by Heather Osbourne
A gray cloud flies low every day over a sun-kissed beachgoer near the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier.
It’s not a cloud filled with sadness or rain, but one made up of a flock of feathery friends flying in to greet “the pigeon man.”
Resting under a deep blue umbrella with a thick coat of sunscreen on his nose, Dayn Lacke of Cinco Bayou, as he’s formally known, spends his days in a lawn chair soaking up the sunshine. Lacke said it was five years ago when he threw a cracker in the sand and began his passion for pigeons.
“I come out here more than the lifeguards,” Lacke said. “I come out here every day. It could be three hours or it could be all day long. Five years ago I saw a pretty white pigeon and started feeding that one crackers. She got friendly with me. We called her Angel.”
Lacke, a semi-retired architectural illustrator, now has up to 120 pigeons he feeds daily. He said you’ll rarely see a seagull among the group because he only buys wild bird seed, which is the healthiest option for the pigeons.
“I go through about 35 pounds of bird seed each week,” Lacke said. “The bird seed is too small for the seagulls to pick up. In the mornings, they (pigeons) will normally meet me on the boardwalk and line up on the handrails. I then walk through a gondola of pigeons.”
MooMoo, LuLu, Powder, Brownie, Baby and Speck are among Lacke’s favorite birds that he has named. He needs only to call their names for the birds to fly and land on this index finger.
“I formed bonds with roughly 30 of the pigeons,” Lacke said. “I named those, but you can’t name them all.”
Lacke said he asks other beachgoers only one thing: “Do not chase my birds.”
“I would say 95 percent of people walk by with a smile on their face,” he said.
Five percent are dumbfounded or grossed out or freaked out. The pigeons are very tame. When people chase them, it can break their feet, he said.
“I see a lot of people ducking and diving when the pigeons are flying,” Lacke added. “It’s not like they’ll run into you. They’re fine navigators. As long as you’re not a window, I think you’re okay.”
Jenna Testa, a wildlife health technician at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge on Okaloosa Island, said pigeons are a form of rock dove that is not native to the Emerald Coast. Although helping aid non-native species could have a direct impact on the native ones, Testa said Lacke has also helped refuge workers untangle and aid many native birds on the beach.
“He has a big heart for the birds,” Testa said. “He has a good heart for animals in general.”
Lacke said he also is available to people walking by if they need information or a helping hand. As far as the birds, he said they will continue to be fed.
“If someone else can’t handle it, I’ll keep doing it,” he said. “Even if I come out here just to feed them and then leave, they’ll keep getting fed.”