I am slowly and reluctantly returning to solid ground after wicked weather and other life problems.  My spirits were lifted high on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 7, by the immaculate white doves that soared in the perfectly blue September sky above our harbor here in Hatteras village. 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. Together they, along with Lou’s wife, webmistress and narrative writer Linda Meyer Browning, run an innovative and very green business on Hatteras Island.  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 sorts.  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 for care. 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 ringneck doves. 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 ordered 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 pampered.” 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 the 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.  Liz 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 their 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 day is too strenuous for the birds, but they still need exercise.  So 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 contain magnetite that helps them to navigate and, like ancient mariners, they use the sun and all of their senses.  They even know just where 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 rush 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 home.  It 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 are 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, fidelity, purity, and prosperity.  To Christians, the dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit.  To many others, it signifies long life, new life, and renewal of life.” The Hatteras Doves are available for releases at any meaningful occasion. CLICK HERE TO VIEW SLIDE SHOW   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. For more information 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 liz@hatterasdoves.com.

By Lynne Foster By Lynne Foster By Lynne Foster I am slowly and reluctantly returning to solid ground after wicked weather and other life problems.  My spirits were lifted high on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 7, by the immaculate white doves that soared in the perfectly blue September sky above our harbor here in Hatteras village. […]

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