Pigeon, who is said to have crossed the Pacific from Oregon, escapes death in Australia


Canberra, Australia – A pigeon that Australia has classified as a biosecurity risk has received a reprieve after a U.S. avian organization declared that its identifying leg band was counterfeit.

The band suggested that the bird found in a backyard in Melbourne on December 26 was a carrier pigeon left Oregon, 8,000 miles away, two months earlier.

On that basis, Australian authorities said Thursday they viewed the bird as a disease risk and planned to kill it.

But Deone Roberts, sports development manager at American Racing Pigeon Union in Oklahoma, said Friday the band was a fake.

The band number belongs to a blue carrier pigeon in the US and that is not the bird pictured in Australia, she said.

“The bird tape in Australia is fake and incomprehensible,” said Roberts. “It definitely has a home in Australia, not the US.”

“Somebody has to look at this band and then understand that the bird isn’t from the US. You don’t have to kill it,” she added.

The Australian Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for biosecurity, agreed that the pigeon named Joe after US President-elect Joe Biden wore a “fraudulent copy” leg band.

“Following an investigation, the department has concluded that Joe the Pigeon is most likely Australian and does not pose a biosecurity risk,” it said in a statement.

The department said it would take no further action.

Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack had previously said that there would be no mercy if the pigeon was from the United States.

“If Joe came in a way that doesn’t meet our strict biosecurity measures, Joe will either fly home or face the consequences,” said McCormack.

Martin Foley, health minister for the state of Victoria, where Joe lives, had urged the federal government to protect the bird, even if it poses a disease risk.

“I would like to urge the Commonwealth quarantine officers to show a little compassion,” Foley said.

Andy Meddick, a Victorian lawmaker for the Minor Animal Justice Party, called for a “pardon for Joe”.

“Should the federal government allow Joe to live, I’ll be glad to have the assurance that he is no aviation risk,” said Meddick.

Melbourne-based Kevin Celli-Bird, who found the emaciated bird in his backyard, was surprised at the change in nationality but was pleased that the bird he called Joe would not be destroyed.

“I thought this is just a feel-good story and now you want to put this pigeon down and I thought it won’t run, you know, you can’t, there must be other options,” said Celli-Bird of the danger of euthanasia.

Celli-Bird had contacted the American Racing Pigeon Union to find the owner of the bird based on the number on the leg band. The bands have both a number and a symbol, but Celli-Bird did not remember the symbol and said he could no longer catch the bird because it had recovered from its initial weakness.

The bird with the real leg band disappeared from a 350-mile race in Oregon on October 29, said Lucas Cramer, owner of the Crooked River Challenge.

This bird doesn’t have a racing record that would make it valuable enough to steal its identity, he said.

“This bird did not finish the racing series, it did not make any money and is therefore really worthless,” said Cramer.

The forgery of bird ribbons “happens more and more,” said Roberts. “People who get into the hobby unwittingly buy it.”

The pigeon race has regained popularity, and some birds have become very valuable. A Chinese pigeon racing fan set a record $ 1.9 million for a pigeon bred in Belgium in November.

Cramer said it was possible a pigeon could cross the Pacific on a ship from Oregon to Australia.

“In reality it could possibly happen, but this is not the same pigeon. It is not even a carrier pigeon,” said Cramer.

The bird spends every day in the back yard, sometimes with a local pigeon on a pergola.

“I may have to change him to Aussie Joe, but he’s exactly the same pigeon,” said Celli-Bird.

Lars Scott, a supervisor for Pigeon Rescue Melbourne, a bird protection group, said pigeons with American leg bans are not uncommon in the city. A number of growers in Melbourne bought them online and used them for their own records, Scott said.

The Australian quarantine authorities are notoriously strict. In 2015, the government threatened to euthanize two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, after they did smuggled into the country by Hollywood star Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.

Given 50 hours to leave Australia, the dogs made it on a chartered jet.

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