Racing pigeon that flew to Australia may be killed amid COVID-19 fears

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A racing pigeon from Alabama has survived an 8,000-mile odyssey to Australia, where it was named Joe after the president-elect – but authorities plan to kill the bird amid coronavirus fears, according to a report.

Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird said he discovered the exhausted bird in his backyard on Dec. 26 after it had disappeared from a race in Oregon on Oct. 29, The Associated Press reported.

He said the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union had confirmed that Joe was registered to an owner in Montgomery, Alabama.

Experts suspect the bold bird hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific, a feat that has attracted the attention of media, as well as quarantine officials, Down Under.

“They say if it is from America, then they’re concerned about bird diseases,” Celli-Bird said, adding that officials called him Thursday about Joe.

“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.’”

He said authorities were considering hiring a professional bird catcher to help capture the long-distance traveler.

The Agriculture Department, which handles 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.

Celli-Bird described how the feathered visitor showed up.

“It rocked up at our place on Boxing Day. 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,” he added.

Celli-Bird — who insisted he has no interest in birds “apart from my last name – said he has tried to contact Joe’s owner but could not get through.

The bird has regained its strength after being fed by Celli-Bird within days of its arrival. It now spends every day in the backyard, sometimes in the company of a native dove on a pergola.  

“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 legitimate fears pigeons from the US could carry diseases and he agreed that Joe should be put to sleep.

“While it sounds harsh to the normal person — they’d hear that and go, ‘This is cruel,’ and everything else — I’d think you’d find that A.Q.I.S. and those sort of people would give their wholehearted support for the idea,” he said, referring to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

According to, the greatest long-distance flight by a pigeon started at Arras in France and ended in Saigon, Vietnam, back in 1931, a 24-day journey covering 7,200 miles.

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