Ceremonial Bird Release
WHO: Dale Rogers’ “White Doves of Love”
WHAT: Releases white birds (homing pigeons) for weddings, funerals, veteran memorials, cermonies, parties and other events.
COST: $125 to $200
Ceremonial bird releases test nature of homing flock in North Tonawanda
On any given evening, a flock of small white birds can be found circling the sky above Dale Rogers’ backyard in North Tonawanda. Wings spread, they rise in unison, enjoying the brief moment of freedom before disappearing through the metal gate into their coop at the end of the yard.
At first glance, they appear to be doves — a symbol of hope and peace. Rogers squints up at his homing pigeons flying overhead, whistling softly to himself. He knows that when their wings eventually tire, they will return home. They always return home.
Always a lover of the two-winged creatures, it wasn’t until a few years ago when a friend of his at the local American Legion Post was looking to pass on the tradition of training homing pigeons for veteran memorials and cermonies, that he considered raising them for himself. He now has about 55.
Used for symbolic release at weddings, funerals and parties, Rogers places them in white wicker baskets or a church-shaped box in groups of two or more until it is time for their 15 minutes of fame. Once released, the birds are able to find their way home from as far as 50 to 60 miles away.
“It’s just phenomenal how they have this instinct,” Rogers said, who works as a senior engineering technician for the city of North Tonawanda. “I’m still amazed. There’s all kinds of theories on how they do it.”
The releases, ranging in price from $75 to $200, help pay for the feed and upkeep. Occasionally, they are also released for elementary school classes.
Known by many as the mysterious Towpath Tiller columnist for the Tonawanda News — a columnist who always keeps his face concealed — Rogers knows the history of every bird in his flock. He inoculates them against avian diseases and fixes them up when they’re ill. When they nest early in the spring and again a few months later, he’s there to make sure the new chicks are doing OK.
“Now see that bird hopping up and down, he’s courting that hen,” Rogers said, pointing at a large one he refers to as the “Stallion” or “Playboy.” “He likes all the ladies. He’ll puff himself up and dance around.”
Every spring Rogers begins training the new birds, gradually releasing them farther and farther from home so that they can orient themselves with the area. Some become lost in the process, but once trained, the homing pigeons will return to the same spot for life and cannot be retrained.
Their motivation? Food and love. With a life span of 10 to 12 years, most of the birds only mate with one other bird. When deciding which birds to bring to a release, Rogers said he will often separate couples as extra motivation for them to return home.
“You can almost sense they’re happy they found their way back,” Rogers said.
Ceremonial Bird Release