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1,500 Of 2,000 Homing Pigeons Lost During Race
2004 07 23

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) - Organizers of a race for homing pigeons were still scratching their heads in wonder Thursday after about 1,500 of the birds, famous for their ability to find their way home, went missing during the contest.

Of the 2,000 pigeons let loose last week, only about 500 have returned to their lofts after the 150-kilometer (93 mile) flight between the cities of Ljungby and Malmoe in southern Sweden, said Lars-Aake Nilsson of the Malmoe Homing Pigeon Club.

"The weather was perfect - no rain, no thunder and no strong winds," he said.

In past races, the birds, all of which sport electronic identification tags around their feet, made the journey in about two hours.

But at Sunday's race, something went wrong.

"I have worked with pigeons since 1960 and have never experienced anything like this," Nilsson said, adding that the birds might have been thrown off course by subtle changes in the earth's magnetic field.

The pigeons have a natural homing instinct and are believed to navigate by the sun and the magnetic waves of the earth, Nilsson said.

"And even though some are lost to hawks or hazards like power lines along the way, many more should have made it back home. It's a mystery," he added.

He said there have been no reported sightings of the missing birds anywhere in southern Sweden. He declined to say how much the birds were worth.

"It's not so much the economic value as it is a loss to the sport," Nilsson said. "It takes about two years to breed a racing pigeon."

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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