Down a snow-packed path behind the Arctic Defensive Driving School in Yellowknife, you can hear the soft cooing of pigeons. It’s an unusual sound in the North, but not for Norm Pottinger.
Pottinger has been raising and breeding pigeons in the city for the past 10 years. He enters them in races all over the world.
“I have been lucky to win some money and it keeps the encouragement there to keep going to other races,” he says, adding he won first place in races in Edmonton in 2013 and 2016. He also won 11th and 14th place in Edmonton in 2017.
It’s an unusually warm day in March when Pottinger climbs the metal stairs of his two-storey pigeon coop and opens a window to let some of his birds fly free.
“They’re a little bit disoriented because they haven’t been out for a month or so.”
WATCH: Learn more about racing pigeons
Pottinger says the pigeons don’t mind the northern weather.
“These birds love the cold. They do not worry at all.”
Growing up in Winnipeg, Pottinger says he raised and raced pigeons as a teenager, but he gave up his birds when he got married and moved north.
He didn’t have birds again for 40 years until he went to visit a friend whose wife had died.
“He said ‘Norm, they’re so fun,’ so he gave me a few to bring back and that’s what started me again.”
Today, Pottinger has around 100 pigeons from a mix of breeds including Black Power, Queen Elizabeth and Janssen. He says he’s gotten them from British Columbia, Alberta, Germany and Belgium.
“It’s all different breeds and then you breed your own and that’s how they become mine,” he explains.
Pottinger has around 16 pairs of pigeons that he breeds, which are now getting ready to lay eggs. He says pigeons mate for life.
“These are the best pigeons that I have.”
WATCH: Meet Pottinger’s best pigeons
Pottinger is now racing pigeons in Florida. He’s also preparing four birds to compete in the Hoosier Classic, an international 560 kilometre race in Wanatah, Indiana.
“I have nobody to race with here,” he says.
Pottinger says the organizers of the Hoosier are aiming to have around 5,000 pigeons compete. The winner will take home a prize of $500,000.
But it’s not cheap to enter these races. Pottinger says with entry and perch fees, it can end up costing around $700 per bird.
Races for young birds are usually around 480 kilometres. Pottinger says he’s seen birds complete that distance in as little as five hours and up to 12 hours when there were strong winds. He says older birds can fly 1,600 km in one day.
“When I was a kid I had one bird flew at 72 miles an hour and it was third place in the club.”
WATCH: Why does Pottinger do it?