As It Happens

A pigeon named Joe was spared from a grisly fate because he's not American

When Kevin Celli-Bird found an emaciated pigeon in his backyard, he didn’t expect it to become a heated international story full of politics and mystery. 

The bird, found in Melbourne, was initially set to be euthanized under Australia's animal quarantine rules

This pigeon — named Joe, after the U.S. president-elect — has been spared after an investigation determined it is not, in fact, American. (Channel 9/The Associated Press)

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When Kevin Celli-Bird found an emaciated pigeon in his backyard, he didn't expect it to become a heated international story full of politics and mystery. 

The bird, who he's named Joe, was originally believed to have travelled all the way from the United States, and authorities said it had to be euthanized under Australia's strict animal quarantine regulations.

The decision caused an uproar from bird lovers worldwide who begged the government to spare Joe.

But just as all hope seemed to be lost for the pigeon, a last-minute discovery saved the bird's life. Turns out, Joe was Australian all along. 

"We'll keep him here, and I can get back to a bit of a normal life," Celli-Bird told As It Happens host Carol Off of the good news. 

Finding Joe 

Celli-Bird first spotted the pigeon on Boxing Day outside his Melbourne, Australia, home by the ocean, looking a bit worse for wear. So he captured the bird in order to nurse it back to health. 

The pigeon was wearing a band around its leg, so Celli-Bird started calling up various pigeon organizations to see if he could track down its owner. 

The tag belonged to the American Racing Pigeon Union, and the identification number suggested it was a racing pigeon that had left Oregon, 13,000 kilometres away, two months earlier.

"On New Year's day, we had a group of friends over. We were all sitting round and having a bit of a laugh about, you know, this pigeon that potentially had come from America," Celli-Bird said.

"We were just kicking around names. And then my wife said, 'Well, what about Joe? You know, after the new American president."

Joe sits on a rooftop Tuesday in Melbourne. (Kevin Celli-Bird/The Associated Press)

Joe's unlikely voyage made for a pretty good story, and Celli-Bird spoke to several local media outlets about it. 

Then he got a call from Australia's Agriculture Department, which is responsible for biosecurity. Joe was a disease risk, the government said, and he had to die.

"I thought, you know, here's a bit of light fun for people. They're getting a lot of joy out of the story. And suddenly ... they want to take him and kill him," Celli-Bird said. "And I just thought this is a bit rough."

'Bad luck, Joe'

Celli-Bird reported the grim news to the journalists he'd spoken to about Joe, and the story blew up. Even the country's acting prime minister addressed the matter. 

"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," Michael McCormack said earlier this week.

But then Pigeon Rescue Melbourne, a bird welfare group, came to the rescue. They told Celli-Bird that pigeons with American leg bands were not uncommon around the city. A number of Melbourne breeders bought them online and used them for their own record keeping.

They were right. Joe, as far as anyone can tell, is not American.  

Deone Roberts, sport development manager for the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union, said on Friday the band number belongs to a blue bar pigeon in the United States, which is not the bird pictured in Australia, she said.

In fact, Joe isn't even a racing pigeon. The government reversed course. Joe was spared. 

"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 department said in a statement.

The department said it will take no further action.

Joe, meanwhile, is doing well, perching on the nearby boats, and making friends with the local doves, Celli-Bird said.

"He was here this morning having a drink. He's sitting on a yacht somewhere here. So he's still around."


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Kevin Celli-Bird produced by Katie Geleff. 

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