Let me begin by saying we've named our guest "Elmer," in honor of the great Elmer Bandit, the competitive trail horse that recently broke the existing total mileage record at age 37.
When Elmer, the pigeon, arrived yesterday, he was quite weak. When we approached him, he tried to fly away, but could not get more than a few inches off the ground. We scooped him up and placed him in a dog crate with a little water, then searched the Internet for more information. We found a wonderful source of information on the American Racing Pigeon Union's site, in their article "How to Care for Lost Pigeons."
After reading Elmer's leg band, we found he was registered with the International Federation, an American Homing Pigeon Fancier's organization that's been around since 1881. Researching the band lists on the IF site, we discovered that Elmer is a "member" of the Toms River Triangle club in New Jersey! We were also able to reach his owner.
It turns out that Elmer was a little off course when he reached Traveller's Rest, not surprising considering the ridiculous weather in the region over the last few weeks. His race began in Zanesville, OH and was to end back in New Jersey. Spotsylvania, VA isn't exactly on the way. To make matters worse, poor Elmer was still headed in the wrong direction. The day before he arrived at the sanctuary, his owner had received a call saying he was in Hartwood, about 30 miles north of us.
After talking with Elmer's owner, we found these birds more fascinating than ever. The fact the Mother Nature programmed them with such a keen homing instinct is awe-inspiring, regardless of Elmer's little detour. For the most part, these birds can find their way to their home roosts from hundreds of miles away.
Its not a non-stop flight, though. Naturally, a trip of this length burns up a lot of energy and the birds stop along the way for water, food and rest. As it turns out, that is why many horse farm owners are blessed with pigeon visits. Apparently, experienced racers learn that there is often grain to be found in proximity to horses so, as they fly along and become a little hungry, they learn that horses point to good prospective rest stops.
Many times after a little food, water and shut eye, the pigeons will go on their way. This time, Elmer needed a little assistance. We fixed up a small apartment for him in a large dog crate with grain, water, and a branch to roost on, and he seems much perkier and more alert this morning. As a matter of fact, we get the distinct impression he wants OUT!
His owner, however, asked us to keep Elmer right here until he can come to retrieve him later this week. We hope Elmer won't hold his confinement against us, but we learned that he has been missing for about a week and his owner is anxious to return him to the flock.