(TOKYO) — A Canadian avian rescue organization says a Japanese racing pigeon made an unscheduled, trans-Pacific journey from the northern island of Hokkaido before landing in British Columbia’s Vancouver Island last week.
The wayward bird was found on a Canadian air force base, exhausted and emaciated with a parasite but has since been nursed back to health by veterinarians at Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS).
MARS founder Maj Birch said the animal was so skinny it had lost most of its muscle mass.
“When they’re flying around they become dehydrated and weakened,” she said. “He may have landed on ships where there was no food, maybe rode on the ship until he felt like he could fly some more.”
Owner Hiroyasu Takasu tells ABC News the 1-year-old pigeon set off on his first race southeast of Sapporo on May 10, along with 8,000 other birds. Only 20 percent of the fleet completed the 600-mile race, including the baby’s mother, who took the top prize, Takasu said.
But the stout pigeon had bigger plans in mind, flying 5,000 miles across the Pacific.
Canadian rescuers spotted Takasu’s phone number on a tag attached to the bird’s leg and contacted him.
“I was so relieved he was found alive,” Takasu said, adding that he’d assumed the pigeon was dead. “[Birds] usually reach their limit in a week, with no food or water. This is a superior pigeon.”
Despite that, Takasu declined an offer by Birch to return the creature by plane, saying he worried about the toll additional travel would take on the bird’s already weak health.
Birch said Canadian officials initially requested the bird be euthanized because he didn’t have the proper paperwork. When she explained the bird “had traveled on his own,” they classified him as a “migratory bird,” sparing him his life.
The Mid-Island Racing Club in Nanaimo offered to adopt him and is now considering breeding the wayward bird in hopes of developing a new generation of long-distance racers.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN