Joe the Pigeon is officially off of death row — and world-famous.
The bird originally made headlines last week when Australia announced it would kill the pigeon, which was originally — and incorrectly — thought to have ended up Down Under after disappearing from a pigeon race in the United States.
The coincidentally named Kevin Celli-Bird told The Associated Press he found the bird Dec. 26 in the backyard of his home in the Melbourne suburb of Officer, where it was in bad shape.
“It rocked up at our place on Boxing Day,” Celli-Bird said, according to the AP.
“I’ve got a fountain in the backyard and it was having a drink and a wash,” he said. “He was pretty emaciated, so I crushed up a dry biscuit and left it out there for him.”
“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,” he continued. “Obviously he belongs to someone, so I managed to catch him.”
That blue band is of interest here, since it would usually signify the bird was from the United States. It gave Celli-Bird (quite the aptronym given the circumstances) the inspiration to name the pigeon Joe, after American President-elect Joe Biden. (For all those whose sympathy might be attenuated here, keep in mind these are birds that mostly wander mindlessly in search of food and drink — unless, of course, they have handlers to put them to good use. Another aptronym, perhaps)
For Australia, which has strict animal biosecurity policies, Joe’s potential American provenance was problematic, however. A pigeon from the United States could carry diseases dangerous to Australian birds.
Since Celli-Bird had let the bird go, it had regained some of its strength — which was a problem, since the authorities called him back and wanted him to catch it.
“They say if it is from America, then they’re concerned about bird diseases,” he said, according to the AP. “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 millimeters [20 inches] of it and then it moves.’”
Authorities would eventually get ahold of Joe and check his tag numbers, which matched a pigeon that disappeared from a race in Oregon in October. The original theory was that Joe had gotten aboard a cargo ship, made the trip across the Pacific Ocean and ended up in Aussie-land.
“Humane destruction of the bird is the best safeguard for Australian poultry and wildlife,” Australia’s Agriculture Department said in a statement early last week, according to the Otego Daily Times of Otego, New Zealand.
However, even though pigeons aren’t universally loved — “rats with wings” and all that — the fact that the bird was now world-famous won him some supporters.
Martin Foley — the health minister in Victoria state, where Joe was found — said the government should spare Joe’s life even if he were an American bird, according to the AP.
“I would urge the Commonwealth’s quarantine officials to show a little bit of compassion,” Foley said
Andy Meddick, a politician with the minor Animal Justice Party in Australia’s Victoria state, asked for (ugh) a “pigeon pardon for Joe.”
“Should the federal government allow Joe to live, I am happy to seek assurances that he is not a flight risk,” Meddick said, proving yet again my personal theory that animal rights activists have two default states of public presentation: frivolous outrage or dad jokes.
Celli-Bird was also among the voices calling for amnesty for Joe.
“I thought this is just a feel-good story and now you guys want to put this pigeon away and I thought it’s not on, you know, you can’t do that, there has got to be other options,” he told the AP, adding he thought the bird could be quarantined.
The case drew enough attention that Australia’s acting prime minister, Michael McCormack, to weigh in — although not in a positive way.
“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,” he said.
It didn’t take a whole lot of sleuthing to realize Joe wasn’t an American after all.
First, as AFP noted, Joe was of a local breed of pigeon, the Turkish tumbler. Even if there were Turkish tumblers in the States, they wouldn’t be likely to make their way to Australia.
“They’re not bred for flying long distances, they’re bred for tricks in the air. So they’re like a show bird really,” Lars Scott from Pigeon Rescue Melbourne told AFP.
The organizer for the Crooked River Challenge — the Oregon race where Joe allegedly disappeared from — said that while it was possible a pigeon could have gone astray and made it to Australia aboard a ship, it wasn’t this pigeon.
“In reality, it could potentially happen, but this isn’t the same pigeon. It’s not even a racing pigeon,” Lucas Cramer said told the AP.
A pigeon threatened with being put to death – over fears it might be carrying disease – has been spared thanks to a case of mistaken identity https://t.co/nIrItdlFK9
— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 15, 2021
How did it get the leg band, then? Scott told AFP it was common for breeders in Melbourne to buy knockoff American tags to use to track their birds.
Thus, Joe got his pardon: “Following an investigation, the department has concluded that Joe the Pigeon is highly likely to be Australian and does not present a biosecurity risk,” Australia’s Agriculture Department said in a statement Friday, according to the AP.
It’s almost as if it’s a good thing to thoroughly investigate and adopt common-sense procedures for dealing with potential contagion problems to allow for the least punitive outcome possible. For birds, I mean. And other animals. Let’s not extrapolate here.
Anyhow, Celli-Bird says now that he knows the pigeon’s origins, “I might have to change him to Aussie Joe, but he’s just the same pigeon.”
I’d say keep the original name; we’re going to have to do a lot of cleaning up after both Joes.
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