Racers show off their athletes with wings

DEAN HUMPHREY/The Daily Sentinel—Steve Bowen of Grand Junction examines one of his racing pigeons Saturday at the Western States National Racing Pigeon Show, which featured more than 200 birds that represented the best of their flocks.

For the record, Steven Bowen doesn’t like the pigeons in the park, either. They’re just ... lazy, freeloading and hassling the picnic.

They’re nothing like the sleek beauties on display Saturday morning, with their clear, alert eyes, their wings that hint at speed and endurance, their beautiful colors.

These are pigeons, the stars of the Western States National Racing Pigeon Show on Saturday and, to those who raise and race them, “kind of an addiction,” Bowen admitted with a smile.

The show, hosted by the Grand Junction Racing Pigeon Club, featured more than 200 birds that represented the best of their flocks. They were judged in various categories and they were admired — for the way they look and the way they fly.

“They used pigeons to convey the names of winners in the first Olympics,” Bowen said, explaining that the sport is thousands of years old. “These birds are athletes.”

Bowen first had pigeons as a kid, when his brother decided he needed a pet and went to a neighbor’s barn to catch some pigeons for him. Through more than 25 years working as a cowboy in Montana, he maintained an interest in pigeons and three years ago got serious about racing them.

“It’s a therapy,” he said. “You go out there to feed your pigeons after a hard day and it makes you feel better. It makes life not so bad when you get to play with pigeons. And when you’re racing them, it’s just as much a rush as if you’re racing yourself.”

The club members hold races in spring and fall. To raise racing pigeons is to become an expert in genetics, and owners selectively breed. They begin training in the backyard, putting a young bird in a race cage and opening it so the bird will fly back to its nearby roost. Gradually, they increase the distance, until a bird can be released upwards of 600 miles away and return home, explained Matt Jones, who lives in Delta and has been interested in racing pigeons since he was 14.

The typical racing pigeons enthusiast usually has dozens of breeding pairs and dozens of racers, and in the rarefied heights of birds with excellent lineage and ability, racing pigeons can sell for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.

But that has little to do with the day-to-day of it, with the interest and joy of raising birds that can fly fast and far.

For more information, go to http://www.pigeon.org.


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