Eureka district custodian releases pigeons for trek home

Dave Mott teaches students about homing pigeons
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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Not many people have pets they can let go and know will return safely and quickly back home.

But Dave Mott does. The head custodian in the Eureka Union School District has 60 homing and show pigeons, known to travel up to thousands of miles away and still find their way back. They’re able to fly up to 60 miles per hour.

“They have keen instincts,” Mott said. “Studies show they have a real sensitive magnetic pull to the earth. They have great eye sight and hearing.”

Mott brought 10 of his pigeons for show-and-tell in the transitional kindergarten class at Oakhills School in Granite Bay on Jan. 31, much to the delight of the 5-year-olds who bombarded him with questions.

Mott began by displaying an antique wooden box used during World War II by soldiers carrying messenger pigeons. Message capsules were attached to the birds’ legs, and some of these pigeons were awarded medals for saving American lives by getting critical information back to headquarters, Mott said.

Homing pigeons are athletes, he said, with powerful wings, tails that guide them and strong instincts. He trains the birds from the time they’re young, gradually increasing the distances they are allowed to travel. Mott lives in Sacramento, about 12 miles from the school.

“For these guys, it’s a piece of cake for them to get home,” he said.

Before Mott’s grand finale, he presented the “fancy-schmancy” show birds, as transitional kindergarten teacher Caitlin Brown calls them. For 3,000 years, people throughout the world have domesticated pigeons. Mott has a Lucerne Gold Collar from Switzerland and an Indian Fantail — a bird that drew giggles because of the feathers on its feet and its abundant tail.

“Sometimes when he’s showing off to girl pigeons, he’ll spread his feathers out like a turkey,” Mott said.

He also has a Classic Old Frill, a bird that originated in Iran and nearly became extinct before a group of enthusiasts began breeding them. This prompted the question: What does “breed” mean?

“Why do pigeons have different colors?” asked 5-year-old Carter Vest.

“Just like people have different colors — they come from all parts of the world,” said Mott, who has been with the Eureka district for 20 years.

In addition to being a custodian, he does maintenance and mail delivery. Brown said he is loved throughout the district, earning a standing ovation when he got a longevity award in the fall.

“He’s like the most interesting guy ever,” she said.

Before moving to Sacramento, Mott was a bicycle racer in Southern California, and appeared in commercials and as an extra on a soap opera. Nowadays, he takes improv class. But one of his favorite things to do is share his passion for pigeons with youth.

“I feel like the luckiest man in the world,” Mott said. “I really do.”

After his presentation, the children gathered around and watched as Mott and three little helpers released 10 homing pigeons from their cage. The birds flew up into the sky and circled around to get their bearings, before heading home.