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Frazier senior adopts a rather unique hobby

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Frazier High School senior Jaime Fell is raising 30 pigeons with an eye toward racing them in the future.

During a random and casual perusal of the Internet last summer, Frazier senior Jaime Fell literally fell into a most unique hobby, one, according to longstanding experts, that includes enthusiasts who are a vanishing breed.

In an interesting twist, Fell, 18, is actually following a similar route his father, David, took when he was his son's age. When Fell inadvertently discovered Internet articles related to raising and racing pigeons, little did he know his father held the same interest in his younger days.

It was a topic that simply never coming up at the dinner table or during family get-togethers, Fell chuckled. “But when I told my dad I was researching racing pigeons and that it seemed like something interesting, he laughed and told me about his pigeons when he was my age. It caught my interest, and he became involved again with me. We built an enclosed pigeon loft 20-feet-by-12-feet from an older loft, and we are redoing and modifying it. We have seven acres of land where the birds are able to fly.”

Thoroughly researching and understanding the specifics of the sport, Fell purchased adult pigeons known as Trentons, bred specifically for racing.

In explaining his acquisitions, Fell noted he purchased two types of Trentons, Oshaben pigeons that he found in the Cleveland vicinity, and Elston pigeons from an Erie-area breeder, and several pairs of pigeons from Jason Gelder, who has some 60 pigeons in his Charleroi Redleg loft.

“I have about 30 pigeons,” Fell said. “Eight are breeding pairs, plus two other pair used to hatch eggs from other pigeons. I see them every day, and I took care of them all winter, making sure they would be healthy for the spring breeding season.”

According to Jim Endlich, who flew and raced pigeons for 25 years with the Tarentum Pigeon Club, he would put hens and roosters together on Valentine's Day for the breeding season to begin. A Trenton, Endlich explained, “is an old racing strain (of pigeon), bred for distance racing rather than sprints. Originally from Belgium, the Trenton represents one of the oldest breeds in the United States.”

As Valentine's Day approached, Fell was busy determining which pigeons to pair up to breed. He placed the birds in nest boxes and selected the strongest — based on flying capabilities — to breed.

“I initially went by colors,” he said, adding he bred two pairs of red mottles (to get more red mottles), two pair of blue checks (for more blue checks), one pair of black check and three pairs of recessive reds.

Breeding went well, Fell noted, proudly, adding that his first egg — from a bronze male and yellow female — hatched at the end of March. A baby pigeon, he said, is called a squab.

Once the pigeons mature to the point of flying — racing will come at a later stage, Fell said — he will judge which ones might be the better flyers, based on which return to the loft first.

Pigeons have bands on their legs and the bands have numbers for identification purposes, which is like registering a dog, he explained.

“In the fall we first released the pigeons from about 10 miles away,” said Fell, ranked eighth out of 97 members of his senior class and president of the National Honor Society. “They made their way back (to our loft) by instinct. We started them out by releasing them close to home and gradually increased the distance, and they have flown about 100 miles on their way back to the loft. We know their distances and speeds based on how long it takes them to get home. We have a clock on the loft to record when we release them. When a bird returns into the loft it goes through a trap, which records the time it took them to return. This is based on the average time or speed it took them to return.”

Gelder said that “homing” birds are specifically bred for that purpose, to return to their “home” loft.

“I'm enjoying the entire process,” Fell said, “and I'm looking forward to racing. While I'm in college, my dad will take over.”

Fell was an all-conference, all-county and all-state cornerback/wide receiver in football and all-county pitcher for the Commodores baseball team.

Fell has explored Seton Hill University in Greensburg, as well as Allegheny and Westminster colleges, where he plans to play football and major in political science, then go to law school.

With long-range plans in sight, after college Fell plans on having separate lofts so he and his father can breed separate strains of pigeons.

“I hope to be able to breed a mixed blood, give my dad one bird and he'll give me one,” Fell said. “We've already talked about continuing this hobby.”

When Fell approached Gelder regarding acquiring the pigeons, Gelder, 30, who became involved with pigeons and racing as a youngster, thanks to his grandfather, indicated he was “ecstatic that someone 18 years old wanted to become involved with pigeons. Jaime saw my name on my website, called and went home with the birds. From his research and what he knew about pigeons, I could see he was mature about what he was doing.”

While still in the early stages of breeding the pigeons, Fell plans to not race his birds this summer.

“I want to be sure the strain I have will be able to compete before we invest in racing,” he said. “We need equipment, including vehicles to transport the pigeons. It takes time and patience to train the birds to fly and race.”

Les Harvath is a freelance writer.

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