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Racing Homer Pigeon

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Is the Racing Homer Pigeon right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Saddle Homer Pigeon; Racing Homer; White Homing Pigeon; Blue Bar Racing Homer

Scientific name: Columba livia domestica

The basics:
The Racing Homer Pigeon has been selectively bred to compete in long distance races. They may look much like any other common street or feral pigeon, but they have an uncommon skill to fly fast and far, and to home in on the correct destination. This bird is an athlete that can fly at over 50 miles per hour, for hours at a time, completely under its own power. Training and competing with your Racing Homer Pigeon can be a captivating sport for the dedicated hobbyist. They have also served their country in time of war, delivering messages and even receiving medals for their heroism, since a well-trained Homer is not deterred from carrying out its mission.

The famous snow-white “doves” that are released at weddings, funerals, and other events, are actually a white variety of the Homing Pigeon. Because of their strong homing instinct, these birds can be released, with the expectation that they will be able to return safely to their loft. Of course, just like their racing counterparts, they do need to be properly trained.

Although the first true Racing Homer Pigeons appeared in a race in Belgium in the early 1800s, the ancestors of these gifted birds have been flying for thousands of years. For most of that time, they were closer to Carrier Pigeons than to Racing Pigeons, with most birds not flying more than 40 miles to deliver military messages. However, the birds were reliable enough even hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, so that post offices could be set up to receive the messages. They just needed to be refined for speed. In the past 200 years, this breed has accomplished some truly amazing feats. There is some debate about just how fast they can go, but some champions have sustained speeds of over 60 miles per hour, for four hours, and it is possible that some birds using a tail wind have hit a top speed of around 110 miles per hour.

It would be impossible to relate all the stories of these amazing birds and their heroism. For example, in World War I, “Cher Ami” lost a leg and an eye to German fire but continued flying, and his message helped to save 194 lives of the “Lost Battalion” of the 77th Division in the battle of the Argonne. In World War II, the United States Pigeon Service held 54,000 military pigeons, some of which actually learned to fly at night, and many of which proved their bravery on the field A famous example is G. I. Joe, who saved the lives of the people living in an Italian village by bringing the message that the British had captured the town, just in time to stop Allied forces from bombing them. The Lord Mayor of London awarded G.I. Joe a medal for gallantry after the war, and G.I. Joe retired to the Detroit Zoo, where he passed away at the age of 18, a most respectable age for any pigeon.

The longest-lived Racing Homer Pigeon is probably Kaiser, a military pigeon bred in Germany, who was captured by American forces in 1918 during World War I. This splendid bird was re-assigned to the U.S. Army Signal Corps and became a breeder. The work must have suited him, because he lived over 32 years.

Appearance:
A mid-sized aerodynamic pigeon that can come in a wide range of colors and patterns. Because speed is more importance than appearance with this breed, many may have a plumage that reminds you of a common feral pigeon.

Weight:
284 - 340 grams

Average size:
32 centimeters

Lifespan:
10 - 20 years

Behavior / temperament:
Racing Homer Pigeons can be very sweet and confiding birds, but it is necessary to work with them to develop their tameness. Some people focus on training their birds strictly as athletes, so that they remain “wild” birds who just happen to have a talent for racing back to their home loft. Other people do like to teach their birds, or at least a favored bird, to fly to their arm. The choice is yours. They seem predisposed to like humans, as lost Racing Homers are known to approach strangers for help fairly regularly.

If you have a single pet, then you should definitely work on teaching the bird to fly to you for treats like safflower seed. It's good exercise and will greatly enhance your relationship with your Racing Homer Pigeon.

Housing:
A proper loft for breeding and training Racing Homer Pigeons is a specialized structure that must be carefully designed for easy cleaning and good air circulation without being drafty. In the traditional race, the birds are released and fly to their own lofts, being timed for speed. However, at least some pigeons do have the ability to learn to fly to more than one loft or to learn to fly to a loft that moves – a useful skill for military operations. Work with a more advanced hobbyist or breeder so that you can plan the best possible loft for your goals. Thieves have been a huge problem in some areas, so make sure that you have a secure loft, including alarms and probably a web-cam to monitor and record anyone going in or out.

If you have a retired, rehomed, or otherwise single pet Racing Homer Pigeon that you are keeping as a personal pet, then you have a different situation. Provide the longest flight possible, to allow the bird to exercise even when you can't be there. Bird-proof any room where you allow the bird to come out and fly free (no ceiling fans, please!), and lock all doors and windows while the bird is out and about indoors. Pigeons can't be toilet-trained, but it's even possible to buy pigeon diapers if need be to keep the poop under control.

Racing Homer Pigeons do bathe in water, so they should be allowed access to a shallow dog dish or similar bathing bowl to splash around in. Since pigeons lower the head to drink, they will need a deeper bowl for the drinking water.

Diet:
The Racing Homer Pigeon is the descendant of homing and carrier pigeons that have been bred over thousands of years, so it has been developed to thrive on a relatively simple diet. Most people start with a high-quality pigeon mix from a well-regarded source. You may also mix in quality grains such as millet, barley, wheat, whole corn, dry peas, buckwheat, oats, and so on, either from a good feed store with fast turn-over or from a health food store. Special pellets formulated for pigeons can be used to supplement the diet, to ensure that your bird has enough vitamins and protein.

Chopped greens like kale, dandelion greens, spinach, or fresh sprouts should be offered each day. Some people offer high beta carotene foods like finely chopped carrot or papaya. As a working breed that may fly long distances, they can also benefit from a higher fat diet than some of the show varieties.

All Racing Homer Pigeons need access to a high quality pigeon grit to help them digest the tough, uncooked grains they like to eat. A cuttlebone or another calcium source is also valuable. However, calcium may not be properly absorbed without sufficient vitamin D3 if your pigeon is an indoor pet. Therefore, it is important to choose a good avian supplement that includes D3.

Written by Elaine Radford

wonderful

peaceful nature, adreneline rush, absolutely fantastic hobby, training, local racing pigeon

challenging

skittish homers

interesting

World War, Dove release service, Performance Pigeons, different color variation

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