The Things We Do For Love: Raising homing pigeons

Dave Atkinson explores some of the things Islanders do for love, literally starting right in his own backyard.

Our new series on P.E.I. passion projects begins with the author's own pigeons

Dave Atkinson's daughter Alice with pigeons Poppy and Georgie at four weeks old. (Dave Atkinson)

It's a few minutes after six o'clock in the morning. I pull on my rubber boots and step out into the chilly morning air.

I can hear them cooing already. The pigeons are hungry for breakfast.

Growing up, I didn't think much about pigeons. They were the birds in the park with the funny walk.

I may have even called them flying rats.

Not flying rats after all

I'm starting a new series for CBC P.E.I. called The Things We Do for Love. Yes, like the song from the 70s.

Pigeon mum Violet raised two eggs this spring. (Dave Atkinson)

I want to tell stories of the things we do because they bring us joy.

Not our jobs. Not our side-hustle.The things we do for love.

By day, I'm a communications officer at UPEI. I write kids' books and play on the radio on the side. I like doing all those things.

I love taking care of my pigeons.

There's no place like home

About 10 years ago, I met a man who raised racing homer pigeons. I'd never heard of racing homers.

These are pigeons who have been specially bred for their ability to find their way home, even over hundreds of kilometres. I loved the idea of that.

Pack them in a basket. Drive them across the Island, or even to the mainland, and let their natural instincts guide them home. I thought about it for years.

I wanted to build a loft for myself, but we just moved around too much.

I promised myself when we finally moved somewhere permanent, I'd go for it. And here we are.

When Hermes met Violet

I built the loft and brought home four birds last fall. On the second day, one of them dashed out of the loft and flew away. I was devastated.

The pigeons live in a loft or coop in the Atkinsons' yard. (Dave Atkinson)

But I had a pretty good idea where he went.

The homing instinct in these birds is so strong, he likely flew to the loft where he was born — in Bonshaw, 30 kilometres away.

To have birds that would home to our new loft, they'd have to be born there. So we introduced Hermes and Violet to each other and let the magic happen.

I grew up on a farm. It's been fun watching my city kids take to the rhythm of daily chores. It's not like cleaning your room. If you miss a day, it matters.

The birds are so charming, it hardly feels like work. You've never seen a ten year-old so eager to clean pigeon droppings as my daughter Alice. She wants to spend as much time as she can with the birds.

We were all over the moon when Violet and Hermes had an egg in April. Violet laid a second two days later.

18 days after that — and yes, I counted — I was sitting at my desk when I got a text from my wife. All caps, it just said "HATCHING."

Meet the flock

I rushed home. All five of us peeked through the front door of the loft, trying to catch a glimpse of the babies freeing themselves from their eggs. We thought they were gorgeous.

You may not agree.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — Atkinson says he thought the pigeon chicks were 'gorgeous.' (Dave Atkinson)

That was a month ago. Georgie and Poppy are almost full-grown now.

Their first homing flight is a few weeks away. We'll take them a few kilometres away and release them. If all goes to plan, they'll beat us home. That's just what they do.

We'll gradually expand their range. Later this summer, we'll release them in Summerside. We'll drive to New Brunswick. Or further.

This is what I do for love. What do you do?

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About the Author

Dave Atkinson is a children's author and writer living in Charlottetown.


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