ANDALUSIA, Ill. — It's a sport with an aerial race track. The starting line can be hundreds of miles away from the Quad Cities, and the finish line is home.
A group of people raise and train pigeons to race through the sky. They're part of the Moline-East Moline Pigeon Racing Club.
Pigeon racing is a Belgium tradition dating back to the 1800s. It's been a tradition in the Quad Cities for almost just as long. The Quad Cities originally had four clubs that began in the late 1800s.
"You never get tired of it," said pigeon racer Dennis Mosher. "You just really love the sport and the birds and there's no feeling like it. No feeling like it. Once you do it you're hooked."
Mosher has been raising, training and racing pigeons for 43 years. Sometimes he enters them in races all over the world.
The last race of the season was this past weekend. The trained homing pigeons were released 255 miles away in Missouri and fly home to their loft. The pigeon with the fastest speed measured in yards per minute is the one that wins.
"You breed them, you raise them, they home into your loft," Mosher said. "It's bred into them to come home. It's part of their genetics. And we condition them, train them around the loft, and really conditioned them to get them into condition like an athlete."
They play games with them in the loft to help them train, and also take them outside to practice flying short distances home.
It's been a difficult year for pigeon racing he said. While the sport itself is peaceful and the club is a great group of competitive friends, not all the pigeons will always come home.
"They can hit the wires. They can hit anything, trees, anything. You got predators, especially this time of the year the hawks are migrating," he said. "I worry. I still got a bird that I lost this year and I still look up in the sky every morning to see if she's gonna be out here. So they're just part of the family."
Mosher typically has 20 pigeons on his old race team and 40 on his young team. Another 15-20 are for breeding.
Most of his pigeons have names, especially his best racers.
"Two of them got names today," Mosher said. "The first one that trapped today was gonna be named Alfonso. And the fourth one that trapped is named Jenna."
The winning pigeon of this last race from Missouri flew at a pace of 1,193 yards per minute.
"It's a great hobby, a lot of fun guys," Mosher said. "We're always looking for new members and we're more than willing to help. Anyway we can."