A racing pigeon which survived a 13,000km Pacific Ocean crossing from the US to Australia might avoid being euthanised.
Kevin Celli-Bird said on Thursday he discovered the exhausted bird that arrived in his Melbourne backyard on December 26 had disappeared from a race in the US state of Oregon on October 29.
Experts suspect the pigeon, that Celli-Bird has named Joe after the US president-elect, hitched a ride on a cargo ship.
Joe's feat has attracted the attention of the notoriously strict Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.
Celli-Bird said quarantine authorities called to ask him to catch the bird, saying they were concerned about bird diseases.
"I said, 'To be honest, I can't catch it. I can get within 500 millimetres of it and then it moves’."
He said quarantine authorities were now considering contracting a professional bird catcher.
The Agriculture Department, responsible for biosecurity, said the pigeon was "not permitted to remain in Australia" because it "could compromise Australia's food security and our wild bird populations."
"It poses a direct biosecurity risk to Australian bird life and our poultry industry," a department statement said.
However, it’s now emerged Joe might not actually be from the US at all.
The American Pigeon Racing Union wrote on Facebook Joe is not wearing a “genuine” AU band.
The AU band is used to allow a pigeon to race in the American Pigeon Racing Union.
“The pigeon found in Australia sports a counterfeit band and need not be destroyed per biosecurity measures, because his actual home is in Australia,” the union wrote on Facebook.
“It is a disappointment that false information spreads so quickly, but we are appreciative that the real pigeon did not stray from the US.”
Deone Roberts, sport development manager for the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union, told the ABC Joe, “definitely has a home in Australia and not the US”.
"Somebody needs to look at that band and then understand that the bird is not from the US,” Ms Roberts told the ABC.
"They do not need to kill him."
US Pigeon appeared in Melbourne backyard
Celli-Bird said Joe turned up at his place in suburban Officer on Boxing Day, having a drink and a wash in the backyard fountain.
"He was pretty emaciated so I crushed up a dry biscuit and left it out there for him," he 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," he added.
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.
Shock twist in the story of “Joe” the pigeon who found his way from Alabama to Melbourne after getting lost during a race. Federal Government considers him a biosecurity risk and confirmed he will be euthanised. We speak to the man who found Joe..he’s devastated. 6pm #7NewsMelb pic.twitter.com/WCSQMgp4e4
— NickMcCallum7 (@NickMcCallum7) January 14, 2021
He said the Oklahoma-based American Pigeon Union had confirmed that Joe was registered to an owner in Montgomery, Alabama.
Celli-Bird said so far he had been unable to get through to the owner. He has been feeding Joe pigeon food every day.
"I think that 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 there were genuine fears pigeons from the US could carry exotic diseases and he agreed Joe should be destroyed.
PETA: Racing pigeons is a ‘cruel practice’
The animal rights group PETA said in a statement it commended Cellis-Bird for feeding Joe but pigeon racing was a "cruel practice that kills hundreds and thousands of these clever birds".
Spokesperson Emily Rice said racing pigeons were shipped around the globe, sometimes dying on the journey or in quarantine, with the survivors forced to race and many more dying from exhaustion, dehydration, starvation or predation.
"If birds don't rank well in races and aren't selected for breeding, breeders break their necks," Ms Rice said.
"We urge those who profit from Joe to allow this poor bird to retire," she said.
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.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.