A close-up of Jazmin Zavala’s racing pigeons. She contends that a pigeon is a great pet: “they don’t bite, hurt people” and are cheaper to feed than a dog.
The birds are capable of finding their way home from 300 miles away. They can fly as fast as 45 mph. They have let the pigeons go as far away as Fergus Falls and Wahpeton, and the birds have actually “beaten them home” to Pelican Rapids.

Pelican city may revise ordinance for racing pigeon hobbyists

Birds, of various shapes and sizes, have been an intermittent problem for the city of Pelican Rapids over the past few years.

Specifically the definition of birds as “farm animals” and how the city ordinance relates to backyard fowl.

Two years ago, the retail sale of baby chicks caused a firestorm on social media and in the press. Backyard chickens, for a home egg supply, has also surfaced as an issue–as well as the crowing of roosters at daybreak. Livestock, horses and cattle,  within rural areas of city limits, have also been debated.

An unexpected issue surfaced at the city council meeting Nov. 26: Keeping hobby “racing” pigeons in the back yard. 

A half a dozen individuals and families in Pelican Rapids are involved in the hobby of racing, or “homing” pigeons.  Combined, the various hobbyists have about 60 birds.  

“These aren’t like the pigeons you’re familiar with,” said Jazmin Zavala, who spoke on behalf of fellow pigeon-keepers.  The birds are not for breeding–just sport, she said. A “racing” pigeon can cost hundreds of dollars each.  “These aren’t like wild pigeons that overpopulate the area.”

Zavala keeps about ten, in a small shed and cage set-up, in her back yard, in the middle of a residential area.  She contacted her neighbors–none of whom were offended or concerned about the backyard “pets.”  Because they are “homing” pigeons,” they always return “home.”  Which is the point of a racing pigeon hobby.  When the birds are let out of the cage for brief periods, said Zavala, they tend stay around the premises. When it is time to return to the pen, she calls them in with a whistle. 

So, in a sense, the pigeons are “household” birds–like canaries, parrots or parakeets. These indoor  birds are not prohibited under the ordinance.  

However, other feathered friends like chickens, guinea hens and other outdoor-penned fowl are considered “farm animals.” 

“I think the intent of the ordinance was to allow tweety birds that are in the house,” said Don Solga, city administrator. 

The Zavalas were previously sent letters, informing them of the violation. Those letters, which also notified them of an “administrative penalty” for violating the ordinance, were what prompted the appearance at the Nov. 26 council meeting. 

It truly is a unique situation, acknowledged Solga. The birds are caged; but in the back yard.  And, they don’t tend to escape and roam freely. 

Councilman Kevin Ballard said that there is a pigeon-keeper near his neighborhood; and he has never “smelled, heard or seen them.” 

City officials are cautious about another public dispute over the so-called “farm animal ordinance.” So they took a  “go slow” approach. 

Rather than cite the families for an ordinance violation and penalty, Councilman Steve Foster made a motion to suspend the matter, while the council takes some time to look at the matter–and also check ordinances in other cities. 

The motion passed unanimously. 

Heroic birds of service: Messenger pigeons are not only a hobby, but have also aided armed forces in times of war

Pigeons are not only a hobby, but have had a military application.  

The Oklahoma-headquartered  American Racing Pigeon Union has approximately 700 affiliated clubs around the country. Members are dedicated to the unique hobby . 

Historically, pigeons have also served in time of war.  In World War I, the U.S. and Allied forces had some 320,000 pigeons serving as messengers.  In World War II, there were 54,000 pigeons serving the U.S. alone.  Hundreds of thousands of  messages were delivered by military birds, and the famous pigeon “GI Joe” was awarded a badge of courage.  

These birds are very different, from what the public thinks of as a “pigeon.” The registered Homing Pigeon is considered an athlete.

Races range in distance from 100 miles to 600 miles, with 300 miles being among the most popular distances.

In the 1860s, homing pigeons were imported from Europe. By 1872 the first club was formed to conduct races, but most fanciers flew pigeons individually or in challenge matches. The largest concentration of fanciers was in Philadelphia where in 1880, the Red Star Club held the first race in 1881.