- Associated Press - Friday, July 4, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The white birds that swooped in during last year’s Yankee Doodle Pops concert in a flight scripted to the national anthem are making their second performance at the event this year in Des Moines.

Last year at the pops concert, the homing pigeons - which can find their way home from miles away - took a lap around the Capitol’s gold dome and headed northwest for home about six miles away in Johnston. Their cue to take flight was scripted to the national anthem lyric containing “land of the free.”

Their home in Johnston is with Travis and Patsy Burleson, who run a bird business called White Doves of Iowa. Homing pigeons fly in tight flocks and can travel hundreds of miles to return home from any direction.

Scientists aren’t sure how the birds do that, but most research suggests that iron deposits on top of their beaks help them sense Earth’s magnetic field, like a built-in compass.

“I’ve been raising them my whole life, and they still amaze me,” Travis Burleson told The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1mZjlhf ).

The Burlesons release their flock at special events as far as 30 miles from their home, with fees ranging up to $300.

The couple checks the returnees after each trip by inspecting their plastic anklets, which are blue for the males and pink for the females. Every so often a bird doesn’t return, but the Burlesons say that common pigeons often will join up and land with the flock.

“The ‘commies’ just hang out for a while and then leave,” Travis Burleson said.

The 45 birds spend most of their time in a backyard coop that has both a sun deck and a screened-in porch. Their diet includes corn, peas and barley, and they are exercised twice a day, taking a rest on Sunday.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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