Joshua Jaffa has a beautiful, lyrical story in the New York Times about the declining sport of homing pigeon racing. The sport has a long and honorable history, and you can really sense the incredible, magnificent obsessions of the players in the article.
New York's pigeon clubs, loosely organized by geography and custom, are a cross between an urban sportsman's lodge and a time capsule of immigrant, working-class New York. Even as recently as a generation back, fleets of racing pigeons swirled above New York like pulsing gray clouds, but the numbers of racers and birds have thinned, with not enough new fliers to replace the old.
Yet the dynamics of a pigeon race have remained mostly the same. The birds are trucked to a central "liberation point" anywhere from 100 to 500 miles from the city, where they are released so they can fly home. The birds' owners sit waiting by the coops on their rooftops, or in their backyards. Most birds return within several hours, but some take days or even months. Others never come back…
Pigeon fliers, whose flocks usually number 40 to 80 birds, do indeed treat the birds like fine automobiles, feeding them a careful tonic of antibiotics and vitamins, and birdseed blends with names like Tipple Mix and Vinny's Candy. Steroids are forbidden, and there is random drug testing at many larger races. A champion pigeon can fetch several thousand dollars at auction, with the hope that it will breed future generations of winners.
"It's like having your own sports team," said one Viola club flier. "And you're the owner, the trainer, the doctor."
(Photo: Downsized, cropped thumbnail from a NYT photo credited to Jeff Swensen)