Merritt residents finding unusual pigeons around town | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Merritt residents finding unusual pigeons around town

A racing pigeon spotted near a gas station in Merritt.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Sarah Grund

Some residents in Merritt are seeing different coloured pigeons around town this month, but they aren’t ordinary pigeons — these are racing pigeons and can be spotted in odd, outdoor spots when they get lost from their flocks.

Resident Tracey Medway said she’s aware of a local group of pigeon racers as well a group from out of town that come to train their birds in the area every spring.

“These birds have been coming here for a couple of years now and the owners are from the coast,” she said. “We have a local group that think these guys may need more training to figure out what they’re doing wrong. It’s sad because a lot of birds perish because we have a lot of predator birds here that will pick on them.”

Alec Kovacs Jr. is a Coldstream resident who used to race pigeons as part the Kelowna Racing Pigeon Club that shut down roughly a decade ago, and he still raises some birds as a hobby.

“The furthest we flew was 600 air miles from up north,” he said. “Each bird has a band on its leg with an electric tracking device that is scanned when the bird returns home to calculate the number of yards per minute it flew to determine the winner.”

Kovacs said the birds know by instinct how to fly home and sometimes younger birds are sent out with older ones to follow them but it’s not necessary. The birds start with training distances of roughly five kilometres and increase from there.

When asked about the colours found on some birds in Merritt, Kovacs clarified that those are different, they race with a focus on endurance rather than speed.

“Those aren’t racing homers, they’re bred for highflyers,” he said. “They are a Pakistani bird and the style is to paint them all colours to recognize them in the air. It’s a middle-eastern thing, we don’t do that here. Some are Iranian highflyers, there are many different types.”

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Pigeon racing began in early 1800s in Belgium likely with the use of Persian messenger pigeons as the foundation stock, according to the Canadian Racing Pigeon Union website. Crossed with local pigeons the modern racing homer gradually developed into what we know it as today.

The first long distance pigeon race was in Belgium in 1818 and by 1870 there were 150 racing societies in Belgium and over 10,000 lofts, or homes for the pigeons. The hobby soon spread to Holland and England where the sport is still popular.

The sport came to the United States and France in the nineteenth century and is now popular in many countries around the world including Canada. Today there are roughly 20,000 registered racing pigeon lofts in North America.

The birds are known for their athleticism, determination and loyalty to their lofts and owners, and will race home for distances up to 600 miles per day. Clubs set race dates and distances and provide transportation and care to their release point, while Race Secretaries check the weather conditions to make sure it’s safe for the birds. 

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The pigeons are banded when young as a permanent registration, and a way to record times and distances for racing. Owners are expected to keep the birds healthy and there are federal regulations for lofts and their construction and maintenance.

With racing clubs and associations across the country, the one umbrella national organization for all racing pigeons in the country is the Canadian Racing Pigeon Union, founded in 1929.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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