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A bird story: Homing pigeon finds the way back to his family, 350 miles away from Wellsville

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“Pretty Bird” is now back in Berlin, Connecticut

By Andrew Harris

Last week you may have caught the story about a wayward homing pigeon that somehow appeared in a beautiful, south Wellsville backyard garden. The bird was clearly marked with a band and based on the gentle and calm nature of the bird, had been well cared for. A scenario very much like a lost dog with a collar or microchip, one is obliged to find the owner and safely return the animal. That is exactly what Ann Gee, longtime Wellsville resident did, with my help.

Mrs. Gee, as I have called her for decades, knew that I’m a birdy kinda guy so she called me. We’ve been friends for many years and not to toot my own horn, but she called the right guy.

I took a trip with my fancy high power camera to hopefully capture the information from the leg band on “Pretty Bird,” as Mrs. Gee named her unexpected guest. This pigeon was not very afraid of people and was just happy to hang out on the fence above a beautiful garden with a koi pond and great flowers. “Pretty Bird” would fly down and eat black-oil sunflower seeds that Mrs. Gee would carefully set aside for her. The pictures were great but the band numbers still not totally visible.

Trapping “Pretty Bird” was going to be necessary in order to property identify and return to the owner. This is where I come in, an old amateur homing pigeon owner, and with the help of my late uncle Dan Denner. Uncle Dan was known for trapping out of control pigeon populations in downtown Wellsville and using the birds to train his awarding winning bird dogs. When Uncle Dan died, I inherited several dedicated pigeon traps which I have used for years at my henhouse for medical isolation.

I grabbed the trap, which is a large wire cage with a one-way door, and went back to Mrs. Gee’s tropical paradise. When I got out of the car the first noise I heard was a circling osprey and Mrs. Gee looked a little worried. The bird had vanished, a rowdy flock of crows had visited, and she was sure “Pretty Bird” had been devoured. Without any wild instincts, I was concerned until I looked up and spotted him on top of a nearby telephone pole. A dramatic sigh of relief for everyone, especially Mrs. Gee who wanted to safely get the pigeon out of danger and back to his owner.

We set the trap in a safe spot, dropped a handful of sunflower seed inside and stepped away. I actually drove away and went back home to slave away at the Wellsville Sun, assuming it would take several hours to trap the pigeon.

No sooner than I got back work, Mrs. Gee sent a message: “He’s in the trap, please come get him soon. I’m afraid he will hurt himself trying to escape.”

The bird whisperer(me,) told Mrs. Gee to put a blanket over the cage and I’d be down soon.

Now with the pigeon in custody, I could read the band and start looking for the owner. It’s not much different than reading a dog tag, just smaller and with three small identifiers. The first key identifier led me to Sal Lama, who lives near Tampa Bay, Florida and is a contact point for the International Federation of racing pigeons. I gave Sal the information on the band and he went to grab his “books.” Using the code from the band, Sal was able to determine that “Pretty Bird” is from a club* in Connecticut and gave me the number for Bob Carney, that club’s secretary. Carney was able to quickly determine that the owner was Michael Zuber of Berlin, Connecticut and forwarded the contact information.

*A club is a group dedicated to racing homing pigeons. Somewhat like golf or tennis; national clubs have state and local chapters. The members raise homing pigeons and train them to flying coordinated races with cash prizes, sometimes large cash prizes. To provide a flavor of how serious of a sport this is, one racing pigeon in China recently sold for $1.9 million dollars. The sport is popular worldwide, with famous participants like Mike Tyson and Queen Elizabeth II. Animal rights groups criticize those who race pigeons for exploiting the birds for money and turning a blind eye to the many birds that are injured or die.

Michael Zuber was happy to hear that “Pretty Bird” had been found and was in good health. He had clearly been through this routine before. Zuber sent me an special box for transporting birds and we agreed that I would hold the bird until it could be shipped on a Monday morning, next day air, back to the home coop in Berlin, CT.

The pigeon spend a few days with me eating sunflower seeds and taunting the resident feline population. “Pretty Bird” seemed to strike up a friendship with a rooster named Moto-Moto, a loner chicken. On his final night in foster care, a pair of vicious raccoons attacked the cage in tandem but were thwarted by the bird whisperer.

On Monday morning the wayward racer took a big drink of water, filled his belly full of seed and started the trip back home. The Wellsville USPS was great and promised he’d be delivered safely, likely in less than 24 hours. I called Mrs. Gee to give her an update, then went back home to clean up all the pigeon sheet.

“Pretty Bird” had no trouble getting back home and to his owner, Michael Zuber. He sent this picture of the pigeon returning to his home coop, reuniting with this siblings and extended family.

Zuber reports that several of this pigeon’s siblings are well known champion racers. With the bird back to his owner, the only one question lingers: Where did he get lost in the first place ?

Zuber said that the pigeon was released on 5/21/2022 – race from Hornell, NY – 258 air miles from home and never returned. “Pretty Bird” was first found in south Wellsville on July 7 by Mrs. Gee. The racer wandered around the southern tier for about 47 days.

A round of applause for Ann Gee for taking the time and interest in a stray pigeon. The bird would not have survived very long in the wild and wouldn’t be back with his flock without her. Another honorable mention goes to the fellow who took the time to react to the original story. Brian Newark provided the contact information needed to locate the owner using the band information. And of course thanks to Dan Denner for the help!!

From a 2022 NY Times article

Animal rights activists don’t like pigeon racing, read why

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