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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Safi Bugel

Sweet home Alabama: errant Gateshead pigeon takes diversion to US

Homing pigeons are usually able to return using magnetoreception.
Homing pigeons are usually able to return using magnetoreception. Photograph: Frank Cornelissen/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Homing pigeons have been known for centuries for their ability to find their way home after travelling hundreds of miles. But one little bird, named Bob, might need to work on his internal compass.

The four-year-old pigeon, from Gateshead, turned up about 4,000 miles away in the US after getting lost on a fairly routine journey from the Channel Islands to his home in north-east England.

Bob set off three weeks ago for what was supposed to be a 10-hour journey home. Instead he landed at the home of a puzzled resident of Alabama after apparently hitching a ride on a ship across the Atlantic.

Alan Todd, Bob’s owner, said: “He wouldn’t have flown all that way. He was covered in oil – it could have been an oil tanker.”

After being discovered in Mexia, Alabama, on Wednesday, the pigeon was handed over to an animal shelter in nearby Monroeville which is taking care of him.

Staff at Monroe County Alabama Animal Shelter reported that while Bob was underweight, he had been checked by a vet and still looked “pretty good”.

Megan Bryan and Monica Hardy, who had been supporting the bird, added: “He’s appearing well, he’s doing great.”

The team at the shelter had put out a call on social media in an attempt to track down Bob’s owner. Using the bird’s distinctive leg bands as a clue, they found the North of England Homing Union, where they were directed to Todd, who has since been reunited with his pet several times by video call.

Todd said: “They are obviously looking after him very well – when I saw him yesterday he didn’t look in a good state, but looking at him today he looks a lot better just in one day.”

Despite the distance, he plans to travel over to the US to bring the bird back to his home in Winlaton near Gateshead.

Homing pigeons are usually able to return to their lofts after travelling extremely long distances using magnetoreception, meaning they can sense navigational information from the Earth’s magnetic field.

Flights as long as 1,100 miles have previously been recorded.

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