A bird in the hand

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2006

At six-foot-one and a chiseled 220 pounds, Ferdinand Perez looks more like the former middle-weight boxer he is. But his true passion is pigeons. Owner of the Bradenton and north Sarasota Snap-On Tools franchise, the 44-year-old Patterson, N.J., native, has raised, bred and raced homing pigeons since he was seven years old. Today Perez is poised to be one of the youngest and most successful pigeon fanciers in the Southeast.

"When I was five years old, we lived in a second floor apartment in Patterson," he says. "The next-door neighbor had a coop of white pigeons that he would let go every morning at 7:30. I would wake up every day and watch him from the window, amazed that the birds would always come back. When I was seven, my dad bought our first house. I went and caught some stray pigeons, and the rest is history."

Perez has been racing in the area with his brother, Dennis, since 2000 and is now the president of the Sarasota Pigeon Club. He wakes at 5:30 a.m. to tend to his birds. By 6:30 a.m., he's on the road to Tampa or Apollo Beach to release a pickup truck full of birds into the air for "training"-racing them back home to the loft, with the birds winning more often than not. By 9, he's at his desk.

"It's an amazing sport," says Perez. "It's just a little bird that wants to come home. They'll race back to the loft from as far as 500 miles away. Anything can happen-broken wings, crushed chest, hawk attacks-and despite the conditions, they come home. I can never get enough of it."

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