Give Him the Bird

Page 4 of 5

Over the years, those pigeons have been carefully chosen and mated, and most of the good ones are from solid Old World Polish stock. "I select the best of the best," he says. "You have to have a good eye how to mate them together. You must look for the intelligence. Just like human beings: Some pigeons are dumb, some are smart."

"Then I look at body quality," Adugalski continues. "The chest can't be too long, or too short, or too wide, too narrow. It must drop like an apple, to show space for the lungs. There must be good ventilation in the wings, and not too long a neck -- short flies better and faster -- and not too long legs. The neck must also sit nice, look like a horse.

"You look also at the eye. I look for the richness of color -- the eye, little bit, tells me, helps me. I don't like diamond or yellow. I like a little green around the pupil. A good eye looks like a mountain in fall -- green, a little red, like leaves. These are the best."

We enter one of the lofts behind Adugalski's house. He points to a bird. "That white one, she is my oldest pigeon, born in 1985," he says, motioning to a bird that looks to me like any other. He picks up another and nuzzles it to his cheek: "Easy, easy, yeah. That's a good boy..."

This loft is for the birds he is currently breeding. Several of the coops within the loft are boarded up to prevent the pigeons from nesting in them. "Pigeons are funny," he explains. "You give them too much freedom, they don't know what to do with it. So I limit their choices of where to nest and breed."

"Here!" Adugalski cries. He has lifted a pigeon off her nest and underneath discovered a fuzzy yellow chick, just minutes out of its egg. "Here is new life come into the world!"

A few feet away, he carefully removes a bird from a coop about two feet off the ground. "Here's my baby," he coos. "My liiiit-tle baby. My little girl." He snuggles the bird up to his chin, shuts his eyes and rocks slightly. "How are you doing, you silly?"

"She always waits for me," he says. "But now" -- a hint of irritation creeps into his voice -- "now she has a boyfriend." His voice changes back. "Ooooo, my buh-bee."

"Okay," he says crisply. "Go back to your boyfriend," and he plops the pigeon back into the coop.

None of the birds are named. This is less a matter of convenience -- Adugalski easily recognizes every one of the pigeons from a distance -- than a personal defense mechanism. Birds entered in races often must be left behind, where they will either be auctioned off (much like a claiming race for horses) or put down. "So you can't get too emotionally attached to your birds," he explains. "Like anything else in life, right?"

One of Adugalski's backyard lofts is completely caged in. It holds a handful of his most successful birds, the ones that have placed well in big races, now roosting in retirement like living trophies. For example, "Here is my pigeon that won second place in a big race in 1999, in Baltimore," he boasts. "See how smooth and beautiful she is, like a queen?"

The building is completely caged; nothing can enter, nothing can leave. This is because the birds were trained to return to lofts at each race site's finish line. If they were to escape from here, they'd leave to look for their other home and never return to Denver. "They are like me," he says. "Just like I am an American now. I will never return to Poland."

Back inside his house, Adugalski looks fondly out his kitchen window, letting his eyes linger on some birds that have wandered outside in what has now become a heavy snow flurry. "Look!" he says. "There are my pigeons! That is what a man likes best -- to look out his window, any window, and see his pigeons."

The phone rings and I pick it up. "Hello," a familiar voice says. "This is Bill 'Pigeon' Owens. And it's true -- I was quite a fancier in my day."

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer