While other boys were playing baseball, fishing in a nearby stream or riding their bikes, John McClanahan was engrossed in a hobby that completely captured his imagination - show pigeon breeding.

"I've done it since I was about 10 years old," McClanahan said.

Setting up cages in lofts in his Los Angeles-area backyard in the early 1950s, he learned that through selective breeding he had some control over the coloring and feathering of fantail pigeons, birds known for their dramatic back-tail feathers.

"I try to improve the breed, eventually," he said.

That creativity is why he and numerous others throughout world have been attracted to pigeon breeding, a hobby which has seen the most popularity in Europe. In fact, the activity is often associated with aristocracy.

"The Queen of England and the Shah of Iran have participated," he said.

McClanahan took extended breaks from his hobby just twice, first when he joined the Marine Corps around 1960 and later in the early 1990s when his wife was battling a serious health issue. After his wife was on the road to recovery, a group of friends from the San Fernando Valley drove up and gave him several birds to get started again.

"We're a big fraternity," he said. "It's as much about the people as it is the birds."
Several weeks ago McClanahan received a visit from a Hesperia Animal Control officer.
"`I understand you have some pigeons.' I said yes," he said.

The officer explained that McClanahan was being cited for having too many birds in the backyard of his single-wide mobile home, which is situated in a mobile home park in the southern part of Hesperia. According to the city citation, McClanahan must get rid of more than 20 birds, bringing his total to no more than 10 by early January.

"It's like having a 10-foot yacht," he said. "You're not going to stay afloat. You need genetic diversity."

According to McClanahan, the birds aren't noisy; they make gentle, pleasant cooing noises.

McClanahan is exploring the possibility that his mobile home park, which is zoned R-3, could be "grandfathered in" to pre-city zoning regulations and receive an exemption allowing the birds to stay.

However, a city generally has authority over such matters, said David Zook, an analyst with the office of County First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt.

"Normally when a city annexes land the jurisdiction falls under city ordinances," Zook said. "It's still their rules."

Zook suggested McClanahan could file a conditional use permit with the city. Upon filing, the zoning matter would go before the planning commission where it would be resolved. Occasionally, cities have chosen to grant conditional use permits on animal issues, but that is typically to allow a student who is a member of 4-H to continue raising an animal as part of an educational project, Zook said.

In the meantime, McClanahan is concerned. The idea of losing more than half of his birds saddens him.

"It's like getting rid of your kids and you've got to get rid of half of them."