Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Visit to a Pigeon Loft

Read the blog to find out who is the mystery black dove!

(NB: If you haven't read it, you may want to read my previous blog as this one continues from it)Thurs 26.2.09

Since I blogged I have not seen EagleEye, the crossed bill dove that feeds from my hand. Nor have I seen Goldilocks...... maybe they don't like me blogging about them! I hope EagleEye in particular has not met a sticky end. I miss him, it was wonderful to tame a feral bird to come to my hand. There are even less doves around since the last blog- only 25 in the mornings and maybe 40 at most in the afternoons.

As I said in the previous blog, I had recaptured Belle and set out with her to drive to Bob's on the following afternoon. I was glad he could see me as I would've been reluctant to keep a healthy bird in captivity for more than a day. Belle is a very vocal dove - strong, feisty and doesn't like being cooped up in a cat box! When we really got going though on the A3 towards Aldershot she quietened down - maybe she could tell we were going home, though I don't really know why that would please her as this was the second time she had flown the xxxx miles from Bob's place to mine.
I didn't get too lost on the journey - a miracle for me - and found Bob at home with his family. He kindly offered me tea, but I was impatient to see the doves. I had never seen a pigeon loft before in real life and had been really looking forward to it. Bob's loft is two adjoining sheds at the bottom of the garden, all nicely equipped for the comfort of the doves.
Bob keeps white doves for his wedding and funeral releases
He has the white Logan Rocks doves with the homing instinct for the releases, and also keeps the pretty white fantails to have 'on display' in the elaborate decorated white cages at weddings. I was surprised that he also has some black (or very dark) doves too (pigeons really but for the purposes of the blog I call them all doves and I, personally, like all the variations of colours)

The few black doves Bob keeps are for a special purpose. At funeral releases, sometimes, the relatives want to release a black dove to represent the deceased and three white ones to represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The doves are brought to the funeral in a black hamper decorated on the corners with white flowers. The doves are released at the appropriate time and are supposed to soar up together, the black one (the deceased) being taken up to heaven by the white ones (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). I have to say that this idea is not to my taste at all. I wondered how the relatives would feel if, by chance, the black dove flew one way and the three white ones made of in another direction! However, it takes all sorts, and if this type of release comforts the relatives then so be it.
The few black doves Bob has are stunning birds. They look black, or very dark, from a distance but when looked at closely their feathers show many beautiful natural colours including iridescent green and purple.
Inside the sheds were much cleaner than I thought. No doubt a lot of work for Bob - he cleans the main floor every day and the adjoining one every week. Now I saw in real life where the expression 'pigeon holes' comes from. The doves looked so sweet all in their little compartments, some with their mates or their babies (squabs).

Although it wasn't a particularly cold day, Bob had a small heater on in one corner of the floor and several doves were sitting near it, enjoying the warmth. He said that in that extreme cold weather he lost several babies.
Belle didn't seem bothered either way to be back, but Bob did say that if she flies back to my flock again then there is obviously not much point in returning her.
Bob usually keeps his doves in til midday then releases then through a small hatch - this is of course kept open and they can fly in and out as they choose. Just before dusk, he blows the whistle, the doves come in and are fed - which of course makes them keen to come home - and the hatch is shut. Any doves who won't come in have to spend the night on the roof. As I was coming to see the doves, he had kindly kept them in til 2.00 pm so I could see them, but after I'd taken photos, the hatch was opened and one by one the doves flew out.

You wouldn't keep doves, or racing pigeons, if you didnt love them and Bob obviously loves his birds - though he doesnt name them. They fly to his hand for a treat - peanuts! and even perch on his head, and he makes Brr Brr noises to talk to them in their language.
I was especially pleased to see the squabs close up. When my own doves had babies, I only had a few crafty peeks in the dovecote as I didnt want to upset the parents, so it was a real treat for me to see the funny babies in their different stages, although he didn't have any very small ones. The squabs go from egg to near independence in about four weeks, so they have a lot of quick growing to do.

Most people think the babies are ugly, and I suppose they are not cute like fluffy yellow chicks or adorable brown striped ducklings, but they have an ungainly charm of their own. Although the mother dove pecked Bob when he picked up the squab that I photographed in his hands, she didnt appear to really mind, and he soon popped the baby back. I think that baby was on it's own. Mostly two eggs are laid, but I suppose both do not always hatch, or one baby doesn't survive.

The mother dove in this photo is sitting on two squabs about a week old.
Now to my dark secret! I'm telling you bloggers something that I didn't tell my husband as I didn't think he would be too pleased.... but I just couldn't resist! Bob gave me three doves to take home, and obviously as we have been trying to reduce the enormous (100+ birds) flock from the summer I knew he wouldnt take too kindly to me bringing some more back. Bob was needing to find homes for these three as they were the wrong colours for his business.
The first was a white one, with some black feathers and two faint marks on its breast that looked like dirty fingerprints. I called this one Smudge. Smudge is very young, hardly more than a squab and still has that unformed, teenage look with a beak that appears over-sized.

