CANBERRA, Australia – A pigeon believed to have traveled 8,000 miles from the U.S. was deemed a biosecurity risk by Australian officials and faced death but was given a reprieve after it was determined that the bird’s leg band is fake.
When an emaciated pigeon appeared in December in Kevin Celli-Bird’s backyard, a blue band around the bird’s ankle indicated it was a racing pigeon that had disappeared from a race Oct. 29 in Oregon. Celli-Bird’s wife named the bird Joe in honor of President-elect Joe Biden. But because the bird could carry exotic disease, it was considered a quarantine risk and officials planned to kill it.
“If Joe has come in a way that has not met our strict biosecurity measures, then bad luck Joe: either fly home or face the consequences,” Prime Minister Michael McCormack said on Thursday.
“The bird band in Australia is counterfeit and not traceable,” Deone Roberts, sport development manager for the Oklahoma-based group, told The Associated Press. “They do not need to kill him.”
Australia’s agriculture department agreed.
“Following an investigation, the department has concluded that Joe the Pigeon is highly likely to be Australian and does not present a biosecurity risk,” the agency said in a statement.
A bird with a genuine leg band did disappear from that Oregon race, the Crooked River Challenge. However, bird owner Lucas Cramer said that the pigeon did not have enough of a racing record to make its identity worth stealing.
“That bird didn’t finish the race series, it didn’t make any money and so it’s worthless, really,” Cramer said.
Cramer said it’s possible a pigeon could cross the Pacific on a ship from Oregon to Australia but “this isn’t the same pigeon. It’s not even a racing pigeon.”
The longest distance a homing pigeon is known to have traveled is believed to have been 7,200 miles in 1931, when a bird flew from Arras, France, to its home in Saigon, Vietnam, in 24 days.
Celli-Bird had contacted the pigeon union to find the bird’s owner. He was surprised at the change in Joe’s fate.
“I might have to change him to Aussie Joe, but he’s just the same pigeon,” Celli-Bird said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.