Flights of fancy
Wednesday, December 29th 2004, 2:17 pm
News On 6
DUNCAN, Okla. (AP) -- E.T. looks like a normal statue-defiling pigeon. He has feathers like a pigeon. He walks like a pigeon. He coos like a pigeon. But, for John Curry, E.T. is more than just a bird; he's the prize feather in Curry's pigeon-breeding cap.
Why is E.T. so special?
For starters, he defeated 90,000 other pigeons in a 400-mile race in Belgium, where racing pigeons is comparable to Americans playing baseball.
Secondly, Curry paid $10,000 for the prize pigeon and $5,000 for his brother, Monte Carlo, when he decided to start breeding racing-homing pigeons two years ago.
Mostly, though, E.T. is the culmination of Curry's passion for pigeons.
The 54-year-old's pigeon penchant began more than four decades ago when he was just 6 years old.
"As kids we'd climb up on buildings at night, on like the church roofs, with tow sacks and flashlights going after commy pigeons (common pigeons)," said Curry, his eyes brightening at the memory.
It was during these late-night pigeon plundering escapades that Curry discovered the world of pigeons was bigger than he could imagine.
"We'd find birds with bands on their legs and we found out that those were racing pigeons," he said, while near the indoor loft where E.T. was roosting. "The ones with a band, those were special."
His father built him a small loft in the back yard and later his mom bought him a few more lofts from a neighbor's friend. He has owned pigeons ever since; through high school, through his two years at Cameron College, through his time in Houston and into his adult life.
"Most people think of them as the bird that messes on the windshield," Curry said, addressing a common, if overused, pigeon perception.
"They just think of them as nasty. They just don't realize what's involved."
Of course, Curry did not realize what was involved until he made a fateful decision in 1985.
Curry, who made his living working for Halliburton and running a second hand collectable store, decided in that year to raise a few rare, green-eyed pigeons. When he sold the first one for $1,000 he knew there was a business in his feathered friends.
"That's what kind of got me known," Curry said. "It was my launching pad."
It wasn't until the early 1990s that he truly became world renowned. Curry discovered his own niche in the pigeon market, developing a supplement. In the world of pigeons, Curry's supplement was a coup.
"I developed a formula, using ingredients from all over the world," Curry said. "I developed it for my birds because I wanted them to be healthy without having to use drugs and antibiotics. The formula keeps the birds healthy and it takes a healthy bird to win a race."
The effectiveness of Curry's supplement was carried across the world, by the winds of word of mouth. He sells his product to pigeon owners from South Africa, Australia and Spain to Portugal, Ireland and the Netherlands.
In fact, the previous two winners of the World Trade Center race, a new pigeon race formed after Sept. 11, have been birds on his supplements.
As the supplement business has taken off, he sells between $3,000 and $8,000 a month, buyers kept asking Curry one question; do you breed birds, too?
That's where E.T. come in.
"I decided if I was going to do it, I needed to get my hands on the best in the world," said Curry, reaching into a loft and pulling out E.T.
It's taken two years to get his breeding operation off the ground, but Curry owns about 200 pigeons, including E.T., Monte Carlo and their mating hens; about 30 pair of breeding pigeons that serve as foster parents and an ever growing number of salable offspring.
Now under the Chisholm Trail Loft business Curry sells between four and six E.T. spawn a months. Starting price is $500.
"To me this is not work," Curry said. It's play to me. I've been responsible for getting up and feeding and watering my pigeons every day since I was a kid and I really enjoy it." .