(CBS) — You think a marathon sounds hard? Try a 200 mile race in a raging thunderstorm.
It’s easy to understand how an Oak Lawn racing pigeon named #7 was blown off course.
He was racing from Litchfield, Illinois to Oak Lawn, but ended up hundreds of miles away in Lafayette, Indiana.
CBS 2’s Marissa Bailey has the story of his journey home in this Original Report.
You would never know that Andy Szflarski’s serene Oak Lawn backyard contains fierce competitors.
“The wife had the flowers, I had the pigeons,” he said.
Highly sophisticated homing pigeons that Szflarski trains and then races with other pigeon enthusiasts around the state.
“We’ve had pigeons ever since I’ve been in high school,” pigeon racing enthusiast Matt Wiesbrock said.
Pigeons are tagged at birth, trained to fly long distances then guys like Matt and Andy race them. They’re let go from one location to see which ones make it home the fastest.
“The largest majority of their homing instinct comes from their ability to pick up the magnetic pulls of the earth just like a compass,” Weisbrock said.
And the birds always come home, except this time. When the Fitzmorris family in West Lafayette, Indiana spotted a tagged bird on their lawn, they tracked the pigeon’s tag and found Andy.
“He was telling me that the bird was all soaking wet that he thought he was dead at first laying on the grass. When he picked him up he knew he was alive so he gave him some water and he gave him some bird seed,” Andy said.
The Fitzmorris family, in particular Abby, nursed pigeon #7 back to health and Wednesday morning attached a message to tag and sent him on his way home.
He was supposed to arrive around 9 a.m. But Andy says he’s not worried because as the message Abby attached to #7’s leg says, “Home is where you can always return no matter how long you’ve been gone.”
As of Wednesday night, pigeon #7’s whereabouts are still unknown.
It’s important to note: racing pigeons are completely different than pigeons you see outside. Think of them like pure bred cats versus feral cats.
Racing pigeons look different and get vaccinations, vitamins and are even bathed by hand.