Three years after Dylan Patera first learned to love pigeons when he found and cared for a lost one, the Bellingham 11-year-old recently won the American Pigeon Racing Union's youth essay contest.
Fittingly enough, the Whatcom Middle School sixth-grader titled his essay "Winning." He won a state-of-the-art electronic pigeon race timing system and earned the title of national youth ambassador for the pigeon racing organization.
The son of Kate Patera, Dylan has done his share of winning with show birds at the Northwest Washington Fair, earning numerous blue ribbons, including a best-of-show award.
Question: Dylan, how did finding a pigeon stir your love for the birds?
Dylan: I was 8 years old, in third grade, when I found a lost bird just sitting on some dirt, seeming very tired, while I was heading into the doctor's office. We later learned Pidgie (that's what he named the female bird) had flown 400 miles. She was owned by a Canadian man, who actually gave Pidgie to us and told us about the racing union.
Kate: I thought it was a lost pet. I remember when a similar thing happened to me when I was a child, but the pigeon flew away and I never saw it again after two weeks. That was a moving experience for me.
Dylan: We still have Pidgie. We don't ever want to race her, because we don't ever want to lose her. She's so sweet.
Q: What's been your main way of learning about pigeons?
Dylan: Through two 4-H clubs: The Thunderbirds, mentored by Evelyn and Jerry Guilmette, and my mom's club, Valhalla.
Q: Do you prefer showing pigeons or racing them?
Dylan: I love to show them, and there's hardly any risk of losing them.
I've been in a couple of national races, and I do four to eight local races each year. But there's always the risk of losing pigeons. I hate it when I lose one. You get to know them.
Q: How much help have you had along the way?
Dylan: I've had really great help from people all over the country, along with my 4-H clubs. Local supporters are people like Matt Aamot, owner of Hannegan Farm & Home; Abid Mahmood; Mike Toner; the Strand family (Michael, Vicki and Thomas); and Bekins Moving.
Q: What else do you do?
Dylan: I keep a record book and health records of our flock. I make public presentations for younger kids at the library. I participate in a "fit and show" competitive event at the fair. I had a pigeon booth at the "Wings Over Water" bird festival in Blaine. Now, as youth ambassador, I'll be writing several articles for each issue of the racing union's newsletter, Pigeon Tracks.
Q: In your essay, how did you describe your work with pigeons?
Dylan: Here's part of what I wrote: "It's a good feeling when you win because you have a feeling of accomplishment, and you are happy that your efforts to win did not go to waste. ... I scrape my loft daily so my birds stay healthy and clean. I also give them nutrients in their food. ... I give them baths. ... I train them so they stay fit and are able to fly back fast and furiously. I tame them so when I go to handle them, they don't fly away. I make sure my birds are safe because I care about them."
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.