which were also part of the Greater Western combine.
Members in those clubs surely remember Frank’s sense of humor, but most of all his sense of fairness.
That integrity and sense of fairness carried into each and every issue he dealt with while serving the sport nationally serving as an AU Board member. Frank served as Zone Director, Vice President, Executive Vice President and as AU President. He continued his service as AU President Ex-Officio and Secretary until his passing.
Frank was known to bring issues to the table repeatedly if he felt they needed to be reconsidered. That was, in large part, due to the sense of obligation he felt he had to his fellow fanciers. He was always eager to look to new programs and take on challenges. He was always thinking ahead. Frank constantly looked to what he could do to improve the sport and the organization that he loved so dearly, and ensure that it is a solid organization well into the future.
He was always supportive of members. Likewise, he was supportive of the AU staff and his fellow board members. He believed in giving everyone a fair chance at anything.
When Avian Influenza first became a threat to the sport, Frank jumped in with several others. He knew the importance of quelling any fear that pigeons may be affected. He also knew the importance of determining facts. Frank felt it was better to stare the enemy in the face and if it was determined pigeons were affected by AI, he wanted the AU to be prepared to confront that through research and vaccine development.
In 2001 when the USDA notified bird hobbyist organizations that they would be forced to regulate the owners of birds and mice not bred for research, Frank became quickly involved. He and several other AU board members met with government officials. He helped draft what would eventually be offered as minimum operating standards for racing pigeon enthusiasts. He was forward-thinking and his focus was on providing them with accurate information with which to regulate.
Similarly, in 2003 when Exotic Newcastle hit California and Nevada, Frank asked his board to authorize funding of testing to determine if racing pigeons were susceptible. Many questioned this thinking feeling that if we don’t draw any attention to ourselves, we would stay off the radar. The officials know with incredible accuracy where birds are kept. Once again, Frank felt it was better to know the potential so to be better armed to find positive resolve.
Frank recently finished his career as a school superintendent in New York. He obviously took the same integrity to his job serving students and their families. They loved him and shared mutual respect for one another. He actually took time every year to hand write birthday cards to each of the students that had graduated within his school district. In many cases, Frank shared birthday greetings with former students for more than ten years. No wonder he was so fondly thought of within the community!
Though it is sad to lose someone so loved and well-respected, we must remember to be inspired by Frank’s commitment to his family and service to his community and to the sport he so dearly loved.
In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to the Dr. Frank Greenhall Educational Memorial Scholarship Fund, to be awarded to a graduating student in Mechanicville, Hoosic Valley, Cambridge and Warwick Valley schools, who plan to make a difference in a child's life. Memorials may be sent to the DeVito-Salvadore Funeral Home, 39 So. Main St., Mechanicville, NY, 12118.
Recipient of many national member awards, Frank will be remembered and his service appreciated into the next 100 years. To his bride of 34 years, Patti, his daughter, Kristi, and his son, Ryan, thank you for sharing your husband and father with us. We love you, Frank.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Sacramento News & Review reported on 08.20.09
Article by Lauren Hockenson
Photo by Larry Dalton
Retired educator Frank Meder, 61, has been racing pigeons since middle school. As president of the Fort Sutter Pigeon Racing Club, one of about eight pigeon-racing clubs in the Sacramento area, he trains only the best pigeons to compete in races that sometimes cross multiple states. Now entering his 50th year of racing, Meder explains how to breed a champion from the moment its egg hatches to the first race back to its home at the pigeon loft. If you thought pigeons were just rats with wings, check out the speed and skill of Fort Sutter’s pure-bred racing pigeons during their upcoming season this September.
So how can you tell a pigeon will be a good racer?
Well, the birds that we keep probably have pedigrees longer than you or me. We’re looking for birds that have a homing instinct, and then we’re looking for athletes. And sometimes it’s easier to measure whether they’re athletes, because you can time them, but the homing instinct is more elusive. You can’t look at a bird and say, “Well, this is a smart one.” Some people think that they can, but it’s a lot tougher. There’s people who look at their eyes and study their eyes. Obviously their body confirmation definitely tells you something.
When did you get into racing pigeons?
I grew up in East Sacramento, and it seemed like half the kids my age had something like that going. Unlike today, I could ride my bicycle to 30 or 40 people’s houses that had pigeons. There was a junior club; the Fort Sutter club’s secretary was an older gentleman, and he had a junior program. … Sometimes there would be meetings with 20 or 30 kids.
Are there a lot of people in your club?
We have about 26 members, who range in age all the way up to close to 80 years old. … And sometimes kids start and their parents get involved. … I think kids today are less likely to stick with something as long as they may have when I was a kid.
How do pigeons home?
It’s a real skeptical thing, but basically, sitting at 20th and J [streets] feels different than El Dorado Hills or Placer County, and the birds can detect it. But you and I can’t. So you’re selecting birds that have a homing instinct, because their parents have a homing instinct or you’ve sent them a certain distance and they’ve done well. … You’re selecting birds that are athletes and intelligent.
Do you breed pigeons?
