Niagara Dove Release 

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The Hatching of an Idea?                             February 23, 2018

As I shaded my eyes from the bright summer sun I felt the tiny feet of a delicate, little bird light upon my wrist. Slowly I moved my hand away from my face so I could see what had landed on me and to my absolute delight there was a plucky chickadee balancing upon his lame foot and singing sweetly without a care in the world. It appeared he had an affinity for turquoise and silver bracelets and was fascinated by the bangle that clung to my wrist. As he tapped at the turquoise I restrained my desire to express my enthusiasm vocally so as not to frighten him away. I was thrilled to say the least!

My husband and I had moved to the country over a decade ago from the city and, after raising our children, we had become empty nesters. As we sat on the deck in our backyard we discussed what possibilities lay before us as we headed into our retirement years when this beautiful little chickadee had decided to join us. We have both worked in industries where we have been of service to our communities in various capacities and now, as we noted the effects of time were creeping up upon us, we needed to formulate a next-stage-in-life plan. 

I was finding our empty house was too lonely and knowing there would be no grandchildren to fill it for quite some time, I began to pester my husband about getting a pet to keep us company. As he reminded me, I am allergic to animals of all kinds, and so having something furry in our home was probably not a great idea for my health. I sulked.

"I was transposed to the idea of a new path in life."

So far my path had gone this way: I had been a counsellor working with people in our community looking to restructure their lives and find employment. I had had my own counselling practice. I had driven a large school bus equipped to also handle handicapped students as well as all ages of able bodied students. I had worked for a media provider of local news in type and I had worked at a fine dining establishment with a hotel, and event services, as a hostess, server, bartender, and assisting in various executioning of events. My education included Media, Art, Design, Human Resources, and minor Psychology studies in both College and University settings and somehow I needed to put this diversity to work but I had no idea how.

A few days later, as I leisurely surfed posted videos of loved ones returning from their military tours to the surprise of their families, and baby announcements of triplets soon to be born, I  came across a video of a woman who looked a lot like me holding a white dove at a gathering. As I watched the video, soft music playing to elevate the mood of the ceremony she was performing, I could see from the gathering of the family that this was a white dove release in memorium for a woman who had passed away. Her husband and grown children along with their family were standing together on the side of a small hill overlooking a pond holding a white dove and as this gentle dove lady spoke you could feel the grief the family shared lift. The husband, with all his love, kissed the white dove and released his beloved symbolically into the sky. In that moment his pain flowed unrestrained from him and was relieved. His heart elevated ever so slightly from the weight of his loss and I was transposed to the idea of a new path in life.

 It was almost as if I had walked out of a tunnel and into the light of day. There was the conglomerate of all my education and experience in one business model along with the opportunity to have pets that I could keep outdoors. I was excited and inspired. I could be of service to our community and I wanted to make it happen right away but obstacles are always bound to pop up and so our journey to creating Niagara Dove Release began bit by bit.

May 14, 2018

You've Got to Love the Weather!

The thing about this job is you've got to love the weather, ... all weather because you'll be working in it everyday no matter what. Extreme heat, extreme cold, rain, winds, doesn't matter because the doves depend on you for their care and feed. In the winter keeping their water clean and defrosted is challenging and needs constant attention even with the aid of water heaters. Their shelter must be wind resistant enough so they don't freeze in the lowest temperatures and fully ventilated in the summer months so they don't collapse from heat exhaustion. Some pigeon fanciers scowl at the idea of cooling my doves in a kiddie pool in the summer for fear that they may share diseases and so keeping them inoculated against these potential vulnerabilities is a constant concern but doves love to be clean. They thoroughly enjoy the water and will choose to sit out in the pouring rain to get a good shower rather than hide inside away from the elements.

Medications and vitamins to improve their health and immune systems provide protection from contact with other birds, animals, and people as well as sanitizing the humans that come in contact with them and I will save the topic of predators for another blog. We take all precautions we can to keep our doves healthy at all times. The reality is these doves are not toys. This is Nature and there is a cycle to life and as with all lives these too shall pass in their own time and this takes some getting used to. As we enter into springtime our lofts are filled with new life. Squabs are being born and nests are full of squeaking pink and yellow babies hoping to get their parents attention for something to eat and drink. We band our doves when they are young by slipping a numbered ring over their foot and onto their leg where it will remain the rest of their lives to ensure a safe return home should they ever get lost and found by someone helpful.

"Lessons are valuable when one has been creative because you become a Master at what not to do."

