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    What is happening to the birds?

    By Linda Moulton Howe

    July 22, 2004 Stockholm, Sweden - Lloyd Jones reporting for Australia's Herald Sun in Stockholm began a dispatch today:

    "Homing pigeons vanish during race. Organisers of a race for homing pigeons were still scratching their heads in wonder today after about 1500 of the birds, famous for their ability to find their way home, went missing during the contest."

    Usually it takes the pigeons only two hours to return to their home lofts. But a member of the Malmoe Homing Pigeon Club, Lars-Aake Nilsson, said only about 500 of the 2000 pigeons flown in the contest have returned after the 150 kilometer flight between the cities of Ljungby and Malmoe in southern Sweden. "The weather was perfect - no rain, no thunder and no strong winds," he said.

    Mr. Nilsson and other homing pigeon raisers wonder if changes in the earth's magnetic field could be the culprit. Homing pigeons use the sun and magnetic fields of the earth to navigate. So far, none of the missing homing pigeons have turned up anywhere in southern Sweden. "I have worked with pigeons since 1960 and have never experienced anything like this," Mr. Nilsson said. "It's a mystery."

    Back on October 5, 1998, the same kind of disappearance happened in two American homing pigeon races. In one, about 1,600 pigeons vanished out of 1,800 competing in a 200-mile race from northern Virginia to Allentown, Pennsylvania. The same day, 600 out of 700 birds were missing after a 150-mile race from western Pennsylvania to Philadelphia.