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Bird bandits plague Pa. man

July 23, 1998|By DON AINES

WILLOW HILL, Pa. - A Franklin County man said Wednesday he'll do whatever it takes to protect his property in the aftermath of the third theft of exotic pigeons from his Metal Township home since March 1997.

"I keep my shotgun loaded day and night," said Paul Urban, 65, of 14786 Path Valley Road.

Thieves stole close to 400 of his pigeons between 8 p.m. Monday and 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Urban said. The birds, including valuable Rumanian Naked Necks, Egyptian swifts, Indian fantails and Hungarian giant house pigeons, were stolen from coops in a barn where he keeps 10,000 birds.

He estimated the stolen birds were worth about $40,000. None were insured.

"You can't get insurance on birds. It's a dead loss for us," he said. He said companies that insure birds charge $7 or more a bird, a premium he and his wife Doris can't afford.

With the thefts of several hundred other pigeons in burglaries in March and September 1997, Urban said his losses have totaled $120,000.

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"It's the turnpike," Urban said. His property is located along the Pennsylvania Turnpike and he believes the thieves parked a van or truck along the roadway, jumped a fence and entered the barn.

"We have a German shepherd and that's the side they broke in," he said. He said the fenced in area on the side of the barn where the dog stays was unlocked, but he did not hear the animal bark.

"It had to be somebody who knows the dog," he said.

"It's definitely somebody who has been here," Doris Urban said.

She said the couple have an electric fence and spotlights around the barn, but those were no deterrent. She said they cannot afford additional security measures.

"The police need to patrol more on the turnpike to make sure no cars are parked there," Doris Urban said.

"In two or three hours they can be in Ohio, New Jersey or New York," she said of the access the turnpike and nearby interstates provide to different parts of the country. The birds could have easily been stolen in less than an hour because they are in crates and asleep, she said.

"Seven coops they almost emptied out," she said.

Paul Urban theorized the thieves will cut the identification bands off the birds, breed them and sell the offspring.

Urban, who came to this country from Germany, began raising pigeons almost 63 years ago when his father gave him a pair of birds. He worked in Alaska for years and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars collecting pigeons.

"I've been to 32 countries to collect all those birds," said Urban, who buys, breeds and sells the pigeons. He said his 287 varieties may comprise the largest collection in the country.

Doris Urban said they no longer allow anyone to see their aviary unless they first give their name and the license plate number of their car.

The Urbans offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the pigeon thieves after the last incident in September. Because of the losses they have suffered, he said the reward is no longer on the table.

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