Media statement: Protecting Australia’s birdlife from biosecurity risks is our top priority

15 January 2021

UPDATE: 7:30PM AEST 15 January.

Following an investigation, the department has concluded that Joe the Pigeon is highly likely to be Australian and does not
present a biosecurity risk. 

The department is satisfied that the bird’s leg band is a fraudulent copy of a legitimate leg band. 

No further action will be taken by the department in relation to this matter. 

The discovery of a racing pigeon in an Australian backyard tagged with what appears to be a US identification is currently being investigated by biosecurity officers from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

Birds arriving from outside Australia can carry a range of diseases of concern for domestic birds—including our $3.7 billion poultry industry, pet birds as well as our unique native birdlife.

Protecting the health of Australian bird populations against potentially devastating losses to disease remains the department’s top priority in these cases.

Humane destruction of the bird is the best safeguard for Australian poultry and wildlife. One reason for this is that most countries have similar restrictions to Australia and will not allow the import of birds.

Following widespread offers of support, the department is exploring options to assess and manage the biosecurity risks.

This may include the re-export of the pigeon to the US, which would require the agreement of the relevant US authorities.

The department has sought to immediately isolate and assess the bird and is seeking the urgent cooperation of the member of the public who discovered the pigeon.

That assessment is essential to confirm the facts of this incident and determine the risks posed to Australian bird life.

The department is also investigating the authenticity of the US identification tag.

Fast facts

  • The final decision rests with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as the responsible agency for biosecurity.
  • Adverse impacts on the disease status of production birds in Australia could immediately compromise Australia’s food security and our wild bird populations.
  • As it was not legally prepared for import or imported, the health status of this bird and any others it has been in contact with at its origin and prior to arrival in Australia is unknown.
  • The conditions for the importation of pigeons are available online.
  • It is unlikely that the bird flew from Alabama to Melbourne. If the bird originated in the US, it is more likely to be a ‘hitchhiker’ on a cargo vessel that arrived in Melbourne.
  • Biosecurity risks posed by imported birds include:
    • Avian influenza
    • Newcastle disease (APMV-1)
    • Pigeon paramyxovirus type 1 (PPMV-1) infection
    • Avian paramyxovirus type 3 (APMV-3) infection
    • Equine viral encephalomyelitis
    • Fowl typhoid (Salmonella gallinarum)
    • Pullorum disease (Salmonella pullorum)
    • Salmonella enteritidis infection
    • Salmonella arizonae infection
    • Infectious bursal disease
    • Pigeon herpesvirus encephalomyelitis
    • West Nile virus