What should we talk about today? How about…
- Lakewood City Council’s Rental Inspection Program (RIP)?
- Homing pigeons?
- The size and impact of Joe Boyle’s carbon footprint?
Okay, you pick homing pigeons. Homing pigeons, it is. First, you might wonder how in the world could I write about homing pigeons? Let me explain.Homing pigeon, parent and child. Photo by Jessie Garza.
One day I was hanging out at Topside Coffee Cabin (TCC) in Steilacoom (215 Wilkes St, Steilacoom, WA 98388. T: 253-244-7190. 6:00a – 3:00p).
Two of my new TCC friends, Mike and Una’ McLaughlin, were hanging out too, because that is what retired people get to do. We drink coffee and swap stories. Mike and Una’ introduced me to their friend, Jessie Garza. Jessie, a US citizen, is the third generation in his family to have lived in the Yakima Valley. His Hispanic grandparents moved to the Yakima Valley from Mexico during the 1930s. Interestingly, Jessie’s grandparents were two of the first seven Hispanics to settle in the valley. Jessie recently moved to Steilacoom.
When you meet Jessie you think to yourself, “Our world is a better place because Jessie Garza is with us.”
Jessie is interesting in three ways. One of those ways relates to the fact that Jessie Garza is an internationally recognized homing pigeon expert with over 46 years pigeon experience.
The only other guy I knew who possessed an abundance of knowledge about birds was my father-in-law who was a brilliant veterinarian poultry disease research scientist. While dating his daughter during the days of my reckless youth, I lovingly told my friends my future father-in-law was the biggest bird brain in Washington State.
Talking father-in-laws; Jessie’s father-in-law, John Heilman, gave Jessie two young 5-week old pigeons named Man and Woman on Jessie’s wedding day back in 1971. I am confident Jessie never made the mistake of calling his father-in-law a big bird brain.
The wedding pigeon gift makes it easy for Jessie to remember his wedding anniversary. Let’s do the right thing, shall we? Don’t tell Jessie’s wife his pigeon gift-day is the only way he is able to remember their wedding anniversary.
When young pigeons are about 6 – 7 days old, each bird gets an I.D. band on their left ankle.
Eventually, Jessie’s wife built their new dream home in Zillah, Washington on a 2-acre parcel. Jessie built his dream pigeon loft.Pigeon loft – 15’ X 50’. Photo by Jessie Garza.
When the birds were about 5 weeks old, Jessie started to HOME the pigeons, which is a process used to teach the pigeons to acclimate to their new home. The pigeon home is called a pigeon loft or pigeon roost. The pigeons learn how to enter and exit their home through special pigeon doorways. They learn where home is so they do not get lost.
At around 8 weeks, Jessie started ROUTING training. The pigeons fly around the loft. The birds take off on exploration trips for maybe a half an hour and then return home.
Once the ROUTING is complete, the birds are ready to train for long distance. Jessie would take his birds out about 5 miles to where the birds would have a direct line back to the loft. The first training toss normally would include 25 – 50 birds.
If Jesse beat the pigeons home, another training toss was needed. When the birds beat Jessie home, he doubled the distance from 5 to 10 miles and then from 10 to 20 miles. The longest training toss was 55 miles. Once the birds are comfortable with 55 miles, they are ready for an 110 – 120-mile race.
Jessie’s first race was from Shaniko, Oregon to Toppenish, Washington for 115 miles on April 21, 1973.
Down through the years there were many races following that first race. Jessie and his pigeons won a garage full of plaques and trophies along with some cash prizes. Just like horse racing, there is a million dollar pigeon race in Africa.Garage full of plaques and trophies won over the years. Photo by Jessie Garza.
As the years passed, Jessie’s entire family became involved with homing pigeons. which included Jessie’s wife, Kathy, three children and six grandchildren, right down to a 4-year-old grandson who learned many things while handling pigeons, such as how to be loving, caring, and gentle.
Jessie has flown 300 or more pigeons over the years. That is a lot of pigeons. This does not count all the birds Jessie has bred* and sold or given to others. Jessie’s birds are now all over the world in places such as Mexico, Alaska, and Australia. Jessie just received a Facebook message which said, “Jessie, I just want to let you know you are becoming famous in Mexico. Your pigeons are winning like crazy.
When competing in a homing pigeon race, all the birds registered to compete are driven to the toss location by a hired driver. The driver is instructed to check the weather before making a final decision to release the birds. All the birds are fed, watered and then released at the same time. The birds will circle the toss location two or three times and then after getting their bearings, the pigeons will race back to their roost. A high tech electronic computer band helps determine the finish time for each pigeon.
If there is heavy wind or rain, the release is canceled to avoid putting the birds in danger. Heavy rain can push the birds to the ground which can cause them to lose their way or to be targeted by hawks. For Jessie, typically, 99% of the birds return to their loft roosts safely.
The birds are able to race until they reach 6 – 7 years old. After retiring, the pigeons can live to age 21.Racing Pigeon Vs. City Pigeon. Photo by Jessie Garza.
I have a question for you. Do you know the name of the most famous homing pigeon of all time? The bird’s name was G.I. Joe, a pigeon hero from World War II. G.I. Joe carried paper messages back on their ankle. The name was later transferred to the G.I. Joe doll. The pigeon had the G.I. Joe name first.
My next Jessie Garza article will describe how Jessie helped kids with his pigeon plan including preventing a teenage suicide.
My third Jessie Garza article will describe how Jessie’s career activities for making our world a better place are still relevant today.
Jessie is new to Steilacoom and we are lucky to have him. Welcome to Steilacoom, Jessie Garza.
Sean Graver says
Thanks for sharing such an interesting and inspiring story Joe. And Jessie should write a book about these stories. I didn’t even know that homing pigeons still existed!
Ken Upton says
Great article, Joe! Very interesting and informative….looking forward to Part II. I love my yard birds but was unaware of all the marvels of the homing pigeon…… another one of God’s miracles.
Jessie Garza, Jr. says
Thanks for sharing my story about my hobby with Racing Pigeons. You did an excellent job of writing this story .
Alyce Brame-Galyean says
Wise choice Mr. Boyle. So much more informative than number 1, tho’ number 3 kind of caught my eye. Makes me wonder now how the term “Stool Pigeon” originated.
David Clark says
Thanks for a fascinating article! My wife and I are recently moved to Steilacoom as well, and have the good fortune to be Jessie’s backyard neighbor. It has been fun to hear his tales of breeding, training and then racing pigeons for many years, and all the ways the pigeons have encouraged community and youth outreach. I am looking forward to the coming installments of this really interesting story.