For the love of birds

Written by Observer staff reports July 20, 2011 08:14 pm

LA GRANDE RESIDENT and avid outdoorsman Jim Ward displays some of the birds he will use in his new enterprise, Wind-dee Lofts. Ward releases the birds at special happenings like weddings, funerals and sporting events. He also offers them as pets or as food.
LA GRANDE RESIDENT and avid outdoorsman Jim Ward displays some of the birds he will use in his new enterprise, Wind-dee Lofts. Ward releases the birds at special happenings like weddings, funerals and sporting events. He also offers them as pets or as food.

Wildlife photographer starts one-of-a-kind business releasing white doves at weddings, funerals

One of the region’s best-known wildlife photographers is taking his love for birds and turning it into a one-of-a-kind a business.

Jim Ward, a longtime outdoor shutterbug whose work has appeared extensively in The Observer, recently started Wind-dee Lofts, a service that focuses primarily on releasing white doves at weddings, funerals, sporting and other events.

“White doves have been released at wedding events and memorial services for thousands of years. They can add a special touch,” said Ward, a former Boise Cascade worker.

Ward’s birds are actually homing pigeons that he trains himself. The secret to success, he said, is that the birds have a natural instinct to come home.

“They do need to be trained and conditioned to perform well,” Ward said.

He said advanced birds can be released up to 500 miles, or even further from home. Because they can fly 60 miles per hour, they can make a long trip all in one day.

That assumes, of course, that nothing goes wrong.

“They can experience trouble along the way, such as predatory birds or inclement weather,” Ward said.

He said he starts training his birds at about eight weeks old. Once they fly around their homes for a few weeks, he begins taking them on short releases.

They do runs of five miles, 10 miles, and eventually work up to the longer distances. Once a bird is fully trained, it can accomplish amazing things.

“No matter how fast I drive, they always beat me home,” Ward said.

Releasing birds at special events is the main aspect of  Ward’s new business, but by no means the only one. He will sell some of his extra birds for pets or for food as well.

Ward said all domestic pigeons descend from the wild rock dove, have been raised in captivity for thousands of years, and make fine pets. One advantage, Ward said, is that pigeons raise their own young.

Young pigeons grow fast, reaching full size in only a month. They stand up well to harsh weather, don’t require much care and don’t eat much.

“Raising pigeons can be a good hobby for kids, getting them away from the TV and video games a bit,” he said.

As table fare, squab, or young pigeon, is considered a delicacy in some fine restaurants. Ward said that his birds are so productive that he has many to offer people wanting to experience that cuisine.

“I feed only natural foods to my birds, so they could be considered organic,” he said.

Ward said that he operated a sizable aviary when he was young, and has always enjoyed working with wild and domestic animals.

“This business is sort of a way to keep working with my birds and pay for a little feed as a bonus,” he said.

He said he counts on his released birds to put on quite a show, wherever they appear.

“At weddings I have the option of allowing the bride and groom to release one or two birds from a heart-shaped box, or for a special show I can release up to 50 birds at once,” he said. “The white birds will usually circle the crowd three or four times, which can make a memorable occasion more appealing.”

For more information about Wind-dee Lofts, call Ward at 541-963-6977.