A Dying Breed

Watch Video View Slideshow

AKRON – Pat Quilter can place himself in a group with the Queen of England, Charles Darwin and Walt Disney.

Quilter is one of the Greater Akron Racers, an organization for people who raise and race pigeons. What started as a childhood fascination has morphed into a competitive hobby for Quilter and his 94 pigeons.

“Like any animal, what attracts someone to dogs or cats, pigeons are the same way, except I happen to think pigeons are a lot smarter.”

“They’re just amazing animals,” says Quilter, 59, an engineer for General Electric. “You can take them to Pittsburgh and let them go in the morning and they’ll be back that day.”

Like Quilter, GAR member Jim Bedell discovered pigeons as a kid. When he was nine years old, his uncle, a Roman Catholic priest, became friends with a man who lived behind his parish and raised pigeons. It became a hobby for Bedell and his uncle to do together. After they won their first pigeon race in 1956, he was hooked.

“(It was) interesting to watch them fly, and it was also something my uncle was very keen on,” Bedell says. “It just seemed like a natural thing to do.” Today he owns 300 pigeons.

“Like any animal, what attracts someone to dogs or cats, pigeons are the same way, except I happen to think pigeons are a lot smarter,”

As Quilter knows, it isn’t easy explaining pigeon racing to people. Usually he’s greeted by a lot of strange looks. Most people consider pigeons those birds in the park that eat stale bread crumbs. But for pigeon racers, it’s about the love of the bird. Quilter even jokes he treats his birds better than he treats his kids.

As a kid, Bedell was one of the youngest people in his homing pigeon club, but today at 65, he’s one of the oldest. With just 43 members, many of them at or nearing retirement age, GAR must face the challenge of recruiting new and younger people.

Pigeon racing started in the early 1800s in Belgium. Today, Belgians are considered the world leaders of pigeon racing. Disney was famous for his “white” pigeons. His lofts are still maintained at Disneyland, and the birds are still displayed. Darwin used his birds to develop his “Theory of Domestication.” The Queen of England still has the royal lofts for her pigeons. In the United States, however, interest in pigeon racing has waned.

“It’s always calming to listen to pigeons coo instead of phones ringing for 10 hours during the night.”

“It’s sort of a dying sport because kids have so many more things they can do now days,” Quilter says. “Years ago, they used to have 300 lofts (i.e. pigeon houses) in Akron alone and ship thousands of birds in Akron alone on the railway. That’s the way it was in most cities.”

“It’s always calming to listen to pigeons coo instead of phones ringing for 10 hours during the night,” he says.

Quilter also says money, time and interest play a role in people’s decision to raise pigeons. Bedell says some pigeons cost $500-$1,000 and are just used for breeding. The most expensive bird he’s seen cost $265,000. That isn’t counting the cost of medication, food and lofts.

Bedell knows how difficult it is to pique kids interest in pigeon racing. When his three daughters were young, they were happy to help their dad train his birds as long as they could stop at McDonald’s on the way home. Now, with four grandkids, Bedell isn’t holding out hope for some future pigeon racers in his family. He does try to buy a bird of a different color each year to keep their interest.

With another racing season approaching, Bedell doesn’t know how much longer he’ll continue to raise pigeons, but he will always have pigeons. After a day of running his own business, Bedell likes to come home to his birds.

“It’s always calming to listen to pigeons coo instead of phones ringing for 10 hours during the night,” he says.

That’s what will last. The feeling Quilter and Bedell get when they see their pigeons flying home. Pigeon racing may be on the decline, but their love for the bird is constant.

“It’s not growing, but there will always be a few people that just love the bird,” Quilter says. “It may be a smaller group. It may only be a dozen.” He pauses for a moment. “I hope not.”

-- Brittany Moseley is a journalism student at Kent State University. She is also a freelance writer for clevescene.com <http://clevescene.com> .
“Stories that Fly did exactly what journalism is supposed to do: It opened my eyes to new people, new hobbies and new experiences.” 

Tags:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Grass roots. Blue sky. The best digital stories in general aviation.