- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014

MACON, Ga. (AP) - They call him “The Bird Man,” and Jimmie Granville wears it like wings of honor. There aren’t many folks on the south side of Macon with more than three dozen doves living in their backyard.

They are as white as chauffeur’s gloves, and they reside in a 10x14 “lodge” he and his wife, Dell, made out of plywood. He bought the building supplies at Lowe’s, where he gets a veteran’s discount.

He spent a year in Vietnam in 1968, the year after he graduated from Ballard-Hudson High.

The doves are his livelihood, and the city allows him to keep up to 40. There’s not much of a precedent for dove keepers. It’s not like an ordinance requiring a kennel license for so many dogs or so many cats.

Jimmie is just fine with 40. It’s a biblical number, and he is an ordained minister. He keeps two doves in a cage in the kitchen. They never fly. He named them Romeo and Juliette. You can hear then cooing from anywhere inside the house.

He calls his line of work “Jimmie’s Dove Release.” He places his birds in baskets, loads them in the back of his black Hyundai hatchback, and drives them to funerals and weddings. He has taken them to preschools and ceremonies for Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.

People find him mostly by word of mouth, but he does work closely with local funeral homes. He also purchased a few signs on the city bus benches. He considers it much more than a business.

“It’s a ministry,” he said.

At funerals, he usually takes four doves with him. Three are symbols of the Trinity - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and the fourth represents the deceased.

When released, they symbolically fly toward heaven. Often, a hymn is sung. “I’ll Fly Away” and “Sweet Beulah Land” are among the standards. Other times, bagpipes are played or poems read.

Sometimes, Jimmie will notice an infant’s obituary in the newspaper. He will show up at the service unannounced, and not expecting to be paid, to release a lone white dove.

“I think it helps take the sorrow away,” he said. “It takes away the hurt.”

Every morning, he lets them stretch their wings and fly, like a man walking his dogs. They usually will stick together, dipping and swooping in tight formation, as if they were tiny kites riding the wind on the same string.

On overcast days, it is more difficult to follow their flight when they blend into the backdrop of low-slung clouds. But, on blue-sky day, he can shield his eyes against the sun and swivel his neck as they circle above the neighborhoods along McEvoy and Williamson Road, across from Southwest High School. Sometimes, a hawk will chase them up from Rocky Creek. In the summer, they stay out longer, climbing higher to seek the cooler air currents.

Sometimes he loses sight of them.

Story Continues →