Tarrant County man shows grand champion pigeon

Posted Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- At just 6 years old, Don Gilmore got his first pigeon.

Workers had thrown the bird's nest out of a church steeple they were cleaning. Gilmore picked up the pigeon and carried it home to the north side of Fort Worth.

He continued to raise pigeons over the years, and Sunday, 63 years later, Gilmore's pigeon, a black African Owl, was named Grand Champion at the Fort Worth Stock Show.

"Raising pigeons taught me responsibility and kept me out of trouble," said Gilmore, who lives in rural Tarrant County. "When I was young, and it would start getting dark outside, I knew I had to go inside to feed my pigeons."

For many, pigeons are an afterthought at the Stock Show. They do not bring in the big bucks of the steers or the excitement of horses, but pigeon fanciers want people to know they are remarkable animals.

Homing pigeons are bred to find their way home over long distances, usually 500 to 600 miles, although some have made it more than 1,000 miles. Frequently called carrier pigeons, they fly roughly 60 mph.

During World War I and World War II, the U.S. military enlisted more than 200,000 pigeons to conduct surveillance and relay messages. One pigeon, Cher Ami, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre award for delivering 12 urgent messages while badly injured.

Raising pigeons can be difficult and time-consuming, Gilmore said, as their coops require frequent cleaning and disinfecting. He now has more than 5,000 first-place ribbons, including Sunday's.

"You've got to have a passion for pigeons," said Scot Lindsey, superintendent of the pigeon show and owner of Birds of Paradise, which offers dove releases at weddings, funerals and other events.

Stock Show judges evaluate the birds' overall health and appearance, balance and stance, Lindsey said. Their wattles should be white, and feet should be red.

After the show, Lindsey handed out pigeons to children and families to release them.

Will Briggs, 8, clutched a bird, holding it tightly to his chest. He raised his arms and released the pigeon, which paused for a moment before circling the building and heading home to Lake Worth. The bird would probably be home within 15 minutes.

"That was awesome," Will said. "I never knew pigeons could fly home on their own."

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw

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