Birds are banded with bands that stay on their legs for life. The bands have the year that they were born on them. You tend to put your cocks and hens together no earlier than Thanksgiving, because it takes 10 days for them to lay, 18 days for them to hatch, and then you band them when they’re about 6 days old. You want them to hatch about the first of the year. We’re selecting birds based on their racing, or how well their parents or grandparents have raced. We’re selecting birds to pair together, thinking they’ll produce a “smart” athlete.
At what age do birds start racing?
If you were rushing them, birds that are going into races at the end of August could have been hatched in May. So, maybe four months, but 6 to 8 months old is more typical. The birds are let out for their maiden voyages at about 30 days old, and probably flying pretty well at 2 months old. They’re like kids; they’ve got a lot of energy. They fly surprisingly quickly.
How do you train them?
Normally, you start at a shorter distance. The average guy takes his bird 5 miles on the first release, and then the next day 7 and so on. The birds are sitting in a cage, waiting to get out and feeling where they are. They watch the sun, which we think is an important part of their homing instinct. We don’t like to release them in the rain or in a storm. … Our most common course is through Nevada and Idaho, which means they have to go over the Sierra Nevadas. We tend not to send them until it’s a nice day.
When you take them out, do they return to the loft?
Yes, and most of the training is done independently. With gas and what it costs, we try to get three or four guys together. But we tend to keep them separate or in small groups until the races. When the club sends them, all the birds are released simultaneously. Our club is with about five or six other clubs, and so the birds are trucked up and anywhere from up to 80 cages go out. Each of those cages can [hold] 20 to 30 birds, so it’s a lot of birds! Our lofts are all plotted to the yard … so if your bird has to fly a mile and a half farther than my bird, he’s timed by how far he flies. So it’s the only type of race where all the competitors fly a different distance.Folks who want to know more about the racing homing pigeon sport can contact the American Racing Pigeon Union for a free information packet. Just call 405.848.5801 or email email@example.com.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
- Science—Ornithology, genetics, etc.
- English—writing skills
- Technology—computers, web sites, PowerPoint, GPS, etc.
- Art—use of artwork on lofts, crates, etc.
- History—use of pigeons in wars, etc.
- Math—calculating velocities, etc.
- Geography—studying topographical maps, areas of interest, etc.
- Speech—presentations to local groups and individuals, etc.
- Nutrition & Health
- Job Skills
- Responsibility—cleaning lofts, feeding and watering, and caring for the birds, etc.
- Carpentry—building and construction of lofts, nest boxes, perches, etc.
- Data Collection
- Character Education—building good character traits, etc.
- Extra-curricular—PIGEON RACING!
Groups and schools that are interested in that type of project can contact the American Racing Pigeon Union at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our school information packet will show you a variety of materials that has been shared with us by members.
Monday, August 10, 2009
By Meg Jones of the Journal Sentinel
Even though Schrank's cruise control was set at 68 mph as he headed home to Hubertus on I-94, his truck was no match for his racing pigeons, who were all waiting in their loft when he pulled in more than an hour later.
In a sense, the retired machinist owns a sports team. But instead of demanding high salaries and no-trade clauses, Schrank's athletes happily compete for food, especially safflower seeds.
"They all have personalities. Some are alert and watch every move you make," Schrank, 68, said after releasing his birds for what's called a training toss in Cottage Grove last week. "Some are birds good for speed, while others are good for distance."
What's so special about these pigeons? Didn't Woody Allen call the ubiquitous pigeons "rats with wings"?
Racers such as Schrank quickly point out how their birds differ. They're bred for speed and a heightened homing instinct, which allows them to quickly return to their loft instead of hanging out in parks mooching off picnickers. That's why, flying at 45 mph to 60 mph, homing pigeons are sometimes called thoroughbreds of the sky.
Last week, Schrank released 160 young pigeons, including some owned by friends. He took his birds about 50 miles away so they would learn where they needed to break off from the rest of the pack and head toward home. He was preparing them for their first 150-mile race Saturday.
The night before the race, Schrank took 27 of his best racers to Gus Amann's Bar on W. Beloit Road. Along with other members of the Milwaukee Western Concourse, he checked in his birds, placed them in cages and then watched them get loaded onto a truck that would take them 150 miles to Iowa for release the next morning.
Holding up a pigeon with a leg band stamped No. 118, Schrank patted the bird's gray feathers and pointed out the nice pink breast. "This one is a good flier. I'm always hoping they do well," he said.
Because owners' lofts are scattered around southeastern Wisconsin, the first bird home doesn't necessarily win. Instead, it's whichever flies the most yards per minute. It's all done electronically with the band on the pigeons' legs triggering an antenna when they return to their lofts.
In a 100-mile race earlier this month, the winning bird flew almost 1,841 yards per minute.
A special bond
Dick Lipski of Milwaukee figures he spends about $100 a month on food for his 140 pigeons, plus a tank of gas each week transporting them for training tosses and races. Cupping a pigeon like a porcelain figurine, Lipski pointed out the bird's curves, its soft feathers, supple wings and bright eyes.
