Love and doves
Over one hundred unusual tenants live in a private house in one of the usual Minsk districts
“Hey, look, he is really flying, plunges like a stone”, gasping with surprise, I repeat words from a well-known movie.
“You like it?” asks Nikolai Fedorovich Kostyuchenko when he notices that a boy next door cannot but keep glaring at his birds. He is gazing into the sky, standing still, with only his head moving, counting the circles of the doves’ flight. “Come tomorrow, I’ll show you where they live!”
The next day five-year-old Nick was let into the inner sanctum — the pigeon loft, he was trusted with cleaning the cages, washing the drinking bowls. For that the pigeon breeder allowed him to let the birds out into the sky. You are holding it hesitatingly in your hands while she is trembling all over, looking around and at you as if with reproach: why are holding your palms so tight? Hands opened, she bursts out into the sky. A still image of her spread wings is still in your eyes, while she is already drinking the blue horizon.
“It was love at first sight”, confesses today that boy, who’s grown to be a well-known pigeon breeder Nikolai Burbo. “I remember, I could not just let the bird go, I even kissed it”.
On his sixth birthday the boy was given a dream by his neighbour — a couple of white pigeons. He allocated half of the attic for them. Once the grown-up pigeon breeder took the little boy to a pigeon market.
“There I saw stately birds, the ones uncle Nick did not have. They were not the usual bare-legged type, but birds with socks (a very original look — Author). Since then I’ve been tracking pigeons of various breed, looking for them at fairs, asking collectors, asking people during competitions”.
Have you ever seen a cherry-coloured bird? A yellow one? With green and purple shades? When they form a line on the roof of the owner’s house, cooing to each other, arguing about something, they look like kaleidoscope pictures.
After graduating from the institute, Nikolai was assigned a job in Minsk instead of his home city of Mogilev. The fifty birds he’d collected by the time he had to give out to his friends with pain in his heart. He got a flat in a block of apartments and next thing he went to the housing maintenance service with a request for permission to arrange a pigeon loft in the apparatus floor. Permission was granted. But some time after that a neighbour from the top floor said: “I do not like pigeons!” He had but to make his nurselings comfortable in a private house. When he could buy a small house of his own, he built a second stage and then a third one for his flying friends. Since then Burbo’s pigeons have been occupying their legal area of 72 square meters. From top to floor the room is occupied with bird cages of residence. They share a manger in the centre of the floor. All newly-weds are given separate cages. During winter couples are divided, with chicks staying at their father’s (!). The fathers do their best to feed them.
“I wish all people were as caring parents as pigeons” Nikolai Antonovich is delighted by his birds one more time. “They even hatch in turn. If an alien egg is added, they will raise the baby just like one of their own. Orlov breed has very small beak, raising their little ones gives them hard time, therefore I shuffle their children to foster families”.
Breeds from Orlov, Nikolayev, Melitopol, Astrakhan, Kharkov, Kursk, Lugansk — there is an abundance of breeds in the pigeon loft.
“I have even one of Minsk birch breed, it was bred in our city”, he shows a white pigeon with black speckles — exactly like birch bark.
“And those are black ernes — a real pride of any pigeon breeder!”
The pride’s chest is inflated, the lacy tail is spread wide, the look is important beyond imagination, for he understands the story is an exclusive.
“And this is a family of Kursk breed pigeons: father, mother and their son”, Nikolai Antonovich introduces seemingly undistinguishable birds to me.
“Do you know every pigeon in their face? I cannot distinguish them at all”.
“Of course! Male is a male, take a closer look: it is bigger, while the girls are smaller, and to me, more beautiful. I cannot say exactly how many birds I have at the moment, but when I enter the pigeon loft, I always notice who’s missing: a Krym breed one has not returned and some Kursk pigeons are hanging out somewhere”.
Birds of some species do not like flying too high and too fast at long distances, instead they gain height and hover at one position for several hours.
“And here return father and daughter of Lugansk breed”, the pigeon breeder gives me birds, which still breathe with the warmth of the skies. “They can fly in circles even for three hours”.
When it gets dark, Nikolai Antonovich switches on a searchlight on the roof, which serves as a kind of approach light so that it would be easier for the late ones to return home. “I fall asleep and hear: one has landed, then another’s had enough”.
The most beautiful shows are staged by fighting pigeon breeds. They make somersaults just like acrobats.
“Once I let out my pigeons in Moscow and they returned home! Once I sold a couple in Odessa, they had their time on the seaside and in a week returned home”, the pigeon breeder is laughing. “It is enough for a clever bird to see its home from the sky just one time to remember the address forever. Therefore, I advise all customers to buy birds before they leave the roof”.
The owner communicates with his birds in a special way: whistling, whool-whool-whooling. When he takes a box of vitamins in his hands, every one tries to get closer.
“Some time ago a black kite took the life of a black female pigeon, I thought I’d never survive it”, Nikolai Antonovich sighs. “In autumn I do not let the birds out a lot, the forest is close, the kites know my house well”.
There used to be more pigeon breeders in the good old times, says Burbo, and birds were cheaper. “But I never bargain, all my life I spend everything I earn on birds. To tell you the truth, some time ago I was invited to take a look at a champion in Poland. I liked it immensely! I did not have enough money: they were asking $1500. You should not be surprised: there are birds on sale for $25000”.
But any money is worth the experience: you hold the little soft ball in your hands, see it gain height and greet the land with wings. The joy everyone experiences when sees pigeons soaring up cannot be forged. Therefore, six-year-old Maksimka next door comes to Nikolai Burbo.
“I’ve done my homework, I’ve helped my mother, uncle Nick, let’s let the birds out!”
One pigeon is a symbol of peace, two — love and faithfulness in marriage. The birds bring luck home. Such home will not be struck by lighting, it will not burn down and will not be abandoned.
The Slavs say the bird is a symbol of love. If the bird flies near a house where a wedding is in full swing, the marriage will be a happy one.
In Naples trained pigeons are used to get lucky numbers of lottery tickets.
In Romania they have a legend about a girl, who was too friendly with many boys. The god turned her into a turtle-dove for that. Now she loves only her husband till death parts them.
The French call a tender caressing kiss a kiss of turtle-dove.
Even ancient Egyptians loved and bred home pigeons. From Egypt pigeons travelled to Greece, then to Rome and to the rest of the world. The birds were always welcome at temples, even temples of various religions.
The Catholic church holds pigeons as a symbol of soul. According to one of the legends, two pigeons flew into a church and sat on shoulders of a Pope-appointed cardinal. Since then Popes are sometimes depicted with two birds on their shoulders.
The Slavs call pigeons a sacred and godlike bird. Saint Spirit descended from heavens during Jesus Christ’s christening in the form of a pigeon.
According to a Muslim legend, the Allah granted speech to the pigeon, but it learnt about a forthcoming famine, flew to tell people about it and the Allah withdrew his gift.
by Tamara Ignatova