Friday, January 29, 2010

Off to the pigeon races

Whitman & Hanson Express reports:

Written by Dave Palana
Thursday, 28 January 2010 18:30

From a young age, Steve Croghan has been a man of the birds. He was fascinated by a pigeon racer on his paper route, and has been keeping birds of his own since age 10.  “He used to call them and they would come sit on his arm and he used to feed them out of his hand,” Croghan said as he recalled his old customer. “That amazed me when I was young.”

For 20 years, the Hanson resident has been racing pigeons competitively. He has watched the sport change with the times and the technology, and now is hoping to provide the same kind of inspiration as the customer on his paper route all those years ago.

“All the older fellas are aging out of the sport and I’m trying to get the younger generation involved,” he said. “I’ve been trying to establish something for a while. There aren’t too many people out there who do this, so [younger people] aren’t really exposed to it.”

Croghan is hoping to create a youth program for pigeon racers with the help of local 4H clubs and the Plymouth Veterans Racing Pigeon Club, his chapter of the Boston Concourse and the American Pigeon Racing Union. He is planning an exhibition at this summer’s Marshfield Fair and a local information seminar to raise awareness of his sport and drum up some new interest.

The biggest thing Croghan says he will have to struggle against is the public perception of the birds based on feral pigeons. He equated racing pigeons to thoroughbred horses in that they have to have a pedigree in order to be allowed in the American Union. Racing pigeons are bred for specific races, such a sprinters and distance fliers, and a well-bred bird can go for as much as $182,000.

“When people think of pigeons, they think of flying rats,” Croghan said. “When you get a pigeon with a good breeding record and a good race record, they become quite sought after.”

Croghan keeps about 100 pigeons in his coop in Hanson in two racing teams. The racing season, consisting of two sections: old birds and young birds. The season runs from April to November. Local races consist of 500 to 700 birds, though it can get up to 25,000 in Europe, and races range in distance from 100 miles to 600 miles out to Sandusky, Ohio in a single day.

“If you are sitting at home after a pigeon has beaten its wings for 14 hours to come home from a 600-mile jaunt, it’s pretty extravagant to see,” he said. “They have a will and they love their home, and I just enjoy watching them fly.”

Croghan wants to model his youth program after the Northwest Junior Flyers, a group out of Western Massachusetts that boasts over 60 members. That group builds 4x4 starter lofts for their members to house eight to 10 pigeons, but Croghan said he would consider housing birds in his coop if parents don’t want them at the club members’ houses.

Croghan’s club in Plymouth currently has a membership of around 22 with one junior member, his 13-year-old daughter Megan. Megan Croghan began her pigeon racing career six years ago and as second in the national youth race last year by only two seconds.

“It’s pretty fun to race against all these people,” she said. “It’s fun to go in the coop and feed the birds. Sometimes, they’ll just sit on my hand.”

In addition to her second place finish in the youth race, Megan owns two wins over her father despite only being allowed to send out five birds as a youth racer compared to her father’s 15.

“It’s the first thing she checks,” Steve Croghan said. “She run down to the coop and check the times to see if she beat me. It’s a nice father-daughter thing and I enjoy racing with her.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

Junior Members at the Mid Minnesota RPC Show

By: Whitney Sabrowsky, AU Youth Ambassador 

January 16th, 2010 announced the date of the 32nd annual Mid Minnesota Racing Pigeon Club show and auction. A break in the freezing temperatures called northern fanciers from their lofts to a central Minnesota show in Osakis.

Some may roll their eyes at the prospect of “talking birds” from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, but for flyers from around the state and beyond, it is the perfect way to spend a Saturday in winter. The north features dedicated fanciers- - some guys traverse from the Dakotas to the show. Flyers from seven different racing clubs were present at the Mid Minnesota show.

Grandpas brought their pigeons and junior member grandkids to the show- - what a perfect way to mentor and bond with kids! Speaking of junior members, the Mid Minnesota show offers both a junior member old bird and young bird class. Ten kids showed their homers.

With encouragement from grandpa, sisters, Jocelyn and Nicole Hennekamp, have started their own little loft. The girls live a half mile from their grandparents’ home. This being the case, they find time to bond with grandpa, Ron Roth. Ron recalls that he enjoys teaching kids and always made sure that Jocelyn and Nicole tagged along when he cared for his pigeons. Eventually, grandpa had to give the girls some birds to call their own. Starting with young birds, 2008 was their first racing season. They had a blast clocking their pigeons with a manual clock. Ron Roth chuckles when Jocelyn and Nicole state that the best part about racing is beating Grandpa with his own pigeons!

