Racing pigeon club homes in on new members

The Merritt-Nicola Valley Racing Pigeon Club is anxious to spread the joys of keeping pigeons, says one of its founding members and a lifelong racing enthusiast.

In the sport of pigeon racing-enjoyed by many in the Nicola Valley-racers release the birds far from home and compete to see whose pigeons return first.

"We'll help anybody to get started. They don't have to be old to win," says Keith Hume, a longtime Lower Nicola resident and the club's president.

"We'll get 'em birds and everything. It won't even cost them anything for the birds. I never got into this sport to make money."

Although the club has only been active since 2008, many of its members were previously part of other pigeon racing clubs in B.C.

The racing season begins in May and ends in September. During that time, pigeon racers from various clubs take their pigeons to meets in towns around the province every Saturday, explains Neil Caine, part of the Merritt club.
Competition is regulated nationally by the Canadian Racing Pigeon Union.

Caine is the national group's B.C. liaison as well.

The birds are then released and fly home. The race results are calculated by dividing the distance flown by the amount of time from the birds' release to their return. Higher rates of travel indicate better results.

The club has entered birds in races in towns that are hundreds of kilometres away, such as Prince George, Quesnel, and Williams Lake. Pigeons, famous for their homing instinct, usually fly back to their lofts within a day. Racers train their birds by taking them progressively farther from home and releasing them.

"They just love home," says Hume. "Why else would they fly 500 miles just to get home?" However, the birds may fall victim to hazards in flight.

"You never know what's going to happen to 'em. They might hit a wire or a tree or get shot," says Hume.

He adds that the pigeons are very hardy and require only a very basic setup to keep. "They'd come home to an apple box on the side of a house."

Hume himself has kept pigeons since his boyhood in northern Alberta. He recalls raising birds in unheated lofts with temperatures of -50 Celsius.

He estimates that he now keeps 500 birds or more, bred for racing as well as show, including the white "doves" that appear at Remembrance Day ceremonies in Merritt and Lower Nicola.

There are currently about a dozen racers in the Merritt-Nicola Valley Racing Club, ranging in age from 10 up to 69, Hume's age.

"It's not as well known in this country but it's the national sport of Belgium," Caine notes.

"There's not a place in the world that doesn't have racing pigeons."

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