doves over Hatteras lift the spirit
. . .
.With Slide Show
am slowly and reluctantly returning to solid ground after wicked
weather and other life problems. My spirits were lifted high
Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 7, by the immaculate white doves that soared
in the perfectly blue September sky above our harbor here in Hatteras
By Lynne Foster
Liz Browning Fox and her brother, Lou Browning, brought two baskets of
these lovely creatures down to release for their dry run before their
first Day at the Docks appearance on Saturday, Sept. 18.
they, along with Lou’s wife, webmistress and narrative writer Linda
Meyer Browning, run an innovative and very green business on Hatteras
And the Hatteras doves are capturing the imaginations of a variety of
people and organizations.
Liz and Lou breed, raise, and train these little athletes for any
occasion for weddings, memorials, and celebrations of all
They have even found the doves useful as therapy birds.
Both are lifelong bird lovers and both have the greatest respect and
love for their small charges.
It all began with a rehab pigeon from Ocracoke.
Lou Browning is a state licensed and nationally certified wildlife
rehabilitator and founder of Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation.
His specialties are both migratory and non-migratory birds, and he also
cares for reptiles and amphibians.
In 2009, an injured racing pigeon was brought over to him from Ocracoke
Just about this time, Liz moved back to the island after spending much
of her adult life in the Piedmont. She, too, was involved in
birds, rehabilitating owls and raising African gray parrots and
Lou knew that racing pigeons are social animals, so he scrambled to
find companions to aid the rehabilitation of the bird in his
care. When he was unable to locate any local pigeons, he
some from a breeder in Pennsylvania.
It was an expensive proposition. The cost of shipping these
live creatures alone made him consider breeding them himself.
The idea led to a business plan. He and Liz began breeding and raising
their own birds. Their flock now numbers 60 to 65 birds, including
youngsters and breeding stock. And there are two distinct types of
birds -- “show birds,” smaller albino ringneck doves who sit pretty in
decorative cages for special occasions and do not fly, and the white
doves who soar into the sky and return to their home. About 25 of the
birds are trained for distance flying.
The white doves, Columba livia domestica, pure-white homing pigeons
also known as rock doves, form the core of the business and are cared
for as befits their station in life. Lou says the doves are “really
Lou and Liz had to begin a breeding program about one year before the
birds would be ready for release. Then they had to introduce
birds to one another before they began pairing.
Lou Browning, who lives in Frisco, is the breeder and keeper of the
babies. Liz, who lives in Buxton, is their trainer.
likens the arrangement to Lou’s “nursery school” and her “kindergarten.”
Until they move to the “kindergarten,” the white doves are confined to
their lofts where they are tended as meticulously as newborns of any
species. Lou is their caretaker and “vet” as he cares for
general health and well-being with inoculations, vitamins, and his own
special blend of 17 different seeds in their feed.
Since wherever they first fly from is “home,” they are not released
until they graduate to Liz’s “kindergarten” -- or rather, it seems to
me, “training camp” -- at three months of age.
Lou explains that they are “incredible athletes, all muscle,” defying
their fragile appearance, and Liz adds, “Like any other athlete, they
must train for their event.”
The doves must first learn how to get into the trap door to their loft
and, as you would expect, food is their bait.
Once they have learned how to get back into the loft door, they are
moved very short distances – 10 or 20 feet at a time – and enticed
back. Gradually, in very small increments, that distance is
increased as the birds learn to return home from longer
distances. Lou says the doves now can return to their loft in
Buxton from as far north as Rodanthe and as far south as Ocracoke.
Their training schedule is an every-other-day format. One day
they return home from long distances and the next day, they are
released to fly around for whatever time they choose before
returning. Lou explains that traveling long distances every
is too strenuous for the birds, but they still need exercise.
on the off days, they have the option of a long flight or a shorter one.
These are very smart, very observant birds. Their brains
magnetite that helps them to navigate and, like ancient mariners, they
use the sun and all of their senses. They even know just
the sun is supposed to be in any season.
Their vision is so keen that from overhead that afternoon above the
Hatteras Harbor, Liz and Lou assured me they could see, “as far as
Ocracoke and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.”
Wherever they are released on Hatteras Island they tend to follow
Highway 12 and the village water towers on their homeward
journey. Being curious and loving to fly, they often circle,
tumble, and roll as they soar. They are usually in no great
to get back to their loft.
But home is where they always return.
One little dove that couldn’t keep up with its mates actually was
spotted walking along Highway 12 for a week until it got
must have had some interesting diversions because by the time someone
would report a sighting and one of the Brownings would come for it, the
dove was nowhere to be seen.
The beautiful birds are accessorized with identifying leg bands, and
some people even attach charms of a sort to the bands. They
lovely little creatures with unique personalities and names (and it
appears, spunk!), and it is easy to see how Liz and Lou have become so
fond of them.
“They’re really fun,” says Lou. “It feels good, taking care
of them and training them. I very much enjoy it.”
A white dove release is like nothing I have experienced.
Overwhelmed by the freedom, the birds personify and the incredible
strength they display, not to mention the exquisite whiteness that
changes as the sun touches them. It was, for me, an unexpectedly moving
and very spiritual time.
“The dove is a familiar symbol in cultures around the world,” according
to the Hatteras Doves website. “To millions of people,
it represents peace, love, hope, faith,
purity, and prosperity. To Christians, the dove symbolizes
Holy Spirit. To many others, it signifies long life, new
and renewal of life.”
The Hatteras Doves are available for releases at any meaningful
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See the doves in September
There will be two community white dove releases this month:
First Responders and victims of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 will be
honored Saturday, Sept.11, at noon at the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad
Building on Highway 12 in Buxton.
And watermen who have “crossed the bar” will be honored at the
beginning of the sixth annual Day at the Docks on Saturday, Sept. 18,
at 10 a.m. at Oden’s Dock in Hatteras village.
Hatteras Doves are available for release for any meaningful occasion.
You can find out more about the business, the costs, the choices of
release available, and arrangements by checking the Web site at www.hatterasdoves.com
You can also contact Liz Browning Fox at 252-995-5020 or [email protected].