The second one is a very dark one, but has a white patch on his back, so not suitable to represent the deceased in funeral releases I suppose! I've called him Nero (I call him 'him' but I don't know the sex).

The third one was multi-coloured with a white part on its head. Unfortunately he flew away at the first opportunity once I had them at home.

This is the only photo I have of him - with Smudge to the right.

Bob says he always tries to find homes for his unwanted birds and does not just drive off somewhere and release them into the wild, so if you live in Surrey and fancy some birds there's an opportunity for you!
I brought the birds home in the little carrier that I had taken Belle back in. There was plenty of room for three for a half hour drive. Once home, I left the youngest bird, Smudge, in the small box and transferred the two coloured ones into my dog box. Both boxes have newspaper on the bottom, and of course I put in food and water. I then hid the boxes in the shed so my hubbie wouldnt find them!!!
I got up early next morning (husband at work - he works nights) and put the boxes on the garden table. My idea was that the dove would watch the other doves arrive, and get some idea of their surroundings from the safety of the boxes. The doves had other ideas, they were practically kicking the doors down! So I released them, stupidly without taking any photos, most unlike me! They immediately flew up to the roof, where the other doves were arriving.
When the main flock came over to the island to be fed, Smudge, Nero and the un-named one stayed on the roof, and shortly afterwards the un-named one flew away and so far has never returned. He was a beautiful dove but of course a free spirit like all of them. I hope he has found a nice place to live.
I tried throwing food onto the lawn and of course the greedy hordes just flew down for more grub.... but eventually Nero came down and tentatively and politely started to take a few grains. Smudge didn't come down and I was worried, especially as he is so young.
Before dusk the main flock had flown away to wherever they spend the night, and Nero and Smudge were two little lonely black and white figures on the roof. I kept popping out from the kitchen to look at them. My daughter said 'There's nothing you can do Mum, you can't fly up to the roof and bring them down!'. I wished I could. I had put the boxes back on the garden table in the hopes they would come down and I could put them safely away for the night, but of course they didn't.
Eventually about 6pm when I checked they had both left the roof top. I was again up early next morning and actually saw the two of them pop back onto the roof - thank goodness they had found shelter for the night.
Nero quickly got in with the scrum and was soon dashing about picking up food like the main flock. Smudge took longer but eventually worked it out, and is still nervous.
On the second night Nero flew away with the others quite early about 4pm, leaving poor little Smudge on his own. Then at 5pm a white dove appeared by Smudge and after a while they flew off together. I suppose its possible the white one was sent to fetch him? The third night, Smudge was again left alone and no-one came to get him.... but he flew off and maybe made his own way to the roost.
Since then I am happy to say both Smudge and Nero are fine, and my husband still doesn't know!
The end - (you may have to scroll down to get to the comments section)


Preseli Mags said...

Lovely. As instructed I caught up with the previous blog first. How satisfying to have been able to catch Belle and take her home. I was once taken to see a proper racing pigeon loft and it was lovely to see them all sitting in their little holes. What lovely birds!

mountainear said...

Fascinating, Faith. I've seen the inside of a really old dove cote but never one occupied by birds.

I do like them when they are feathered though - the squabs look so vulnerable and naked - only their mothers could love them.

Pipany said...

Well, they are all lovely Faith. Can't say I blame you for sneaking some more home xx

Calico Kate said...

So Lovely Faith. Our local bording kennels have a small dovecot, white, hexagonal on a pole. It is so pretty and the white doves they have are the only ones in the area.
Do doves breed earlier than other birds? or twice a year maybe?
I don't think we have any chicks up here just yet, though I was watching a glossy black male black bird following an elegantly brown female this morning, so maybe we will soon.

Anonymous said...

I love reading these posts. You say Bob obviously loves his birds but you seem to adore them. They obviously know where they are well off. Perhaps the unnamed one just wanted to be free, whereas the other two were quite happy to have you be their new adoptive mummy. They look so elegant up on the roof. I've had a quick look at Bob's website and it's so fascinating. I have always wondered where the doves fly to once they are released and I think it's extremely clever of them to fly home.

Also, I never realised doves were released at funerals. I think it sounds particularly religious. Not sure I would want it myself though.

CJ xx

Pondside said...

100 birds?! I didn't realize. Do you think your husband will pick out the new ones in the crowd? Here's hoping he doesn't!

KittyB said...

Secret birds - I love it.
Bless the little squab - not my idea of cute, but anything small and vulnerable gets the 'aaaahh' vote!

Fennie said...

That was lovely Faith. So much that I didn't know. Thanks for enlightening me. You do love your doves I can see that - but I'm surprised that they fly away at night and don't just roost on your roof

Inthemud said...

Oh how exciting! Keeping secret Doves. Wonder if he'll realise?

The baby dove is a funny little thing, but very cute!

Lovely blog , Faith.