Birds of a feather return home together

Here in north Louisiana, we see a name like “Hebert” and we pronounce it “He-bert.” Down south that same name is pronounced “Ay-Bear.” Same goes for another name I just realized has different pronunciations — ”Clement.” Up here, it’s “Clem-ent.” Down around Thibodaux, that name rolls off tongues as “Cle-Maw.”

Pronunciations aside, I had occasion last week to visit with a fellow transplanted from south Louisiana, Keith Clement (who pronounces his name Cle-Maw) who hails, by the way, from Thibodaux. Clement works as a corrosion control specialist in the natural gas pipeline industry but when he’s not on the job, he can be found at his state-of-the-art pigeon loft in back of his house.

There are two rather distinct types of birds he maintains; multi-colored racing pigeons and pure white homing pigeons. Both varieties have the ability to return to their home base when released sometimes hundreds of miles from the base. Clement shared an occasion that boggles the mind about one of his birds.

“I had sent a young bird to be entered in a race down to Lake Charles so it could be trained to fly back to that base,” said Clement. “On race day, the bird and others in the race were taken to Conway, Ark., to be released at daylight that morning. My bird arrived at the Lake Charles base at 3:05 that afternoon, covering a distance of some 350 miles non-stop.”

Clement now has that bird in a breeding program at his home loft but said if he were to release the bird today it would make a bee-line back to the base in Lake Charles.

That is simply mind-blowing to me. I had to do some research to try and find out just how these birds know where home is and how they are able to return. According to a web site I read, “a pigeon has an innate homing ability, meaning it will generally return to its base, it is believed by using magneto-reception, which is defined as a sense which allows an organism to detect a magnetic field to perceive direction, altitude or location.”

Whatever. That’s too deep for me to comprehend but while visiting Clement, I saw this phenomenon in action. He placed about 40 birds in a cage, he and I drove a few miles down the road to the parking lot at a church and the birds were released. They made a circle around the roof of the church and then were gone.

“They’ll beat us back home,” said Clement as we drove away. Sure enough, when we arrived back at his home, we saw shadows of a flock of birds circling the loft. All the birds got back to their base as soon as we did.

These white homing pigeons are often used at events such as weddings or funerals where they are “rented” to be released for the ceremony.

“Often at funerals,” Clement explained, “we will release four birds, three representing the Holy Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the final one representing the departing spirit of the deceased. This can be quite meaningful to a family who has lost a loved one.”

As accurate as homing pigeons are in returning home, young ones in particular may get confused and have difficulty returning home. For example, our daughter who lives in Minden sent me a photo a few weeks ago of a white bird that was sitting on her driveway. She posted the photo on Facebook, and Clement saw the photo and identified it as one of his that had gotten off track.

The ability to find your way home is something I could have used once when I was hunting, got turned around in a thicket and had to call for help. I guess my magneto-reception doesn’t work very well.


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