Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Homing His Business Skills Raising Pigeons Labor of Love for Westside Man

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Homing His Business Skills Raising Pigeons Labor of Love for Westside Man

Article excerpt

You see them from time to time at weddings, funerals, building

dedications, and church services.

A clatter of wings, then a surge of snow white pigeons wheeling

up across the sky. Sometimes it's just a single bird, a solitary

symbol of purity, arcing up from someone's cupped hand.

And each time the pigeons are released, they head back home as

fast as they can. In the case of the birds owned by Pete Petzel,

home is a 32-foot-long dorm with a deck on Jacksonville's


"They reach peak velocity in seconds," said Petzel, a retired

Marine who owns South Wind Pigeon Releases and rents out the

birds, called "racing homers."

The impression they leave is profound, said Pat McSweeney. His

church, Grace Episcopal Church in Orange Park, wanted something

different for a service last May.

"I thought, I can't get pigeons to descend from the sky to

symbolize the Holy Spirit, but I bet I can get them to ascend,

and the symbolism is still there," McSweeney said. He called

Petzel and booked his pigeons.

Petzel rents them out at $25 each, with one week's notice


The birds weigh from 12 ounces to 20 ounces. They regularly

race 500 miles cross-country in the eight-week spring and fall

racing seasons, pounding along non-stop at about 50 mph. They

can keep this up for 15 or 16 hours.

"About five years ago, I had a little hen that flew 501 miles

in nine hours and 10 minutes," he said. That's 55 mph.

"They have been clocked at 72 miles per hour," Petzel said.

Their urgency is simple to explain.

The birds mate for life, and, male or female, they want to get

home to their mates, he said. The homing instinct is strong

enough to take pigeons across the continent.

How they navigate is not fully understood, but racing homers

have a very precise internal clock, can sense magnetic fields,

have acute senses of hearing and smell, and can see ultraviolet,

Petzel said.

A minute change in their home landing area -- say, a change in

the position of a ladder they saw when leaving -- will keep them

circling the pigeon loft until they are certain they're home. …

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