Winning ‘athletes’ always race for home
Saturday morning’s (Dec. 2) sky was gray over Snelling, the shade matching the feathers on Monty Morrow’s racing pigeons.
A “team” of 20 birds circled above trees whose leaves were reddish brown. They flew as a group, never perching, exercising their wings like the athletes they are.
“This is our young team. They’ve won 6 out of the 12 races this year,” said Morrow. “We’re heading to Georgia today for a race.”
The “young” team members are those birds which hatched between January and May of 2017. “Old” birds are a year older. Their breeds include names like Janssen, De Raul-Sablon and Kannival. Some have almost all gray feathers while others have more patterned markings.
Before they are 10 days old, the birds are banded with plastic leg bands which not only records the year they were hatched, but also hold an electronic chip that relays to a computer system. “You can’t band them after they are 10 days if they are to compete,” said Morrow.
When they are six weeks old, their training begins. “I go about 10 miles for their first training toss,” said Morrow who lives along Seven Pines Road.
Their second run is from the Savannah River Nuclear Laboratory, which is about 16 miles away. Next is a trip to Waynesboro, Ga. which measures about 36 to 38 miles. The fourth training toss is from Louisville, Georgia from a spot about 58 miles from Morrow’s loft.
“These are homing pigeons,” explained Morrow. “They always go home.”
“We lose some to hawks and hunters, but generally most make it back,” he said.
As they enter the loft, each bird steps onto white plastic mat that is actually a computer recording device. The chip in their bands relays information via the system in the mat to a recording computer. The system records the identification of the bird and the exact time it lands on the mat.
During an official race, all the birds are released at the same time. When his birds return, the computer sends the information back to the officials.
The bird that has the fastest speed wins, not necessarily the first to arrive at their home loft. “My loft may be 20 or 30 miles further away than another competitor,” said Morrow.
Last week Morrow’s birds took six of the top speeds in competition that spanned 279 miles for his racers. “The winner travelled about 1,500 yards per minute and the second place recorded just over 1,517 yards per minute. That translates to about 52 miles per hour,” he said.
After the birds ate a bit, he loaded them into two metal travel cages, sorting them according to their color markings. “We have 20 birds here – 10 each for two races,” he said. Morrow was headed to Deering, Georgia where his and the cages of other racing owners will be loaded onto a truck bound for Selma, Alabama. There, all the birds in a particular race will be released between 7:30 and 8 a.m. and start their flights home, wherever home might be.
In their last race, the “team” started arriving in about five hours and 28 minutes.
Morrow, a member of the Georgia-Carolina Racing Pigeon Club, said there are about 14 races a year, many with two to a weekend. The older birds race from about mid-March to the first of May while the younger birds race between mid-October to the first of December. Saturday’s race was the last for the 2017 season.
While the races can be put off for bad weather, a mild rain doesn’t deter Morrow’s birds. “I push them a little hard in their training,” said Morrow. “They are a little tougher.”
He got his first pair of birds in 1967 when he was about age 14 as a gift from his father. He got out of the hobby when he moved to Barnwell County to work at the Savannah River Site. Retiring after 25 years at the Site, Morrow realized he missed racing pigeons and decided to get back into it. “It took me a while to get my flock,” he said. “It’s not an inexpensive hobby.”
In general, young birds, depending on their blood line, can cost between $20 and $200 each. Some pedigrees can bring upwards to $30,000 for a bird, said Morrow. That doesn’t include the lofts, feed, health-related costs and the computer tracking system, much less the daily time involved.
Not only does Morrow have his team of 20 racers, he also has 16 cocks and 26 hens to breed new racers and sell to other enthusiasts. Additionally, there are guinea hens and chickens in the yard to help keep the area clean. “They also are my alarm system if there is a snake in the area,” said Morrow.
Morrow says he has found comradeship and fun in pigeon racing. His friend and “sidekick” Bob White often helps Morrow work with the birds and feeds them when Morrow and his wife Nancy are away. Club members share information and tips.
“I want more people in this area to be aware of pigeon racing,” said Morrow, and is willing to talk to individuals and groups about his hobby. Anyone interested can contact him by phone at (803) 671-2891 or by email at email@example.com. Information on the sport and specific races can be found online at www.racingpigeonmall.com.