When the white pigeons - who actually are not doves - were released on Sept. 11, many of them were too young and inexperienced to know how to live outside of their cages. Some drowned, flew into the walls in Exchange Place, starved, or were attacked by hawks.
The birds originally had been purchased by Guy Catrillo, the vice chairman of the city's Sept. 11 memorial committee. He bought the birds from a Newark poultry market rather than from a professional dove handler who would have trained them to return home.
While some met deadly fates, others have been found by residents and brought to the Raptor Trust, a non-profit bird rehabilitation center in Millington. According to Kristi Ward, volunteer coordinator at the Raptor Trust, nine birds were brought in. Five were trained to survive in the wild and released. Three died, and one awaits adoption. More of them will probably be found, Ward said.
Ward says that the determination as to whether to set the birds free or put them up for adoption is made by "getting to know the birds" and figuring out which ones would be capable of fending for themselves.
Ward also said that the pigeons who are still in the wild do have some chance of surviving despite their inexperience. White birds, says Ward, tend to be in greater danger than darker-colored birds because they are more visible to predators like hawks, some of which live in our area.
When brought in to the Trust, several of the birds were emaciated, and some suffered from viral diseases and parasites which they might have picked up while still in captivity, Ward said.
Ward said that the birds would have normally been sold as "squab" for people to eat. The poultry merchant who sold them would have known that it was unethical to use untrained birds for the ceremony, she said.
Catrillo said last week that he first contacted a Pennsylvania company called "Doves for Love," but they would have charged $750, and their doves were already booked when he called 10 days before the ceremony. A poultry place in Jersey City recommended a Newark store, and Catrillo sent an associate to get the birds.
Catrillo said that after the ceremony, he and others picked up 31 of the doves and gave them to a man who did sound for the ceremony and who has a farm. Catrillo said that the man treated and released the birds.
According to Janine Harsell, who runs a dove release company in Canada and is a member of the White Dove Release Professionals, a national organization, all of the bird handlers that she's aware of donated their services for the 9/11 anniversary. Had Jersey City made arrangements in a more timely fashion, a professional dove release might have cost the city nothing, she said.
People who want a white dove release for a wedding or memorial service but don't want the ceremony tainted by suffering birds can contact White Dove Release Professionals (WDRP). They have a website (www.white-dove-releases.com) on which people can find local companies deemed ethical by the organization. WDRP members are required to adhere to a set of standards meant to ensure the birds' safety. The standards include using professionally-trained, healthy birds, and not releasing them indoors, at night, in inclement weather, or beyond a distance from which they can fly safely home before nightfall.
Kristi Ward doesn't like the practice of releasing doves, even by professionals. She said that her organization has found injured birds belonging to dove release companies.
But Harsell said, "Ethical handlers rarely lose a bird. They are always aware of their birds' health...any birds who do not seem to be in tip-top condition are kept home." Ethical handlers, she said, won't release their birds in areas that might be unsafe as a result of things like power lines and hawks.
For dove releases in northern New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area, Harsell recommends a company called Kayla's (www.njdoves.com, or 732-634-4471). Angelwing Doves (www.angelwingdoves.com; 609-397-7081), another NDRP member, does releases in Central New Jersey and northeast Philadelphia.
To contact the Raptor Trust to make donations, volunteer, or find out what to do if you find a sick or injured bird, go to www.raptortrust.org, or call 908-647-2353.