For the past three and a half years, the Paga family has participated in a unique activity - training and racing homing pigeons.

“We got into it randomly!” says Sarah Paga, enrolled MODG parent and mother to several enthusiastic pigeon-trainers. “My husband is a dentist and someone brought him a business card from the local 4-H club. The leader gave us a starter pack of food, pigeons, and equipment.”

From there, the Paga family’s new hobby was born. They now breed their own pigeons, and currently have about 16 birds.

“Every year you lose some here and there,” says Mrs. Paga. “They fly and sometimes don’t come home, so they might have gotten caught by a predator or decided to not come home. So we replenish them.”

In addition to breeding the birds, the family also trains them to recognize their home and fly in races that can be up to 200 miles long.

“That’s the nerve-wracking part of having pigeons,” shares Mrs. Paga. “They need to learn where their home is, and then for the rest of their life they will home to this home.”

The family keeps their birds in an enclosed outdoor aviary, where the birds can familiarize themselves with their surroundings and learn to recognize their home base. From there, they are brought out for short times close to home, and shown how to retrieve their food by returning to their enclosed area through a one-way door.

(Photo by Olusola Bakhita is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

“We fly them in the morning,” explains Mrs. Paga, “and we don’t feed them first, so they’re hungry. They fly around as long as they want, and then they’ll come back in for food. That’s called trapping.”

The Paga family recently took part in a national youth race, in which young people from all over the country brought their homing pigeons to race across the state of Michigan.

“Our kids have been really involved,” says Mrs. Paga, “more involved than I am. They’re the ones who take care of the birds and basically do everything. They feed them, let them fly, clean their loft.”