A racing pigeon has survived a 13,000-kilometre Pacific Ocean crossing from the US to Australia but authorities consider the bird a quarantine risk and plan to kill it.
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 – which Mr 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.
Mr Celli-Bird said quarantine authorities called on Thursday 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 using a professional bird catcher.
The Agriculture Department, which is 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.
Mr Celli-Bird said Joe turned up at his place in outer 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.”
Mr Cellis-Bird, who said he had 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.
Mr 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.
The animal rights group PETA said in a statement it commended Mr Celli-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 11,600 kilometres and took 24 days.