Savannah Morning News
Bert Oostlander is a pigeon fancier. He flies pigeons, breeds pigeons, trains pigeons. His international pigeon supply business in midtown Savannah, where he produces his own line of products in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse, is one of the largest pigeon operations in the country.
His supply business in Holland, where he also publishes a magazine, runs an auction site and distributes his catalogue, is just as big.
Oostlander knows pigeons. He knows about a pigeon race in China that carries a $5 million purse and one in South Africa that pays $1 million. He knows about pigeons that are sold for $200,000 each. He can't help himself.
He loves those 1-pound birds of feather and bone that can fly 1,545 yards in a minute ("15? football fields") and find his or her way home over a 700-mile course . . . .
. . . . Like athletes, racing pigeons live, breath and spend most of their life in training. They drink garlic juice, take bodybuilding supplements like Creatine, live in well-circulated lofts, drink water protected by dust covers and occupy quarters decorated with mirrored hawk balls . . .
. .. . The race begins
On race day, the pigeon owners meet at a designated place, like the Food Lion in Pooler, load their caged and trained athletes into a trailer and head for the starting gate. It could be 100 miles away in Dublin, 300 in Lincoln, Ala., 507 in Holly Springs, Miss., or 700 in Russellville, Ark . . .
. . . The birds' time is calibrated by a magnetized rubber ring that circles their ankles and sets off a timer as they re-enter their coop.
'A family sport' . . . "It was different back then," he said. "Each block had three or four kids with birds. We had clubs with 60 members strong. There wasn't as much to do."
Oostlander, 69, picked up the sport when he was living in Holland, where he was born. "It's a good backyard sport, a family sport," he said.
When his family moved to Detroit, he kept up his interest. Sixty years later, after careers in the auto industry and hotel and restaurant management, Oostlander and his wife, Wendy, retired. That lasted about eight years . . . .
. . . . . . So he started Global Pigeon Supplies. The business, he said, became a lot bigger than either of them expected, more from business oversees and in other parts of the country outside Savannah. Oostlander, who keeps 400 birds in his Wilmington Island loft, says he's the only fancier in Savannah. He attends the club in Effingham County . . .
(complete article) http://savannahnow.com/accent/2010-06-12/jane-fishman-couple-guys-race-pigeons