A pigeon’s tale (tail): A strange journey from California

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It’s quite a tale.

Actually, it’s quite a tail.

When Bill Robertson went out to his garage on Lewis Drive near Jacksonville last week, he was surprised to find a pigeon wandering around inside. Thinking the bird was simply avoiding the rain, Bill and wife Colleen found it interesting that the bird didn’t appear to be scared in anyway. In fact, it was right down friendly.

“It showed up on Tuesday afternoon,” Bill said. “I was out in the garage and I was working on my tractor, and I see this pigeon walking from the back of the garage. I just opened up the garage door, and it just came walking up towards the front of the door. I thought maybe I’d trapped him in there from the night before.”

Bill said that the bird was in no big hurry to get away, so Bill thought maybe the pigeon was hurt. Getting closer to the open garage door, the pigeon flew off, going about 30 feet and landing on the Robertson’s house roof.

“The next thing I know, he comes flying back down to the driveway and comes walking back into the garage,” Bill said. “Then, that’s when I noticed the bands on his legs.”

The pigeon had two bands, one on each leg. A bluish-gray band that had no writing on it; and a green band that contained some letters and numbers that appeared to identify it.

“He just hung around there for the rest of the day,” Bill said. “We had the garage door open, and he would just walk in and walk out. He wasn’t acting like he was sick or injured, so I didn’t think anymore about it.”

Bill went off to do his mowing, and that’s when Colleen came home. She also spotted the pigeon near the garage.

Later that night, the couple went into the garage, and the pigeon was still there. He had found a small room in the corner of the garage that Bill figured reminded the bird of its coop.

“We finally got the number off of the green band on his leg, and we looked it up on the Internet,” Bill said. “We found out that it was a racing pigeon, and that it was the American Racing Pigeon Union, located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

That’s approximately 830 miles from Switzerland County.

But wait – there’s more.

“The band had JEDDS on it, which is apparently a supplier in California of feed and everything for that particular niche,” Colleen said. “So he gave me their number and I contacted them, and they called me back and gave me the owner’s phone number.”

The band also told the couple that the pigeon is four years old, along with other information used in identification.

“We gave them the number of the band, and he got back with us and said that owner was in California,” Bill laughed. “I went ‘whoa’. He lives in Downey, California, which is just west of Los Angeles. So my wife called the gentleman out in California and spoke to him, and he said that he had noticed the bird was missing.”

That’s when Colleen told the owner just where his racing pigeon was currently located.

“He was really nice,” Colleen said of the owner. I explained who I was and I told him that I had one of his birds, and how I got the phone number and stuff. He said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m in Southeastern Indiana, near the Ohio River’.”

Going further, Colleen explained that they lived near Vevay, a small town they were sure the owner hadn’t heard of, but the California resident was still very confused about just where his bird was.

“I said, ‘I’m near Cincinnati, just west of Cincinnati’,” Colleen continued. “And he said, ‘Ohio? Cincinnati, Ohio?’ I said ‘I think you’re bird took a wrong turn some place’.”

Downey, California is 2,154 miles from Switzerland County, if you take the fastest route. If you take a plane, it will take four hours and 40 minutes to fly there.

No one is sure how long it took the pigeon.

Once the owner came to the realization just how far away his bird was, he decided that perhaps his pigeon now had a new home.

“He said, ‘I don’t know what happened there’,” Bill said. “But he said it was too far for him to come and get him. He told us that they make good pets, but if we didn’t want him, the guy asked us to make sure that the bird went to a good home.”

So how does a racing pigeon get from Downey, California to Switzerland County?

Tail wind?

“We had two pretty windy days right prior to that, and that day was pretty windy,” Bill laughed. “I figured that he must have gotten up in the jet stream or something!”

Bill said that the officials in Oklahoma City were skeptical that a pigeon could travel that far; and the Robertsons also contacted a racing pigeon organization in Hamilton, Ohio, who were also skeptical about the distance. Both theorized that the bird had been sold to another pigeon enthusiast closer to Indiana; but the California owner made no mention of ever selling or trading his birds, which is common among pigeon owners.

Both organizations told the Robertsons to keep the pigeon around for a couple of days and feed it some seeds and let it rest for a couple of days, and decided that perhaps the bird was waiting out the extremely rainy conditions (pigeons won’t fly in the rain, because the water weighs down their feathers, making it nearly impossible to fly, so the theory was that it was waiting on nicer weather). They told the couple once the weather was nicer, to open the garage door and see if it would leave on its own. If it didn’t, then the group in Hamilton would take the bird.

By Friday, the pigeon was still hanging around, with no apparent motivation to leave.

“The folks in Hamilton said that when you get these birds, you get them used to their ‘home’, and then you take them a short distance away and they’ll fly home, and then over time you just keep taking them further and further away,” Bill said. “I guess it’s possible that he thinks this is his home now.”

From California to Switzerland County – quite a race.

Quite a tail.