Lawrence residents who saw a flock of white doves Friday night weren't seeing illusions or magic just part of a wedding.
The birds were white homing pigeons, which a local man used to surprise his new bride.
"She doesn't know anything about this, and hopefully it will be a big surprise," said Timothy Riling, a local attorney who married Ashley Mustain on Friday night at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1229 Vt.
After the wedding, 50 white doves were released in front of the church as the couple stepped outside.
The bird release was conducted by Wayne Ward of Topeka, who raises and trains the birds.
"This is really an uplifting thing for people to see," Ward said. "They enjoy seeing the birds take off."
WARD, WHOSE homing pigeons were featured in the made-for-television movie "Where Pigeons Go to Die," which was filmed near Lawrence, has been offering the bird releases for about three years.
"I just started to do them out of town," he said. "This is the first one in Lawrence."
Once released, the birds are trained to fly to Ward's home in Topeka.
He said it takes three to four training sessions for the birds to return home from a new location.
"I start by taking them about five miles away and then letting them fly home," he said.
Ward said he takes the birds a little farther away from home during later training sessions, until they become familiar with a route and are able to fly home before he makes it home in his car.
"Nobody really knows how they navigate," he said. "But they always manage to come back as long as there's not bad weather."
WARD, WHO grew up in Lawrence and graduated from Lawrence High School in 1970, says he has been hired to release the birds for funerals in addition to weddings.
The birds can be trained to return home from up to 700 miles away, he said.
Ward has about 150 homing pigeons. He said food is a big incentive he uses to train the birds.
"When they get home I feed them," he said of training a young bird. "After about three trips they get the idea that they are going to eat."
Ward said that most of the birds, which can fly at 55 mph, do not have a problem returning home.
"If it gets dark, they'll stop somewhere safe and sleep," he said. "Then, as soon as it gets light outside they'll start flying again and they'll get home the next day."
Riling said he wanted to do something special for his new bride.
"I just thought this was a neat idea," he said. "It's not every day that people have this when they get married."