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Dalton Miller's hobby is one for the birds

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By Denyse Clark

 Denyse Clark

dclark@thelancasternews.com

Dalton Miller loves birds, especially pigeons, and he wants other people to get to know this breed of bird for much more than what is commonly know about them – the mess they leave behind. 

Miller, president of the Southern Modena Club, has entered dozens of pigeon competitions to show off the beautiful, Modena show birds he raises. 

He’s been in competitions from as near as Lancaster to as far as Chicago, where he won the prize for having travelled the farthest, he said. 

Modenas, right, are a breed of pigeon that comes in 150 different colors, Miller said. 

The breed includes the schietti (solid color birds), gazzi and magnani. 

Hens and their male counterparts, referred to as cock birds, are entered into competitions and judged by their color, straight legs and feather condition.

“Their feathers can’t have lice or be broken,” Miller said.

Recently, Miller entered a competition in Louisville, Ky. and won first place in the National Young Bird Show. Young birds are pigeons that are about a year old.

“There were 300 Modenas that competed in the Louisville show,” he said. 

“There were fantails, racing homers and show homers – I won first with the white cock bird. That same bird’s dad won last year, but he was better than his dad.”

Miller shared how his fascination with pigeons began.

“I got started in birds when I was a teenager,” he said. “I had a racing homer.”

Miller explained that a racing homer is the same as a “carrier pigeon” or the homing pigeons used in first world war. 

During World War I, the U.S. Army Signal Corps used 600 pigeons in France alone, according website information on the war. 

“Notes were put on the pigeons’ legs and messages were sent by them,” Miller said. “They saved a lot of lives during the war.”

Miller said his first pigeon was a gift from an uncle in Charlotte.

“He gave me a racing homer,” Miller said. “Her leg was broke and she couldn’t race any more.”

Miller said he nursed the pigeon back to health and one day he attached a note on her leg and threw her up into the air to see if she would fly.

She did. 

“She went back to Charlotte where she belonged,” he said. “They will always go back home.”

Since that time, Miller has developed a strong affinity for pigeons. 

Right now, he has about 80 birds. He's been raising Modenas, which are strictly show birds, for about 30 years, he said. He also raises saddle homer pigeons. 

Miller said he enjoys entering his birds into competitions. About 14 years ago, he went to a show in Mount Airy, N.C., but when he got there, he discovered a box of his birds was missing. 

At first, Miller said he thought the box might have been stolen but when he called his daughter back in Lancaster and asked her to check his home, she discovered the box still sitting there.

“I told everyone at the competition that I’d left my best birds at home,” Miller said. “They laughed and said, ‘Yeah, right!’”

Miller said much to his surprise the next morning before the 9 a.m. competition, his son-in-law, Rex Johnson, brought the missing box containing the four birds.

“Three of those four birds ending up winning in that show,” Miller said. “I told them, ‘See, I told you I left my best birds at home.’”

Miller said raising pigeons and competitively showing them is “just a hobby.”

“It's really interesting and it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “We have a good time and meet a lot of people. You’ve really got to like this hobby to show birds. I wouldn’t suggest people get into this if they don’t want to invest the time and the money it takes to do this. It’s full time, everyday work.”