WEST ALLIS, Wis. — A West Allis man has been racing pigeons for more than 60 years.
Gene Szyszkiewicz's dad was a pigeon racer, and Gene followed in his father's footsteps.
“I love pigeons, you know. I had them all my life. I tell the guys at the club I’m not a pigeon racer. I’m a pigeon lover," Szyszkiewicz said.
He has about a dozen racing pigeons that he trains twice a week. From July to September, Szyszkiewicz races his pigeons just about every weekend. Racing pigeons means dropping the pigeons off at one location and timing how long it takes for them to return home.
"When I was younger, I used to love hunting, fishing, pigeons, and I could do all kinds of sports. But now, I just prefer hanging out in the backyard watching the pigeons," Szyszkiewicz said.
These aren't just any regular pigeons that you see flying in a park. These birds are bred for racing and can fly about 50 miles per hour. Once his pigeons are 28 days old, he starts to train them. Szyszkiewicz uses feeding techniques so that the pigeons are trained to know where their food comes from. That helps the pigeons become familiar with their home and know where to fly back to. Gene knows which pigeons are his based on special tags on their feet.
Szyszkiewicz races with the Metro Milwaukee Racing Pigeons.
However, pigeon racing isn't as popular as it used to be in Milwaukee.
"There's only four of us in the Milwaukee area that are flying pigeons yet, and there used to be seven clubs with about 100 members each," he said.
He said he had tried to get a father and son into the sport; however, without many other young families racing pigeons, it was hard for the father-son duo to latch on to the sport. Szyszkiewicz had similar trouble getting his kids to pick up pigeon racing.
Despite the declining popularity, he said he will race pigeons for as long as he can. It's what he loves to do, and doesn't want the sport to fade away.