Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

June 25, 2013

Homing pigeon from Tenn., strays to Ashland

ASHLAND — A small, snow-white visitor caused a stir among employees and customers alike Friday morning at Ashland Cycle Center.

“He was in the parking lot and then he jumped up there,” said Stacy Keelin, who owns the business with her husband, Rick, noting the appearance of what appeared to be a dove with three bands around its legs.

While the friendly bird allowed several employees and customers to get close enough to take photos, Keelin said it seemed hesitant to be caught and declined to dine on a cracker. Keelin, who observed the bird pecking at pebbles along the loading bay area, grabbed a credit card and sent one of the shop’s employees to a nearby feed store.

With a handful of mixed grains from the 25-pound bag of bird food, Keelin had the little white bird eating from her hand within seconds, allowing the first up-close view of the writing on its bands. One of the bands included a telephone number, which was pieced together by Keelin reading the front while two others worked their way in from behind to complete the formula.

A call to the number resulted in a discussion with Larry Clinkenbeard, loft manager for Williams Funeral Home  Crematory in Columbia, Tenn. The young bird had been gone since it was released with two dozen others during a funeral service, Clinkenbeard said.

“That bird has been gone for ... it was a week ago Monday, so two weeks. I lost four the same day. I am south of Nashville, so it has hot-footed it,” he said, explaining the bird which landed at the cycle shop was a “rock dove,” which is another name for a “white racing homer” pigeon. Clinkenbeard said doves have no natural homing instinct, so the white pigeons are used for funeral services because they can be trained to come home after they are released.

The bird, which is about four months old, was early in its training, he said, and was born in Staten Island, New York and purchased to be part of the flocks Williams Funeral Home offers each family. Clinkenbeard said the symbolic birds are used in different combinations and presentations, and later added they try to release 21 birds when the service is for a military veteran.

Clinkenbeard offered tips for catching the bird, and advised the Keelins are welcome to keep the bird as a pet, or call him to schedule a pickup. The loft manager said the bird will be healthy if kept in a cage, but would likely fall victim to a hawk or an owl if it continues to fly free. Birds such as this one develop a sort of internal GPS location/destination, he explained, adding the bird is too far from home to find its way back alone.

 “His location is in Columbia, Tennessee so they wouldn’t be able to fly him, but he will be happy in a cage,” Clinkenbeard said, later adding he drew a line on a map from loft to New York, and discovered the bird may have been trying to get home. “That bird was heading to Staten Island!”

The birds are capable of flying at speeds up to 55 mph, he said, and are sometimes used by enthusiasts for racing events. The bird was being trained to respond to a whistle, which trainers use to call their flocks home when a hawk or other predator is spotted nearby.

Keelin said the white bird took wing shortly after enjoying the meal from her hand, although employees at the cycle center were able to catch it later that day and placed it in a cage on the parts counter.

“After spending the day at around Ashland Cycle Center (in the parking lot, on nearby wires, on the building and the blue bridge) the bird lighted on the porch and let Eric Fryer pick it up. It spent the night at the business, but is now at home with me. It’s staying in a small chicken coop. I have named it Lovey, but others at the shop call it Clinkenbeard.

“It was very noisy at the business the day it was found,  with motorcycle engines roaring and the heavier than usual traffic on the blue bridge. It didn't shy away from any of that. Mr. Clinkenbeard  told me it was born on Railroad Street by a large train yard in Staten Island, therefore feels at home with such noises.  It is definitely urban, but seems to be settling in a more sedate setting just fine.

“I have learned the green band on one of its feet is actually a racing band that has a small compartment for a computer chip that would record its time. It was bred for racing in New York. It was purchased for use in Christian Dove Release ceremonies but went away. Mr.  Clinkenbeard told us that it most likely wouldn't survive in the wild since it could not hide from its predators and it is so docile.  We took it in to save its life, but would be willing to let it go to a good home should someone have an interest.”

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.

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