A whirring of wings and whistles
by Peter Burke
Nov 14, 2013 | 1255 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If you hear a pleasant whistling sound above your head, and the flapping of six or seven pairs of wings on a quiet day in the San Lorenzo Valley or Scotts Valley, it might just be Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and Cinderella making their way home.

No, Walt Disney hasn’t opened the gates of Neverland. The flapping and whistles are the sound of a kit of pigeons making their way home to Mount Hermon.

The pigeons belong to Mount Hermon resident Charles Lewis who has been training the birds to return home for about a year, fitted with Chinese pigeon whistles he has had since he was a child.

“They have been flying in Scotts Valley and Felton,” said Lewis, 76, the son of medical missionaries to China.

Lewis, who was born in China, and then returned there from 1948 to 1952, releases the pigeons from a wooden carrying cage at different locations in the valley — the Glenwood Open Space, Felton Cemetery, Bonny Doon and San Lorenzo Valley High School.

The pigeons dart out of the cage and fly into the blue sky before circling for several minutes to gain their bearings before flying home with handmade whistles made of small guards and reeds tied to their tail feathers.

“It’s a hobby,” he said. “I just want to let Santa Cruz County enjoy something exotic. Like any artist you want to spread the blessing.”

The whistles are a point of pride for Lewis who keeps them in a hand-crafted box. While in China under Chairman Mao Zedong, Lewis fell in love with the hobby of flying pigeons with whistles. He said that it became sport in a sense, as locals would attempt to “steal” others pigeons by releasing their own kit at the same time so the pigeons would mingle and all fly back to one perch. Then, Lewis said, if your pigeon was stolen, you’d have to buy it back in the market.

Lewis, who received his first two pigeons a year ago from Mark Gale in Bonny Doon, has begun to breed them at his home. When a pigeon is born at a location, it will have the inkling to return there when released elsewhere.

“The birds usually are the safest that hatch in the loft,” Lewis said. “They’re the ones that are most reliable. Once nested, they stick around.”

Lewis said racing pigeons can return to their home from up to 500 miles away, although he will never test them out at that distance.

Carrier pigeons were used for centuries as a means of transporting a message from one place to another, notably during WWI and WWII when the enemy was able to crack codes sent over the airwaves.

Lewis simply enjoys watching the birds circle in the skies, and the music the whistles make on a quiet day.

“They do love to fly,” he said.

- To comment, e-mail editor Peter Burke at peter@pressbanner.com, call 438-2500 or post a comment at www.pressbanner.com.

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