Australia to kill pigeon that crossed Pacific from Oregon over ‘biosecurity risk’

A racing pigeon which survived a miraculous 8,000-mile Pacific Ocean crossing from North America to Australia poses a risk to the country’s biosecurity and could be killed, Australian authorities have said.

The “exhausted” bird was found by Kevin Celli-Bird in his garden in Melbourne on December 26, and he discovered it had been released as part of a race in the US state of Oregon back on October 29.

Mr Celli-Bird has named his unexpected visitor Joe, after the US president-elect.

But while Joe’s arrival in Australia has attracted the attention of the media, it has also brought the scrutiny of the notoriously strict Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

The service called Mr Celli-Bird on Thursday to ask him to catch the bird.

“They say if it is from America, then they’re concerned about bird diseases,” he said.

“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 millimetres of it and then it moves’.”

“On Boxing Day we found him on the water feature in the backyard, having a bit of a drink and he thought it was a good place to take up residence.”

Mr Celli-Bird has now built a bird box for his new companion.

“After I figured he was staying I ended up buying some pigeon food,” he said.

Mr Celli-Bird suggested Joe could have hitchhiked his way to Australia from the US.

“He was released on a race in Oregon, and maybe got caught in a storm, blown off course and out to sea, saw a ship, landed on the ship and the ship’s come across to Australia, he’s flown off the ship and here we are.”

“I got in touch with the American racing pigeon union and they said it belongs to a gentleman in Montgomery, Alabama.”

Quarantine authorities were now considering contracting a professional bird catcher, according to PA.

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.

In 2015, the government threatened to euthanise two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, after they were smuggled into the country by Hollywood star Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.

Faced with a 50-hour deadline to leave Australia, the dogs were flown out of the country on a chartered jet.

Mr Celli-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.

He said he had attempted to contact the owner, but had so far been unable to get through.

The bird spends every day in the garden, sometimes sitting next to 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 he had heard of cases of Chinese racing pigeons reaching the Australian west coast aboard cargo ships, a far shorter voyage.

Mr Turner said there were genuine fears pigeons from the United States could carry exotic diseases and he agreed Joe should be destroyed.

“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 AQIS and those sort of people would give their wholehearted support for the idea,” Mr Turner said, referring to the quarantine service.

The greatest long-distance flight recorded by a pigeon is one which apparently started at Arras in France and ended in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1931, according to pigeonpedia.com.

The distance was 7,200 miles and it took the bird 24 days.

Additional reporting by PA.

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