When we built our Breeder's Loft I did a lot of research to try to avoid costly mistakes however inexperience creates an opportunity for experience. As much as we would have loved to have started off with the perfect loft that would have been very costly and so we modified. Lessons are valuable when one has been creative because you become a Master at what not to do. The problems we encountered with our first loft were removed with our Free-Flyers Loft and we created new problems. Life is a journey though, right? The other problematic restriction was only one of us new how to use tools, my husband, and so I toughened up and asked him to teach me how to build. I am from a generation of women who were not permitted to take shop courses when we were young and I had had it drilled into my head from actual educators and self-professed educators throughout childhood that I would get hurt if I tried to learn. That didn't always stop me. This was hard for my husband to comprehend, that I didn't know how to use tools, and I had to keep retrieving his help because I simply didn't know the basics of building having never been exposed to the simplest of tool tasks beyond the screwdriver and hammer ... oh yes and a drillpress and a paper cutter from when I worked at a newspaper. I took my first shop class in grade 12. It was an electricity course. I figured I would one day own a house and should know how to fix it, at least a little, and so I began with trying to understand electricity. 

Once Ken got me qualified enough I became comfortable with tools and there was no stopping me! Everything I built was based on similar principles I'd learn in home economics classes, like quilting, jewelry making, and pattern design. It was just on a bigger scale. I began to make a couple of birdhouses to get comfortable with the process and then leapt into building the Free-Flyers Aviary. Ken corrected me on some errors I had made and let me loose again. This time I decided to build a rabbit hutch for my New Zealand White Rabbits. Lots of mistakes on that construction but it turned out pretty good considering how little experience I've had and I did it mostly unsupervised. Currently I'm trying to build an enclosed rabbit grow-out area that the little bunnies can use as a rabbit colony to run and play in. This way when friends come to visit we don't have to worry about the bunnies hopping out of little hands.

The beauty of building all of this has been being able to work outside. Sometimes it's freezing cold, windy, baking hot, it doesn't matter because the job has to get done. The rabbits grow and need room. The doves deserve a safe place to fly freely, and so I work, all throughout the day and sometimes through the night if their safety requires it. I love my job! I love my life in the loft because it's all worth it!

October 9, 2018

What About Hawks?

Good question!

I am frequently asked about birds of prey. Do they attack my doves? Will they attack during an event? Should we be worried?

No, you need not be worried.

Yes they have attacked my doves in the aviary at our home but never, in four years, not once at an event and we release year round all over most of the Golden Horseshoe. We are fortunate to live in this part of Canada where we do not have a major birds of prey problem.

I'm always thrilled to see the rare local eagle fly by because it is so majestic. Lucky for us eagles are more interested in fish than doves.

My first season of having doves taught me a valuable lesson though. Falcons are fast and hawks are stealthy ... but I'm bigger. When my pigeon fancier friends told me to train my doves to go out, fly, and come back for food quickly during migration times I had no experience to base this reasoning on so I had to learn the hard way. I also learned not to get my hands too close to a raptor that's eating as that turned out to be quite a painful lesson. I have been "footed" trying to save a dove. I called it taloned since the talon had punctured my hand but footed is the correct term. The first time a falcon grabbed one of my doves I managed to save it. I waved my arms around and chased after the raptor trying to scare it off my dove and it worked. The second time I learned that you can get too close to a hungry hawk. Raptors have a very strong grip and the more you move the tighter the squeeze. A falconer at the Balls Falls Craft Show this weekend put it best when he said, "It is like being caught by a bear. You just have to stay still and take the mauling until the bear's done; same with a raptor." The avian doctor at the Owl Foundation had told me the same thing when we brought the hawk to them for help.

"...we have learned ways to protect our doves from attack."

We live close to the sanctuary for birds of prey and owls and I'm pretty grateful that they are there. We are on a migration route. This means that birds of prey do take an interest in our doves on a rare occasion but through education from the Owl Foundation, and other pigeon fanciers, we have learned ways to protect our doves from attack. The sanctuary have been more than helpful in rehabilitating the 2 juvenile raptors we have brought to them. They are always happy to receive donations to help rehabilitate and relocate these beautiful birds.

From Thanksgiving to Easter we take extra precautions against predators. This is when hawks and falcons migrate. During this time they are getting quite hungry and are looking for a convenient meal. We have had trouble in the past with birds of prey stalking our doves, that's when I was footed, and another time a juvenile hawk actually figured out how to get into one of our aviaries and he helped himself to a dove. We refer to this kind of unfortunate occurrence as "Nature Happens". We have never had any other predators get into the aviaries or lofts, thank goodness. What we have learned is it is important to close the trap when the doves are resting and not flying during the colder months. We enclose our doves in their aviaries at this time and fly them for short periods to keep them active yet safe. Our doves are fast flyers. They can outfly most hawks and return home safely. 

