A racing pigeon has survived an extraordinary 13,000km Pacific Ocean crossing from the United States to reach Australia. Now authorities consider the bird a quarantine risk and plan to kill it.
Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird on Thursday said he discovered that the exhausted bird that arrived in his backyard on December 26 had disappeared from a race in the US state of Oregon on October 29.
Experts suspect the pigeon – which Celli-Bird has named Joe, after the US president-elect – hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific.
“It rocked up at our place on Boxing Day,” said Celli-Bird, who lives in the Melbourne suburb of Officer.
“I’ve got a fountain in the backyard and it was having a drink and a wash,” he said. “He was pretty emaciated, so I crushed up a dry biscuit and left it out there for him.”
“Next day, he rocked back up at our water feature. So I wandered out to have a look at him, because he was fairly weak and he didn’t seem that afraid of me, and I saw he had a blue band on his leg,” he added. “Obviously he belongs to someone, so I managed to catch him.”
Joe’s feat has attracted the attention of the Australian media, but also of the notoriously strict Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.
In 2015, the government threatened to euthanise two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, after they were smuggled into the country by Hollywood stars Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.
Faced with a 50-hour deadline to leave Australia, the dogs made it out in a chartered jet.
Celli-Bird said quarantine authorities called him on Thursday to ask him to catch the bird.
“They say if it is from America, then they’re concerned about bird diseases,” he said. “They wanted to know if I could help them out. I said: ‘To be honest, I can’t catch it. I can get within 500 millimetres [20 inches] of it and then it moves’.”
Celli-Bird said quarantine authorities were now considering contracting a professional bird catcher.
The quarantine service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cellis-Bird, who says he has no interest in birds “apart from my last name”, said he could no longer catch the pigeon with his bare hands since it had regained its strength.
He said the Oklahoma-based American Pigeon Union had confirmed that Joe was registered to an owner in Montgomery, Alabama.
Celli-Bird said he had attempted to contact the owner, but had so far been unable to get through.
The bird spends every day in the backyard, sometimes sitting side-by-side with a native dove on a pergola. Celli-Bird has been feeding it pigeon food from days of its arrival.
“I think he just decided that since I’ve given him some food and he’s got a spot to drink, that’s home,” he said.
Australian National Pigeon Association secretary Brad Turner said he had heard of cases of Chinese racing pigeons reaching the Australian west coast aboard cargo ships, a far shorter voyage.
It is claimed that the greatest long-distance flight recorded by a pigeon is one that started at Arras in France and ended in Saigon, Vietnam, back in 1931, according to pigeonpedia.com. The distance was 11,600km and took 24 days.
There are some known instances of long-distance flights but whether these are one-offs performed by the marathon runners of the pigeon world or they are feats that could be achieved by the average pigeon is not known.