Monday, November 16, 2009


Pigeon lovers, birds of a common feather, flock to Old Greenwich

By Neil Vigdor
Staff Writer

GREENWICH -- These birds get a bum rap. Thanks to their urban cousins, they get pigeonholed.

But watch what you say about pigeons when you're around Bill Desmarais, who, with his wife, Paula, owns about 250 of the racing and show variety of the birds.

"These are what you call thoroughbreds of the sky," he said.

The couple made the three-hour drive Saturday from their Fall River, Mass., home to Old Greenwich for the National Show Racing Pigeon Classic.

Think Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, but for pigeons.

"That's a good analogy," said Paul Anderson, president of the National Show Racing Pigeon Association, which puts on the annual event.

Some 500 pigeon-lovers, not to mention 600 birds, flocked to the Greenwich Civic Center for the all-day show, a confluence of breeders, judges and competitors.

"They're bred for beauty and muscle tone," said Anderson, 71, a psychologist from Lykens, Pa. . . .

During World Wars I and II, pigeons were often used by the military to carry messages because of their innate homing senses and their ability to fly great distances, he said.

In competitions, a flock of pigeons is released at a common location and timed individually on their journey back to their own homes.

Many have a tracking device such as a computer chip or GPS that allow their owners to monitor them.

"Since the beginning of time, they've been carrying messages," said Desmarais, 59, a certified judge at pigeon shows who is northeast regional director of the American Racing Pigeon Union, which has 10,000 members.

Adult pigeons can fly 600 miles or more, according to Desmarais, who had one find its way home from Sandusky, Ohio.

To help motivate male pigeons to return home, Desmarais said, another male pigeon is often introduced into their individual coop, where a female awaits for breeding.

"They come home as fast as they can," said Desmarais, who works in property management with his wife.

Don't be confusing racing and show pigeons with the variety found in cities, however.

"See how they stand? They stand like football players, athletes. Each pigeon has a pedigree," Desmarais said, pointing to one of the many cages inside the civic center.