Once my husband and I were sitting reading on our back deck under the overhang when we saw the commotion of and raptor chasing our doves. He had managed to separate one dove from the rest of the flight and was in fast pursuit when the dove saw my husband and I come to attention and she bolted her way straight towards me. With open arms I encouraged her to come to me and without hesitation she surprisingly did! I caught her and turned to hide her from the outstretched claws of the hawk as my husband intercepted the chase and with the roar of a great lion he stopped the hawk in mid flight! Like something out of a cartoon the hawk backstroked his way in mid-air out from under the covered porch and tried desperately to get away from my husband's grasping hands. The dove huddled for safety hidden in my arms beneath my coat as the hawk flew away hungry and probably a little freaked out. We rejoiced like we'd won a gladiator contest!

When we are at an event the commotion of a lot of people tends to encourage a bird of prey to leave the area. This gives our doves time to become airborne. Once our doves are on their way they are pretty safe. They have been trained to fly straight home and into their aviary and loft for their food.

I have followed my doves home on training flights many, many times in all seasons. I have watched like a mother watches her children from afar walking home from school for the first time, stomach in my throat, and biting my nails, and still they seem to always make it home without incident. Occasionally a cute pigeon may distract them off course but they usually they come straight home. It still amazes me. I used to get physically sick worrying about them and it took almost two years to finally trust that they know what they are doing and are fully capable of outflying raptors. Doves want to come home and they want the whole group to come home safely so they fly close together, circling back if needed to help the younger ones along, and eventually they find their way back to where the rest of their dove family are waiting for them safe and sound.

November 1, 2018

All Hallow's Eve

The Day of the Dead, Hallowe'en, Samhain, and Dia de los Muertos are all meant for us to honour our ancestors who have passed away.

Here in my neck of the woods I like to celebrate this day by letting our local neighbourhood kids visit our birds and animals and interact with them while they are in pursuit of their goodies from home to home dressed in their wonderful costumes. It's a great way to get to know our neighbours along with introducing children to the love of animals. 

I started setting up this interactive display three years ago by sitting out with a couple of Old Dutch Capuchine pigeons I had, in regular clothing, no costume, and letting the children pet the birds along with giving them their treats. Little did I know so many children had never pet any bird before let alone a pigeon and a few were afraid to go near them. I realized I had a duty to help these children overcome their fear of birds.

The next year I added different types of birds: capuchines, doves, a high flyer, a tumbler pigeon, and some finches. The kids and their families loved it! Everyone wanted to pet or hold a bird and so did their parents. I realized there was a need for a connection to nature that many people were missing out on.

This year I added a large New Zealand white rabbit and four hamsters along with white doves. I sold my other pigeons to a lovely family who wanted to take care of all of them and I am so happy to focus on the doves, rabbits, and hamsters. 

Being that it's All Hallow's Eve, Halloween, the history of this day goes back a long way. Where we enjoy it as a festive day of tick or treating with friends and family it originally was a day to remember and honour the people we had known in our lives who had passed on. Since a large portion of my of my business is funerals and memorials I had a lot of silk flowers to add to may display. As the evening drew closer I kept thinking to myself  my front porch looks so pretty with all of the cages and white doves and animals. It's not spooky at all and I don't want to make it spooky to frighten young children away from a love of birds so I needed to get creative.

"It's the Day of the Dead!"

Then it occurred to me. This is just like all the funerals and memorials I attend. There are countless numbers of flowers, a little fearful resignation of the guests attending because of the unknown, and a lot of people mingling about curiously investigating this uncommon situation. It's the Day of the Dead!

The movie Cocoa introduced the world to this ancient festival from Mexico, and originally Europe, and I thought I could express the beautiful side to mourning with loved ones and joining together to face an event that can be so frightening for all of us. So I painted up my face in a traditional style, added some jack-o-lanterns for nostalgia, bats to symbolize the night, a couple of plastic, smiling skulls, and waited for trick or treaters to arrive.

They were thrilled to say the least! Parents were just as excited and many of the children who remembered being there the year before were eager to show their friends and parents how brave they were to handle the birds and animals. It was delightful and I could hear some of them tooting there little whistles I had given them, along with their candy, from far off down the block asking other friends if they had been to the dove lady's house yet!

The following week it was nice to see the children of the neighbourhood recognized me as that lady with the all the animals and would smile and wave kindly. It absolutely warms my heart but better than that they experienced a day of the dead much like a funeral or memorial. It was an introduction to a difficult part of life that we must all experience at one time or another and they weren't traumatized by it. They faced small fears and overcame them and joined together with others dressed in clothing they had given thought and attention to. At the end of the event, when they returned home, they feasted and rested. Just like a funeral or memorial. This is why All Hallow's Eve is an important custom and it has taken a lifetime for me to figure that out.

I'm looking forward to next year to see all my neighbourhood friends again and celebrate life's full cycle together. Until then may life be a celebration each and every day! Happy Halloween!

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