Does pigeon racing have a future in southeast Michigan? | Michigan Radio
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Does pigeon racing have a future in southeast Michigan?

Sep 8, 2015

That question might surprise those who didn't realize pigeons are "a thing" in the Metro Detroit area.

Immigrants from Belgium came to Detroit and brought their national passion of pigeon racing with them and it spread from there.

See this clip of an old pigeon race from the Detroit News:

But these days, Detroit-area pigeon racers are struggling to keep their sport flying as Metro Times writer Michael Jackman has discovered.

In his piece, In the face of race bans, dwindling membership, and a low, low profile, metro Detroit’s pigeon racers struggle to keep the sport flying, Jackman explains why Detroit became a hotbed for pigeon racing.

All the elements were there: modest yards large enough to hold a pigeon loft, motor vehicles to ship birds out for races, and dense, ethnic neighborhoods to support the clubs.

Jackman explained to us why those clubs are dwindling today.

He said the sport was almost exclusively male and the sport was typically transferred from father to son.

"You figure that it really thrived in these tight-knit, sort-of white ethnic communities of old Detroit 50 and 60 years ago," says Jackman. "And with sprawl ... some people today who still do the sport have to drive an hour or more to get to the clubhouse. It was easier to do in the old days. And today there are some impediments as well as the fact that maybe younger people would rather be snowboarding or surfing than cleaning pigeon waste out of a loft."

"Maybe younger people would rather be snowboarding or surfing than cleaning pigeon waste out of a loft."

Jackman says, more recently, fears about the avian flu have grounded pigeon racing in the area.

Today, Jackman says the Mexican community in Detroit holds the promise of keeping pigeon racing alive in the area.

"I think that it hearks back to the old ethnic white roots of pigeon racing 60 or 70 years ago. These are people who are living in tight knit neighborhoods, where they know each other. They have the resources to pool, and they really seem to love the sport."

Jackman says, for the pigeon racers, there's something therapeutic for them in keeping these birds in their backyard.

For more on the fading practice of pigeon racing, watch this documentary set in northeast England.