Is Pigeon Racing A Sport, Or Animal Cruelty?


Tom Strato
Tom Strato, from Staten Island, N.Y., releasing a racing homer pigeon in his backyard. (Photo by Benedict Moran/CNS)

Tom Strato, a 39-year veteran of the New York City Police Department, walked into his backyard pigeon coop on Staten Island, N.Y., and reached for a white racing homer tagged RBC-548.  A relative of the pigeon had brought him second place at a competition last year.  He held it tight to prevent it from flying off, and the bird nuzzled his chest.

He wiped his thumb on the loft’s wall and collected a layer of “pigeon powder,” a white sediment that is released from the birds’ wings and shows they are healthy, he said.  Strato reached down and dragged his hand through a bucket of dried corn pellets, grains, Canadian peas and flax seed — the pricey meal he feeds his 70-plus pigeons every day.

The sport “gives you enormous responsibility,” Strato said.  While some animal activists say pigeon racing is cruel, he credits it with keeping him out of trouble as a teenager in 1950s Brooklyn.  “For a young kid, it’s the greatest thing,” he said, and released the bird into the air.

Like other pigeon racing enthusiasts across the country, Strato has been on the defensive since the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) began campaigning to prevent the airing of a new reality show featuring pigeons racing, saying the sport is inhumane.  But breeders say such criticism is for the birds – and that racing is a fun sport like any other and can be a valuable educational tool to teach kids such things as responsibility.  Many hope the new show will shed light on the positive aspects of the ancient practice.

Long before pigeon racing became a sport, the birds were a widely used communication tool around the world.  Reuters News Agency, for instance, operated a live telex service using homing pigeons.  They were also extensively used by the European and American military during the World Wars.

The first official pigeon race took place in the United States in the 1880s.  And up until the 1950s, it remained a popular sport, until gradually declining in the face of more modern forms of entertainment.

The sport lives on in races each weekend across the country, with a select but growing group of enthusiasts.  In a typical competition, pigeons compete to be the fastest one to return home from the race start, traveling between 40 to 60 mph, for up to 600 miles.  Most races award a few hundred or thousand dollars, though a top national contest, the Snowbird Classic, will dish out a grand prize of $25,000 for 2010.
Seeking to show the “intensely competitive and bizarrely fascinating world of pigeon racing” and once again bring the tradition into the public eye, Animal Planet will soon begin filming a reality TV show on races in Brooklyn, N.Y.  The show will star none other than boxer Mike Tyson, who is a racer himself.

In response, PETA announced a campaign to prevent the show from airing, saying the sport is cruel to animals because it forces birds to race home to their mates in bad weather and risk being killed by natural predators.  PETA also says the series will encourage a slew of copy-cat racers who are ill-prepared to care for the birds. 
“When pigeons are used in these races, the birds aren’t voluntarily participating in this,” said Lisa Watney, a spokesperson for PETA.  “It’s not a

A pigeon loft in Staten Island, N.Y. (Photo by Benedict Moran/CNS)
A pigeon loft in Staten Island, N.Y. (Photo by Benedict Moran/CNS)

romantic sport — it’s a pastime that costs birds their lives.”

But racers say PETA is wrong, arguing that such misconceptions denigrate a worthy sport.

“There is always an assumption of the negative, like we are doing it just for the money,” said Deone Roberts, sports development manager for the American Racing Pigeon Union, out of Oklahoma City.

Vitamins, food and shelter for the birds can cost thousands of dollars per year, far exceeding most prize money, she said.  So most racers do it for the simple pleasure of breeding and racing the birds.
“The people who do it for a hobby really get off on the birds,” she said.

As proof of its value, Roberts said many schools have incorporated pigeon racing into their educational programs. 
“Kids just relate better to the animal, so it opens up the way for other learning, across the curriculum,” Roberts said.

Such is the philosophy of Ron Shumaker, a seventh-grade teacher in Enterprise, Miss., who uses his birds to teach children in grades four through six.  A racer himself, he received funding from a local power company to introduce racing at six schools in the state.  Students help feed, water and maintain the birds, and not only race them, but also use the animals in classroom activities.

