Since biblical times, the dove has been a messenger. When Noah sent out a dove to see if the water had receded after the Great Flood, it returned to him with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. So Noah knew that the water had gone down.

In modern times, pigeons are sometimes used to carry messages during times of war. They have even been used to smuggle drugs into prison as they can transport lightweight packages.

For Joseph Yap, pigeon racing is simply a hobby. “Ang mga alaga kong kalapati ang nagmo-motivate na umuwi ng maaga (The pigeons I care for are motivated to come home early),” he says. His fascination with pigeon racing started at the very young age of 10. This passion for the sport never waned up to this day. “I bought a pair of racing homers at Arranque Market, without the knowledge of (my) mother,” he confesses.

“Pigeons interest me more, although I have a pet dog, a Labrador named Coffee,” he continues. “It’s not a walk in the park. Magastos rin. Walang pahinga (There are many expenses. You can’t rest). I have to pay my caretaker, spend for feeds—mixed grains and supplemental grits; and you double the cost when it is breeding season. You have to be persevering, passionate, and patient. It helps to have a supportive wife too. In-a-apply ko yung paano mag-take care sa ibon, sa sarili ko (What I learn about how to take care of birds, I apply to myself). I’m health conscious,” the 46-year-old father of 5 kids stresses.

Joseph is into the flying/sporting category, one of the three major recognized groups of breeds of domestic pigeons. The other two are “Fancy” and “Utility.” Fancy pigeons are pigeons which are specially bred to perpetuate particular features. There are many breeds of fancy pigeons of all sizes, colors, and types. A famous fancier is Pablo Picasso, who kept fantails and named his daughter “Paloma,” which means “pigeon” in Spanish.

Utility pigeons are bred for their meat and as replacement stock. Pigeon meat is referred to as “squab” and is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. Joseph’s interest is in racing homers, a type of homing pigeon trained to participate in the sport of pigeon racing. They are kept and bred for their aerial performance and for reproduction.

“It’s an exciting sport, seeing your pigeons return home the fastest for the race or shorter time travelled. Puro talo ako noon (I used to lose a lot). For several years, until I won third [place] overall in 2012,” he says.

He rattles off his other achievements: “My prized pigeons won as overall champion in 2013; fifth place in 2014; and third overall in 2015. We have this North Season from October to November which reaches as far as Aparri, Cagayan; and South Season from February to March [which] reaches down to Tacloban, Leyte.”

“I’m a member of RPAP (the Racing Pigeons Association of the Philippines),” he continues. “Pigeon racing does not only promote sportsmanship among the competitors and members of RPAP, but it also gives us the thrill of watching our pigeons fly to far-flung provinces and welcoming them home safely. But even with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), sometimes our pigeons fail to reach home due to hazards like bad weather, wires, birds of prey, or being gunned down,” he explains.

“An expert on pigeon racing once said that it is one third bloodline, one third loft management, and one third luck to be a winner. But win or lose, my passion for pigeon racing is perpetual,” Joseph ends.

 

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s July 2017 issue.