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Feathered friend . . . Oamaru Homing Pigeon Club member Robyn Bain holds a homing pigeon. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Pigeon racing is taking flight in Oamaru again.

Dennis Bain and his wife Robyn moved to Oamaru from Dunedin two years ago, to retire in the North Otago town.

Mr Bain has been racing pigeons since he was 11 years old, and when he discovered the Oamaru Homing Pigeon Club went into recess more than 20 years ago, he started working to re-establish it.

Ray Gibb was the only original club member remaining and became the new president – though he did not compete in races anymore.

Mr Bain procured second-hand equipment from the Mosgiel Homing Pigeon Club and the club held its first race on April 17.

The new group has five members, including Mr Bain’s wife and his mother, who had also relocated to Oamaru.

There was a misconception that the sport was cruel, Mr Bain said.

However, pigeons “love to fly”, he said.

They knew when it was time to race and waited by the door in the morning, ready to take flight.

“They won’t race properly if you don’t look after them … you get what you put into it.

“You’re their trainer, vet and dietitian.”

He believed what contributed to the misconception was the fact that pigeon racing was not a spectator sport.

He hoped to grow the membership of the group.

Homing pigeons were not the same as the ones seen waddling down the street looking for crumbs – they were much bigger, and bred to fly, Mr Bain said.

They usually cruised at about 80kmh, depending on the weather, and could reach speeds of up to 100kmh.

For the races, the birds were taken to a distant location and released, before flying home.

They each had ankle bands containing chips that were scanned when they re-entered their lofts.

Distance and speed were then calculated to determine the winner.

Mr Bain said pigeons were only raced a few months of the year, and preferred to fly in the cold.