15 Minutes: Central Park School Pigeon Race Fourth Graders

In January, the fourth year class at Central Park School for Children in Durham hatched and started breeding racing pigeons. This week, the next fourth grader met the birds. They will now return to training in hopes of competing in the North Carolina Combine spring pigeon races. Professor Aaron Sebens left the INDIA Ask the class a few questions on Zoom.

What were your first impressions of the pigeons?

Malcolm: When I got to hold one of these it was really sweet. He looked at me like, “Uh, who’s got me, let me go?”

Ollie: When I was holding one of them, something I didn’t know pigeons could do was turn their head completely to face me. He turned his head around and looked me straight in the eyes.

Frightening. How many pigeons are there?

Selwyn: There are six pigeons—Aaron, can I tell him the story? OK, so two days ago one of the pigeons was attacked by a hawk, and there’s a bunch of feathers around the loft. Rider was attacked by a hawk, but he’s fine.

Aaron Sebens: We didn’t know it until this year, but September and October are big hawk season – there are more of them because they migrate.

How do these birds know how to find their way home?

Ollie: They have a little thing on their nose called acacia. Some other birds have them – I think, chickens. And nobody knows exactly how he knows where his house is, but when he spends a lot of time in a place (or maybe when he knows where his food is) he knows, for example, “it is where I want to go”.

Aaron Sebens: They are very greedy, yes. Does anyone know what’s in his acacia so he can find his way back?

Alexander: They can detect magnetic fields anywhere on earth.

Anyone have any favorite facts to share?

Lucile: Pigeons can fly 60 miles per hour.

Eloise: In the pigeon racing book we read it says that people have been using pigeons for almost three thousand years.

Aaron Sebens: We will start racing them in February. If our herd is big enough, we go to the North Carolina races, which is the big game. We will try to train them this fall so they are ready for the spring races.

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