Carrier pigeons, a high-flying business in Tampa


Hourly Correspondent

Erio Álvarez, now 80, has been a pigeon fancier since he was a teenager. He and devotees from surrounding counties compete against each other, releasing their birds from as far away as Georgia and timing the time it takes for them to get home to their various backyard lofts. Alvarez Lofts are approximately 340 miles away. He is the former president of the Greater Tampa Bay Racing Pigeon Concourse. His son, Eric Álvarez, who grew up loving sports, is now president.

“I joke that I carried him into the attic and he never came out. And he’s a phenomenal pigeon fancier. ”

Senior Álvarez, who owns around 150 pigeons, said a good carrier pigeon can cost several hundred, but carrier pigeons and breeders, which produce champions, can cost thousands. He paid $ 3,000 each for two of his breeders; one came out of the cage and flew away, perhaps to become a falcon’s expensive meal.

As his pigeons cooed in their lofts, a sound Alvarez found soothing, he spoke with the Tampa Bay weather about sport.

Why do carrier pigeons do what they do?

They have been raised for thousands of years to return to their homes. … We just had a race in Louisville, Georgia. We use GPS to get measurements from the release point to the dovecotes in everyone’s backyard. … They are phenomenal. They will give you everything they have to get home. … There are hundreds of families of pigeons. They are the only ones who return home. …

We know the runner (from the old Battle of Marathon) who took the message 26 miles 385 yards and is deceased. The pigeons also carried messages to their villages and towns and they lived. And they do it faster than the runner. But yet, on the record, what we hear about is the runner. …

In the early 1800s they were refined in Belgium and the Queen of England maintains a racing loft. The King of Belgium gave pigeons to the King of England at the time, and this loft continues to this day. She has a loft manager, of course. …

It has obviously been refined today. The white blocks (at the entrance to the lofts) have scanners underneath, say like in a supermarket. Carrier pigeons, in addition to the tape that identifies who raised them … on the opposite leg they have an electronic chip. And when I take them out to register for the race, they’re scanned at the All Tampa Racing Pigeon Club and put into my stopwatch. My timer is connected to a power source and when the birds come back they… go through the scanner, they push and go in. … You hear the beep. They must be on the pavement. Then they put their heads in and they are in it.

Erio Álvarez and his son race with pigeons from separate dovecotes in houses in Tampa Bay. Photo: Philippe Morgan [ Photo: Philip Morgan ]

The various lofts are at different distances. How do you determine the winner?

The bird that traveled the fastest measured distance, not the first to return home. … I always feel a thrill when I see one take off from the sky, circle, knock here and walk in.

Do they stop or go straight home?

Normally they fly nonstop. They must be extremely healthy; they have to be bred to be able to do that. And they get all kinds of vitamins and minerals and all of their needs. They have fat in their food and so on for energy.

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We want them to go through with it. But I’m standing here sweating and it’s December. Birds become dehydrated and water is essential for them. So if they stop, it’s for a quick drink. Last weekend – and it wasn’t mine – but he landed, walked over to the pool, dropped down there on the stairs, sat there for a while, drank, got up and continued to go home. You just had to have water.

How fast can they fly?

They average about 50 miles an hour. And they will do it over and over. … If they have a little tailwind and a cooler day, they’ll go up to 70 miles an hour, and if they have a headwind and humidity, they’ll slow down to 30, 35 miles. on time.

What can you spend on these birds?

One just sold in Belgium, a bird named Armando, which sold for $ 1.2 million. I don’t have Armandos around (laughs).

A good carrier pigeon normally sells for between $ 300 and $ 500, within that range, sometimes a little less, and they can go as high as a person’s finances will allow …

It just happened last year and even the regular media covered it because it was a huge amount of money for a pigeon. He had a huge record in long distance races, 400, 500, 600 miles, and came from a family of such birds.

The golden plaque on the wall shows that in 2013 Erio Álvarez was named “Legend of Sport” by the American Racing Pigeon Union.
The golden plaque on the wall shows that in 2013 Erio Álvarez was named “Legend of Sport” by the American Racing Pigeon Union. [ Photo: Philip Morgan ]

Some races offer cash prizes. How much can you earn?

I would say in the range of $ 50,000. … This is done two or three times a year. The rest of the time we fly for trophies and… certificates.

Some birds don’t come back. What is happening to them?

They are mostly eaten. Having these lofts here is like having a McDonald’s store. …

There are a few species (of hawks) that are here all year round, and they did some research, and over 80 percent of their diet was pigeons and songbirds. …

Imagine the loft. They have to slow down to land here or they will crash. They have to cross and enter. They are really vulnerable right now. So what happens is hawks know the routine, you have to see it to believe it. They will attack them. …

They come from around that level (chest level)… and they’re right on top of them, the ones with the right timing. I will have several (pigeons) killed here per year. …

I had one from a 500 mile race. He hit him, put him through the fence, killed him, then picked up the carcass and removed it. The bird traveled 500 miles to return home. It is heartbreaking.

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