Japanese racing pigeon hopscotches over to Canada, tuckered out


A plucky pigeon that flew across the Pacific Ocean from Japan will be bred by a bird lover in Canada hoping its progeny will become top long-distance racers, an animal rescue official said.

The pigeon was discovered tired and thin at a Canadian Air Force base on Vancouver Island and taken to an animal rescue center near Comox, British Columbia, where it was treated for a common bird parasite and nursed back to health.

“We believe it took off from land in Japan and got confused or got caught up in a storm and got lost before eventually hopscotching its way to Canada, stopping and sleeping on freighters along the way,” the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society’s Reg Westcott said Monday.

A pigeon’s top range is typically 650 km, but this one traveled about 8,000 km.

The owner was contacted at a telephone number printed on a tag on the bird’s leg, but he did not wish to pay to have the pigeon flown back aboard a commercial jetliner, Westcott said.

The local Pigeon Racing Society offered to take in the wayward bird and set it up with some female birds. “I’m sure his offspring would be very good long-range racers,” Westcott said.

Canadian authorities, however, initially weren’t sure what could be done with the pigeon.

“They asked us whether he had travel documents and so on, and we said, ‘No, he flew here on his own,’ and so they labeled it a migratory bird, which allowed us to hand it over, without (having to fill out) a bunch of customs paperwork, to the local pigeon racing society, which offered to give it a new home,” Westcott said.

In his 17 years caring for injured wildlife, Westcott said he has only come across one other pigeon that made the incredible two- to three-week voyage across the Pacific.

That one landed on a Canadian Coast Guard ship at the height of the bird flu pandemic that saw millions of birds slaughtered to prevent the spread of the disease. It was eventually sent back to Japan at the owner’s expense, he said.

Westcott said he has also nursed a lost brown pelican from California, and a citrine wagtail songbird from Asia.

Birdwatchers from all over the United States and Canada flocked to Vancouver Island to get a rare glimpse of the wagtail at the time, he said.