Don’t pigeonhole these birds
These pigeons are not the ones dragged in by the cat or picking at the garden. These pigeons are trained athletes on high-protein diets that fly up to 500 miles in a day to find their way home.
“People don’t realize how important they still are,” local pigeon racer and farmer Jerry Donaldson recently told the Grand Junction City Council while explaining the history of carrier pigeons used in the military and noting that some have even received medals of honor. “They are hero pigeons.”
Donaldson is part of a passionate local club that participates in the longtime, worldwide sport of pigeon racing — a group city officials only discovered after an update of the city’s land-use code in 2010.
At the time, council members did away with allowing pigeon racing, thinking it was obsolete.
But at the request of the community, the ordinance was researched and brought back before the council last week. Councilors voted 6-1 to allow racing pigeons within the city under certain conditions.
Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein cast the dissenting vote, saying he believes the birds should be allowed only in rural areas.
City officials said the ordinance provides clear standards so the animals will not become a nuisance to neighbors or the community. It allows for up to 50 performing birds on a half-acre of property or less and a maximum of 100 birds on larger properties.
Before voting, council members, who had received thousands of emails in opposition of the ordinance believed to be from addresses around the country in a campaign sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, asked about the birds’ homes, humane treatment, feces and noise.
Steven Bowen, show chairman with the Grand Junction Racing Pigeon Club, tried to address those concerns.
“The noise level, you can sit in your backyard and have a normal conversation,” said Bowen, who keeps his birds at a home near 26 and F 1/2 roads. He also said the birds eat well and exercise in the morning and evening, and their feces are properly disposed.
“They don’t do us any good if they’re not coming home,” he said.
A racing pigeon is banded before it’s 7 days old with a number it will be known by for the rest of its life. Then, when it is ready to race, it is clocked into the club Friday night before being driven up to hundreds of miles from Grand Junction, sometimes starting as far away as Montana.
“It’s just like scanning in the grocery store,” explained Bowen, who has been working with pigeons since he was 8 and is now teaching his granddaughter about them.
The performers are turned loose together, he said. They often fly overnight, and their times are calculated when they return.
“Then we go out and see who gets braggin’ rights for the weekend,” he told the council.
Councilman Jim Doody, who said he hunts, eats fowl and shoots pigeons, voiced his support and said he is impressed with the microchip technology.
“This is western Colorado. This is what we do,” he said. “It’s a sport, and it’s a great sport you can raise your kids on.”
Jason Carey, 10, and Colton Carey, 8, are two of those children enjoying it. They came to the meeting to show their support for Thrill Patch, Jet Li and other colorfully named “ninja” pigeons they help care for.
“I like being able to feed them out of my hand,” Jason said.
Colton added that he likes “getting them to come home.”