Although not actually wildlife, lost racing pigeons are the cause of thousands of calls to wildlife rescues each year, so an issue which needs to be covered here. After years of picking up the pieces we are not fans of the “sport” of racing pigeons. Essentially it involves releasing domesticated animals into the wild and taking a gamble on whether they can survive long enough to make it home.
If you wish to read more on our experiences and thoughts on pigeon racing you can do so here, but otherwise read on for advice on what to do if you find a lost one.
When to rescue #
If the bird has been caught by a cat or dog
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of its age or species, will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septicaemia. Any bird caught by a dog should be properly assessed for injuries.
If the bird is obviously injured
If you can see a wound, or a wing or leg is obviously damaged then the bird needs help. Survival is unlikely with an injury unless the bird receives treatment.
A bird has been hit by a car
The bird may just be stunned but it should be checked by a vet or rescue for injuries.
A ringed bird is acting ‘tame’ and not avoiding people
If the bird is in danger or behaving tame, it will need immediate rescue. Often the birds are sufficiently exhausted and/or tame to be captured quite easily.
When to take other action #
If the bird is on its own but still flying
If the bird is on its own but still loose and able to fly, it may be that the best you can do is provide food and water for a few days and hope that the bird recovers sufficient strength to continue its journey. If the bird doesn’t fly away, looks unwell or injured or is in danger, then it will need to be rescued. You can try making a trail of food into a shed or garage and then shutting the door behind them, or you can try setting a home-made trap using a cardboard box or laundry basket.
When to leave alone #
A ringed bird which is integrated into a wild flock
If you happen to see a ringed bird as part of a wild flock, and the bird appears fully integrated into the flock, looks in good condition and isn’t injured or unwell, you can leave well enough alone. Some racing pigeons are lucky and sensible enough to join a wild flock and, in this scenario, they learn wild behaviour from the flock and usually go on to have a normal wild life.
What next? #
If you rescue a lost Racing Pigeon the first thing to do is to use the details on the bird’s ring to make a report to the relevant pigeon association who will contact the owner.
Commonly, you may find the owner asks you to provide the bird with a few days bed and board and then release it to find its way home. Frankly, this is a way for the owner to avoid taking responsibility for the bird and we would strongly advise against it. There may be a good reason why the bird has failed to find its way home, such as a health issue or simply a lack of fitness which has not been rectified by a short rest. Releasing an unfit bird is likely to constitute a breach of the Animal Welfare Act. The bird could have a long journey home and will have to evade predators, power lines, poor weather etc en route. Even under ideal circumstances many racing pigeons don’t make it home and these would be far from ideal circumstances, not least because the bird won’t have its flock of loft mates flying alongside as it would in a race.
We recommend that you insist the owner either pays for a courier or collects the bird in person. This not only ensures the bird arrives safely but is also a good way to ensure the owner really does want the bird back. Sadly it is not uncommon for ‘failed’ racing pigeons to be culled but it’s unlikely that the owner will travel or pay for a courier if they intend to kill the bird.
If you are unable to trace the owner or they don’t want the bird back you can seek a placement for the bird with a rescue. Some wildlife rescues will also help Racing Pigeons but domestic animal charities, especially those with facilities for pet birds, are usually the best ones to try.
Finding Help #
Our primary aim is to help those who find sick and injured wild animals. We cannot usually assist with lost domestic animals but we do have considerable experience with domestic pigeons and contacts with pigeon rescues. So if you need bespoke help or advice you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will be happy to assist.