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.”