Bald Eagles

‘Thoroughbreds of the Sky’ Take Flight After Ontario Homing Pigeon Ban is Lifted

'Thoroughbreds of the Sky' Take Flight After Ontario Homing Pigeon Ban is Lifted

Pigeon racing is back in Ontario after a province-wide lockdown to prevent birds from contracting the highly contagious avian flu.

The season, which typically runs from May to September, was delayed after the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) issued orders in April and May limiting the “mixture of birds from different places”.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said that as of early May, around 1.9 million birds – commercial and small flocks – had died from bird flu. [HPAI] across the country, including the Ontario cities of Guelph, Cambridge and Woodstock.

The ban was officially lifted on May 20, good news for racers like 11-year-old Charlotte Cassell from Toronto, whose pigeons Lucifer and Tyler finished second and third respectively in a weekend race opening.

“The most amazing experience”

The Canadian Racing Pigeon Union has about 800 members across Canada, with Ontario clubs like Acton, Chatham, Dufferin, Guelph, St. Thomas, London, Drumbo, Woodstock and Cambridge.

Charlotte’s interest in racing began at the age of nine after a pigeon her father owned found its way home after a 12-year absence.

In the first competition of this season, Lucifer covered 218 kilometers from Dunchurch to Charlotte’s home in Toronto in two hours and 20 minutes.

“It’s the most amazing experience. You could see birds circling. I’ll be honest, I was freaking out a bit,” she told CBC News.

Toronto’s Charlotte Cassell, shown with her pigeons, has been interested in bird racing since the age of nine, after a pigeon her father owned arrived at their home 12 years later. (Submitted by Delano Cassell)

Birds are equipped with a computer chip on a leg that tracks their flight. Once they enter the safety of their loft or “trap”, the birds pass through an electrical terminal and the information is recorded.

Charlotte is part of the North Wing Club and competes under the Born to Fly banner. The races in which it participates take place in the north-south direction. Other clubs fly from east to west.

The clubs run every weekend – depending on the weather – and every weekend the distance gets longer. The pigeons are loaded into bird baskets on Friday evenings at the respective clubs and driven to the destinations where they will be released.

On Saturday morning the birds are released and the race begins as their owners wait from home and watch them return to their lofts.

Pigeons have a natural instinct and are trained to know where their home is from an early age.

Training begins with the birds free-flying over the owner’s property as they gain strength in their wings. As the training progresses, the pigeons are released further from their home base, starting at one kilometer, with the distance increasing until they enter competition.

Pigeons have “their own personality”

Keith Woods of Guelph has been racing pigeons on and off since he was 12 years old. Now retired, Woods trains and breeds pigeons at his property, which he calls Dream Chaser Lofts, and is owned by the Wellington Waterloo Racing Pigeon Club.

Keith Woods of Guelph, Ont., is holding a young carrier pigeon that will be ready to race later this summer. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

He has been busy training his pigeons for the first two races in Peterborough and Manchester, just north of Oshawa.

“They’re thoroughbreds from heaven, they’re like feathered racehorses, basically,” Woods said.

“They are amazing little feathered friends, and each has their own personality in terms of disposition and how they react to their trainer or loft. I play with the birds when they are young. I feed them my hand. They learn to trust me.

Each season, he said, they start with more experienced birds while the next generation is hatched and trained.

“Normally from the first weekend in May until the middle of July we race old pigeons. And that’s any pigeon that’s a year old or older,” Woods said.

“There’s usually a two-week break, then the first weekend in August the young bird races start,” he said.

This continues until the end of September, when “they are back in maintenance mode”, which means raising the next generation of racing pigeons.

Woods said he’s happy to be racing again and hopes the rest of the season goes without incident.

The Morning Edition – KW9:41Pigeon racing is back in Ontario

Pigeon racing is back in Ontario after a province-wide lockdown to prevent birds from contracting the highly contagious avian flu. The ban was officially lifted on May 20, which is good news for runners like 11-year-old Keith Woods and Charlotte Cassell.