Doug Chadwick would like to clear the air about homing pigeons.
“They’ve got a bad rap because of the feral pigeons, but they’re not like that at all,” he said. “They’re hugely intelligent. There were lots of pigeon heroes from the war.”
Chadwick, a past president and founding member of the Mid-Island Racing Pigeon society, has raised pigeons since he was 10 years old.
“It is the longest running sport in the world; it goes back to the Roman Empire. Once you get in, it’s like anything else, you get bit by the bug, it’s hard not to do,” he said. “It’s exciting for me to see them come whipping in, trap them and then find out how they did against everyone else.”
Chadwick cares for about 72 homing pigeons in a loft outside his Chemainus home. Approximately 50 of those make up his racing fleet; the others serve as stock for breeding. Each one has their own name, like Bella or one of his prize racers, ‘Fred the Red.’
“Most people don’t name them … they don’t really respond to them,” he said.
Sometimes referred to as ‘the poor man’s horse racing,’ pigeon racing involves clocking the velocity of the time it takes for a pigeon to return to its owner’s home from a designated release point, which, for the local racing club, is usually in Campbell River. Because there are pigeon owners across Vancouver Island, the winner is determined not by who gets home first, but by whose pigeon reaches the fastest velocity (metres per minute).
Each pigeon wears an electronic band that is scanned in at the beginning of the race and clocked when they reach the loft.
“It works with a GPS now, it’s a lot easier,” Chadwick said. “Before we used to have to do the measurements all by hand.”
A volunteer truck driver transports the birds to the release point. There can be anywhere from 200-300 pigeons released at one time.
“When they take off out of the truck, it really is a sight,” Chadwick said.
Once a year, the society runs a race from Bella Bella, a journey that usually takes the birds approximately six hours.
“Sometimes there’s trophies involved,” Chadwick said.
With limited numbers of racers and increasing natural predators, pigeon racing is becoming an aging sport, Chadwick said.
“It’s getting tougher and tougher to have them now with the bylaws, more and more people aren’t allowed to have them,” he added. “People… think that they’re rats and there’s a lot of outcry. They’re wrong.”
Chadwick said it’s a great sport for anyone looking to be involved with a great group and have the opportunity to race their pets.
“People become very attached to them, they become pets,” he said. “I go out in my loft every day and spend hours out there.
The Mid-Island Racing Pigeon society will be holding its annual show, where members will bring their best stock to be judged on conformation. The show is open to the public.For more information on the society and how to get involved, visit http://midislandracingpigeonsociety.com/.