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Bird thefts ruffles some feathers in Pa.

March 20, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Although unusual, the thefts of exotic birds and pigeons in two separate cases in Franklin County this month are not related, the investigating officer said Thursday.

Yet breeders of exotic pigeons and birds around the county are concerned.

"I'm afraid to leave my house to go to work," said Kathy Fertivey of Orrstown. On March 6, Fertivey reported the theft of 225 finches, cockatiels, lovebirds and doves from her aviary in Orrstown.

On Tuesday, Paul R. Urban, 64, of Willow Hill in northwest Franklin County, told state police that someone broke into his coops Tuesday afternoon and stole more than 350 valuable pigeons.

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Urban has been breeding exotic pigeons all of his life, and he has been featured in-and written for-magazines for pigeon fanciers. He said he has 287 different varieties of pigeons in his flock.

Fertivey values her stolen birds at $6,800, according to a police report. Urban listed the value of the birds stolen from his coops at $8,000, according to police.

Trooper Mark Grove, the investigator of both thefts, believes the stolen birds could show up in pet shops and at bird auctions. "There apparently is a lot of money involved with these birds," he said.

He said the cases will be hard to crack. "No one saw them happen," Grove said. "It's going to take time and legwork to find leads, but something will turn up eventually. This many birds are hard to hide. Somebody will see something."

"I'd like to know where my birds went," Fertivey said. "Somebody has to be selling them somewhere."

Brenda McKenrick, owner of Brandywine Pet Place in Chambersburg and a long-time breeder of exotic birds, said the birds are becoming more popular in the county as more people live in apartments where cats and dogs are usually prohibited. "Birds are an apartment pet," she said. "They've always been popular in cities."

McKenrick said there isn't much organization among breeders of small, exotic birds. Most start as hobbyists, then try their hand at breeding. "People go in and out of the business," she said. "A lot of them don't realize how much work is involved."

An average breeder has about 500 birds, she said.

While business may be improving for the kind of birds found in McKenrick's pet shop, the number of pigeon fanciers in Franklin County is on the decline, breeders say.

Larry Washinger keeps about 200 fancy pigeons at his Orrstown home. He buys, sells and trades birds with Urban. He said younger people don't seem to be interested in the hobby.

"Maybe it's the money," Washinger said. "It can cost $12 for a 50-pound bag of feed and that won't go far when you're feeding 200 birds."

Another breeder friend of Urban's, who asked not to be named to protect his own flock from theft, said shows and exhibits once popular in the area like those at fairs in York, Pa., and Hagerstown are gone. "The fair in Hagerstown used to be the big time," he said.

The number of clubs for pigeon fanciers is also dropping. "There used to be a club here in Franklin County, but it's gone," he said.

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