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An interesting encounter with a “homing” pigeon

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An interesting encounter with a “homing” pigeon

The orange band on this bird's right leg reads, in part: "AU 2010, CENTEN." The bird was spotted on top of a parked pickup at Delta A/C Supply on West Yosemite Avenue in Manteca on July 3, 2010.

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin


POSTED July 16, 2010 2:15 a.m.
There was something about the bird that stopped me in my tracks.

It wasn’t just its rigid, straight body that was quite akin to a general’s commanding presence. Or the way it kept its head up in a dignified manner, cocking it to one side at one point as though to inquire about the approaching presence of an impudent camera-toting two-legged intruder. And the way it stood its ground, firmly with nary a flutter of a downy feather or a simpering sound of distress, as though it was daring me to defy its right to be there and that I was, quite the contrary, the trespasser.

Its size was the other thing that struck me. It was bigger than any of the birds I’ve seen in the area – bigger than any of the ubiquitous scrub jays, or the noisy mockingbirds that frequent the parking lot of this business establishment. Bigger even than the mourning doves I’ve seen perched on the lower branches of a robust and very old needle tree nearby. Or the seemingly omnipresent – and sometimes annoyingly noisy! – crows. Only its long tail makes the magpie, in my uneducated estimation, look somewhat larger than this avian transient, I thought.

I didn’t really notice the unmoving, quietly silhouetted bird at first. It was standing on the shiny top of my husband’s red pickup, right above the back seat on the passenger side. The truck was parked in the shade under a mature liquidambar tree. Beyond the enclosed property was the open field completely whitewashed by the blazing early afternoon summer sun so that everything in the foreground, including the tree and the pickup with the bird on top of it, was rendered into a crisply delineated silhouette – all black against summer’s searing version of a winter white-out.

Part of the reason I was oblivious to the feathered friend’s quiet presence at first was because of my single-minded intention of going in my car that was parked next to my husband’s pickup so I can review the pictures in my camera that I’ve just taken. That’s what made it quite easy for me, as soon as I got over my shock, to zoom my 50-500mm lens and get some quick close-ups of the bird before I scared it off. Fortunately, as I fired off my camera while taking slow steps closer to my avian target, it remained docile and continued to stand upright with its left profile facing me.

And then the inevitable happened. It proceeded to shed off its dignified stance by desecrating the shiny red top of my husband’s vehicle. As it dropped its generous contribution onto the slippery crimson surface, the words came out unbidden out of my mouth: “Oh, no! No! Don’t!”

I don’t know who was more surprised – the bird or I. Suffice it to say, that broke the magic moment. In a split second, the bird flapped its wings and took off toward the blinding brightness of the sunny field to the east until it vanished all together.

Only after I previewed the pictures did I discover an amazing thing. The bird had a wide orange band or tag on its right leg!

I ran inside the building to tell my husband about what I just saw. “Come and see the gift it left for you; it was humungous!” I said. My skeptical husband humored me and followed me outside. “The size of the stuff on top of your car will give you an idea about how big the bird was,” I continued.

But as we got close to the car, the tell-tale bump on the smooth shiny red paint was gone! My husband let out an indulgent laugh.

But I had another proof. “There it is!” I said, showing him a close-up of one of the pictures on my Canon’s LCD.

Upon close examination, he concluded that the avian lump must have slid off the smooth surface to the ground based on the visual evidence he found.

Birds with tags or bands
The mystery of the visiting bird did not end when it vanished into the blinding blaze of the bright summer sun. As I further reviewed the pictures I have taken of my pinioned pal, however brief the encounter, I was astounded to see a wide orange band around its right leg with some black letterings on it. Zooming closer to try and decipher the two-tier markings, I was able to make out some of it. The bottom line read: AU 2010. The upper letters read: CENTEN. At least, I think the last letter which is not too clear is an N.

Later on, I did some research on the Internet. The web site of the United States General Survey (USGS.gov) offered the most help under the heading, pigeons lost and found. One of the most interesting bit of information I picked up on this web site was this note: “If the band has the letters “AU”, “IF”, “CU”, “NPA” or “IPB” it is probably a pigeon band. We do not keep a database of these birds, but you can find more information at: http://www.pigeon.org/lostbirdinfo.htm.”

I accessed that web site, and the closest related info that could possibly tell me a bit about the bird was a line that said that “AU is the national organization that has registered the bird, in this case the American Racing Pigeon Union, Inc.” The “2010” on the bird’s leg, based on the information in this web site, indicated “the year the bird was hatched and banded/registered.” I was unable to take a picture of the bird from the other side so the rest of the information on the tag was unavailable. Did the “CENTEN” mean CENTENNIAL?

According to the web site’s topic, “Understanding how to read a pigeon band,” the rest of the tag should have indicated the pigeon club the band is registered to, and “a one-up number unique to each pigeon based on the club letters.”

This column did not run in the paper right away, which provided me the opportunity to add a few information I was able to obtain from Maive who works at the office of the American Racing Pigeon Union in Oklahoma City, Okla.  I had left a message at their office seeking any additional explanation.
Maive said she could have told me the owner of the bird if I had the rest of the information because “we sell the bands” to union members.

“They band the new birds before they are 10 days old, and we register each band that we sell. We sell only to members,” Maive said.

She confirmed my guess that the letters CENTEN stood for CENTENNIAL because the year 2010 – another data in the band – marks the centennial celebration of the American Racing Pigeon Union.

She also clarified that there is no difference between a racing pigeon and homing pigeon. “They have the same homing sense; they are all homing pigeons,” Maive said.
The birds, she added, can fly from 50 miles to 600 miles.

“We have all the information here; next door to us is a pigeon museum called World of Wings,” she said as to the source of her information.

So my husband’s guess was right. He said the bird I found must have been a “homing pigeon” that someone was training.

That being the case, I sincerely hope it found its way home to its owner safely.
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