Do you think pigeons are ‘rats with wings?’ This 11-year-old from Toronto wants to change his mind

Pigeons don’t always have the best reputation in Toronto, but 11-year-old Charlotte Cassell hopes her sport can inspire people to give them a second chance.

Charlotte has been racing pigeons for two years now. It all started after a pigeon her father owned found its way to their home after she went missing in 2008. Weeks after, she would go out and take care of it.

“It was so fascinating that this cute little bird made it after 12 years,” Charlotte said in an interview with CBC Metro morning host Ismaila Alfa.

Metro morning7:35Pigeons are ‘very understanding’: 11-year-old pigeon fancier wants you to give these misunderstood pigeons a second chance

Charlotte Cassell is an 11 year old pigeon fancier in Toronto.

After that meeting, she started researching the birds and learned about the pigeon sport.

Now she has 20 pigeons that race every weekend against up to 1,000 other pigeons. Last weekend in Englehart, Ontario, 553 kilometers north of Toronto, she achieved her best result ever, with one of her pigeons finishing ninth.

Charlotte shows CBC Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa her pigeon loft. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

“When you see them spinning from little ants on the landing board, and especially when they drop in, that’s the most exciting part of all,” she said.

During the Friday evening season, the pigeons are loaded into bird baskets at their respective clubs and driven to destinations where they are released on Saturday morning.

Pigeons are ‘very understanding’

In Toronto, Charlotte waits for her birds to fly home, which she says has been trained from an early age. Younger birds start traveling short distances and progress as they get older.

Most pigeons will compete for four years before retiring as it is much more difficult to train older pigeons.

Do you think pigeons are 'rats with wings?' This 11-year-old from Toronto wants to change his mind
Lucifer, Charlotte’s star nerd. is shown here. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

But not all pigeons are cut out for racing. Charlotte says birds with colorful plumage don’t normally do well because their visibility makes them easy targets for predators like hawks.

Despite this, a pigeon named Lucifer has become one of the stars of Charlotte’s flock, winning races even though she’s a “grizzle,” meaning her feathers have a mixed black and white pattern that stands out.

“Lucifer is a very tough pigeon”, Charlotte told Metro morning

“She has a lot of life in her… She will push through a lot of things.”

While many people in Toronto often refer to street pigeons as “rats with wings,” Charlotte hopes to teach people to look at them differently.

“They have a lot more to offer than the book cover. They are very understanding, especially when you’re feeling down,” she said.

“Especially when my pigeons get sick, they seem to cry. So if you help them, and you give them what they want, they start dancing and they are so happy about that.”

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