Actors and directors in films are often in unions, so Bill Desmarais, an acclaimed pigeon breeder from the Flint, wants pigeons to have their rights protected, too. Desmarais invests a lot of time on his 250 pigeons, some which were used at a Providence film shooting last year, and he doesn’t want wild pigeons, brought in from New York City or elsewhere, to mix with his own.
Actors and directors in films are often in unions, so Bill Desmarais, an acclaimed pigeon breeder from the Flint, wants pigeons to have their rights protected, too.
Desmarais invests a lot of time on his 250 pigeons, some which were used at a Providence film shooting last year, and he doesn’t want wild pigeons, brought in from New York City or elsewhere, to mix with his own.
“Not to disparage those pigeons, but I would never let my pigeons mix with those birds,” he said.
Desmarais, backed by New England and national racing pigeon associations, turned to state Rep. Michael Rodrigues, a Democrat whose district includes Westport and some parts of Fall River, to file a bill that would require all pigeons used in films shot in Massachusetts to be licensed and tagged within the state.
The Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture is scheduled to hear the bill this afternoon.
“These individuals, they enjoy their hobby of racing pigeons,” Rodrigues said. “If there’s a potential threat we can alleviate to protect their investment, we should.” He was confident that bill will pass.
When pigeons are licensed and tagged, they can be traced back to their owner and even their lineage, said Desmarais, 58, who tags his pigeons at 8 days old. They are inoculated and vaccinated, unlike the wild pigeons some filmmakers use. “They didn’t look to be in the greatest health,” Desmarais said of some of the pigeons used at the Providence filming of “Tell-Tale Heart,” a remake of the Edgar Allen Poe classic.
Another benefit to using local pigeons in Massachusetts movies is that the birds can fly home after the filming, he said. Rodrigues said he wasn’t sure if similar pigeons-in-films laws are in place in other states.
The Fall River area is actually recognized internationally as a location for great pigeons, Desmarais said. Enthusiasts across the world buy pigeons from local breeders, though not from Desmarais. He doesn’t sell his, even though he was named the top breeder 2008 by the American Racing Pigeon Union.
In fact, the Fall River area will host the national organization’s annual convention and race in October. The American Racing Pigeon Union, with 700 clubs across the country, held the event in Chicago, San Diego and Tampa, Fla., in recent years. Races are as long as 300 miles, a distance from which trained homing pigeons can find still their way home. The price to enter a bird in the competition is $125.
Pigeon racing — and pigeons themselves — are not well understood, Desmarais said. Pigeons, he said, don’t carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans and don’t eat worms or bugs. They eat seeds or fruit, and in urban areas eat food and crumbs dropped by humans. Carrier pigeons were used to carry messages before postal mail, and some even were given awards for their service in both world wars, he added.
But Desmarais isn’t surprised how little is known about his hobby. “Pigeon fliers have a tendency to keep quiet,” he said.
E-mail Grant Welker at firstname.lastname@example.org.