Belgian racing pigeon fetches record price of $1.9 million

An age-old hobby in Western Europe identified with working-class men now has a new, elitist foreign lease on life: A wealthy Chinese pigeon racing fan put down a record price of $1.9 million for New Kim, the Belgian-bred bird.

During the end of a two-week auction at the Pipa pigeon center, two Chinese bidders operating under the pseudonyms Super Duper and Hitman drove up the price by $325,000, leaving the previous record that Belgian-bred Armando fetched last year well behind by $406,000.

Super Duper got the hen, and is said to be the same wealthy Chinese industrialist who already had Armando, allowing for breeding with the two expensive birds.

Pigeon racing was a once-quaint sport, but increasingly is big money. Globalization has made the difference.

With the rise of business wealth in China came also conspicuous consumption and a new venue for gambling. Somehow, pigeons fit the bill. China often features one-loft racing, where pigeons all get used to one coop for months and then are released many hundreds of miles away to make their way back with their unique sense of orientation and special speed training. Prize pots can reach into the tens of millions of euros.

Only a decade ago, the record price for a pigeon stood at one-tenth of New Kim’s price. And the current price of gold stands about $30,350 per pound.

Top breeders relying on generations of family experience can now sell their birds for prices unheard of merely a decade ago, and often China is their destination.

On this occasion, successful breeder Gaston Van de Wouwer retired at 76 and his son had too busy a professional life to continue the famed pigeon coop. All 445 birds were put on auction and the overall sale was already pushing past $7 million. A second part of the auction is ending on Monday, but didn’t include any bird that could match New Kim. It still amounted to an amazing weekend for one pigeon breeder.

Belgians have long stood out as the best breeders, both because of their generations-long experience and the density of a network where many breeders can organize races close together. It’s not a short-term endeavor, however, since becoming expert at genetic breeding with the constant mixing and mating of birds takes years, if not decades. Birds can live up to 15 years.