Racing pigeon that crossed Pacific faces death in Australia

CANBERRA, Australia — A racing pigeon that disappeared from a race in Oregon only to surface across the Pacific Ocean in Australia is now facing possible death because he’s a quarantine risk.

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Experts believe that the exhausted pigeon Kevin Celli-Bird found Dec. 26 in his Melbourne backyard disappeared from an Oct. 29 race in Oregon. Officials believe the bird caught a ride on a cargo ship for most of the voyage.

Celli-Bird named the bird Joe, after President-elect Joe Biden. He noticed the bird in his backyard one morning. Pigeons are generally a rare site in Australia, where native doves are more common.

“I’ve got a fountain in the backyard and it was having a drink and a wash. He was pretty emaciated, so I crushed up a dry biscuit and left it out there for him,” Celli-Bird said. “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. Obviously he belongs to someone, so I managed to catch him.”

The bird caught the attention of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, for fears Joe could carry an exotic disease. The agency asked Celli-Bird on Thursday to catch Joe. Celli-Bird said he is unable to catch Joe, now that he has regained his strength.

“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 mil (millimeters or 20 inches) of it and then it moves.’”

The Agriculture Department also said the pigeon was “not permitted to remain in Australia (because it) could compromise Australia’s food security and our wild bird populations.”

The American Racing Pigeon Union said Joe is registered to an owner in Montgomery, Alabama. Celli-Bird, who has no interest in birds other than his last name, has tried to contact the owner unsuccessfully.

The longest distance a homing pigeon is known to have traveled is believed to be 7,200 miles in 1931, when a bird flew from Arras, France, to its home in Saigon, Vietnam, in 24 days.

For now, Joe continues spending every day in the Celli-Bird’s backyard, sometimes sitting side-by-side with a native dove on a pergola.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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