- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (AP) - The pigeons are on their way back from Fort Worth, Texas. The North Platte Flyers homing pigeon club is in the midst of the final “old” birds race of the season.

Tim Behm, secretary of the club, said he has been flying for about eight years.

“I’m fairly new to it,” Behm said. “My boy started with it, but of course, he found cars and girls and left dad with pigeons.”

Some members have been flying for 30-40 years and the club has fewer numbers than in years past. The North Platte Telegraph (http://bit.ly/295a1Jv ) reports that the club is trying to get more people interested in the sport.

“All anyone has to do is call us,” Behm said. “We’ll interview the person and see what their interests are, how involved they want to become.”

The club has an extra loft it uses as a loaner to get someone started. There is very little expense for a new flyer to try it out.

“The club will give you as many pigeons as you want,” Behm said. “We’re always interested in more flyers.”

He said learning the basics of the hobby is fairly simple.

“Just like any other hobby - such as golf, when you need to have the newest Titleist driver - you can spend as much or as little as you want,” Behm said. “However, the only main expense is feeding the birds. Just like having a dog or a cat, they have to be cared for.”

Training the birds depends on whether it is an old bird - a bird with racing experience - or a young bird. The owner releases the birds from the loft and the birds fly in a circle until they are called to return.

“At first, you’ll fly them for 20 minutes, then two weeks later you’ll bump them up to 40 minutes and progress from there,” Behm said. “Just like people conditioning themselves for a marathon, you just keep training more and more and basically you get a horse for the course.”

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The owner trains the birds to return to the loft by whistling.

“When they’re babies and coming off the nest, a lot of guys will whistle when they feed,” Behm said. “The birds know when you whistle it’s time to eat. So if you put them out to fly and they’re not real full - they ate early in the morning and you’re training them in the afternoon - you whistle and they’re going to come in to eat, just like the dinner bell out on the farm.”

The race distances start with shorter races early in the season and end with a 600-mile race such as the current event. The birds were released from Fort Worth and will arrive at their home lofts after one week. The previous week’s race was won by a bird from Leon Freeman’s loft. The bird, No. 4077 AU 14 NPF flew at a speed of 1,114.812 yards per minute.

The times are all captured by a computer module the flyers take to their home lofts. After scanning the bands in, the birds are placed in a transport carrier and driven to the starting point. They are all released at the same time.

“So we all bring our birds and they all have little electronic chips on their leg, which we’ll run across the scanner,” Behm said. “It will say, ‘Leon Freeman entered six birds in the race, here’s their numbers.’ It’ll keep them in his module. He’ll then take his module home and plug it into the base. When that bird comes home and walks across the scanner it will tell Leon this bird came home at this time from this race.”

The results from the race will be posted on a website that keeps track of clubs all across the United States.

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Information from: The North Platte Telegraph, http://www.nptelegraph.com

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