The Saga of Joe the Pigeon, the American Bird on Australian Death Row
Was he running from America, looking for new life on Australian shores?
Was he sent to sabotage the Australian ecosystem? Was he an Australian falsely accused of being an American, or was there something deeper and far more mysterious at work?
All these questions are swirling around Joe the Pigeon, a winged fowl who recently spent some precarious time on Death Row in Australia.
It began on December 26, 2020, when Joe was discovered in a Melbourne backyard by a man named Kevin Celli-Bird. "When it landed, it was very weak and in an emaciated state," said Celli-Bird, who nursed the pigeon back to health.
Bird meant no ill when he contacted the American Racing Pigeon Union to find the bird's rightful owners. Surprisingly, its identifying leg band claimed that the bird hailed from the American state of Oregon.
Australia has notoriously strict biosecurity laws — in 2015, the then-agricultural minister threatened to euthanize Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's terriers when the couple brought them in unauthorized.
Believing the bird to be a disease risk, perhaps paranoid from 2020's many reports of disease-carrying bats and the subsequent explosion of disease-carrying Americans, Australian authorities planned to put the bird to death.
Celli-Bird was shocked. "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," he said.
Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack insisted that the bird would receive no mercy, stating, "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."
The country's Agriculture Department doubled down, stating that the bird was "not permitted to remain in Australia" because it "could compromise Australia's food security and our wild bird populations."
The Internet rallied around Joe, pleading with the Australian government to save the bird. Some government officials also came to the winged creature's defense.
"I would urge the Commonwealth's quarantine officials to show a little bit of compassion," said Martin Foley, health minister for the state of Victoria, Australia.
@bkjabour Nooo... that was "Joe the pigeon " fleeing possible detention by Australian border force...on his way to NZ.— Patrick Campbell (@Patrick Campbell) 1610804713
The Plot Thickens
It seemed to be all over for Joe, who was named after U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. But then the Americans intervened.
Deone Roberts, sports development manager for Oklahoma's American Racing Pigeon Union, made the shocking claim that the band was fake. "The bird band in Australia is counterfeit and not traceable," she said. "They do not need to kill him."
Apparently, the bird with the genuine racing band disappeared from an Oregon race on October 29 but did not have the kind of racing talent that would inspire people to steal its identity. "That bird didn't finish the race series, it didn't make any money and so it's worthless, really," said Lucas Cramer, owner of the Crooked River Challenge race.
Pigeon racing, if you weren't previously aware, is a competition wherein homing pigeons are released far from home and measured based on the amount of time it takes them to return. On the other hand, apparently Melbourne pigeon handlers frequently use counterfeit American bands on their pigeons.
UPDATE: Multiple sources confirm the leg band on Joe the Pigeon to be a fraudulent copy. The bird is highly likely… https://t.co/4yMqofEqYC— Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (@Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) 1610701146
Australia's Agriculture Department quickly acquiesced. "Following an investigation, the department has concluded that Joe the Pigeon is highly likely to be Australian and does not present a biosecurity risk," it said in a statement.
Today, Joe the bird seems to be living a life of luxury. He spends each day in Celli-Bird's backyard, where AP News reports he is often seen spending time with a native dove on a pergola.
Does he know how narrowly he avoided death? Do any of us know how narrowly we avoid death, day in and day out? Do any of us properly appreciate the improbability of our fragile lives?
COVID-19 has perhaps made many of us more aware than ever before of our mortality, while in America, insurrections have made us acutely aware of our own democracy's fragility. Perhaps all we can hope for is that someone will discover the fraud at the heart of it all, that someone will identify the fake band on our arms and quickly remove it. Until then, other nations will — as they should — continue to execute our birds.
Okay I should really be doing like 5 other things rn but I became obsessed with finding out why someone in Australi… https://t.co/sM5BJZ1trG— Natasha Daly (@Natasha Daly) 1610749226