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Bird in the hand: Raisers of racing pigeons flock to Henrietta

By Matt Kelton
Pioneer Sentinel

Racing pigeon enthusiasts from all over North and West Texas gathered in Henrietta Saturday, Jan. 7, to prove their birds as the best in the area. The Wichita Falls Racing Pigeon Club hosted the show at Jeff Fitts’ Barn on Spur 510.

Dick Briggs of Holliday, a member of the Wichita Falls area club in charge of Saturday’s show, said 39 participants had entered, traveling from as far away as Amarillo and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The Wichita Falls club has 15 pigeon lofts, and includes members in Seymour, Holliday and Burkburnett. Bobby Alexander, a member from Henrietta, secured the location of the show. Briggs said the club chose Fitts’ Barn, often used for private gatherings, because “it is one of the nicest facilities for the price” and for the location.

Racing pigeons are judged in three divisions based on a bird’s experience, as well as in a special division called “eye sign”.

Each division is divided into classes by the sex and age of the bird. Diploma classes, for birds that have competed in races, and Flown classes, for birds that have completed a course but may not have raced, are divided by distances ranging from 100-200 mile courses to courses of 500-plus miles. Age and breed divide the third division, for un-flown birds.

The eye sign classes are also divided by age. Eye sign is a theory among pigeon raisers that a bird’s health can be determined by inspecting its eyes.

Like many, show participant Don Wood of Denton uses eye signs to choose pigeons for his loft. It’s a system he learned from his mentor. Wood uses a jeweler’s loupe to study the eye. He looks for clues to the ability of the bird through the shape of the pupil, make-up of the iris and strength of the eye muscles.

Louie Cargiulo of Cedar Hill also adds an extra element to the inspection of birds, especially when purchasing pigeons. Cargiulo opens a bird’s beak and its mouth and throat. He’s looking for “four or five” different things. He did not go into detail about what those things are.

Judges in a racing pigeon are looking for a number of common traits among the breeds, traits that allow the bird to perform or reproduce better.

David Hale of Wichita Falls, one of two judges at Saturday’s event, demonstrated what makes a good pigeon. Hale said a pigeon should have balance, which is determined by how it lays in his hands. Its muscle should be soft and supple. The “flaps” of feathers on the wings should lay in a way that gives the least amount of wind resistance and the last three feathers on each wing should be evenly spaced to provide ventilation.

Hale also looks at the bird’s stance while standing. He notes any deficiencies that would cause the bird’s flight to suffer, such as “ribboning”, or wavy edges, of the feathers.

Racing pigeons in flight average speeds of about 45 miles per hour over medium distances, but can reach even faster speeds in short range situations.


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The Pioneer Sentinel is an online newspaper designed to deliver the news of Clay County, Texas, in a concise and community-friendly format.

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