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Homing Pigeons Vanish En Route
Associated Press, October 8, 1998

Some 2,500 homing pigeons disappeared during two long-distance races on the same day, a nearly unheard-of loss in the little-known sport of pigeon racing. About 1,800 pigeons vanished out of 2,000 competing in a 200-mile race from northern Virginia to Allentown on Monday. The same day, 700 out of 800 birds never returned to their lofts in a separate 150-mile race from western Pennsylvania to Philadelphia. The birds remained unaccounted for Tuesday night. Ordinarily, the swift-flying birds should have been back in their lofts in a matter of hours. "I've never seen anything like this," says Earl Hottle of Allentown, who has been racing pigeons for 37 years. "Nobody can explain it."

Pigeon racing has thrived for centuries among a devoted group of several hundred breeders in the mid-Atlantic states. Each weekend in spring and fall, thousands of pigeons 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. In any race, a small percentage of the birds do not return home - but a 90 percent loss rate is unusual. "We've heard of this in other areas," says Jim Effting, who had only three of 37 birds return in the race from Virginia. "But we've never had it happen around here."

Racing veterans have few ideas about what caused the birds to lose their way - or otherwise disappear. There were no weather problems during either race, sun spot activity was low and no comets, meteor showers or planet alignments occurred. The skies were clear of satellite interference. "The chances that 2,000 hawks would get 2,000 pigeons are pretty unlikely," says racer Dennis Gaugler. "The birds would scatter when attacked." "The truth is that nobody knows what happened," says another racer, Robert Costagliola, "and probably never will."