New for the 2010 show was a junior member bake sale. Young flyers in the club plan on using the proceeds from the sweet sale to send birds to the National Youth Race and to pay entry fees for races in the Minnesota Invitational Series.

For junior member, Jacob Solbreken, the show was especially exciting as it was his first time attending such a function. Jacob is taking flight in his first year with homing pigeons.

Birds know that they are special when nearly all of them are called by name. The pigeons in Sarah Anderson’s loft live a life of being pampered by their fancier. Seventeen-year-old Sarah loves her birds and the reward of her labors is in the race results. This high-flying junior beat the “old guys” in the 2009 old bird season. Sarah received the coveted title of Champion Loft and clocked in 1st for Average Speed. Attending the Mid Minnesota show with her folks is an annual event for Sarah. She has been racing and showing birds for seven years. Not only does Ms. Anderson race well, her pigeons often win at the show. Last year, Sarah went home with three first-place plaques.

Even though the show came to its close, the day was not yet complete for Mid Minnesota juniors. Collapsing show cages, washing tables, and sweeping floors were tasks that occupied the young flyers.

Whether at shows or while shipping birds, it is a touching scene to view kids and older fanciers together with pigeons. Unique friendships bond young and old; it is amazing what pigeons are able to accomplish. Isn’t it?

Monday, January 18, 2010


The Star Telegram reports:
These pigeons always find their way home, even 600 miles away
Special to the Star-Telegram
Photo - Joyce Marshall
Scot and Susie Lindsey’s ride home from the Stock Show is a little less crowded than on the way there.

After their show pigeons were judged on health and appearance Saturday, the Lake Worth couple released more than a dozen birds out of the back of the poultry barn. Four were first-place winners.  Away the pigeons flew, homeward bound.

"They’ll be home when we get there," Susie Lindsey said. "I count them when we get home."

So is the life of a racing homing pigeon family.

The couple have been racing pigeons for more than 20 years. For nine years, Scot Lindsey has been the superintendent of the poultry barn at the Stock Show. That makes him the person who oversees the operation.

The trick is to raise the pigeons to know where to call home, so they always return no matter the miles.

How do they do that?
Training begins at three months, and consists of releasing the birds daily outside so they learn to fly on their own.

Eventually, the birds learn that when playtime is over, the ritual begins to call them home.

"We whistle, shake a can and talk to them . . . 'Come on boys!’ " Scot Lindsey said Sunday.

When they hear the call, down they come back, zooming back to their loft for the night, he said.

How far do they fly?
Once their home has been established, the pigeons are driven a little farther and released, progressively flying from 100 to 600 miles.

When released, they go up, circle a few minutes to get their bearings and then head home, Scot Lindsey said.

"The good ones go straight home," he said. "Some take longer than others."

How fast do they go?
A pigeon flight is measured in yards per minute. Winners can fly 1,200 to 1,300 yards per minute, which equals about 40-45 mph, Scot Lindsey said.

"Some have been clocked traveling more than 90 mph," he said.

Lindsey recalled one 324-mile flight of a pigeon taken to Conway, Ark. The bird was released at 6:50 a.m. and got home at 10:05 p.m., he said.

How are competition times calculated?
Today’s tech-savvy world makes things much easier than when Scot Lindsey began showing pigeons in 1989.

A chip is attached to the pigeons and scanned into a system upon takeoff.

When the pigeons get home, another scanner at the entrance of their loft enters the data as they fly by.

"Kind of like the scanner at the grocery store," Scot Lindsey said.

If the pigeon is taking too much time doing victory laps in the air over the house, a fancy pigeon (known as a dropper) is used as a decoy to bring the bird home.

"They follow the dropper," he said. "It lures the race birds in."

What kind of care is involved?
The Lindsey family owns about 300 pigeons. The lofts they are housed in are cleaned and disinfected daily.

Every day, the birds are fed twice and given fresh water. They eat a mix of corn, wheat, safflower, Canadian peas, maple peas, buckwheat rice and sterilized hemp seed.