No place like home

Posted 3/12/10

Charles Robbins has a loft that he built in his backyard. It has plenty of southern exposure for sunlight, a landing platform, and food and water. It …

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No place like home


Charles Robbins has a loft that he built in his backyard. It has plenty of southern exposure for sunlight, a landing platform, and food and water. It also is full of racing pigeons.

A member of the Foothills Racing Pigeons Club, Robbins has been racing the birds from his home for decades, a fact that has just recently become somewhat controversial.

Racing pigeons are different from the birds you see looking for handouts in the park or on city blocks. Racing pigeons, also known as homing pigeons, will fly hundreds of miles at a time, unable to fight the powerful instinct to get back home. The pigeons would even abandon their babies to fly home.

“Home is the most important thing to them,” Robbins said. “My job is to get them into physical shape to be able to fly that distance.”

Robbins, a retired Arapahoe County deputy sheriff, once had a bird that flew home from Des Moines, Iowa — a distance of more than 600 miles on the Interstate — in one day. He had one bird return home six years after being released.

When training for a race, Robbins exercises them by dropping them off 55 miles from his Littleton home and letting them fly back.

“They usually beat me home,” he said.

On the day before a race, Robbins explained, club members load their racing teams onto a truck, which drives to the start location, and releases them the next morning at daybreak. When the pigeons make it back home, a computer chip in an ankle band records their time of arrival and determines a winner.

A single racing team could have as many as 40 pigeons.

“We have a lot of trouble with hawks and falcons and barbed wire fences, so we have a lot of losses,” Robbins said. “That’s why we have such large teams.”

All of the pigeons are banded and registered with the American Racing Pigeon Union, and don’t pose a health threat or carry bird flu, Brown added. Robbins said his birds are vaccinated and he sanitizes the loft frequently.

Robbins has been racing and training pigeons from his home on South Prescott Street since the early 1980s.

But after nearly three decades practicing his hobby there, a city zoning officer says Robbins’ pigeons violate the land-use code.

A Feb. 2 letter that Robbins received from zoning officer Pam Hall states that raising pigeons as livestock is only allowed in agricultural districts. If the pigeons are pets, then only three would be allowed in Robbins’ zoning district.

The problem is that the city zoning code, written in 1992, addresses dogs, cats, chickens, ducks and rabbits, but not pigeons. Robbins says his birds are neither livestock nor pets.

“My pigeons are not pets, but are in competition,” Robbins told city council at its March 2 meeting. “Domesticated fowl does not include pigeons, game birds does not include pigeons.”

Now council must decide whether to proceed with enforcement or amend the zoning code to allow Robbins to keep his pigeons. If it chooses enforcement, Robbins can either comply and whittle his team down to just three members, an impossibly small number in the racing pigeon world, or he can let his case be decided in municipal court.

Council could also amend the code with an ordinance and allow the keeping of pigeons, but with regulations, or it could allow the keeping of pigeons as a conditional use, which would require Robbins and anyone else with pigeons to go through an application and public hearing process.

“We amend [the code] all the time,” City Attorney Suzanne Staiert said.

City Senior Planner Ernie Rose said his office is working on a pigeon ordinance, which will come before council some time in April.

For now, the city has decided to hold off on enforcement and Robbins can continue to train his pigeons for the upcoming spring racing season.

The city says it received complaints about the pigeons, and that’s why it looked into the matter. But Robbins has his doubts. He says none of his neighbors have a problem with his birds. The birds do not land on their property, he said.

Two of Robbins’ neighbors spoke in support of his pigeons at the March 2 meeting and Robbins has collected 30 signatures from his neighbors, all in support of his pigeons.

“You would not ever in a million years know they were there,” said Bea Evans, Robbins’ next-door neighbor for all of his 36 years on Prescott Street.

“We really enjoy them. We would hate to see anything happen to them. It’s his hobby, his life.”


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