Monday, November 15, 2010

(KSDK) -- Their destination is home, and their progress is closely monitored.  "What we do is we train these birds, just to get them in shape, much as you'd run a marathon. They know how to come home, so our job is to get them in shape to come home," said Dave Jennings, a member of the Belleville Pigeon Racing Club.

With the map permanently imprinted, it's not the distance that's being tracked, it's speed.

Jennings races these birds for sport. Three times a week, he loads up his birds and drives. It's training season, and selecting the right distance to release them from is key.  "If they're struggling and coming home a little late, usually you didn't take them far enough, and they're just taking their time coming home," Jennings explained.

Home is at the Strange Brew loft, and over the course of a racing season, these birds will journey back here from places all across the country.  Unlike the birds that line city streets, these pigeons are bred for speed.

Local racing is run out of the Missouri-Illinois combine, which also includes the Mt. Pleasant Pigeon Racing Club. Joel Alvarez is a member.

Jennings races old birds, pigeons that are at least a year old. Alvarez races young birds. The main difference between the two is the distance they'll travel. But the training and races work the same way.  "The first time I train a bird, I'll take them a block away. When they come back to the loft you feed them, then go out further and further distances," Alvarez said.

For the Belleville club, they'll release birds all across the country, from distances between 200 and 600 miles.
The combine hires a driver that picks up all the birds and releases them from the race point at sun-up. There are many theories as to how the birds travel home; the most widely held belief is the magnetic lines of the earth help guide them.

Each bird is banded with a unique number that serves as a tracking device. When they arrive home, they cross over a clock that stores their time.

Racing club members meet up a few days later and a computer software program sorts the time, determines an average speed and names a winner.