How does a famous racing pigeon from the UK end up on the other side of the world, and what does it take to bring him back? Find out how we’ve pulled out all the stops to reunite Bob with his owner, fancier Alan Todd.
IAG Cargo is no stranger to flying animals around the world, but even we can agree that transporting Bob, the award-winning racing pigeon, is particularly unique. Bob has been specially bred and trained to compete in pigeon racing, a sport in which pigeons are released from specific locations to race back to their home lofts.
In June, Bob began a 380-mile race from Guernsey to his home in Gateshead, but got lost over the Channel and ended up a little further – 4,300 miles away in Alabama. “He wouldn’t have flown all that way, I think he probably jumped on to a ship,” Alan told the BBC. “He was covered in oil – it could have been an oil tanker.”
After crossing the Atlantic Ocean and arriving in the US, Bob landed in a man’s garden in Mexia, Monroe County. The prized pigeon wouldn’t leave, so the concerned home owner phoned Monroe County Alabama Animal Shelter, who took Bob in. “Other than being underweight from its travel, it looks pretty good,” the organisation had said.
The staff soon realised that, like most pedigree animals, Bob had a microchip, and tracked Bob back to Alan through the North of England Homing Union, a site for pigeon racing. Though, at times, Alan had feared the worst – that something had hit Bob in the sky, or he’d been taken by a bird of prey – he always had the feeling that Bob was alive. Not long after, Bob and Alan reunited via a video call. “It was very strange sitting on a laptop talking to a pigeon in America,” Alan said. “You cannot prepare for that.”
Now, thanks to the help of IAG Cargo, Bob is safe at home, but getting him back has been no mean feat. Valerie Hadley, our products manager who transported Bob, said, “We are glad to have been able to reunite Bob with his owner Alan. It was an amazing and unique experience to fly out to the US to support Bob’s move back to the UK. I’ve helped fly many animals during my time at IAG Cargo, however participating in a rescue mission for a lost and subsequently found racing pigeon is a first.
There were lots of challenges with paperwork, working with the local vet in Alabama, and ensuring that Bob was securely strapped into the hold for the journey. With the assistance of the local teams in New Orleans and Chicago, who were instrumental in making sure all entries were made for him to depart, Bob arrived safely in London.”
What was the first step? Determining if Bob is a racing or homing pigeon, as there are different transport requirements for each. Though they’re the same breed of bird, racing pigeons are bred to fly in competitions, while homing pigeons are kept to fly for fun. Yes, every racing pigeon is a homing pigeon, but not every homing pigeon is a racing pigeon like Bob.
The next steps, however, were more complex. Bob needed a pet bird import licence, model health certificate signed by an official US veterinarian, and a permit from DEFRA (the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). Then all captive birds imported to Great Britain must have a laboratory virus detection test 7 to 14 days prior to export, ensuring negative results for any avian influenza or Newcastle disease virus.
Bob travelled in a specially made container, built to the IATA Live Animal Regulations requirements, ensuring he was safe and comfortable. The interior roof was padded, so he wouldn’t hurt his head, and of course he had plenty of food and water.
Finally, Bob has touched down. Imported birds are transported directly from the Border Control Post of entry in Great Britain to an approved quarantine facility or centre. The Heathrow Animal Reception Centre have kindly waived Bob’s fees for quarantine.
In terms of what is next for the star pigeon, Bob was unavailable for comment, but according to owner Alan, “he’ll be treated like royalty. I’ll give him a nice hot bath and make sure he’s got his favourite seed in.” The four-year-old pigeon has won multiple racing awards, including the West Durham Amalgamation Old Bird of the Year, and is worth around £1,000.
Alan couldn’t be happier Bob is home. “I can’t thank IAG Cargo and British Airways enough.”
You can find out more about transporting live animals with IAG Cargo, here.
Written by Agatha Zarzycki
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