FAIRFIELD, Conn. — She’s lost a bit of muscle mass — and a few tail feathers — but Denise the wrong-way racing pigeon was winging her way back to New Jersey Thursday afternoon with her very grateful owner.
Jack Olsen of Rumson, N.J., came to retrieve Denise from her new namesake, Denise Darnell, who found the hungry homer on Tuesday when she popped into Darnell’s chicken pen.
“I put her in a cat carrier and started my detective work,” said Darnell, who owns a small menagerie of two cats, eight chickens and a wily rooster named Peter.
Darnell located Olsen through ankle tags attached to the pooped pigeon and contacted him through the World Trade Center Memorial Club for pigeon racers. A retired national sales manager, Olsen spends much of his newfound free time training, grooming and enjoying his flock of a dozen pair of breeders and the 50 to 60 offspring they welcome each year.
On Sept. 24, Denise, a prime contender in the 300-mile Marty McGinnis pigeon race, had been released at New Stanton, Pa.., and was due home in about six hours. But she and four of her loft mates never made it back, said Olsen, who had eight birds in the race.
He figures they were blown off course or followed another flock north.
“They probably hit fog,” he said, shaking his head. “It happens.”
Olsen was so happy to hear from Darnell that he dubbed his tiny charge Denise in her honor.
And he’s especially happy to have Denise back in the fold, as she’s quite the pedigreed pigeon. Her mother won the prestigious 350-mile World Trade Center Memorial race in 2014 and her grandfather, “Einstein,” earned second place in 2013.
If you think the winner gets a pint-sized trophy or a little medal for its feathered neck, guess again. Denise’s mother took home a $30,000 prize.
And that money comes in handy for top racing enthusiasts. While any pigeon can be trained, those from top breeders like Olsen can fetch $1,500 to $3,000 a beak.
One that won a major South African contest was sold at auction for a whopping $102,000, Olsen said.
Olsen first tended pigeons for his uncle, a New York City firefighter who often had to stay at the firehouse for days at a time. Twelve years later, he got his first loft, but he felt he had to put the expensive and labor-intensive hobby aside when he was raising his own family.
In 2009, he took to the sport again.
“Fast forward 30 years, friends of mine were still flying, so I got the bug again,” he said.
Pigeon breeding and racing means strict attention to diet and grooming. Olsen usually bathes his birds twice a week.
“With bath salts,” he said.
Olsen said he was shocked to get Darnell’s call, but the Redding Road resident said her friends weren’t surprised she’d go out of her way to help an animal in need, even a seemingly common pigeon.
“My neighbor said, ’That pigeon was so lucky she flew into your yard,'” she said, laughing.
For more information on Jack Olsen and his racing pigeons, visit jackolsenloft.com .
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