April 13, 2009
Dove trainer gives flight to wedding blessing
Scott man prepares the birds for release from weddings throughout region
SCOTT — The sounds of cooing and birds’ feet clicking on a tin barn roof filled the air around Doug Osterhoudt’s home on Sunnyside Drive on Friday afternoon.
“Summer is my busiest time of year,” he said, noting he is already planning to have the 50 white doves that he raises to be released at 15 weddings in the months ahead.
About 15 years ago, Osterhoudt bought some pigeons, then decided to let them loose — only to discover they kept returning to his house.
In a magazine, he read about people in California who charged money to release doves at weddings and decided to try his hand at the business.
“It’s a superstition that if a couple sees a dove on their wedding day, they’ll have a long and prosperous marriage,” said Osterhoudt, 55, who works as a machinist at BorgWarner.
The use of the birds varies by wedding. Osterhoudt said he has seen couples who each release a dove separately and then toss one in the air together.
Others want their guests to each have a bird and throw them in the air when the bride and groom leave the church.
For those who want about 30 birds released at one time, Osterhoudt has a special cage that allows him to remove a wooden panel and have the birds fly out at once.
“It’s a nice hobby, and it allows me to make a little money,” said Osterhoudt, adding that he charges $150 to release his birds at weddings.
After each ceremony, the doves are trained to fly back to Osterhoudt’s coop, which has an opening that allows the birds to fly inside the little building.
Osterhoudt must lift the metal bars across the opening to let the birds fly from the coop, and he said the birds have a natural instinct to establish a place as their roost.
To train doves, Osterhoudt said he lets young birds fly near the coop, and after a few weeks, he then puts the birds in a cage, drives about a mile away and releases them.
“But I always wait until one is out of sight before releasing the next one,” he said. “I don’t want one to do the work, and the rest to not be able to find their way back without it.”
Every week, Osterhoudt drives a couple of miles farther to release the birds, and in the fall, he said he hopes to drive about 150 miles, release his birds that hatched this spring, and have them fly back to the coop.
“One time, I released some of the birds near Watertown, and some of them were back here before I got back in my car,” Osterhoudt said. “It’s always fun to see how far away you can release the birds.”
Two weeks ago, Osterhoudt sent some birds to a wedding in North Carolina, and eight of the 10 birds had returned to the coop by Friday.
Each bird wears a bracelet around its leg with a number, which allows Osterhoudt to track the birds and note which ones do not return to the coop.
Osterhoudt also keeps some pigeons with colored wings that distract hawks and keep them from attacking the white doves.
But sometimes this measure is not successful — Osterhoudt said about five doves had already been killed by hawks this spring.
“I just come outside and find a pile of white feathers on the ground, and I know what happened,” he said, noting that he tries to keep his birds in the coop during the winter months to avoid the hawks.
“The birds are kind of a pain in the winter, but otherwise, it’s pretty easy to have an outdoor animal,” Osterhoudt said, adding that he likes to have the birds flying outside while he works in his garden.
“And I meet a lot of nice of people doing this,” he added.
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