A longtime trend on the west coast now appearing more frequently on the east coast, white dove releases are taking flight. More and more people are finding that a dove release will add just the right touch of festivity to a wedding or a worthy tribute to a memorial of their loved one. Although a dove release takes relatively little time, the preparation needed for something so seemingly simple would surprise most people.
A quality dove release begins with quality birds. It’s crucial to note that only Rock Doves (Columba livia) should be released, and not Ringneck doves (Streptopelia risoria), commonly found in pet stores. Ringneck doves are simply pets and have no homing capabilities whatsoever. Therefore, releasing these birds at any event will almost certainly result in their demise, not to mention your embarrassment as the bewildered birds find the nearest perch or flutter to the ground in search of food. Again, never release Ringneck Doves.
Since the Rock Doves desired for releases are bred primarily for their white color, they can have somewhat less developed navigational abilities compared to their multi-colored Homing Pigeon cousins. Ideally, selective breeding produces a bird that maintains the necessary white plumage, while still having the hardiness to fly many miles. To facilitate in keeping breeding records, a seamless band is slipped on the squab’s foot approximately one week after hatching. This band marks the hatch-year and contains a unique number that is then written down in the breeder’s record book. Using this data, it is then possible to breed optimal birds for quality white dove releases.
Maintaining the health of these strong, beautiful birds is of utmost priority. Fresh air and sunshine is necessary, and obtained by providing a well-ventilated and maintained loft with the aviary facing east to catch the rays of the morning sun. Clean water and good quality feed is a must. A good feed contains a combination of grains like Canada peas, small yellow corn, red milo, safflower, and maple peas. Natural supplements can also be added to the water daily to keep the birds in top flying shape.
The doves are also given the opportunity to take baths which, needless to say, they absolutely enjoy! The older birds are quite familiar with this pleasure, piling in especially quickly while the younger ones take their time getting accustomed to this new activity. After dunking themselves several times, they then start preening, taking their time till everything is in place. At times, special birdbath salts are put in the water for a more thorough cleaning job.
Training White Doves For Release
While these white doves already possess hereditary navigational abilities due to breeding, release them untrained and few will come back. Once the young squabs are weaned and feeding on their own, we let them out with the adult birds on a daily flight. At this stage, they are very cautious and will gingerly stick around without flying off anywhere. Young doves are very comical, sometimes acting startled by everything, yet still very inquisitive. They will tilt their heads from side to side, taking this new adventure all in. Eventually, they will take off and join their fellows in a continuous circling in the sky.
After a few weeks of daily flights around the loft, training begins! We do this by putting them in a basket, taking them out a mile from the loft, and releasing them. They will usually circle around and then make their way back to their loft. To encourage them to fly home promptly, we make sure to have food waiting for them when they get back! This and other training techniques will form good habits in the doves that will later be essential for their safety, as they navigate the miles back to the safe haven of their loft.
Road training the doves looks something like this: After being released from the same point three times at one mile, the distance is then increased to five miles, but still in the same direction. It’s at this point that their navigational abilities, still scientifically unexplainable, begin to show as they find their way home from an area outside their usual whereabouts. As with the one mile, we repeat the five-mile distance. Eventually, the process repeats itself for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, and all the way up to one hundred miles in some cases. Ideally, this is done in every direction that the doves are to be released. Although there are cases of birds coming back without having been trained in a certain direction, it usually takes them longer to return.
Prior to being released at an event, we put the doves on a modified diet that boosts their performance during the release itself. This also minimizes the chance of the bird soiling those releasing it. Realistically, there is very little chance of that happening. We tell people that are worried about the possibility of an accident that they are already taking a chance by hosting this white dove release, which takes place outdoors. After all, birds in the wild have the complete freedom to fly over and cause a potentially unpleasant occurrence!
The White Dove Release
When it comes time to actually release the doves, there are two options: either by hand or from a basket. While we recommend the hand release because of the extra special touch that it adds, releasing from a heart-shaped basket or chapel-shaped cage is no less desirable, and is a good option for people not comfortable with holding live birds.
For a hand release to be effective, you should in a special way to show as much of the bird as possible. One way to accomplish this by positioning the tail between the thumb and index finger and the legs between the middle and ring fingers. The other hand supports the dove from the bottom. This position is most comfortable for the bird, while at the same time allowing for a good bit of the bird to be visible so that good shots can be obtained by the photographers and/or videographers.
Another possibility is to hold the dove as it were a bouquet of flowers with one hand grasping the tail and legs and the other supporting the bird’s body. Holding the bird by the sides can appear intuitive, but that will make it think it can free itself by wiggling a bit harder, often resulting in a premature release.
It is important to ensure that a trained handler be present during the hand release to hand the doves to those who will be releasing them. The handler’s job requires a fair bit of experience so that no birds escape when being taken out of the basket and to ensure the birds are probably placed in the hands, as previously mentioned.
Using a basket or a cage to release the doves adds decorative variety that a simple hand release will not. There are many styles and sizes of baskets available to accommodate different numbers of doves – from one bird to over twenty. With the smaller baskets, lovely heart-shaped ones are most common, with square and rectangle shapes preferable for larger baskets.
You now know that there is so much dedication, hard work, and preparation that goes on backstage of a quality dove release. Again, we would advise those considering a dove release at their event to be sure to choose quality and value. The memories created will be impressed in the minds of all witnessing these beautiful white doves taking to the skies, disappearing from sight into the horizon – heading home.
Interested in learning more or booking a white dove release? Feel free to drop us a line HERE.