"To a lay person, they don't look any different. But to us we see the musculature, the shape and look of the bird, the shape of the head, eye color and how they hold themselves," Lipski said. Pigeon racers typically have old birds, new birds and breeders. After selecting breeding stock based on a variety of factors including racing performance, the birds are mated and eggs are hatched in the winter. They're usually weaned between 25 and 35 days old when they're put in a young bird loft.
On race days, bird owners anxiously await their return.
The Milwaukee Western Concourse has about 40 members from Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties, said Fred Hopper, the group's secretary, who has been racing pigeons since he was a boy in England.Lipski learned from his father and uncle, who began racing pigeons in the 1930s; now his son has about 60 birds. Schrank had pigeons when he was a boy in Germany; he remembers when the government barred people from owning them during World War II because they were used by the military to ferry important messages. Dave Smith of Waukesha has raised homing pigeons since he was a youth, stopping "only to court my wife." . . .
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Smetana snatched up a gray pigeon and stretched out its wings. He pointed to its iridescent neck and chest - the green and pink shimmers indicate the bird is healthy, he said. Unlike the flocks of pigeons many city dwellers resent, Smetana’s birds are athletes and racers, to be exact. He began breeding and racing homing pigeons as a child in Slovakia, he said, and brought the hobby to Montana in 2004.
Racing homing pigeons is popular in Europe, Smetana said. Homing pigeons, used to send messages between troops during wartime, were used throughout Europe during both world wars. Today, in his village of about 300 people, 50 regularly train and race birds.
Smetana credits World War II veteran Dan Corcoran, an honorary member of the Bridger Mountain Racing Pigeon Club, with bringing the sport to the Gallatin Valley.
Dominique Savoie, a member of the Bridger Mountain club who has been racing pigeons for three years, said she remains intrigued by the birds’ homing instincts.
“How the heck do they know how to get home?” Savoie said. “I’m fascinated with it.”
Smetana said nobody knows how the pigeons do it. What he does know is that once the birds are about 30 days old, he lets them out of their large loft, “they look at the sun,” and begin to fly, he said.
At that point, they are “imprinting” on the spot, learning where exactly the loft is located.
And they come back, most of them, again and again.
The Bridger Mountain club takes its birds as far away as Las Vegas for races, approximately 500 miles. It takes the birds about two days to fly home.
The pigeons are able to fly long distances fast due to extremely efficient respiratory systems.
“A good bird is not only physically strong and healthy, but has to have the innate ability to get home,” Savoie said . . . Now that she’s started racing, she’s discovered the sport requires great perseverance.
START ‘EM YOUNG
Smetana said racing pigeons is a great activity for kids. He pulls his kids into the loop from the start. When training his birds, Smetana often takes them to his brother-in-law’s house in Livingston. The uncle then attaches messages to the birds’ legs for Smetana’s children to read in Gallatin County. Racing the birds “teaches children responsibility,” Smetana said. “You have to have your stuff together to race pigeons. It builds confidence because you have to make decisions.” The adults do it for different reasons.” For some, they have to win,” Savoie said. “For others it’s just about seeing the birds come home.” Count Smetana in the later category.” The coolest thing is seeing the pigeons come home because they’re your buddies,” he said. And some bring important messages. When Smetana and his wife, Lorca, could not decide on their first son’s name, they attached their top choices to four of their birds. The first bird that arrived home after that year’s last race carried the baby’s name - Hale Miša Montana Smetana. “The hospital had been calling for two weeks” wanting a name for the birth certificate, Smetana recalled. He said he told them, “What do you mean? The pigeons haven’t flown yet.”
CONNECTION TO NATURE
Both Smetana and Savoie appreciate how working with the birds takes them outside themselves and slows them down.” It connects me to the earth,” Savoie said. “And it connects me to having to take care of something. Having chores connects me to my rural roots.” For Smetana, a photographer, there’s a relaxing aspect to pigeon racing.” You walk into the loft, you forget about your everyday problems,” he said.” Everything’s going faster these days,” he added, using the example of the switch from film to digital commercial photography, which has clients clamoring for images within hours rather than days.” But with pigeons, you can’t do that,” he said. “You have to take your time and pay attention.”
Monday, August 3, 2009
(click on the title to view the video - requires Flash)
WKBT Channel 8, shared this on August 2, 2009
Sunday morning it was a race against the clock for more than 100 pigeons.
The YWCA held it's 3rd anual Wings Over Wisconsin Homing Pigeon Race. The birds took off from Riverside park at 10 AM and headed north to Blair, Wisconsin. Once the pigeons were on thier way spectators left by car to find out which bird would be first, but because the birds travel so fast someone was waiting at the finish line. Before the race raffle tickets were sold from there it's all up to the pigeons.
Lisa Mathson, of the YWCA, says, "Each raffle ticket is matched up with a pigeon. The winning pigeon will win $500, the 2nd will win $200 and the third will win $100. And all the proceeds will benefit A-Pro program which provides individuals with disabilities recreation opportunities."
Considering the birds have flown all the way from Kansas before Sudnay was a short race for them.
The event raised about $1,500 for the YWCA. In case you are wondering pigeon number 31 took the top prize.
For more information about racing homing pigeons, contact the American Racing Pigeon Union.