Karen Kingsley of Methuen pets the racing pigeon that began hanging out in her family’s backyard a week ago. The bird, they learned yesterday, is owned by someone in Rhode Island, who has yet to claim it.

METHUEN — There was something strange about the pigeon hanging around Gert Iannazzi’s bird feeders.

For a week it had been visiting her Armstrong Avenue backyard, apparently not frightened by humans. And it had a marked rubber band around its leg.

The pigeon was trained to race, it turned out, but was far from home.

“I came up, and he was just nibbling away,” said Iannazzi, who hopes to find the bird’s owner. “He wouldn’t fly away when you came close to him.”

So Iannazzi, who spends her days feeding the sparrows, cardinals, blue jays and woodpeckers that frequent her four feeders, had her son trap the bird in a cage Saturday for safekeeping.

“I could never do this with a real wild pigeon,” Iannazzi’s daughter, Karen Kingsley, said as she reached to pick the bird up. “When we first put him in here though, you could tell he was starving. He was eating like a son of a gun.”

The band on the unnamed pigeon’s leg reads 2007IFRI5469. The ‘2007’ means the pigeon was banded this year. The ‘IF’ means it is registered under the International Federation of American Homing Pigeon Fanciers. The ‘RI’ stands for the Rhode Island Pigeon Club, based out of Providence.

The Eagle-Tribune yesterday contacted that club but has not received a return call. Iannazzi and Kingsley said they plan to keep the bird while trying to find its owner.

Racing pigeons, also known as homing pigeons, are a “specifically bred variety of pigeon, unlike the feral pigeons which plague most cities,” according to Racing Pigeon Digest. “Homing pigeons are pedigreed and range in cost from (about $250) to $250,000.”

Some of the pigeons can find their way home from more than 1,000 miles away and fly at speeds between 30 and 60 mph. They are most often raced in the late summer and fall. When pigeons race, the winner is the one with the fastest yard-per-minute time.

But not all of them find their way home. Jill O’Connell, project coordinator at Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at Nevins Farm in Methuen, said the adoption center there takes in three or four lost pigeons a year.

Using the codes on the leg bands, MSPCA employees try to track down the owner, with varying degrees of success.

“You never know what you’re going to find when you start trying to track one down,” O’Connell said. Some owners have been overjoyed to be reunited with their birds. Others don’t want a bird that gets lost. Still others simply can’t be tracked down.

Earlier this month, three racing pigeons showed up on Cape Ann. One found in Rockport was traced to Westport, which is south of Fall River. Another found in Gloucester was traced to Benton, Maine. A third, also spotted in Gloucester, has not been captured.

Kingsley said she hopes to find the owner of Iannazzi’s mystery pigeon soon.

“I’m sure it doesn’t want to be cooped up forever,” she said.

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