JAY — Racing homing pigeons is a unique sport with which several local enthusiasts have been involved for decades.

Raymond LeBlanc gave Kermit Bryant his first homing pigeons in the late 1950s or early 1960s. LeBlanc raised a variety of birds and wanted to get a racing club going.

Bryant took some time off when he started his family, but began competing again in 1973.

“It’s in my blood,” Bryant said. “I can’t get rid of it.” 

Bryant now raises 60 pigeons per year and winters 60. At one time, he raised 100 birds a year.

“It’s easier to keep track,” he said. “There’s less overcrowding.” 

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Scott Landry of Farmington has had pigeons his whole life. He’s raced them since 1985. 

“The difference between a homing pigeon and a common pigeon is like comparing a donkey and a thoroughbred,” Landry said.

A homing pigeon usually costs $100 to $300. 

“If a bird does really well, you can sell it for much more,” Landry said. “The Chinese pay outrageous prices. One pigeon recently sold for $300,000.” 

One-year-old pigeons compete in races of 100 to 300 air miles. Races for young birds begin in August.

Races for birds over one year can be up to 600 air miles. One race was held in April with others scheduled this spring and summer.

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A 100-mile race for young birds is held in Jackman and a 150-mile race in Oakfield. Some out-of-state races for older birds are held in Oneida, New York, and Canada.

The local club has 10 members from central Maine, Bangor, Wiscasset, Farmington, Strong, Jay and Livermore.

“There were 10 different clubs in Maine with about 100 members at the highest point,” Bryant said.

Bryant’s garage is the group’s clubhouse or loft. Members bring their pigeons there to ship to races. The pigeons are transported in a specially designed trailer. 

Previously on race day, each bird had a band with a counter placed on its leg, Landry said. When the bird returned to the home loft, it had to be caught so the band could be removed and put on a special clock to record the time.

“If you had to take time to catch the bird, you lost time,” Bryant said. “You had to be home.” 

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Now each band has a chip that can be read using a scanner. The bird doesn’t have to be caught. Results are recorded on a computer and reported to Bryant.

“On shipping day, we used to drive two or more hours and then come back to check the birds in on the clock,” Bryant said. “It was hard on families. It’s easier now.” 

On a good day, pigeons can fly 40-45 miles per hour with faster or slower speeds, depending on the wind and weather, Bryant said. Pigeons aren’t raced in rainy weather.

Bryant said LeBlanc had some good birds. He won the New England Open once or twice and later sold the pigeons to an enthusiast in Taiwan.

LeBlanc also placed first, eighth and 23rd in a 500-air-mile race. The race started from Ashtabula, Ohio, and had 4,069 pigeons competing.

In 1993, Landry won the New England Open 400 race. Three hundred-thirteen lofts entered 3,762 pigeons. His winning bird went to Taiwan.

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Landry told of a 500-mile Canadian race originating from Verner, Ontario. The winner was from Massachusetts with the first 10-12 places coming from 10 different states.

“I clocked a bird within 10 minutes of one from a friend in New Jersey,” Landry said. “People didn’t think the race would work. The birds proved them wrong.” 

“Old birds have the brains to focus,” Landry said. “Young birds follow.” 

Bryant is training for the upcoming season. He is getting the older birds built back up again and working with his younger pigeons. He gradually increases the distance between his home loft and the point of release.

The rainy weather has slowed training.

Last Thursday, Bryant took 14 young pigeons to Skowhegan. They were released in small groups. All returned home and averaged 30 miles per hour.  

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There are different strains of homing pigeons, which come in a variety of colors. The cocks (males) tend to be bigger and deeper breasted with a more pronounced wattle. 

Pairs begin breeding at about 1 year old and will mate for life. To introduce a new mate, a hen is put in the cock’s nest box with no other birds.

“It can be tricky,” Bryant said.

Two eggs (a clutch) are laid at a time and take 18 days to hatch. Hens will lay year-round, but Bryant puts plastic eggs in the nest after two or three clutches to stop them from laying more.

Chicks are banded when they are 5 to 8 days old. Different colors are used to identify each bird. Homing pigeons live three to five years. 

Bryant has two lofts for his birds. One built in 1985 houses older birds and stock, or breeding, pairs. The second loft holds birds born after Jan. 1. A landing board is available for the birds still being raced. The stock birds have a fly pen where they get fresh air and sun, but they are not let loose. 

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Bryant also has a smaller, portable loft that he will loan to individuals or groups with a desire to start racing pigeons.

“It would be great for a 4-H or Grange group to get together and compete against themselves,” Bryant said.

“Young birds are less experienced,” Bryant said. “They flock together and fly as a group. Strays can stay all day and head for home the next day. Things can go wrong and a bird (gets) lost.” 

A trophy case in Bryant’s man cave can’t hold all the awards his birds have won. A trophy from 2006 was for the 150-mile Northeast Concourse Race for older birds. Bryant’s bird had an overall average speed of 1,733.65 yards per minute. That’s about 60 miles per hour, Bryant said.

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Kermit Bryant can track speeds of his homing pigeons from this center or one in his home. A band-and-chip system records when the birds return home.

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Kermit Bryant of Jay stands near a clock once used to monitor the speeds of homing pigeons from his loft. A counter from each bird would be put in the clock to record that bird’s speed.

Kermit Bryant of Jay prepares to open a crate in the travel trailer used to transport homing pigeons to racing events. Birds are taken to races held in several Maine towns and New York each year.

Several of Kermit Bryant’s older homing pigeons are seen here. Each pair has its own numbered nesting box and goes only to that box.

A pair of 15-day-old chicks fill one nesting box while eggs laid two days ago are seen in another box in the same nest. Eggs take 18 days to hatch.

This 5-day-old homing pigeon chick fits in Kermit Bryant’s palm.

Young homing pigeons at Kermit Bryant’s loft in Jay, are being trained for races later this summer. These birds were born after Jan. 1.

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Kermit Bryant of Jay offers this portable loft for loan to those considering pigeon racing.

This loft holds Kermit Bryant’s older homing pigeons and breeding birds. 

Several of Kermit Bryant’s young homing pigeons sit on the landing area of their loft. At right is the opening for them to go inside.

Kermit Bryant of Jay maintains a separate loft for his young homing pigeons. Now in training, they have access to his yard and the inside of the loft.

A young homing pigeon takes flight. These birds, all born after Jan. 1, are in training for races later this summer.

Homing pigeons come in a variety of colors. Many have iridescent neck feathers. The bands on their legs are used for identification.

This trophy case isn’t big enough to hold all of the awards Kermit Bryant of Jay has won in over 35 years of racing pigeons.


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