If you're in the Pearl City area, you may be treated to Doug Beter's
colorful pigeons when they're out for a practice run.

Photos by Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

What started out as a hobby turned into a colorful enterprise called Rainbow Pigeons

By Burl Burlingame

Steven Bruhn jammed on his brakes. "Look at that!" he yelped. "Are they from outer space?"

Wheeling in the air above Pearl City, brightly colored racing pigeons soared and banked, a thrown handful of jelly beans flying in formation.

"It's like a blessing!" breathed Bruhn's car partner, Maritza Macy. The Ewa residents had been traveling off a cane haul road when they had the pigeon close encounter. While Pearl City has always been known for its pidgin, pigeons are another matter. These colored "Rainbow Pigeons" are the pets/employees of Doug Beter, and may be unique in the world.

Fantail pigeon Precious perches atop Doug Beter's head. He has rented his Rainbow Pigeons for special events from kids parties to the Hula Bowl.
By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

Beter, a big guy with hands like hams, handles the pigeons like delicate crystal. He had been working in a prison halfway house when it got to be too much for him.

"Every day, I was dealing with liars and thieves and murderers, and it was too stressful. I wanted to do something relaxing, and I thought of my birds."

Beter had a number of homing and racing pigeons, including expensive "fantail" show-offs, that he had entered in a number of interisland competitions. As a volunteer for the city Recreation Department at Easter events, Beter had temporarily dyed ducks and chicks. Would the same work on pigeons?

The result is Beter's "trade secret," but involves food coloring, a special diet and vitamins. We're talking pink, yellow, orange, green, purple, red, white and blue pigeons, and the colors are as bright as a fast-food wrapper.

Beter has kept a close eye on pigeon-fancier publications, and hasn't seen any other colored pigeons. "I might be the only guy in the world doing this," he said.

Once the color was stabilized, Beter put the birds to work for him, releasing up to 125 birds at events ranging from children's birthday parties to the Hula Bowl.

"It's much better than balloons, because it's natural and helps protect the environment," said Beter. Depending on the number of birds, rates range from $36 to $250, with a discount for kids' events. The more birds released, the cheaper it is per bird.

No matter where the birds are released in the state, they always arrow right back to Pearl City.

"As long as they don't get hurt, they always get back," said Beter. "In the last two years, I've only lost five birds."

Doug Beter's back yard swirls with color.
By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

Children get excited when the birds take to the air like billowing confetti, and Beter allows kids to pet his prize fantails, who have names like Precious, Pumpkin and Sunshine. Invariably, someone complains to the Humane Society that Beter must be brainwashing his birds to fly under these foreign colors.

"The Humane Society has been out a couple of times, and they say it's all OK," said Beter, who carries a letter to that effect to events in case someone asks.

He set Precious on a car bumper and the fantail immediately puffed itself up and spread its tail feathers, showing off.

"One lady said I must be tying these pigeons to little torture racks to get them to do that," sighed Beter. "Nope, that's just what fantails do."

Training involves food and discipline, in careful balance.

"If they're full, they don't want to fly, so they don't fly home until they're hungry," said Beter. The pigeons are let out twice a day for some wind-sprints over the neighborhood. "They love company!" said Beter.

Beter carefully rehearsed a story for elementary kids about how the pigeons were originally white, but became splashed with color one day when they flew through a rainbow.

"Of course, the first time I tried that story, a kid looked at me and said, 'No way, mister. A rainbow is just refracted light. Get real!'"

Rainbow Pigeons information is available at 455-5990.

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