What Do Pigeons' Leg Bands Mean?
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM Palomacy: It's Pigeon Diplomacy
June 2020

If a banded pigeon is hanging around or catchable, they need to be rescued.

Pigeon Woot
Starving, lost pigeon racing survivor, now named Woot, found help and love...

The vast majority of pigeons with leg bands are domestic birds, unable to survive on their own, that are bred, sold, exploited and endangered for “sports” such as racing and roller flying and businesses such as “dove release“. If a banded pigeon is hanging around or catchable, they need to be rescued.

The information on most banded pigeons is coded and only intended to record “winners”, not to recover “losers” which are what the lost, starving, injured leg-band-wearing pigeons are considered to be. If returned to those who endanger them, they are more often than not culled for being both a failure and a threat to the other pigeons’ health and bloodlines. Pigeons used for sports and business are treated as disposable. As soon as one gets lost, hurt, blown off course, hawk-struck, etc., they are worthless and unwanted. Pigeon breeders pride themselves on their tough culling (killing, selling, rejecting) of “inferior” birds. They will kill a weak or runty baby pigeon in the nest. They expect to lose many young birds in their training flights and many more in the competitions (“let the basket cull for you”). Many kill the pigeons themselves and/or sell “surplus” pigeons to be used for “dog training, falconry, target practice, meat, whatever”, as they say in their online ads.

rescued Pigeon
Pigeon racing survivor found grounded, too weak to fly, lucky to be taken to a shelter...

Pet pigeons are sometimes banded with just a phone number or, as with Palomacy’s bands, “PIGEONRESCUE.ORG” so as to truly help the lost bird get home. You can order our bands here or find vendors who will customize bands for you. (We use www.BirdBands.com) Some bands are just untraceable plastic clip ons in various colors or with a two digit number and are used just to help differentiate birds within an owner’s flock.

Pigeon Finn
Rescued racer Finn with his racing band removed, Palomacy band put on...

pigeon leg bands
Palomacy PIGEONRESCUE.ORG bands are inexpensive, easy to use, come in dove, pigeon and giant pigeon size and can help your lost bird get expert help ASAP...

Should I Return a Banded Pigeon?

It depends. Pigeon rescuers have learned the hard way that it is better to provide a safe, non-exploitive home for rescued sport/business pigeons than to return them to their exploiters. If you find a pigeon whose band says “pet” or “rescue” or has a name or phone number, the odds are more likely that the bird could be returned safely but not always. White Homers, bred, used and lost for the “dove release” business sometimes have phone number bands and returning them is no favor to the bird. You don’t have to figure it out alone. If you find a banded pigeon, please join our Palomacy Help Group and post a photo for quick help. We can help you to care for the bird you’ve rescued and/or to find help. Usually, when a pet pigeon is lost, their person looks for them, posting on craigslist, Nextdoor, social media, lost and found sites, contacting local rescues, etc. and whenever we are contacted for help with a lost pigeon, we do our best to help them get home. (Learn about how to find your lost pigeon here.) People who use their pigeons for sport and business never contact us looking for lost birds. They don’t want lost birds.

Sport bands are coded with the club’s name, the bird’s hatch year and the bird’s ID number. They are designed to record who wins, not help those lost.

Some pigeons are banded with clip ons that are blank or have just a two digit number. Those bands are used more on “meat pigeons” like Kings (who never get out of their breeding coop except on the way to the butcher) or by hobbyists. They aren’t traceable at all.

Racers will likely be culled for being “losers” who didn’t make it home quickly. Look closely at this band – it reads “No Mercy.” This was Anna, a lost racer who arrived in respiratory distress, was treated and given O2, and unfortunately could not beat her infection. This is the sort of thing (along with injury and starvation) that I see commonly happen to these birds. I’ve been criticized for not taking the time to track people down and ask if they want their bird. Anyone who thinks they deserve to go back to where they came from is welcome to look up all the bands I’ve saved and tell the owners how their birds suffered and died – and see if they want to pay their vet bills. I’m too busy cleaning, feeding, treating, and trying to save their lives.
~ Pigeon & Dove Rescuer

Removing Bands

Many bands are clip on and can be opened and removed. “Closed” bands, slipped on to the feet of pigeons used in sports like racing, rolling, etc. are slipped on over the bird’s foot when just a baby and once grown, can only be removed by cutting them off. Closed bands can be carefully cut through with heavy duty cuticle nippers. They have narrow, one-sided blades that are slender and safe enough to slide between band and leg and also strong enough to cut/crunch through most metal and plastic bands with a couple of cuts.

To buy pigeon leg bands or get more information, visit Palomacy: It's Pigeon Diplomacy.

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