Family raises ‘race horses’ of the sky

Sunday, July 20th 2008, 10:59 pm
By: News 9

By Christian Price, INsite Team

Some people race cars. Others race boats, but for thousands of people around the world, nothing compares to pigeon racing.

Just like prized race horses, pigeons are bred, raised and trained by owners who think of the birds as part of their own family.

George Hendrickson is a pigeon racer who lives in the Oklahoma City area metro. He has been raising and racing pigeons for 22 years. For him, the anticipation of the pigeon's arrival back home is the best part of a race.

"You're sitting here in the backyard, and you see this little spec that just keeps coming and coming," Hendrickson said. "After you've done it for a number of years, you just soon learn that that birds on a line to you, it's not a wild bird."

The birds are raised in such a way, that they acclimate themselves with the first thing they see when they fly for the first time.

"Mother nature's instilled something, a homing device in them, just like your wild geese and ducks, in your migratory birds," Hendrickson said. "They go right back to that same pond that they were hatched at the year before."

Pigeons are fitted with little plastic bands around their ankles. The bands have microchips that identify each individual bird. Every race participant checks their birds in at a specific time and all the birds are then transported together to the launch point. They are all released at once. Every racer has a digital clock that reads the bands and logs the bird's arrival time. The racer with the fastest bird home wins.

"From a 100 miles out, to 600 miles we fly," Hendrickson said. "When you know that birds been any of those distances and here he comes in, he's like a little fighter jet landing on that landing board to get in. It's a thrill."

Hendrickson's four year old granddaughter Briley already has her own pigeon. She says her favorite thing to do is watching the pigeons fly.

Hendrickson says racing pigeon's can be enjoyed by the entire family. According to him, Oklahoma has great racing clubs beginners can join and learn from.

"If you're in a area where there's good clubs, good solid people, there's always somebody in the clubs that are willing to help new people get started and give them good pigeons," Hendrickson said.

For more information on pigeons or pigeon racing, log on to the American Racing Pigeon Union's Web site at .