(AP) — Some 2,200 homing pigeons competing in two races along the East
Coast never made it home, leaving their handlers wondering if somehow,
some way, the birds' legendary instincts went south.
"I've never seen
anything like this,'' Earl Hottle, who has been racing pigeons for 37 years,
told the Allentown Morning Call. "Nobody can explain it.''
About 1,600 pigeons
vanished out of 1,800 competing in a 200-mile race from northern
Virginia to Allentown on Monday. And 600 out of 700 birds were
missing after a 150-mile race on the same day from western Pennsylvania
Ordinarily, the swift
birds should have been back in their lofts in a matter of hours.
The mystery continued
on Wednesday: Did the birds fall prey to a flock of hungry hawks? Did some
strong wind sweep them away?
they got sidetracked,'' said Ron Lizcz, who lost 14 birds.
These aren't the
plump, city birds that most people think of when pigeons come to mind.
Their coats are silkier, and their bodies bigger and sleeker, since they
are trained for long-distance flight.
Each weekend in
the spring and fall, thousands are trucked up to 600 miles away and released.
Relying on their homing instinct and incredible stamina, the pigeons fly
directly to their lofts. The ones with the fastest times are the winners.
A devoted group of
breeders across the country has kept alive a hobby that has been around
for centuries. Some racing pigeons can cost up to $250,000.
less than 5 percent of the birds do not return
home — but a 90 percent loss rate is unusual, said Gary
Moore, a competition organizer.
"Is it unusual? Yes.
Is it unprecedented? No,'' said Rick Phalen, executive director
of the American Racing Pigeon Union in Oklahoma City. "But I don't have
a recent recollection of this big a loss in the country.''
The National Weather
Service all but ruled out weather. It said there was a drastic change in
wind direction Monday at 3,000 feet, but racing pigeons usually don't climb
higher than 250 feet, and fly low on windy days.
Birds of prey? "The
chances that 2,000 hawks would get 2,000 pigeons are pretty unlikely,''
racer Dennis Gaugler told the newspaper. "The birds would scatter when
"The truth is that
knows what happened,'' racer Robert Costagliola told the Morning Call,
"and probably never will.''