As the days grow shorter at the rate of up to about 15 minutes a week, activity slows at the loft in late fall. While Whitebird Ceremonial Dove Releases still does weddings in the winter, there is a huge drop off from our sometimes 12-hour work days of summer, mainly because evening events are no longer an option and outdoor ceremonies are rare. We’re all on our perches (mine’s the sofa!) by sunset.
For the couple weeks before and after the Winter Solstice, it was always a scramble to get out to the loft after work before I left my day job, and the birds had been known to dine by flashlight on occasion. This time of year, dinnertime is between 3:30-4:00 which gives them plenty of time to dine and take care of bedtime routines before sunset. They maintain their 108 body temperature even if/when the thermometer dips to freezing with the help of little down jackets and bigger helpings at mealtimes. The arrival and passing of the shortest day of the year is always cause for celebration, as the days start to grow longer again.
The old married couples and a few newly-wed pairs had their check ups in early November and went into the breeding loft around Thanksgiving. They are enjoying a high protein diet of peas, corn, wheat, rice, barley, milo, and safflower which helps prepare them to lay fertile eggs and feed healthy babies in the spring. After the, um, er, courtship period, they build their nests of pine needles on a base of cedar shavings in Belgian nest bowls. He selects a pine needle, then presents it to the hen who takes it from him and arranges it in the nest. Some are so expertly woven that it can be picked up in one piece. One hen likes to lay her pine needles side by side. Go figure.
The over-achievers are already on eggs. Each pair lays two. The parents stand over the first egg until the second egg is laid on the third day, then both parents take turns sitting, or “setting”. This ensures that the eggs hatch on the same day. If they started incubating the first egg as soon as it was laid, it would hatch two days earlier. Since the babies grow so fast, the second baby could not compete with its older, much larger sibling, for food. So! Mrs. sits in the late afternoon through the night and Mister takes over in the late morning. It’s a little lopsided, but at least he makes the effort. I mark the calendar and wait with great anticipation!
Residents of the flying (working) loft are enjoying a bit of respite, as well. In our early days, weddings and special events pretty much came to a screeching halt in winter, and since the word had not yet spread as to the healing powers of releasing doves at funerals, the birds lounged from November through March. But, business grew steadily, not only because a dove release is an amazing thing to behold, but now more and more people are learning the doves fly home safely and are not harmed in any way. With a small team of handlers, Whitebird Ceremonial Dove Releases is capable of performing several releases a day.
I’m often asked if caring for the birds is hard work. Well, my critters like to eat twice a day whether they’re working or not, and the tidying never ends. But, when I work long hours for them, they reward me with their good health which is reflected in their beauty, pure whiteness ( a dirty bird is a sick bird) and memorable performances. What they contribute to any occasion is very special, so caring for them is an absolute privilege. It will be 20 years next year since I got my first birds and christened Whitebird. I would sit in the loft for hours just watching the birds and dreaming of the possibilities. Sometimes I even fell asleep out there. I often wonder (and shudder to think) where I would be if I hadn’t witnessed the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics where they released 1500 white homing pigeons! It redecorated my life in the most amazing way!
The Dove Lady is most grateful for the special opportunities the doves have presented her. She most likely would never come to know the amazingly talented, gifted business owners who are her comrades-in-arms, and a constant source of joy, friendship, support, information, and inspiration!
Oh, yeah! Not to mention the part about finding the man of her dreams, her best friend, her life’s companion, the father of her children, her wisest counsel, her husband who is way more civilized than she’ll ever be. He saved her life.