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Bird Named Joe: Why a Pigeon that Narrowly Escaped Death in Australia is Making News

The racing pigeon, first spotted in late Dec. 2020, appears to have made an extraordinary 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile) Pacific Ocean crossing from the United States to Australia.

(Photo: Channel 9 via AP)

The racing pigeon, first spotted in late Dec. 2020, appears to have made an extraordinary 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile) Pacific Ocean crossing from the United States to Australia. (Photo: Channel 9 via AP)

Australia had declared Joe- the pigeon- a biodecurity threat and had ordered its killing, but a last minute revelation saved its life.

The pigeon that faced death sentence in Australia after being declared a biosecurity risk got a reprieve after a US bird organization declared its identifying leg band was fake. The band suggested the bird found in a Melbourne backyard on December 26 was a racing pigeon that had left the US state of Oregon, 3,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) away, two months earlier.

Why Did Australia Want to Kill Joe the pigeon?

On this basis of the information that the pigeon had left US two months earlier, the Australian authorities on Thursday said they considered the bird a disease risk and planned to kill it.

What Saved the Bird?

But Deone Roberts, sport development manager for the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union, said the band was fake. The band number belongs to a blue bar pigeon in the United States and that is not the bird pictured in Australia, she said. “The bird band in Australia is counterfeit and not traceable,” Roberts said. “It definitely has a home in Australia and not the US.”

Australia's Agriculture Department, which is responsible for biosecurity, agreed that the pigeon dubbed Joe, after US President-elect Joe Biden, was wearing a “fraudulent copy” leg band.

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

The Pigeon Pardon

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

“Should the federal government allow Joe to live, I am happy to seek assurances that he is not a flight risk,” Meddick said. “Somebody needs to look at that band and then understand that the bird is not from the U.S. They do not need to kill him,” she added.

Who Found the Bird?

Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird had found the pigeon - and its tag - in his garden on Boxing Day, according to Australian media. “I thought this is just a feel-good story and now you guys want to put this pigeon away and I thought it’s not on, you know, you can’t do that, there has got to be other options,” Celli-Bird said of the threat to euthanize. Celli-Bird had contacted the American Racing Pigeon Union to find the bird’s owner based on the number on the leg band. The bands have both a number and a symbol, but Celli-Bird didn’t remember the symbol and said he can no longer catch the bird since it has recovered from its initial weakness.

Joe's Disappearance

The bird with the genuine leg band had disappeared from a 560-kilometer (350-mile) race in Oregon on October 29, Crooked River Challenge owner Lucas Cramer said. That bird did not have a racing record that would make it valuable enough to steal its identity, he said.

“That bird didn’t finish the race series, it didn’t make any money and so its worthless, really,” Cramer said. He said it was possible a pigeon could cross the Pacific on a ship from Oregon to Australia. “In reality, it could potentially happen, but this isn’t the same pigeon. It’s not even a racing pigeon,” Cramer said.

American Leg Bands in Australia

Lars Scott, a carer at Pigeon Rescue Melbourne, a bird welfare group, said pigeons with American leg bands were not uncommon around the city. A number of Melbourne breeders bought them online and used them for their own record keeping, Scott said.

(With inputs from AP and Reuters)

first published:January 15, 2021, 19:15 IST
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