This article originally appeared in the Stamford [Connecticut] Advocate, Jan 17, 2010, in The Dart, "a weekly feature in which reporters throw a dart at a map of Stamford and then go out in search of a story."
Note: Phil Tucciarone is the son of Frances Mallozzi (1905-1986) and John Tucciarone (1895-1988), and is a first cousin to my husband, Bill Zarges.
The Dart: 'Thoroughbreds of the sky' keep club's connection alive
By Devon Lash, STAFF WRITER
Published: 05:40 p.m., Sunday, January 17, 2010
STAMFORD -- Phil Tucciarone is a ladies man.
"When I walk into the club, some of the guys say, `Here comes Phil and his girls,'" the spry 84-year-old said with twinkling eyes. And while the ladies this lifelong Stamford resident admires have storied pedigrees and finicky diets, you're more likely to find these girls in the sky than on the catwalk. Tucciarone is a pigeon fancier. He breeds, trains and races homing pigeons.
|Phil Tucciarone holds the special feed he buys for his racing pigeons that's imported from Belgium. He raises the birds behind his home on West Main St. in Stamford, Conn. Photo taken on Monday January 11, 2009. Photo: Dru Nadler / Stamford Advocate|
He's the oldest flier at the Stamford Racing Pigeon Club, nestled on the city's West Side away from the traffic on West Main Street. "I fly mostly girls -- they are more reliable ... smarter," Tucciarone said, standing next to his backyard coop that is in sight of the racing club.
Racing pigeons -- "the thoroughbreds of the sky," Tucciarone will remind you -- is a beloved sport in a city that has esteemed its racing game even before the city club was founded in 1934.
|Phil Tucciarone tends to his racing pigeons in the backyard of his home on West Main St. in Stamford, Conn. Photo taken on Monday January 11, 2009. Photo: Dru Nadler / Stamford Advocate|
There are the underdogs, the long shots, the losers and the champions in a competition that pits birds against their brethren, the elements and natural predators. After training pigeons with short flights from the New York area, the birds compete in 100-mile to 500-mile races against pigeons from the Stamford club and other area clubs, said William Telesco, a club member who began racing pigeons in 1951 and continues to breed the birds.
The average speed of a pigeon is 42 miles per hour, Telesco said, and it takes it from 2 to 12 hours to return to the home loft.
No one knows for sure how the birds are able to fly home from such far distance, though some have speculated it has to do with the position of the sun or the earth's magnetic fields, he said. The club has seen a downfall in interest and membership since pigeon fever gripped many of the Italian, Polish and German families who kept their birds on the West Side during the 1950s.
"At one time there were 20 lofts within a half mile on the West Side," Telesco said.
The club was founded in 1934, as a certificate on the current clubhouse wall boasts, by Paul Ferrara, a carpenter, who became the club's first president, said his son James Ferrara, now a North Stamford resident.
"Once my mother got mad as heck and locked him out, because he was spending so much time with the pigeons," James Ferrara said, laughing at the memory.
The club met on Finney Lane before the group erected a clubhouse on the land where the current building stands, Ferrara said.
|Phil Tucciarone's racing pigeons in the backyard of his home on West Main St. in Stamford, Conn. Photo taken on Monday January 11, 2009. Photo: Dru Nadler / Stamford Advocate|
"A bunch of the club guys were plumbers, electricians, carpenters or masons," he said. "They got together and built it themselves."
When the birds returned to the coops, Paul Ferrara would race to put the birds' leg bands into a German-made clock synchronized with other club members, James said. One turn of the key would register the bird's flight time and output a slip of paper.
"A lot of the races were on a Sunday, and we couldn't eat dinner until the birds came home," he said.
In this area, and across the country, the hobby is dying out, Telesco said.
"There wasn't very much for kids to do -- that's how it evolved," he said. "Now kids have so much to do."
Still, Tucciarone has no plans to stop waking up at 4:30 a.m. to train the birds. He doesn't mind cleaning the lofts, tending to their medical ailments or feeding them twice a day. He proudly points out his fastest flier who has a green sheen along the breast feathers. "That's the winningest bird in the club," he said. Then, he adds as a humble afterthought: "I did my share of winning and I took my share of beatings in this game."