Pigeon owners participate in show at Fayette fairgrounds
Steve Stanish of Lemont Furnace says he hates when people call pigeons “rats with wings” because they are really beautiful birds with unique colors, markings and features.
Stanish, president of the Uniontown Poultry Club, was visiting the Western Pennsylvania Pigeon Club show recently at the Fayette County Fairgrounds in Dunbar Township.
Although Stanish has raised pigeons in the past, he said he did not have any pigeons entered in this year's show.
“I do raise them from time to time,” he said. “They are very beautiful and interesting birds. They don't deserve the bad reputation they have received over the years.”
Stanish said some pigeons are raised on farms, but the majority of them are raised in people's backyards or on top of large buildings in cities like New York, where tenants take care of them.
“A lot of people are raising pigeons,” Stanish said. “It's a hobby that people really enjoy doing.”
At the show, a total of 305 pigeons from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, New York and Michigan were competing for monetary awards and special plaques that would display photos of the prize-winning pigeons, Harold Strawniak of Port Vue, near McKeesport, said.
“The pigeon shows are very similar to dog shows,” said Strawniak, president of the Western Pennsylvania Pigeon Club.
Strawniak said this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Western Pennsylvania Pigeon Club, which was formed in 1913.
The club has about 25 members in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland.
“Most people don't realize that there are 46 varieties of pigeons,” Strawniak said. “They are being judged for their shape, color and ornaments. Some of the pigeons have large tail feathers that look like a fan. Others have crests, which are feathers on the back of their heads. Some of them have feathers on their feet.
“The pigeons are all very unique, and they are judged for their unique and beautiful features — just like dogs are judged during a show,” he added.
Strawniak said most of the pigeons are descendants of the rock pigeon, a wild pigeon that was raised in Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia and later transported to the United States.
“You would never see 90 percent of these pigeons flying around,” he said. “They have been created through special breeding. Most of them came from Europe hundreds of years ago.”
Strawniak pointed to one of his pigeons that has an extremely small beak.
“They breed this type of a pigeon, but its beak is so short that it can't even feed its babies,” he said. “Other pigeons serve as foster parents to help this pigeon feed its babies.”
The show featured three or four different types of homing pigeons, Strawniak said.
“The homing pigeons always try to fly back to where they were born,” he said. “About 90 percent of them do make it back to their homes. The only thing that will stop them is a storm that blows the pigeons off course.”
Strawniak said homing pigeons participate in races that are anywhere from 300 to 800 miles.
“They ship the birds by truck to California,” he said. “The pigeons then fly to the east.”
Each pigeon has a band on its leg with a special serial and identification number so it can be identified during races or if the bird flies away.
In one case, Strawniak said he heard that a pigeon from Japan ended up in California.
“No one is really sure how the pigeon got to California,” he said. “Some people suspected that the pigeon was on a ship, escaped from its cage and started flying.”
Cindy Ekas is a contributing writer.