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Homing pigeon makes extended pit stop in local yard
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A homing pigeon sits on the roof of a house Wednesday beside Leslie Williams’ home on Dogwood Drive in Laurel Park. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, October 19, 2012

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

When Leslie Williams’ son, Justin, went out to feed the family’s pit bull Tuesday, he noticed an unusual visitor. A metallic gray homing pigeon was following him around the yard of the family’s home on Dogwood Drive in Laurel Park.

“We have a big pool in the backyard,” Williams said. “I think he was trying to drink water out of the pool.”

Williams used a laundry basket to provide an overnight shelter for the pigeon, along with water and a little bird seed, but she released the bird Wednesday morning and thought nothing more of it, assuming it would fly away as homing pigeons are wont to do.

“I took the clothes basket off, he flew out onto the shed and flew away,” she said. “I went to lunch with my sister, and when I came home, he’d come back.”

It is not unusual to see pigeons here. But this one, Williams said, had two bands on its feet with a code printed on them. Included in the code were the letters “WTCM.” The band directed her to look the code up on the International Foundation of American Homing Pigeon Fanciers’ website, wwwifpigeon.com.

The blue band on the bird’s foot identified it as belonging to a club member of the International Federation (IF), which, according to the website, seeks to promote homing pigeon training, racing and exhibitions.

Sam Pixley, a vice president of the IF, said that as many as 1,500 birds can be launched in a single race and then travel a distance of up to 300 miles. Pixley, who lives in Fredericksburg, is secretary of the Washington Combine Flyers, a group of clubs that compete against one another. He said the course for most races either is a straight line or a fixed course.

Pixley said the birds are driven to the starting point of a race and released at about 8 a.m. for a 300-mile race. When the birds return to the “finish line,” which often is around 1:30 p.m., Pixley said, their return time is monitored using GPS technology in the bands. The bird that travels the distance in the fastest speed per yard is declared the winner, Pixley said.

However, sometimes the birds get off track during a race. That’s when they often show up at someone’s home.

“It could have been any number of things,” Pixley said of the bird that landed at Williams’ home. “He might have gotten disoriented, might have hurt his wing, might have been competing in his race and exhausted himself. At that point, he would have sought shelter and rest.”

Pixley said anyone who finds a bird should offer it water first, and then avoid feeding it if possible to prevent the bird from getting too comfortable.

“If you continue to feed him, that means he’s found a new food source, and he may not make the attempt to go home,” he said. “We’re dealing with a pet that sometimes reverts back to his natural instincts, which are not to be domesticated.”

However, Williams and her family were able to catch and hold the bird.

“When we first noticed him in the backyard, he seemed disoriented and he wouldn’t fly at all,” Williams said. “My mom threw him in the air to get him to fly. He’ll fly around more now, but he mostly just walks around. He seems content.”

The bird’s contentedness might be a problem, however. Usually, Pixley said, once a bird has recovered its strength it will fly off and resume its trip home. If it stays more than 24 hours, he said, then one of the local IF clubs often will arrange to have the bird returned to its owner.

“If the owner is identified and does not retrieve the bird, we will actually pay the cost of the shipping boxes to have it returned if it’s within a reasonable driving distance,” he added.

Williams emailed the person identified on the band, but as of Thursday, she had not gotten a response.

However, Pixley said the name on the band might not necessarily be the bird’s rightful owner, but only the person who either bred or tagged the bird. Birds are usually tagged within four to five days of birth, he said, and they often are traded or given as gifts among IF members in other clubs.

Pixley said there also are clubs in Lynchburg, Fredericksburg, Virginia Beach and Baltimore, all of which are within normal racing distance.

“After we train young birds, they’re capable of flying 400 miles,” he said.

Williams said Thursday she planned to contact Pixley, who indicated he could personally either pick the bird up and return it or provide the proper shipping materials.

“Our policy is that we should always try to recover the bird whenever the bird has been unable to return to his home,” he said.

Until the bird is safely returned, however, Williams said he continues to be a happy visitor, wandering around the family’s yard and deck and watching Justin when he’s in the backyard.

“My son’s got a 4H speech to do,” she said. “I’m sure he’ll be doing it on this now.”

 

 
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