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This Fourth Of July Fireworks Stand Is For The Birds

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Tom Kearney and Frank Meder of the Fort Sutter Racing Pigeon Club outside a Sacramento area fireworks stand. The club was established in 1930.

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Youth groups, summer camps, local jazz bands — all are on the list of nonprofits that raise money by selling fireworks. But the Fort Sutter Racing Pigeon Club is a little different.

Tom Kearney is 81 and helps staff the homing pigeon club fireworks booth on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento. The money the group raises goes mostly toward the gas it takes to drive hundreds of pigeons hundreds of miles away so that they can be released to race home.

He says he first became fascinated by homing pigeons at the age of 9, when he found out male and female pigeons sit on their eggs. “The other thing that fascinated me is both the male and female make milk,” he said.

You've got to hand it to him: Once he picks something, he stays with it. Marie Kearney is his wife of 63 years and is happy he has a hobby; she told a story of when he first started racing birds. "I was so excited, because I saw his bird was coming in the money and he would have more money to spend on the pigeons,” she recalled.

Every year on the Fourth of July, the group releases dozens of white homing pigeons into the sky near their booth at 49th Street. They then wait for the results as the pigeons race home.

The spring season just concluded with pigeons released from Idaho making their way to club members’ homes. Each bird has a band with a barcode that is scanned as it arrives at the nest, a simpler process that also means means no more long hours waiting for the first bird to arrive. The winner is determined by the distance traveled divided by the time taken to get there.

The Fort Sutter Racing Pigeon Club was formed in 1930. A member of the club won a homing race that was orchestrated by Walt Disney prior to the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley.

Bob Moffitt

Sacramento Region Reporter

Bob reports on all things northern California and Nevada. His coverage of police technology, local athletes, and the environment has won a regional Associated Press and several Edward R. Murrow awards.   Read Full Bio 

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