Fly away home

With over 200 birds in his aviary, Dr Darryl Mercieca of Minchinbury Dental Care in NSW blames his son for getting him into pigeon racing.

It’s all because of my son that I keep racing pigeons in a huge aviary in my backyard. About eight years ago, my son Nick had a couple of birds and asked me to build a small aviary. His uncle then offered him a couple of pigeons so the aviary needed to be enlarged.

“At that time I had a long-time patient named Trevor with whom I always discussed gardening during his examinations. I mentioned I was building an aviary to house a couple of pigeons and he promised to give me a book on the subject. He returned a couple of hours later with the book and there was a picture of Trevor on the front cover. It turns out he was Trevor Steed, a champion Australian pigeon racer.

“Nick was only nine at the time and he was on the phone to Trevor every day. Eventually Trevor gave him eight racing pigeons to go with the four he already had. Nick tried training them but they were attacked by falcons and hawks every time they flew. After six months he only had three left.

“A few months later Trevor turned up with 150 racing pigeons. He had contacted every pigeon breeder he knew to donate birds to Nick. I started getting involved at this stage. We joined a pigeon club and began racing our pigeons. We now have 220 birds.

“During race season, they are put in special baskets and driven 10 or 20kms away where they are released to find their way home. Those distances increase until they get to 100kms. The first race of the season is 150kms. The last race is 1100kms.

“The pigeons have never been to the drop-off point before and yet they can find their way home. Sometimes all the birds will arrive within 15 minutes of each other. Sometimes there are days between the first and last bird arriving home.

“Nick and I won a 700-kilometre federation race a couple of years ago. Out of 3,000 birds only two made it home on the first day, and ours was an hour in front of the other bird.

“Pigeon racing has been a great opportunity to bond with my son but there’s more to it than that. There’s a sense of mystery about the whole sport. No-one really knows how these 500g birds find their way home from such enormous distances.

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