How much would you pay for a pigeon?
A Chinese racing fan forked out US$1.9 million for a prized pigeon on Sunday, shattering a record and ruffling feathers throughout the once European-centric sport.
The bird, named New Kim, might look like a typical city pest to the untrained eye, but she was named the best young bird in Belgium in 2018 — a high honour in a nation renowned for breeding homing pigeons.
New Kim sold on Sunday after a heated final-hour bidding war between two Chinese buyers under the names Hitman and Super Duper. Super Duper ultimately landed the knockout blow with a $1.9 million bid, toppling the previous record for a bird.
The previous record-setting pigeon was a Belgian-bred bird named Armando, which sold for US$1.42 million last year.
Male pigeons typically sell for higher prices because they are easier to breed, according to Nikolaas Gyselbrecht, CEO and founder of the Pipa auction house that ran both sales.
“These record prices are unbelievable, because this is a female. Armando was a male,” Gyselbrecht told Reuters.
“We are in total shock,” said Kurt Van de Wouwer, whose family bred the two-year-old bird.
His father, Gaston Van de Wouwer, is a renowned breeder in the pigeon-racing world, and he recently retired. The family is now selling off its 445 birds.
The family netted more than US$11 million for the whole flock, according to Pipa. Chinese buyers bought two-thirds of the flock, including the nine most expensive birds. A few of the priciest pigeons were New Kim’s offspring.
The prized pigeon might become a golden goose for its new owner, who is expected to use her for breeding purposes.
The Associated Press reports that New Kim’s buyer is likely the owner of Armando. That means he or she could breed the million-dollar birds together.
Pigeons can typically breed until they are 10 years old, so New Kim still has plenty of productive years ahead of her.
Belgium is a hotbed for pigeon-breeding, thanks to a long history with the sport and a robust network of competitors who organize races close together. The formerly working-class sport has become a pricey pursuit, as deep-pocketed Chinese investors have joined the fray over the last decade.
Those investors will pay handsomely for the best birds from Belgium.
“Everybody is interested in our pigeons,” Pascal Bodengien, head of the Belgian pigeon federation, told The Associated Press.
Chinese fans have developed a particular interest in one-loft pigeon racing. This sort of race involves housing all competitors in one coop for several months, then releasing them at a great distance and waiting for them to find their way back.
Bodengien says the sale of New Kim is a big deal, but it doesn’t mean there will suddenly be room for new breeders.
“Anybody thinking about getting into our sport to get money out of it had better think again and move to another sport,” he said.
“To be the best, it has to be your life’s work.”
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press