Racing pigeon 'that flew from USA to Australia' spared death after nationality mix up

Credit: AP

A pigeon that Australia declared a biosecurity risk after it flew into the country from the USA has been spared death because it did not, in fact, fly between the two countries.

Discovered in a garden in Melbourne, the bird's leg band suggested the racing pigeon had flown 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean from Oregon in the US.

On that basis, Australian authorities said they considered the marathon flier a disease risk and planned to kill it.

But experts at the American Racing Pigeon Union have now claimed the band "is counterfeit and not traceable".

The pigeon has attracted the attention of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service Credit: Channel 9/AP

Deone Roberts from the Union said the identifying number on the leg tag belongs to a blue bar pigeon in the US - not the bird pictured in Australia.

"They do not need to kill him," she declared.

Australia’s Agriculture Department - which is responsible for biosecurity - agreed the band was a "fraudulent copy" and has decided to spare the pigeon.

Dubbed Joe, after U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, the bird will now live to fly another day.

"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 Agricultural Department said in a statement.

Acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack had earlier said there would be no mercy if the pigeon was from the US.

"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" Mr McCormack said.

But a political coup had begun to mount around the winged wanderer.

Martin Foley, health minister for Victoria state where Joe is living, had called for the federal government to spare the bird even if it posed a disease risk.

President-elect Joe Biden Credit: Matt Slocum/AP

"I would urge the Commonwealth’s quarantine officials to show a little bit of compassion," Mr Foley said.

While Andy Meddick, a lawmaker for the minor Animal Justice Party, called for 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," Mr Meddick said.

The man who first found the pigeon - Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird - was surprised by the change of nationality but pleased that the bird he named Joe would not be destroyed.

"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," Mr Celli-Bird said of the threat to kill the bird.

The bird spends every day in the backyard, sometimes with a native dove on a pergola.

"I might have to change him to Aussie Joe, but he’s just the same pigeon," Mr Celli-Bird said.