For the Birds Radio Program: The John Chickenfat Sled Bird Race

Original Air Date: April 1, 1988 Rerun Dates: April 1, 2021; Dec. 15, 2020; Jan. 15, 1999

Duluth is famous for the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. On April 1, 1988, Laura takes us to the scene of another great race. This episode features Joe Erickson, John and Karen Keenan, Mary Tonkin, and a gasp from Britta Keenan.

Duration: 5′27″


Laura: I’m standing here at the finish line of the John Chickenfat Sled Bird Race in Duluth. As you know, this annual race pits homing pigeon teams against each other in a brutal test of endurance and teamwork, as each team pulls a miniature sleigh through the sky from Grand Marais to the finish line at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. This year’s contenders include the odds-on favorite, the top woman sled bird racer in North America, straight from the Alaskan Ichickenrod, Jaimie Honker. Jaimie, a lot of the top contenders in years past have been women. Can you tell me why women do so well in this sport?

Jaimie: Well, part of it is that we coo in the same pitch range of pigeons. At the end of a long race, our birds hear us better.

L.E. So you’re saying the female voice is the key? Jaimie Well, it’s definitely an advantage. You know, the pejorative terms “chick” and “bird” referring to females originated from ancient sled bird races. And then we women have one other trick up our sleeve. We knit little booties for the men’s birds. Some of them spend their whole layover time trying to keep the booties on their pigeon’s feet. going to be?

Jaimie The Hardee’s restaurant in Two Harbors. By the time the birds get that far, they’re ready to take a break. A lot of them stop for french fries.

L.E. Well we’ll be sure to watch for that today. Thank you, Jaime. And good luck.

Jaimie Thanks, Laura.

L.E. One of this year’s novice contenders is Jim Baker–

Baker That’s Baker with one ‘k’.

L.E. Yes–Jim Baker from Baker’s Blue Jay Barn.

Baker Up the shore aways.

L.E. Jim, your team totally breaks with the convention of using pigeons in a race. Can you tell me why you decided to fly Blue Jays instead?

Baker: Well, Blue Jays are superior to every other kind of bird in the universe. Also, I think it’s important to have native American birds represented. Pigeons are just immigrants from Europe, you know.

L.E. Jim, how do you feel about the Port Wing Blue Jay Haters organizing a picket line today?

Baker When my team comes in first, these protesters’ll look pretty stupid. And it’s good publicity for my feed store– Baker’s Blue Jay Barn–Up the Shore Aways.

L.E. Thanks, Jim. Now I’d like to have a few words with this year’s youngest contender in the John Chickenfat Sled Bird Race, six-year old Joey Erickson. Joey, how’s the race going for your team?

Joey Great, Mom.

L.E. Joey, it seems like April’s an odd month to run a sled race. Why isn’t this race run when there’s certain to be a lot of snow?

Joey Well, mom, sled birds are different from sled dogs. They pull their sleds up in the sky. They don’t need snow.

L.E. Oh, I get it. Thanks, Joey. Now, the latest radio reports show the first racers have cleared the Two Harbors restaurant trap, and should be heading into town in a few minutes. Before they come in, here’s a word from our sponsor– Earth Angel Bird Emporium, helping you to attact upscale, trendy birds to your home.

(Recording of “Earth Angel”)

E.A. Hello. I’m Earth Angel. I started out as an interior decorator in Minneapolis, but after an unhappy love affair I escaped to the woods for a time of meditation. All I took were the clothes on my back and my set of Clairol electric hair rollers.

The first thing I discovered was that there are no electric outlets in the woods. The second thing I discovered was that the average member of the National Audubon Society earns over $25,000 a year, loves to travel, is well educated, and keeps his binoculars focused on feathered chicks only.

It’s easy to attract a man like this–all you need is a rare bird at your feeder. So stop by Earth Angel Bird Emporium today, and bring the bluebird of happiness to your home.

L.E. We’re back at the finish line of the John Chickenfat Sled Bird Race. It sounds like we’re going to have an upset this year–According to our short wave radio report, Jaimie’s team did clear the restaurant trap, but suddenly dropped down and is now feeding on something on the ground near the French River. Jaimie, do you have any comment?

Jaimie I don’t know, Laura–my staff says it looks like somebody dropped a ton of Baker’s Blue Jay Blend on the ground there. Looks mighty suspicious to me.

L.E. Wait–look–off in the distance I can just barely see the first teams coming in.

Joey Here comes my team! Coo coo coo…

L.E. Here come the jays.

Baker (Whistle)–yo, jays!

L.E. Both Joey’s and Baker’s teams are finishing strong. Wait–what’s that? A Peregrine Falcon! It’s buzzing Joey’s team–whew–it missed. But it looks like the leads are all tangled–the birds are trying to get back in position–no– they’re dropping. Looks like they’re all okay–yeah–Joey’s flashing the thumbs up. But they’ll lose a full minute as he straightens out the traces. Meanwhile, here come the jays– straight in to Jim Baker–the winner of this year’s John Chickenfat Sled Bird Race. Jim, how about that dramatic finish?

Baker I told the organizers that Hawk Ridge was a stupid place to end a race. I’m just glad it worked out in my favor.

L.E. Jim, do you have any comment about allegations that Baker’s Blue Jay Blend was used to lure Jaimie’s team down? Baker No way does Baker’s Blue Jay Blend attract pigeons and other vermin–it’s guaranteed.

L.E. Thanks, Jim. That about wraps up this year’s coverage of the John Chickenfat Sled Bird Race. For KUMD Radio, this is Laura Erickson, and this April Fools Day Program has been “For the Birds.”