When you visit Tony Puopolo’s home in Pickering, Ont., and he likes you, he might offer a parting gift of pigeon poop. In Toronto, the excreta of the humble pigeon is often made up of city litter. But Mr. Puopolo’s blend is produced by the 70 racing pigeons he keeps in a luxurious backyard coop. They’re fed a strict diet of corn, barley and wheat, which, when digested, apparently become great fertilizer for vegetable gardens.
Pigeon racing’s popularity has dwindled throughout Mr. Puopolo’s lifetime, despite Mike Tyson coming out during his post-boxing career as a pigeon fancier (the proper term for those who race). The Canadian Racing Pigeon Union has about 1,000 members – roughly half as many as it had in the 1980s.
Though the heyday of pigeon racing was the first half of the 20th century in Canada, a small but strong group is keeping the sport alive – most of them concentrated in the GTA and Southwestern Ontario, according to Oscar DeVries, the president of the Canadian Racing Pigeon Union. They breed the birds in on farms or in suburban backyard coops, trade them to experiment with mixing bloodlines and sell some of their best birds (or descendants of their best birds) at auctions.