Butte’s birdman

Nik Weber

Courtesy of nik weber

Nik Weber knew he wanted to be a veterinarian at age 10. He marveled at how the veterinarian handled his Amazon parrot, a “bird that could bite your finger off,” so calmly when he treated it for an eye infection. At 38 he’s now not only a veterinarian, but also recently became certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners as an avian medicine specialist, the only one between Davis and Salem, Ore., which are the closest cities where you can find bird specialists. As the owner of Whispering Pines Pet Clinic in Magalia, he sees more than birds. He is a certified canine and feline specialist and also treats reptiles. Parrots are the most common birds he cares for, but his hobby is pigeons. Pigeon racing to be precise.

Tell me about your pigeons.

I’ve got a couple lofts in the back [of Whispering Pines]. We basically raise them to race them. There is a club in Chico and we’ll meet. The birds have homing chips attached, and we’ll drive them out 100 to 600 miles to ship them, depending on the time in the season. Then we time how long it takes for them to fly back to their lofts, and the birds that fly back fastest win.

There’s a club in Chico for pigeon racing?

It’s called Butte Creek Invitational. I used to see a guy who is a member of the club when I worked for another clinic. When I bought Whispering Pines, I had some room [to start raising pigeons].

Once you have the pigeons, how do you raise them to race?

When you’re out there shipping the birds, that’s all flyers talk about is how you raise your birds. You drive them out different distances from their loft and they fly back. You have to get them to recognize where home is. When you look down on pines it all looks the same. I drive mine up the hill, and the loft is next to Chuck’s Place. So, I hope they can see the colored flags in the parking lot. They can see 70 miles. I’ll take them out farther and farther.

Why do they come back? Why don’t they fly away to live on their own when they are released?

That’s the big mystery. No one really knows. They have iron particles in their brain. These tiny iron crystals in their brain cells may act like a compass. And they use the sun. They know what the sun looks like and where it is supposed to be in the loft. As they get farther from the loft they use it to fly back.

What else do you like to do?

I mostly do orienteering, which is a lot like what pigeons do.