When several children took turns releasing about two dozen homing pigeons, most onlookers rejoiced in the celebratory atmosphere, but everyone knew the birds hadn’t flown the coop.

“They’ll fly back to Franklin and beat us home with the tailwind today, so when we get home, they should be home,” said Bill Baker of Franklin, Pa., who, along with his wife, Cheri, brought about 25 of the 100 white birds they raised to Sunday morning’s Release of the Doves gathering at First Presbyterian Church, 3654 S. Main St. (state Route 46).

The couple runs Pa. Doves of Love, a Franklin-based organization that trains the birds to return to their loft from locations up to 100 miles away. In addition, Doves of Love, which serves northwest Pennsylvania and Northeast Ohio, conducts such releases for weddings, funerals, Relay for Life events and other special occasions, Bill noted.

First Presbyterian Church is about 70 air miles from the couple’s home, he added.

For many years, such birds have represented peace, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, love and tranquility, which makes the release a highly fitting celebration between Sunday’s two Easter church services, noted the Rev. Jamie Milton, pastor.

“This is our gift from God,” he said.

After the Rev. Mr. Milton’s homily, the youngsters opened the nine baskets individually, which allowed one to three birds at a time to start their airborne trip to the Bakers’ home.

One of the youngsters who gave several of the pigeons a good send-off was Mason Meyers, 6, of Warren, who was on hand with his parents, Valerie and Jeff Meyers.

“He really, really enjoys it,” said Valerie, who has been a First Presbyterian Church member for more than 20 years.

The Meyers family’s holiday dinner plans, however, were to include a different bird: a turkey, along with carrot cake and homemade Easter bread, she said.

Also doing her part to release a few birds was 5-year-old Natalie McMullen of Berlin Center, who came to the gathering with younger sister Hailey, 3, and the girls’ mother, Nicole McMullen.

The first step in training the birds for the feat is to get them to fly to a designated spot a half-mile away, then increase the distance in increments of one, five, 30 and 50 miles, Bill Baker explained, adding that it took about a year to fully train his pigeons.

“It takes a relatively short time to get them out to 50 miles,” he noted.

A core piece of their training is ensuring the birds receive their vaccines consistently. Also, Baker said, he mixes apple cider, water and vinegar, because such a combination keeps their systems healthy.

It remains a mystery how the pigeons can find their way to a given location many miles away, but part of the answer could be that they identify and memorize certain landmarks along their journey, he said.

Baker said he and his wife derive great pleasure by having their pigeons as a main attraction for special occasions such as the Easter celebration.

“We really enjoy it,” he added. “We enjoy the services as much as they do.”


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