Josie: An Almost-Survivor of Pigeon Racing

Helpless at the Oakland Airport parking lot

Helpless at the Oakland Airport parking lot

March 12, 2015  It was 5:15 and I had just finished up a presentation about pigeons to a youth group at the Marin Humane Society. I checked my email before heading to my next appointment (a care consult for a self-rescuing pigeon named Snezhok) and read this:

“Hi Patricia – thought to reach out to you as you are a close-by bird friend. I’m about to board an airplane out of Oakland airport and came across an injured pigeon in the parking lot. WildCare in San Rafael will take him but he needs to be picked up and held overnight as they only accept during business hours. Think you might be able to get him tonight? If not I am flying back tomorrow and will look for him. I just thought to reach out in case bc I feel bad for the guy. Please text me if so.  :) thank you and hope I’m not coming across as a crazy person. Marla”

Patricia, a fellow bird rescuer and the Budgie Coordinator for Mickaboo, had forwarded this to me an hour earlier. My heart sunk at the low probability of being able to mobilize a successful rescue for this bird but I had to try. I sent out some emails and posted to social media in the hopes of finding someone willing to fight rush hour traffic and search an airport parking lot for an injured pigeon.

I went on to my next appointment and afterwards, with no one yet looking for the pigeon, started making phone calls to give it one last try. When I reached Josette (another dual Mickaboo and Palomacy volunteer) at 8:26 PM, she immediately said yes, she’d go. All the information I had to offer was: “It is in daily parking lot across from the post E4, under the monorail track. There is a huge black pickup truck sticking out, he is there…alert, just appears to have injured legs.” And the heartbreaking photo.

I didn’t hear back from Josette until 10:22. (I was about ready to send out a rescue party for her.) After more than half an hour of searching, she had against all odds, found the injured pigeon. The bird had dragged herself (using her wings) yards away and was crouched under the curve of a car’s tire. My heart soared! Josette had made the impossible happen. She had dropped everything and headed out into the night to try and help an injured bird. And she had found her! I couldn’t believe that we had actually pulled it off and been able to save this poor, stranded pigeon.

Josie- grateful to be helped

Josie- grateful for some comfort and care

Josie, as this miracle bird is now named, is a one year old survivor of the cruel “sport” of pigeon racing. At least we are hoping she will survive. She was brought here to the Bay Area, hundreds of miles from her home in Reno, NV, and “tossed” with thousands of other racing pigeons to try and find her way home fast enough to win. (Learn more about pigeon racing.)

Instead she was severely injured, likely from colliding with a high tension wire, and has spinal trauma and impaired motor control, a large open wound exposing most of her keel and breast muscle, a broken leg, is emaciated, septic and shocky. Dr. Sanders of Wildwood Veterinary took her home with him to provide the care she needs through the weekend. We have seen badly injured birds make incredible recoveries. (See Ava’s amazing recovery.) We are not going to give up on Josie. She’s alert, eating and clearly thankful to be safe and more comfortable. Pigeons are so smart. I can’t imagine how miserable she must have felt grounded and helpless in that parking lot with no hope in sight. No matter what happens, I am so grateful to be a part of a community that was able to rescue this fellow being from such a terrible fate and to give her the chance to live.

Emaciated and then badly injured

Emaciated and then badly injured

I have since learned more about Josie’s story from Marla, the person who initially found Josie. She writes,

“To shed some light on the story – I thought she was a feral pigeon. I actually still know nothing about pigeons, so am assuming a racing pigeon is different than a wild one? Anyway, I spotted her on the ground as I was driving around looking for a parking spot and immediately decided I would check it out after I parked. I was really devastated when I saw her, and especially because I couldn’t take her home myself… I had a business flight which I absolutely couldn’t miss. First I gave her some food, which you see in the picture (I work for an organic food company, so had one of our apple carrot chickpea bars in my purse).  

After I stayed with her for about 10 mins, when I walked away she totally scooted after me which tugged my heart strings for sure!

I first looked on the MickaCoo/Palomacy website actually (I used to volunteer with Mickaboo so knew about MickaCoo) but read in the FAQs that they only accept domestic pigeons.  Thinking she was wild, I saw the reference to WildCare so called. Normally they have volunteers that can do onsite rescue – however, they told me the volunteers weren’t available that afternoon. I then called a few friends and asked for their help and they weren’t available. Finally, and by then totally distraught sitting on the plane, I emailed Patricia who I knew from Mickaboo, who forwarded everything to you. From my perspective, it was unbelievable that after my flight landed I get a call from Josette, telling me she was going to get the bird! So incredible. After I gave her directions, she even called me from the parking lot and I was able to talk her to where Josie was previously. And of course, just amazing that she found her across the lane from where originally spotted!”

March 16, 2015 UPDATE: I’m very sorry to report that after initially showing a little improvement, Josie died sometime last night, despite the best efforts of Dr. Sanders and all involved in trying to save her. She didn’t die alone in that parking lot though. Thank you for all of your support. Thank you for your compassion.

Author’s note about pigeon racing: Pigeon racing hobbyists strive to selectively breed or purchase champions. They control every aspect of care in an effort to increase their chances of winning. Pigeon racers then release millions of domestic racing pigeons, hundreds of miles from their homes, in competitions most of the birds won’t survive. The birds aren’t racing at all. They are just flying their hearts out, trying to get back to their home. A great many never will. They will die trying. Pigeon racers will tell you the birds that don’t make it home join up with flocks of feral Rock Pigeons. A very, very few do. Check every pigeon flock you see for banded birds. (Racing pigeons are banded.) You’ll rarely ever see one. Pigeon racers will tell you that feral pigeons die too. Yes. We all die. But Pigeon racers need to take responsibility for the needless suffering and deaths caused by their hobby. (The hobbyists actually kill lots of their own birds- culling the “inferior” or weak or ill. Read The Secret of the Champions.) Josie didn’t want to be taken hundreds of miles away and “tossed” to try and get home for someone’s amusement. She should have never been having to fight for her life. She should never have been stranded and crippled in a parking lot hundreds of miles from home. And yet she was one of the lucky ones. Most of these birds will die alone and without help. Don’t breed animals and use them for your amusement. Don’t risk their lives for your fun. And, if you do, at least own it. Say yes, I know racing kills pigeons but I like it and I do it anyway. 

Not only racing kills pigeons, the racers do too.

Not only racing kills pigeons, the racers do too.


One Comment

  1. Pigeon racing and acrobatics (rollers and tumblers) is such a huge sport worldwide. It’s mind-blowing just how many participants and breeders there are. I became Sam’s mom when my son brought him home at about 6 days of age and I find Delilah as a rescue at a local feedstore near my work, that just happens to have Tumbler and Roller pigeons for sale. I saw her as a squeaker and took her home several weeks later when I found out her breeder was going to cull (as in kill) her because her toes curve in, making her defective. I’m lucky to have these two as a part of my family.


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