(Not Such a) Speed Racer

by Em

There’s just never a dull moment around here. Yesterday morning I heard a very strange bird call. I only heard it once, and soon I was distracted and forgot about it.

About two hours later I heard some fluttering wings coming in for a landing by one of my windows. The noise got louder and louder and then there was a small thud. I have some lattice in front of my window, so the creature didn’t hit the window, just the lattice. I looked out the window but didn’t see anything.

I ran through the house to the back door. As if there wasn’t already enough commotion, when I threw open the door, I startled two baby chipmunks. One ran across my shoe and the other just missed being squished by my big foot as I scurried to the side of the house. When I got to the scene of the thud, I stopped and walked very slowly and quietly. I peeked around the corner and saw this creature sitting in a shaft of sunlight. Not exactly what I expected (and no, I didn’t hear harp music, nor did I hear a magician shout “Abracadabra!”):

I snuck up for a closer look hoping to find a band on the bird’s leg that I could use to identify her. She let me get pretty close, but her legs were obscured by my Impatiens plants and when I got too close for comfort she flew sloppily to the neighbor’s roof. I wasn’t able to see a band.

I went back inside where I could watch her from my office window. She took a nap in the sun for about 20 minutes. Then she stood up and started walking around on the neighbor’s roof, picking up acorn shells that the squirrels were dropping from the oak trees above.

I went outside with binoculars. I actually had to cross the street to be able to get a better view of the neighbor’s roof. Sure enough, I could see a green band on her leg.

I did some searching online for homing pigeons. I’m pretty good at finding anything on the internet, but this was not an easy topic to research. I eventually gave up and hoped the bird would get its energy back and fly home, wherever home is.

No such luck. Later in the afternoon I went outside to move the sprinkler and there she was on the ground by my birdfeeders. I went back into the house to watch her from the window. The area under my feeders is pretty well vacuumed by chipmunks and squirrels so it was slim pickings. I couldn’t stand watching her peck at a few empty sunflower seed shells and bits of grass. Maybe she was trying to get her wits about her after a long journey.

I gathered a handful of safflower and millet seeds from my birdseed stash and went back outside. I moved very slowly toward the bird and tossed some of the seed in her direction. Then I went back into the house to watch. She immediately devoured the seeds. I got my camera out in an attempt to photograph the band on her leg. It’s a real treat to keep a steady focus on a moving leg.

I was able to get enough photographs at different angles to get most of the information off the tag. After more time online, I finally came upon a site with a section on deciphering pigeon bands. There are four identifying sections for each band. An abbreviation for the national organization that registered the bird, the year it was hatched and banded/registered, the abbrevation for the local pigeon club to which it’s registered and the individual pigeon’s identification number.

My visitor’s band listed “AU” which means she was registered by the American Pigeon Racing Union. The date “2008” theoretically means she was hatched and banded this year (although she seemed awfully big to be less than a year old). Her club abbreviation told me she was from 80 miles away in Milwaukee. I was only able to get part of her identification number.

Using that information, I contacted the secretary of the Milwaukee club that registered her. He was happy to hear from me and notified the bird’s owner of its whereabouts. Unfortunately, because the bird isn’t “under control” (meaning captured), there’s nothing they can do about it. I found another site online that suggests you can try to find out where lost homing pigeons roost at night and attempt to capture them because they can’t see very well in the dark. I didn’t think I was ready for that sort of entertainment.

The bird had more adventures in the afternoon when a dog came tearing around the side of our house and flushed her to a roof several houses away. I could still see her from my office window. Eventually she flew back into my yard for seed. Then she flew to my roof where she sat for several hours. After supper I went outside to check on her and she was nowhere to be found. I’m hoping she was fed and well-rested enough to fly back home to her owner.

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