Freedom of movement

Brexit red tape! Image by Anthea Bareham

There is something disconcerting about wild creatures behaving in an unnatural way, like the pigeon that turned up in our drive one Saturday afternoon. However close we got, he made no attempt to move away from us, seemingly unable or unwilling to fly. It was a hot day, so we gave him water and he took a long drink.

We were surprised to see the pigeon in almost the same position the next morning; luckily, Billy, our semi-feral cat, had not visited overnight. It was time to take some positive action. A short search of the internet took us to the website of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA), where there is plenty of guidance on what to do in a situation such as ours. It was likely that the pigeon was exhausted and dehydrated; he also proved to be hungry, given the way he tucked into the sunflower seeds we produced. So far, so good, according to the website we had done all the right things. Now we needed to contact the owner.

Reading the ID tag

The pigeon had a blue tag on his leg with markings, but he would not let us get close enough to read it – which we needed to do for the next step. We cornered him by using a fisherman’s keep net, then we were able to swivel the blue tag to read the numbers. As directed by the website, we texted the number to the RPRA website. By return – it really was that quick – the email address of the owner was texted back, along with a southern Ireland telephone number.

We needed to protect the pigeon overnight and managed to get him into a cardboard box with a chicken wire top – all in accordance with web guidance. We added a dish of water and one of seeds and, come nightfall, moved the box into the porch where the bird would be safe from predators. In the meantime, we emailed the owner.

Within half an hour of emailing we had a reply from Lester. The RPRA has its own network and Lester said he would arrange for someone local to us to collect the bird. There followed regular exchanges, updates from us and something of the bird’s history from the owner. We had been calling it ‘him’, Lester called him ‘it’; we changed our terminology.

We learned that ‘our’ bird was one of a group of racing pigeons that had been taken to St. Malo with a planned release date of June 19, but, on account of dense fog, they were held over for four days. Apparently only a small number of pigeons returned to Ireland, and it was thought they may have travelled along the west coast of England to navigate the fog. After that their route is a mystery.

By Monday morning the pigeon looked a very different bird – much more alert. We hadn’t heard anything from the RPRA and suggested to Lester that we might release it with his blessing. He agreed but suggested we wait till the morning. We withheld food at that point, taking account of advice on the website, as a plentiful supply may make the bird reluctant to leave. If the bird is ready to continue the journey, we could expect it to circle the area first, to get its bearings, then fly home.

So, first thing on Tuesday morning we opened the box. Had we hoped for a victory lap, a dip of the wings, and a triumphant push to the north west, we were disappointed. It did fly the big circle, but then flew back to the ground. Hmm.

Hopes were raised when it flew to the rooftop some time later, but it just sat there for ages, preening. You can only stand around for so long watching a bird preen! Next time we checked it was on the ground again – hoping for more seed perhaps? This was worrying, but at least by then we knew it could fly. Early in the afternoon it settled on the rooftop again; sometime later, we are not sure when, it had gone.

We heard nothing more from Lester until the following Saturday, a week after the pigeon arrived with us. But was it good news? Not exactly. The latest sighting was in Guilford – clearly the poor thing was completely disorientated.

A question that may cross one’s mind, in our crazy post Brexit world, is whether or not pigeons need paperwork if they travel in and out of the eurozone. A ridiculous question invites a ridiculous answer and, sure enough, pigeons do need the right papers! These are listed on the RPRA website and compliance does not come cheap! For many pigeon fanciers the extra expense is out of reach, threatening a pastime that has escaped such bureaucracy for over a century. We assume ‘our’ pigeon, supposedly flying within the eurozone, had no need for paperwork. But it did stray outside the eurozone. Has the law been broken?

Lester has promised to let us know if, and when, his pigeon comes home … watch this space.