Don’t Mess With Adelaide’s Homies

Feral pigeons can be public health pests. They can accumulate wherever there is food and shelter, and can take up residence almost anywhere, including around houses, tall city buildings or schools. As well as being a nuisance and causing extensive damage to property, feral pigeons can also pose a risk to human health.

That statement from the South Australian Health Department would seem to suggest that the SA Government considers that pigeons are a pest that requires control, yet in another installment from the state that keeps on giving, pigeons enjoy more legal protection in South Australia than just about anywhere.

The important caveat on that statement is that the specific protections only apply to a specific type of pigeon, being the homing pigeon.

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(Commercial Lore’s editor-in-chief)

Under South Australia law, it is a specific offence to harm a homing pigeon. Moreover, the law prohibits unspecific ‘interference’ with a homing pigeon. It is not sure what ‘interference’ means, but you can probably hazard a guess. If you’re dead-set on messing with homing pigeons, just kill the thing, don’t interfere with it. Be a criminal, not a monster.

Sure, there are easier ways to break the law – pigeons are probably quite difficult to interfere with – and when you factor in the costs of a defending a charge, it is probably worth directing your efforts elsewhere. Just don’t let any prospective employers or potential romantic partners learn of your misdeeds. They’re probably not going to be OK with it. Ask me how I know…go on…ask me!

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The law doesn’t just single out killing homing pigeons as a specific offence. Homing pigeons are also protected from being assaulted or kidnapped.

47—Interference with homing pigeons 

        (1)         A person who—

(a)         without lawful authority, kills, injures or takes any homing pigeon; or

(b)         enters upon any land for the purpose of killing, injuring or taking any homing pigeon without lawful authority,

is guilty of an offence.

Section 47 of the Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) singles out the fixating fowls as a sub-category of animals deserving of protection beyond the already broad (and much harsher) provision of section 13 of the Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA) which allows for up to 2 years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine.

The specific crime of killing, injuring or taking a homing pigeon is punishable by a fine of only $250, which pales in comparison to the 2 years imprisonment facing anyone harming any other animal.

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The law itself is straight-forward but there are a number of further intrigues that make this law somewhat more unique; specifically:

  1. Instead of defining homing pigeons as any pigeon which has been trained to operate as a homing pigeon, the SA law instead defines a homing pigeon as any pigeon with a ring around its legs.

    Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not familiar with the practices of raising homing pigeons, but it has to be more specific and more readily identifiable than simply being any pigeon with a ring around its leg.

    There doesn’t even need to be a message capsule – if you like to make your pet pigeon jewellery, get it a leg-ring first. That way, if it gets into any trouble, the police can step in and fine the offender $250.

  2. Upon finding a person guilty of an offence, the Court can instead order the person to pay the replacement value of the harmed pigeon.

    A quick search of gumtree shows that this is likely $6-60, further questioning the need for a specific provision in this regard.

  3. It is a complete defence to harming a homing pigeon if you are a farmer or if you are under the direction of a farmer.

    There is no particular guidance for how far this exception stretches. The test is “cultivated land”. But it is not clear whether growing tomatoes in your backyard allows you to claim this defence. Either fortunately or unfortunately, this exception does not appear to have been tested.

As with many of these bizarre provisions under the Summary Offences Act (Exhibit A, Exhibit B), it is proving impossible to trace the underlying reason behind these exceptions or to find any actual cases where this provision has been tested; which only further confounds the reasoning behind the actual reason for the law.

To stay on the right side of this law next time you are in Adelaide, I would advise that it is perhaps best to restrain from harming any pigeons just in case your target turns out to be a highly trained homing pigeon…unless you’re a farmer, in which case, its game on.