LANCASTER, Pa. — Barry Wagner was a very busy man Jan. 10-13 during the 122nd edition of the Reading Pigeon Association annual show, competition and sale at the Lancaster Host and Resort Center in Lancaster, Pa. It is, Wagner said, one of the biggest pigeon shows in the nation.
The Host’s expo center has 14,000 square feet of exhibit space, and there didn’t appear to be one square inch unoccupied on Saturday, Jan.12.
There were 2,865 pigeons, representing 100 different breeds, shown by 240 ardent pigeon fanciers. There were another 1,000 pigeons that weren’t competing, but that were for sale. And there were thousands of visitors who came to see the pigeons in all their stunning variety and number.
As show secretary, Wagner, who calls Mount Joy, Pa., home for himself and his small flock of Hungarian pigeons, plays a key role in putting the show on. But he credits the entire membership of the Reading Pigeon Association with its success, because every single member helps out. And how many members are there exactly? Dozens? Hundreds? A thousand?
“Six,” said Wagner. “We all pitch in.”
Those six people have obviously got it right when it comes to putting on a show. In addition to Wagner, the members/officers are: Larry Reifsnider, president; Dan Brennan, Hamburg, Pa., vice president; Jim Moyer, Terre Hill, Pa., show superintendent; and the husband-wife team of Eric and Stacey Kooker of Quakertown, Pa., who serve as secretary-treasurer.
Pigeons and people go back a long way. They are the avian version of the grey wolf. You wouldn’t think pigeons and grey wolves would have much in common — except that the former might be lunch for the latter — but we humans have, over the last 10,000 years or so, tinkered so much with the genes of both species that there are now hundreds of breeds of what today we call “dogs,” and hundreds of breeds of what today we call, well, “pigeons.”
While breeding for genetic manipulation can leave a convoluted and confusing trail over the course of 10 millennia, scientists don’t dispute the direct line of descent from the wolf to the chihuahua, Jack Russell or Mexican hairless. Nor do they dispute the line that leads from the rock dove, a.k.a. “pigeon,” to the Jacobins, Flying Cumlets, Baldhead Show Rollers, or West of England Tumblers.
Not as familiar, are you, with the names of pigeon breeds as you are with dogs? You are not alone. Pigeons just don’t get the press attention that comes with the Westminster Kennel Club Show at Madison Square Garden, or the National Dog Show in Philadelphia.
But statistically, the Lancaster pigeon show compares well with the much more publicized, televised and promoted canine events. To be sure, the Westminster dog show is older, but just by 14 years (it started in 1877). And there are more breeds at the dog show, but not more dogs (Westminster’s entries are capped at 2,500). And there’s more noise, more foot traffic and lots, lots more money at the dog show.
But not more passion for the animals.
Wagner grew up with pigeons. There was a time in his life when he didn’t have a loft filled with birds. But, he said, “Pigeons haunt you. If you’ve had them, then don’t have them, you miss them.”
There’s a void in the lives of people who had pigeons early in life, then left the hobby behind. But then their lives get settled, they have time and money and, like Wagner, they fill that void with birds.
Gary Lee has never really felt a void. He brought his birds to Lancaster, Pa., from his home on a tree-lined, pigeon-friendly street on Staten Island, N.Y. His Jacobins were part of that breed’s 287-bird contingent at the show. He’s had pigeons all his life, he said, and called pigeons “ ... the poor man’s racehorse. It’s a good hobby for anyone, and it can help keep kids off the street.”
A couple of kids who were obviously not on the streets were Heather Heidlauf and Jasmine Colon. Heather lives with her grandparents, Jason and Linda Heidlauf in East Earl, Pa. Jasmine lives nearby with her father, Gregory Colon, in Narvon, Pa. The best friends are seventh-graders at Garden Spot Middle School in New Holland, Pa.
Heather raises and shows Brunner Pouters, and also has some Chinese owls, which are actually pigeons. She started with homing pigeons about two years ago, then she met a Brunner named Chickenman. He belongs to the neighbors and commands their small flock.
“He makes the other birds go out of the loft, then gathers them up and makes them come back in,” Heather said. “I liked his personality.”
So, Heather and her grandfather took a buying trip to the nearby Green Dragon Farmers Market in Ephrata, Pa., and came home with a Brunner Pouter. His name is Champ, because he captured reserve grand champion honors at a pigeon competition.
It wasn’t long before Jasmine became interested in pigeons, and she is now the proud owner of a few German owls, which are actually pigeons.
The grand champion of the whole show was a Berliner Short-faced Tumbler owned by David Fhagen, of Medford, N.Y.
For information about the 2014 Reading Pigeon Association Show, contact Barry Wagner at 717-653-6146, or by email at email@example.com. The National Pigeon Association website is www.npausa.com. Dick Wanner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 717-419-4703.