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 a fans of the “sport” of racing pigeons. Essentially you are releasing domesticated animals into the wild and taking a gamble on whether they can survive long enough to make it home. To me it is little better than releasing your pet budgie or rabbit into the wild.
Anyway, if you wish to read more on our experiences and thoughts on pigeon racing you can do so here, but otherwise we’ll get on with advising you on what to do if you have found a lost one.
If the bird is 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. However, if the bird is obviously unwell, injured, in danger or showing no signs of moving on you may need to capture it to keep it safe. Often the birds are sufficiently exhausted and/or tame to be captured quite easily. You will find advice on capturing and containing birds here
If/when the bird is contained your options are as follows
1) Provide the bird with a few days bed and board and then release it to find its way home.
We would advise against this not least because 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 could be a breach of the Animal Welfare Act. It 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.
2) Contact the birds “owner”.
You may find that their details are stamped on the underside of the wing. If not, take note of the numbers on the ring on the bird’s leg and you will then be able to report the bird to the relevant pigeon racing group. They usually say they will contact you back within 48 hours, not including weekends, so you’ll need to be prepared to feed and house the bird in the meantime. However, we strongly advise that, on speaking to the owner, you check what will happen to the bird on its return. Our experience is that the usual response from the owner is that they do not want the bird and it will be culled as it has failed so be sure to check this won’t happen. You may be asked to let the bird go after a few days rest to find its own way home. We would advise against this for the reasons given above. We recommend that you insist the owner either pays for a courier or collects the bird in person, both to ensure the bird arrives safely and because this is a good way to ensure the owner really does want the bird back and won’t simply wring its neck.
3) Seek sanctuary for the bird
You may, like us, feel that pigeon racing is a cruel past time and feel reluctant to return the bird to a home where it will again be released to potentially become lost, exhausted or injured again, or perhaps worse. Our article on the ethics of pigeon racing here explains our objections to the sport. Perhaps after being advised that the bird will be culled, you may decide not to return the bird to its owner or gain permission from them to rehome it. You can then either seek permanent sanctuary for the bird with an animal rescue or seek a wildlife rescue that will rehabilitate the bird so that it can join the wild flocks. This takes time – it is not simply a case of releasing them so please do not just let the bird go. But a pigeon which spends time in an aviary away from people and in the company of wild pigeons can regain its wild instincts. If released in a safe place with a group of wild birds it has a good chance of living successfully in the wild. Not all wildlife rescues wish to get involved to this degree or have the facilities to do so, so you may need to ring round a bit. Sometimes domestic animal charities, especially those with facilities for pet birds, are the best bet for somewhere which can offer permanent sanctuary.