‘They’re a poor man’s race horse’: Pigeon racing flies high in popularity on Vancouver Island

'They're a poor man's race horse': Pigeon racing flies high in popularity on Vancouver Island

Covered in peach fuzz and with feathers just beginning to poke through Monday, Bill Merriman’s newest pigeon chicks hardly looked like the fierce flyers he knows they could one day be.

“This is the exciting part where you get to learn what colour they’ll be,” Merriman told CHEK News at his Cedar property on Monday. “They’re a poor man’s racehorse, you know you gotta look after them.”

Out of his racing loft south of Nanaimo the lifelong pigeon enthusiast is gearing up with other pigeon aficionados from the Mid-Island Racing Pigeon Association for the start of Vancouver Island’s race season this coming Saturday.

“It’s just like racing horses. Open the gates, and away they run,” said Chemainus resident and pigeon racer Doug Chadwick. “I’ve been doing this for 60 years and I still get all excited.”

Each bird is tagged to keep track of time, and for the first time, this year the Mid-Island Racing Pigeon Association has GPS trackers on their birds, who fly home to a scanner that records how quickly they got there.

“And its like a scanner in a grocery store, they walk over it and it gives you the bird number, hour, minute and second,” said Duncan resident and pigeon racer Jeff Mawbery.

According to Mawbery, racing pigeons can fly at speeds of 100 kilometres an hour and can cover hundreds of kilometres in a day.

“It’s an incredible, I was gonna say hobby but I think it’s more of a lifestyle,” said Spider Lake resident and pigeon enthusiast Andy Loudon.

The Mid-Island Racing Pigeon Association is the oldest one of its kind in Canada.

“It goes back to the coal miners, that was their big hobby, in their spare time in Nanaimo, and started in 1898,” said Chadwick.

According to Merriman, he has a soft spot for his retired racing pigeons, so keeps them for life. Because he tells CHEK News he loves racing but loves his birds even more.

“Most people that I know, that race pigeons they take better care of their pigeons than their house,” said Merriman. “And now it’s time to sit, they’ve earned it.”

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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