This article by Jeff Laune was published in the Senior Outlook, December 1, 2010, by rogueriverpress.com

What's That In the Sky? It's a bird, it's a plane...it's a racing pigeon!

Don Taylor of Grants Pass races pigeons, and he's in good company. Pigeon racing is the second oldest sport involving animals, and has members including the Queen of England --along with most foreign dignitaries --and Roy Rogers and Walt Disney, who are credited with bringing pigeon racing to America.

Joe Carini (right with 52 years of experience racing pigeons is a mentor to Don Taylor (left).

Taylor has only been racing pigeons for about a year, since he retired from working for the City of Medford as a zoning code checker. He raced pigeons when he was 12 and 14 years old but, as he says, "I got into high school and got interested in other things, like girls and cars, and birds went away."

Taylor raises his homing pigeons to race. The pigeons are "raced" by releasing them a distance away from their accustomed loft and letting them use their natural instincts to come home. Each individual pigeon is timed and the fastest one wins. Winners are counted by the fasted speed, but also the people with the fastest set of pigeons in the race, overall.

Skyward...this pigeon will fly the five air miles between Rogue River and Grants Pass in five minutes.

Pigeons can find their way back to their loft from just about anywhere. Taylor tests and trains his birds by releasing them all over and waiting for them to come home One of his favorite places to release his birds is Rogue River.

He commonly uses the parking lot of the Rogue River Press, as well as at Valley of the Rogue State Park as release sites for his birds. These releases are tests to train the birds and see how well they can find their way home, just as they would in a race. "It's about five air miles to Grants Pass. They'll be home in about five minutes," sayys Joe Carini, who came with Taylor to release pigeons in the parking lot of the Rogue River Press on November 16.

Carini has 52 years of experience racing pigeons and has been a mentor to Taylor in this past year.

Carini runs a "Pigeon Boot Camp" from his home in Eagle Point. Taylor, along with 30 other members, have learned all about the care, handling, and training of racing pigeons in the year-long camp.

What is more amazing is that the members of the camp range from seven-years old all the way to 88-years old. At the end of the camp, each of the members released five pigeons of their own.

That might not seem like much, but pedigreed racing pigeons can sell for thousands of dollars. In fact, a Chinese pigeon fancier paid more than $300,000 for a pigeon just last year.

So what's all the excitement about? A pigeon's just a pigeon, right? Not these pigeons.

Don Taylor claims there is a difference between the common pesky pigeon and the pedigree pigeon.

Every racing pigeon's linage can be traced back to the original racing pigeon stock from the origin of the sport in Belgium. These pigeons have also been part of almost every military since there have been organized militaries. In fact, a homing pigeon named GI Joe is one of ony two animals to ever win the Medal of Honor.

"Racers think of common pigeons as vermin," says Carini. "Like sewer rats."

Taylor, who recently attempted to train some pigeons he caught near the Denny's restaurant in Grants Pass, can verify that there is a huge difference between common piegons and pedigree pigeons. When he released his "Denny's" pigeons near Medford, it took them a full two days to get home. The rest of his flock was home by the time hed driven the distance.

So why would someone spend so much time and effort taking care of pigeons, even if they are special pigeons?

"I like working with the birds," says Taylor. "I'm more interested in breeding than in racing."

"The sport is about fellowship," said Carini. "There's fellowship with other racers and partnership with the animal. We focus on bringing younger kids in and teaching them about respecting the opponent. We've already seen kids who have gone through the boot camp go into other sports and respect their opponents."

There's also the small matter of the reward for winning the race. Small races can pay out only a few thousand dollars, but some big races will pay $300,000 to the owner of the overall fastest pigeon.

But it's not about money to Taylor and Carini.

"The money is the lowest concern on the totem pole," says Carini.

"Money isn't what it's about," agreed Taylor. "It would be pleasureable to win some money, but racing pigeons is more about the hobby...about seeing how well your birds can do."

Taylor and Carini aren't the only pigeon racers in our area. Pigeon racing is quickly becoming more popular around Rogue River. The Grants Pass Pigeon Racing club reopened last month, with the help of Taylor, and Carini has begun the first ever Christian-based pigeon racing club, the Rogue Valley Christian Invitational Racing Pigeon Club.

Both clubs and the pigeon boot camp are open to new people.