How exactly do the birds help him teach math?

“If the birds were released at 8:15 in the morning, and they arrived at 8:55, then I ask my kids to give me that in yards per minute,” Shumaker said. “Rate is a mathematical formula – it makes no difference how you learn it.”

The same goes for biology.

And then there’s history.

One lesson involved the tale of a plucky pigeon called Cher Ami.  Ami saved the lives of more than 200 soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 77th Division after it had fallen behind enemy lines and was being accidentally bombed by allied forces in World War I, according to Andrew D. Blechman, the author of “Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird.”  After its death, the bird was stuffed and is displayed at the Smithsonian Institute.

As to the effect the Animal Planet show might have on pigeon racing, many racers are optimistic.

“It will really show how much fanciers love their birds, and it will show the depth of the sport and hobby,” said Chris Ferrante, who runs a pigeon racing Web site out of Brooklyn.  “There is no promotion like a prime-time show.”

Source: Columbia News Service / Author Benedict Moran

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37 thoughts on “Is Pigeon Racing A Sport, Or Animal Cruelty?

  1. PETA needs to focus on slaughter houses and unlicensed hunters for animal cruelty and leave this sport alone. There has to be a campaign from pigeon fanciers to show how raising pigeons have been very theraputic in nursing homes, prison wards, mental institutions and special schools. Unfortunately, the hatred of urbanites towards feral pigeons that crap all over the buildings and highrises has spread to other domestic varieties kept in lofts with a lot of care and love.

  2. A Wolf in Sheep’s clothing
    Since 1998 PETA has killed more than 17,000 animals, nearly 85 percent of all those it has rescued

    Pigeon fanciers adore their birds.. and once you have released a bird it is free.. It itself decides on whether it wishes to return home.. not the owner.. it decides how it will fly.. if it doesn’t want to return it will find a home elsewhere or mother nature will control its fate as she has done for millions of years with similar birds.. A pigeon fancier will allow the birds to do what they love.. fly and give them safe shelter..

  3. Since I have been interested in getting back into this Hobby again (i used too raise Rollers and Tumblers and some Fancy pigeons when I was a kid and teenager)

    I have been doing lots of research on trying my hand at raising and Racing Homing Pigeons this time. What I keep hearing is that guys who race pigeons, a lot of them when they speak of “Culling” from the crate, is lot of guys Kill the pigeons which do not perform well enough. Now if that is true??? Then yes that is Cruelty without a doubt. No different than Michael Vic killing his dogs because the dogs did not perform to his liking, or killing his dogs in an attempt to impress his friends by very brutal and Horrific ways.

    I believe that often times Animals are similar to humans when it comes to performance, some humans mature faster and grow faster than others of the same age. I believe just because a bird is breed from 2 super bird parents, and that bird is not fast as a one year old, does not mean that bird will not became an Amazing Superbird at either 2 or 3 years old.

    I bet a LOT of Amazing birds have been killed as 1 year olds, because they just simply did not mature as fast as other 1 year olds. I know back when i had rollers very often I would have a young bird breed from GREAT rolling parents, but that young bird would not Roll worth a crap for the first few years of its life, but then suddenly end up being the best roller of my kit. Also I had some Rollers which rolled great at a young age, but then a few years later would only do a couple tumbles at most.

    I personally believe Racing Homers are no different, if given the time and chance to mature, or for that bird to one day “click” and say “Oh I get it” similar to how most humans are also.

  4. Not because you dont like pigeon racing you will say the it is animal cruelty? Do you eat chicken? it is animal cruelty to eat chicken or pig or cow? WTF!

  5. Regarding the link Amanda posted. Is it legal for people to hunt pigeons with bands on their legs? Also, do people actually eat Pigeons, which they shoot? I have heard of people eating Squabs (very young pigeons only a few weeks old) but do people really eat full grown racing pigeons? My personal opinion on people who hunt for fun, is they suck. I would only kill any type of animal if I am out in the wilderness and totally starving for something to eat.

