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Pigeon pit stop

A racing pigeon, nicknamed Murdock, sits outside a window at the Republican Eagle office on North Service Drive. Staff witnessed the bird hanging around for nearly a week after it was let go Aug. 12 near Goodhue. (Republican Eagle photos by Tim Alms)2 / 4
Red Cedar RPC member Dave Gedatus (right) and Steve Messick and Roger Sievers (center) of RiverTown Multimedia look at the elusive pigeon Wednesday. That evening, the staff netted Murdock and Gedatus returned Thursday to take his bird back to Woodville, Wisconsin.3 / 4
A yellow tag on the bird’s left leg lead to the discovery of its trainer, Dave Gedatus of Woodville, Wis.4 / 4

About a week ago, employees at the Republican Eagle office began noticing a peculiar looking bird pacing near the front entrance.

Upon closer inspection, it was discovered that the bird had a yellow tag on its leg with the words “Red Cedar RPC.” A quick Google search pointed to the Red Cedar Racing Pigeon Club out of Menominee, Wisconsin.

The bird, nicknamed Murdock by staff, turned out to be a racing pigeon trained by club member Dave Gedatus of Woodville, Wisconsin, about 30 miles northeast of Red Wing.

With some quick thinking and a fishing net donated by 4 Season Sports, staff managed to cage the bird and return it Thursday to Gedatus.

Murdock was part of a group of 70 racing pigeons let go Aug. 12 about a mile south of Goodhue, Gedatus said. The bird got lost while making the 40-mile trip to its home loft in Woodville and took up residence in town.

“I’m not sure what happens, whether they get confused or disoriented,” said Gedatus, adding that only 19 of the pigeons he let go that day made it home.

Murdock is the first of his pigeons to be found and returned so far, but one flew in on its own this Wednesday, he said.

It’s not clear why so many of the birds didn’t make it home after the “toss” — the technical term for releasing racing pigeons — but Gedatus said they may have grouped with a nearby tossing of 500 pigeons conducted by a Twin Cities pigeon racing club.

“They’re a flocking animal,” he said, “and they possibly followed some of their pigeons home.”

Other Red Cedar RPC members also reported losing more pigeons this year than usual, he added.

Engaging hobby

Gedatus said he started actively racing pigeons in 2009, having entered the hobby out of a general love for birds.

“I found some homing pigeons on an animal swap, bought a couple and just continued on from there,” he said.

Pigeon racing is an old sport that grew out of the practice of training messenger pigeons as far back as ancient Egypt and Rome, according to the Royal Pigeon Racing Association. The races grew in popularity in Europe and the U.S. in the early 1900s.

Races are decided by how quickly the birds fly from a starting point to their loft, which can be several hundred miles away. Because the birds have different finish lines, their performance is ranked by speed in yards per minute.

Racing pigeons can reach speeds around 50 mph, or 1,400 yards per minute, Gedatus said.

The hobby has gone high-tech in recent years, he said, including equipping pigeons with GPS chips to measure their performance.

It’s also not cheap, with electronic racing clocks priced near $1,000 and GPS chips at $2.50 per bird.

“You get a hundred pigeons and that’s quite a few dollars just for the chips on their legs,” he said.

Always next year

Murdock’s fateful flight was part of a training toss for its first race, Gedatus said.

The pigeon, which hatched back in May, was meant to compete in the young bird racing season a few days after it went AWOL.

Pigeon racing is split into two seasons for young and old birds, he explained.

The plan is to start over on Murdock’s training next year for entry into the old bird racing season.

“It’s lost a lot of weight foraging for itself,” Gedatus said about the pigeon’s condition. “It’s going to take a while before it builds back up to where I would want to race it again.”

Despite a disappointing rookie year, Gedatus said he has high expectations for Murdock, whose sibling came in first at two races this year.

“Its siblings know how to race pretty well, so I’m hoping it does too,” he said.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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