One of my more interesting assignments was to write up the following article on a little injured racing pigeon found by hikers and cared for my Okefenokee staff until she was well enough to be sent home. I thought you might enjoy it too:
A young athlete came to grief in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge near Folkston, Georgia several months ago. Hikers found the avian racer – a Blue Check homing pigeon - on the ground with serious injuries. They delivered her to a refuge ranger who used the internet to locate her owner, Sal DiFazio, by the numbered band on her leg. She was cared for her until she was healthy enough to be sent back via the U. S. Postal Service.
Racing pigeon 85015, a game little hen, was just starting her five-year racing career. On October 13, 2013 she began a 150 mile race for first-year pigeons from Matthews, North Carolina, with an intended destination back to her coop in Sunset Beach, N.C. But instead of arriving within a few hours, she disappeared for several days.
DiFazio postulated that the weather was a main factor in getting her off course. Storms and heavy winds were present during and after the race, and perhaps she flew south in an attempt to avoid the storms. Also there is another pigeon racing club in Jacksonville, Florida that races birds north to south. She may have encountered some of these racers and then flew south with them. Once over the Okefenokee Swamp, she was probably attacked by a raptor such as a Cooper’s hawk, which would account for her injuries.
When hikers brought her to the visitor center six days after the race began, she couldn't stand on one leg, had an injured wing on the opposite side, and an open wound in the throat area. A refuge ranger applied antibiotic and propped her up in a cardboard box with a petri dish of water. Although the pigeon drank, water leaked out of her crop, whichdid not bode well for the pretty girl. The next day, the ranger left her with seed and water, but expected her not to need it. To her surprise, the pigeon perked up and its feces showed she had retained water and food. She was turned over to the refuge’s biologist who took over the rehabilitation, and within three weeks Pigeon 85015 was well enough to be shipped back home. By the time she arrived back at her loft via Express Mail, her leg and wing were completely healed, and she only had a few missing feathers over her crop. She will resume her racing career in March, when she'll be competing with mature pigeons.
|85015 almost all healed up|
Young pigeons race at around 40 mph, while mature pigeons have been clocked at over 90 mph in a 400 mile race. Racers can cover 700 miles in a day. Winners and their progeny can command huge prices, often in the thousands of dollars. This year, a Belgian-bred pigeon was sold to a Chinese buyer for $400,000.
Homing pigeons have been used to carry messages for thousands of years, -- including in World Wars I and II -- but modern pigeon racing started in Belgium in the 1800's. Several varieties of rock doves (common pigeons) were bred together to develop the extremely fast and strong racers of today. The sport is worldwide, with both China and the United States showing an increase in popularity.