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Unexpected visit from friendly racing pigeon welcomed (6 photos)

In her latest update, birding columnist Rosaleen Egan shares her respect for the homing instincts of a pigeon visitor

There is a fairly large population of pigeons on the barns here. They are lovely to watch fly in unison. Looked at individually, they can be quite distinctive in coloration. They also do their own thing, not always feeling the need to be part of the group.

It was with interest that I noted a lovely little one on Wednesday morning on the ground as I came home from a walk. It had rained heavily, so there were lots of puddles in the laneways. I assumed it had come down for a drink.

A couple of hours later, it was still on the ground, albeit in a different place. It didn’t fly away as I approached, and actually followed me. I got down on my haunches to talk to it and see if it was injured. It didn’t seem to be, but it did have a leg band. I put some birdseed down in front of me. It ate that up in quick measure. Later, it ate out of my hand.

I took some photos of the band to help read it. I was able to discern the website of the Canadian Racing Pigeon Union and a few other numbers. No one there was immediately available, so I left an inquiry.

I read a bit about racing pigeons getting tired and needing rests sometimes. My thoughts went to trying to contain the bird to protect it. When I went back outside, the bird was sitting in the middle of the laneway. This was not a good spot for a bird that didn’t seem to be able to fly. 

I considered various ways to keep it safe. There was no one else around. While I came tantalizing close with my own efforts, having a helper would have, well, helped. I didn’t want to leave it to its own weakened defences, and after a few hours of pigeon security detail, a friend came by. She suggested putting a light towel over it and putting it into the container I had set up with a bed of straw, seeds and water.

I tried the towel thing a couple of times, but it bobbed and weaved. On the third try, it flew to the barn roof. It was such a relief to me to have it off the ground.

The next morning, it was on the much bigger and higher barn with some new pigeon friends. This made me happy.

What we refer to as pigeons in our towns, cities, and farms are descendants from rock pigeons/doves brought to the Americas centuries ago. The birds were domesticated even before the time of the ancient Egyptians, originally native to Europe, North Africa and India.

According to “the bird has been taken around the world, raised for food, trained for homing, racing, and carrying messages, and used in research”. In some places, it has reverted to wild habits, nesting on cliffs far from cities.

Their remarkable homing abilities are still trying to be understood by scientists. Theories range from remembering details of landmarks, following Earth’s magnetic lines, using the sun’s position, smells, low-frequency infrasound, and/or more than one of these.

By navigating the internet, I was able to contact the owner on Friday. He was not inclined to come for the bird unless it was contained. He said it may still decide to go back to its original home, or it may decide it likes it where it is.

I respect the bird’s instincts; no matter the direction they lead it. I am touched by the time we spent together.

I share experiences of bird visitors to this property with readers every couple of weeks. Until next time, keep your eye to the sky, and look for birds that may come by.

Rosaleen Egan is a freelance journalist, a storyteller, and a playwright. She blogs on her website.