Tumbleweed Smith
Tumbleweed Smith

It was raining when I visited Mike Sutton of Andrews. He has a series of tin-roofed buildings where he keeps hundreds of homing pigeons. Rain on a tin roof makes a pleasing sound, which mixed well with the cooing of the pigeons.

“We have a 600 mile race here once a year and we have four or five 500 mile races,” says Mike. We had a race from Shreveport, Louisiana and two of my pigeons were turned out on a Saturday morning at seven o’clock and they got here in Andrews at five PM. That’s 503 miles.”
He takes them further from home each training session.

“I start at a mile, let them come home, the I move up to five miles and let them come home. I’m training a new group right now and they went eleven miles yesterday. Next weekend I hope to get them out to twenty-five or thirty miles. I need to get them out to about sixty miles before the races. Our first race will be 100 miles but they don’t need to be trained that far. Once they come home from sixty miles they can come home from just about anywhere.”

There are several theories why homing pigeons always return home.

“Some say they use a magnetic field. There are some who say they use their strong sense of smell. They have put contact lenses on them to cover their eyes so they couldn’t see, then turned them loose and they still came home.”

In a race, times are registered by computer, a big change from earlier days when the birds carried bands on their legs that had to be removed, causing some pain.

“I put a chip in their legs and I have a scanner. When they cross that scanner it scans their number into a clock, which indicates the time they got here. After the race is over and all the birds have come home we take this computer clock over to the clubhouse and we have a computer over there. We enter everybody’s clocks into the computer and the computer generates a race sheet that tells who won the race.”

Mike says racing pigeons started in Europe.

“China has come into pigeon racing in the last few years and now has some 300,000, more pigeon fliers that any other country. They go to Europe and buy birds. Last year a bird was sold for 400,000 dollars to a Chinese man. There’s a race or two now that pays 50,000 dollars to the first place bird.”

Mike paid five dollars for a pigeon that beat one that cost his competitor 20,000 dollars. Mike also has some roller pigeons.

“They are birds that fly real high and turn summer salts on the way down. They tumble head first and they’re fun to watch.”

Mike has been fooling with pigeons sixty years. He has some show pigeons.