Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Vacaville racing pigeon best in the U.S.
By Melissa Murphy
Posted: 03/23/2010 07:44:17 AM PDT
Photo credit:  Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

The NFL has Kyle DeVan.
Major League Baseball has Jermaine Dye.

But move over boys, Vacaville's elite group of athletes just grew by 1.5 pounds of muscle and feathers.

He goes by the moniker Mr. Dependable, and this tiny racing pigeon is just that, says his owner, Alex Bieche of Vacaville.

The bird was ranked the No. 1 male pigeon in the United States in 2009 - the seventh win for Bieche and the first for this particular pigeon.

Bieche often compares pigeon racing to horse racing.

"These are pedigree athletes," he explained. "There is a lot of competition out there. Racing pigeons is more interesting, though."

Pigeons, which often have bloodlines that are traced to Germany, Belgium and Holland, use their sense of smell and the sun's rotation to make it home without a compass or a map, he added.  "The goal is not only to find yourself back home, but to beat the competition," he said. "A lot of good things nature has for them to do what they do."

Bieche races hens and cocks. He raced the best hen, True Grit, in 2007, followed by the 2009 win with Mr. Dependable.

"To most people, this is just an average pigeon," he said, holding the prize bird. "But we refused the offer of $10,000 because we know he's much more valuable than that."

Mr. Dependable is easily worth $15,000 to $20,000, Bieche explained. Still the sport can be very affordable, with a beginning investment of $200 to $300 for a pigeon.

Starting at a young age, Bieche was interested in pigeons, and, years later, after leaving his general contractor career, he and his wife, Cindy, made pigeon racing and breeding a full-time pursuit.  "I took a hobby and turned it into a profession," he said, explaining that, besides racing, they also breed pigeons. "I'm busier now and we travel all over the world. It's a full-time job."

Mr. Dependable is officially retired and is only used for breeding purposes since he did so well his first time around.

"In the olden days, I thought you bought a good bird and raced them," Bieche admitted. "It's way more than that."

The Bieches live on 5 acres in rural Vacaville and keep anywhere from 200 to 300 birds.

The birds are divided into young birds (a year old or less) and old birds (older than one year).

The old birds race 10 weeks, 100 to 600 miles away from home, while the young birds race eight weeks, 100 to 350 miles home. Old bird season starts the second week of April.

During racing seasons, the pigeons are checked in, and travel Friday night by truck to the start. On Saturday morning they are given food and water and then released. Each pigeon has a computer chip attached to a band around its ankle.

When the pigeon returns to its specific home, it flies over a scanning device, which enters in their time.
The scanner is then taken back to headquarters to compare it to the other birds' times.

The duration of the bird's flight is then divided by the distance in yards, since each home is a different distance from the start.

Comparatively, according to Bieche, the birds average 45 miles per hour.

The birds are given points for how well they do in the races, which are added up at the end of season.

The Bieches are members of TriCity Homing Pigeon Club, based in Fairfield. The group not only races pigeons, but also hosts fundraisers to give to City of Hope, a cancer clinic and research hospital in Duarte.

U.S. pigeon clubs recently donated $1 million to City of Hope.

For more information visit, www.tricityhoming.net or www.biechelofts.com.