Sky is the limit in pigeon racing | To select
LINDSAY – Over 3,000 years ago, the Romans used carrier pigeons as messengers, and pigeons were used as a symbol and sacrifice, both sacred and secular down the centuries by the English.
The US military even used carrier pigeons for communication and reconnaissance purposes during WWI and WWII.
The demand for carrier pigeons slowly declined as technology continued to develop over the decades, but the interest in pigeon racing never seemed to die out.
Larry Bender, 68, who resides 4.5 miles south of Lindsay, said his uncle bred carrier pigeons when he was younger and Bender got hooked when he was 29.
âI have had pigeons my whole life – I started in 1982 and since enjoying racing I just wanted to try pigeon racing,â said Bender. “It gets into your blood and you light up like a light bulb.”
Carrier pigeon racing began in the United States in the 1880s when the first 500 mile race was held.
According to the American Racing Pigeon Union, there are now nearly a million travelers in the world. There are homing pigeons resident all over Europe, including 18,000 from Belgium.
âPigeon racing is a very unique and competitive sport,â said Bender. “You have to have them ready for a race; usually you will have birds of your own breed for years to come.”
Carrier pigeons run 80-600 miles in a race and can fly at speeds of up to 40-60 miles per hour, normally over terrain they have never experienced before. Racing carrier pigeons can be less than a year old and usually race until they are 5 years old.
Bender, along with the 10 other members of the Platte Valley Homing Club, will travel to the Midwest from April to the end of June to compete in carrier pigeon races, including a 600 mile race that will start in Fort Worth, Texas, and finish at him to Lindsay.
âIt all depends on how they reproduce. Some birds can cross mountains and others fly around grasslands,â Bender said.
Carrier pigeons are housed in a loft where they will be taken care of, until the day before a race, when each pigeon is transferred to a club house. The pigeons are loaded and someone from the Platte Valley Homing Club will then lead them to the start position. Once released, the pigeons return to their lofts. The 600 mile race from Fort Worth will take pigeons between 10 and 14 hours to get back to Lindsay.
âYou let them go and they all have to go to their own loft,â Bender said.
Of the 70 pigeons that Bender owns, he allows each of them to participate in four races per year, which therefore does not force the pigeons to cover thousands of kilometers each month.
It adds a bit of strategy to the sport.
âWe try to make birds fly in some races,â Bender said. âIn 2005, I sent a bird in a 600 mile race and finished third, but the following weekend, as I ran through all the birds, I felt like she was going to do well and she won the race. She was one of the few birds to complete back-to-back 600 mile races. “
The best time to see when pigeons have the potential to do well in a race is when they are around a year old, Bender said.
âThe older the birds, the more you’ll know how consistent they will be,â Bender said. “I had a pigeon which won the pigeon championship two years in a row and he was a great pigeon.”
Two years ago Bender had the second best pigeon from the Platte Valley Homing Club and had the best pigeon in the club on several occasions, including in 2005.
Every year Bender has a handful of pigeons that he searches for when they are in the sky, because he has his own way of remembering the best.
âSome guys name their birds, but I’ve never been in them. I know my birds – when I see them flying through the air, I remember them all,â Bender said.
BACK in December, Bender spoke to Norfolk City Council, asking council members to consider changing the ordinances so that aspiring pigeon racers can breed carrier pigeons in town.
The city of Norfolk code currently bans all poultry, but Bender has asked council to change that.
“I’m trying to find some boundaries to see where the new carrier pigeons can keep their pigeons. We want to try to help these new carrier pigeons because the sport is declining,” said Bender.
Bender and the Platte Valley Homing Club, which started in 1980, resumed their season on April 17 with their first 110 mile run in 2021. Bender had the club’s best day as he had the top 12 birds in the race. .
While there is so much more to do with technology these days, Bender encourages people to give the sport a chance and at least check it out.
âThere is so much more to do that it is difficult to devote the time and effort to this sport,â said Bender. “It’s just a hobby that I really enjoy. There are so many people who don’t even know about pigeon racing, but they get fascinated by it. It’s unreal with the number of people asking questions. about it and who seem to be interested in it. “