Manukau Courier : January 27th 2011
6 MANUKAU COURIER, JANUARY 27, 2011 NEWS Register now! Phone 373 1706 Always wanted to play tennis? You can learn in no time with Easi Tennis for adults. Enjoy tennis in 6 easy steps over 3 weeks commencing 8th February at Manukau Tennis Centre, Te Irirangi Drive, Manukau Only $95 for six 1½ hour lessons *Certifed coaches Athletes of the sky High flyers: Pigeons in action above Tony Thum's Mellons Bay home. Photos: JASON DORDAY Passion for pigeons: Pigeon enthusiast Dave Brough has been racing pigeons for 40 years. Next generation, above: Dave Brough cradles a five-day- old pigeon. Spreading their wings, right: Tony Thum lets his pigeons out of the loft for their daily exercise. It's a sport that is thought to date back as far as 220AD but these days pigeon racing often slips under the radar. Not so for a group of Auckland enthusiasts. Reporter Amy McGillivray delves into the world of pigeon racing to find out what the sport is all about. There are races for almost every animal imaginable: Ostriches, cows, crabs, snails, wiener dogs -- you name it.So it shouldn't have come as a surprise to find there is still a very active pigeon racing com- munity in Auckland -- but it did. When I stumbled across the Auckland Racing Pigeon Feder- ation website I imagined birds waddling along a track towards a finish line before my brain kicked in and stories of homing pigeons deliver- ing mail sprung to mind. To most they are the rats of the sky but to enthusiast Tony Thum, 61, they are the athletes of the sky''. Mr Thum is relatively new to the sport, having only kept pigeons for the last five years. I had pigeons when I was very young but never raced them. But I've always been inter- ested in birds and wanted to have an aviary with parrots and stuff,'' he says. The Mellons Bay resi- dent discovered his passion for the sport when he found himself watching a friend's pigeons come home after a race. They were just coming home from Wel- lington and that sort of impressed me. The way they came home just like little missiles on to the landing deck.'' And watching them come home is still just as exciting. I get a big kick out of the time they arrive from a race -- when they turn up and still look as fresh and fit as the day you put them in. The first bird home often looks the freshest.'' With breeding stock, young birds, hens and cocks combined, Mr Thum can have up to 60 pigeons in the loft at the back of his property. A lot of work and strategy goes into breed- ing and training the creatures for racing. He carefully selects his breeders and experi- ments with the pairings in order to produce the best possible racing pigeons. Then begins the train- ing. The birds are let out of the loft once a day to explore the area and get some exercise. Initially the young birds stay close to home but by the time they are about two months old they are venturing further afield with their older counterparts. They'll just take off and you won't see them again for an hour. God knows where they go,'' Mr Thum says. The young pigeons' first big adventure comes at four or five months when he takes them to the back of Howick and releases them to find their way home. From there they are slowly taken further away for training runs -- Manukau, then Papa- kura, Bombay and Ham- ilton. But racing birds well is not as simple as loading them on to a truck and sending them to the starting point. Federation secretary and treasurer Fred Van Lier, 58, says there are many different ways to fly pigeons but one thing remains the same. The motivation to comebackisalottodo with the way pigeons fly,'' he says. A popular technique is the widowhood method. The cocks and hens are separated, but still able to see each other, before the cocks are sent to the race. It is the desire to be with their partner that drives the birds to get home as fast as possible. It's all sex driven,'' Mr Van Lier says. Another method is to fly birds who are nesting. If there are eggs or young chicks in the nest both parents have extra motivation to get home quickly. Pigeon racing veteran of 40 years Dave Brough, 65, prefers the latter method. This relies heavily on the timing with which the breeder allows the birds to nest. I just race on a more natural system so they're coming home to hens on eggs,'' he says. I like racing hens. The hens race best when they are sitting on eggs 10 days old.'' In good conditions the creatures can move fast, reaching a top speed of about 120kmh. Last year's race from Invercargill saw the win- ning bird make the 1290km journey in 15 hours -- an average speed of 86kmh. Mr Thum says he has great respect for the birds and how they navi- gate back to their loft. They go head over heels just to come home.'' But he has stopped short of naming his pigeons -- although he has been tempted. You get attached to them. You know the birds by now, especially the ones who race and fly well on a regular basis. They're fun to have and they've all got a bit of character to them. Some are closer to you than others, some are shier than others.'' Mr Van Lier has been racing pigeons for 14 years and agrees the birds are not quite pets. It's different to pets. We all have a major love affair with the pigeons but not so much with particular pigeons,'' he says. The members' love of the sport is clear through their dedication to rais- ing and training the birds. It may be that commit- ment which explains the lack of young blood in the clubs. It's a pity it's a dying sport. Young kids don't want to be tied up with this sort of thing,'' Mr Brough says. As an observer, pigeon racing still strikes me as unusual but, then again, the same could be said of encouraging dogs to chase a mechanical rab- bit around a track. I was half expecting to be talking to a bunch of crazy cat lady types but what I got instead was men who are passionate about their hobby. Keeping birds has never really been my thing. The novelty of having a cockatiel wore off after a few weeks as did Mum's tolerance for the mess -- there were no objections when a family friend offered to adopt him. So that rules pigeon racing out for me. Maybe I could try my hand at hamster racing instead. Go to www.eastandbays courier.co.nz to see more great photos. Pigeon racing -- in a nutshell The basic idea of pigeon racing is not complicated -- the birds are taken to a start point and sent on their way. But there is more to it than that. Basketing evenings are held at the Auck- land Racing Pigeon Federation's Michael Park clubrooms before a weekend race. Each bird that is to fly is registered, scanned, put into baskets and loaded on to the truck for the drive to the starting point. Races range in distance from the 130km journey from Pirongia in the King Country to the 1290km flight back from Invercargill. But the end point of the race differs because each bird returns to its own loft, meaning the winner is determined based on velocity rather than simply the time the bird arrives home.
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