This spring a new 4-H project is being offered in Sheridan County. . . Pigeons. Thanks to pigeon enthusiast, Bruce Gordon of Rushville, 4-H’ers have the opportunity to learn how to care for, breed and raise pigeons. And while many people’s first reaction is negative, (thinking of the mess they cause in the barn) Bruce’s pigeon are not your garden variety. Bruce raises Birmingham Roller Pigeons. These pigeons originated in Birmingham, England and have become quite popular with over 10,000 breeders worldwide. The domesticated pigeons are bred for a unique flight feature, the roll or backward somersault. While the reason for this strange flight habit is still unknown, the birds seem to enjoy the thrill of rolling and often perform their acrobatics in unison. This is what makes them great for competition.
The rolling can be so fast that the bird looks like a ball of feathers falling toward the ground. As they recover from the roll, they return to their flock, called a “kit”. In competition, the pigeons continue to do the same acrobatics with regular frequency, often in unison with other birds in the kit. The frequency, depth, style, tightness of roll, and angle are all determined by careful breeding. The flight time, height of flight, and responsiveness to the trainer’s commands are all determined by strict training and diet, along with consistent daily routine. Kits score points during the competition flight based on their performance in these areas. While the birds are domesticated, they are not necessarily tame. Kits can be trained to respond to commands from the owner, however most are trained to return for food. The birds must be worked with on a consistent basis to become familiar with the owner, the other birds in the kit, their location and the daily routine. For two months before each competition, Bruce flies his kits for 1.5 to 2 hours every day.
Flight competitions for these amazing fliers are different from most animal shows. Instead of loading up birds and traveling the world, the judge comes to you. During the training periods, the birds learn their territory. They know where to fly safely and where to return. This sense of location makes it unfeasible for kits to travel to competitions, birds could be injured or simply become lost. These dangers are something all owners have to watch out for, especially with new birds. Other dangers include hawks and “hot” rollers, where the birds get so involved with rolling that they fall too low and crash. With top performing birds ranging in price from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars, breeders try their hardest to keep their birds safe and healthy.
Bruce hopes to share his passion and help promote knowledge of the Birminghams by working with interested 4-H members. His goal to is to add one or two new fanciers each year. Youth starting in the project this spring will be able to bring a pair to county fair for judging and should be ready to fly their kit for a September competition. On, Saturday, February 23, Bruce gave a tour of his pigeon loft and showed off one of his kits with a flight demonstration. So far Bruce has helped set up one 4-H’er, Logan Leistritz of Antioch and is hoping to have one more taker this year. Bruce has worked with a fellow breeder from Scottsbluff to provide the interested youth with a starting kit of 6 pairs of pigeons, starter feed and help with constructing a loft.
UNL Extension Assistant, Debra Austin had this to say of the new opportunity, “This is exactly the kind of experience that 4-H is meant to provide, connecting enthusiastic local volunteers who want to share their knowledge with younger generations in a mentoring relationship. As with all animal projects, the 4-H’er will have the opportunity to learn the basic husbandry, but also valuable life skills including responsibility, record keeping, empathy, goal setting and problem solving. I am thrilled that Logan is willing to try out this new project and am very excited to hear about his experience as he progresses.”