The McPherson Sentinel reports:
By Katie Stockstill, managing editor
The McPherson Sentinel
Tue Dec 22, 2009, 11:17 AM CST
McPherson, Kan. -
Gail Huddle is into racing. But you won’t find him at the track or on the road, you have to look up to see Huddle’s race in action.
Huddle is one of the state’s top pigeon racers. The McPherson resident grew up with birds and picked up bird racing from neighbors. After a 40-year absence from the sport, Huddle ran into a friend that raced pigeons and was inspired to get back into the sport. Now retired, he enjoys raising, training and racing pigeons. He spends hours each day caring for, cleaning up after and working with his 25 birds.
A one-year-old pure white male pigeon that Huddle raised and trained recently won him Grand Champion at the 2009 National Racing Pigeon Championship Show.
The champion was determined by points which were given by American Racing Union (AU) judges who follow strict areas of criteria when considering all aspects of the bird. In general, points are given in numerous areas including the bird’s build, weight, temperament, feathers, appearance, health and overall stature of the bird.
Along with the Grand Champion award, Huddle also brought home the champion and reserved champion award in the diploma class, which consists of birds that have won races, and the champion award in the best old cock class.
Huddle trains the birds from birth and works with them daily in the spring, summer and early fall months. His birds can be seen making a daily path around his neighborhood and once conditioned, he will take the birds out of the area and release them to fly home. Pigeons are born with a homing sense which they use to find their homes from nearly anywhere in the country.
“The bird’s goal is to come back home,” Huddle said. “The birds will fly when they are released and will immediately begin to make their way home.”
The races range in distance from 100 to 600 miles. The birds average 45 miles per hour when flying but can reach speeds up to 75 mph with ideal weather conditions and a tail wind.
Racing birds, like horses and dogs, are bred to carry on desired skill sets and characteristics. Racing pigeons can cost anywhere from $10 to $250,000 with most quality racing birds costing at least $100.
Earlier this year, with several awards under his belt, Huddle made the decision to turn his passion into a business. Huddle and his wife, Donna, started “On The Wing,” a white dove release business. “I wanted to make a business out of it,” Huddle said of his passion for birds. “So I decided to see if I can have fun and have a business at the same time.”
The Huddles promote their business as a white dove release but the couple actually releases pure white pigeons. Doves do not have a homing instinct and when released will often perch on a nearby tree instead of taking off and returning home. “Releasing doves just isn’t humane,” Huddle said. “Doves purchased for release do not know how to care for themselves and will perish if not caught.”
The Huddles said they enjoy providing something that can symbolize a variety of emotions and situations. The birds can be released by a couple just married or a family that has just lost a loved one. The birds can be released from a variety of containers and will always return to Huddle’s home, which is also their home.
With his new business in place, Huddle said he intends to continue to raise and train birds but isn't planning to enter any competitions.