    I hope I do not have friends who kill animals for pure fun pleasure and entertainment, or to impress others. If I do, I will cut them loose as friends.

    I do think sometimes PETA takes things way too far, like in this article.

    This is an evil world we live in sometimes.

    1. I’m not sure why things other people do or don’t do way your own decision about racing pigeons do it yourself maybe then you can voice a more realistic decision there is good &
      bad in all sports & life but don’t ruin the sport or pigeons for it. I have a question for anybody against the sport what happens to the homing pigeon if the sport is gone & strict laws are put on having them. my opinion on this matter is you have to be mentally insane to believe racing pigeons is cruel & for most fanciers that do cull there birds its for the safety & best interest of the flock there is no pleasure in doing it so don’t judge what you don’t no.

  6. I believe that pigeon racing is the bomb. I personally had a mental breakdown 3 years ago and my husband got me involved in raising pigeon babies and watching them grow, the responsibility of feeding them, keeping them healthy, and racing them. He got me interested in what the different breeds meant and how far they flew and etc. I helped my husband build our loft and put the shelves and the traps on our loft for the birds to come in after they are loft flying. I clean our loft, feed our birds, give them their medicines, and bathe them. My husband keeps the feeds supplied for me as well as the different medications to give to them and he helps me find places to take them to train. Where does PETA get off on saying that this is animal cruelty? I don’t understand. I think they are jealous cuz they ain’t flyin pigeons and just want something else to B*&^H about. What PETA needs to be paying attention to is the people who murder our birds and lay them out and stand back and laugh about it. The website to check this out is as follows: http://www.soarnomore.com/ Now, PETA if you want to B*&^H about something, go and B&*(h about this. I think you need to be sticking ya noses in these peoples business where it needs to be and not in our racing lofts. If you watch this and it don’t touch you as a pigeon racer/flyer, then you really are not in the sport for the fun of it. This hurts me so bad and I have only been in it for 3 years. Come on guys, we as pigeon racers need to be stepping up and stopping stuff like this. I want to really see and/or hear about the input other pigeon racers have to say about this.

    1. Very weak argument: animals put on the earth to serve us? And we were put on the earth to dominate some animals? The Pigeon Sport needs better arguments

  7. I do not know about the facts and thoughts of PETA but personally, being a pigeon fancier myself, I think pigeon “racing” is not that a good thing. Of course one can start telling about horse racing, beef cows, etc., etc. I understand the effort, affection and care involved in this sport and never will degrade those, yet for me the least preferred part of pigeon hobby is “racing”, compared to showing, thieving, tumbling, rolling and hi-flying.

    1. Sreesh If that’s the way you feel then maybe you don’t need to be dealing with pigeons and leave pigeons to people who really and truly enjoy the sport. Maybe you need to be going into farming cows, chickens, and pigs.

    2. you got to be kidding.How can any person who enjoys pigeons make such comments.If you really understood anything about pigeons in general, you would not have put those remarks on this site.people with your lack of knowledge we don’t need supporting our sport.maybe you should raise cows or sheep.

    3. not sure what to think im not against horse racing , dog racing , or any other animal pleasures if that is what its bred to do in order to win it has to be treated humanely to win it has to be in very good health an happy what happens to the animal when its no longer needed it goes exstinct you cant catch just any pigeon train it & race it. It wont come home
      try it take a race horse same way the point is some people are cruel & no matter what laws are passed those people will always be cruel the only thing that changes is the majority of people have been punished & the animals loose there purpose. If you think most people don’t treat there birds humanely get on you tube at the racing lofts & people nicer lofts then most homes birds look great but peta don’t show that & never will im sure they will have something negative to say about that

  8. PETA is unaware of pigeon racing. My family is united with Pigeon Racing . Imagine three Generations in one due to racing. What else can our world desire? Love Love Love Clinton

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