Why Racing Pigeons Are So Expensive | So Expensive

Racing pigeons aren’t the typical bird you’ll find on the city streets. And these pedigree birds can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In March 2019, Armando the racing pigeon sold to a bidder in China
for over $1.4 million. So, what is it that makes
racing pigeons so expensive? Pigeons are some of the
oldest domesticated birds. They’ve been kept for thousands of years and used for food, sending
messages, and entertainment. They’re appreciated not
only for their speed, but for their looks, too. And there are over 800 breeds of pigeon, many bred specifically
to be exhibited at shows. Messenger pigeons were used
across ancient Egypt and Rome, and their high value isn’t new. In his book “Natural History,” the Roman author Pliny
the Elder wrote that, And in about 50 BC, a single pair of pigeons were sold for 400 denarii, almost twice the annual pay of a Roman foot soldier at the time. And right up until the invention
of the telegraph, in 1844, homing pigeons remained the fastest way to send messages across long distances. The birds could fly 1,000 miles and reach 90 miles per hour
over shorter distances. They even played a big
part in the world wars. Thousands of pigeons were used
in the First World War alone, and submarines, minesweepers,
and tanks often carried pigeons on board to send
urgent messages back to base. Their role in the war wasn’t limited to delivering messages, though. In 1907, Julius Neubronner,
a German pharmacist who used the birds to deliver medicine, invented a miniature pigeon camera, and this camera was
used briefly in the war for aerial reconnaissance. These days, you won’t see many
pigeons delivering messages, but the birds are still used
in races across the world. Anthony Martire: Our birds are
like pedigree dogs and cats. My father’s got, we have
the same family of birds for the last 40, 50 years. From, you know, generation to generation, grand, great-grandchildren, from the pigeons my father
had 40, 50 years ago. Come on, Annie! Get inside, Annie. Come on. I got one in here I call
Amorie, after my wife. When I was raising her,
she used to follow me all over the roof. Come on, girl, get inside. Come on! Come on, be a good girl,
listen to me, get inside. Geoff Barker: Well, it was a simple thing to have down in the garden. It was a way of racing,
they used to gamble on them. Whereas if you had horses, took up room, it was a lot more involved. You only needed a very
small garden, a tiny loft, and you could raise pigeons. Anything else, you couldn’t do it. And I think that’s why
it became so popular. Narrator: After the war, the sport became a pastime of the working class and affordable to many. But in recent years, it’s transformed. Its rising popularity in China and the huge surge in wealth there has led people to invest hundreds of thousands
of dollars in the birds. And the prize money for winning some of these races can be equally high. Chinese bidders have
spent millions of dollars on pigeons over the last few years, often buying them in from Belgium. And Armando’s value rose to
$1.4 million only because of a bidding war between
two wealthy Chinese buyers. Despite reaching this record price, the bird is likely to never race again, and instead be used for breeding. While the number of British
pigeon fanciers has fallen from 60,000 in 1990 to about 21,000 today, there are now 100,000 fanciers in Beijing. Taiwan alone has half a million fanciers. And these numbers are rising. The sport is even rapidly growing in Iraq, where a pigeon recently sold for $93,000. This recent surge in
value has caused problems. In 2018, two men tried
to win the prize money at a pigeon race by smuggling
their birds on a bullet train. And in Taiwan, five members
of an organized criminal ring were arrested for kidnapping
valuable racing pigeons and holding them at ransom. This new, expensive world
of pigeon racing across Asia has changed the reputation of the sport, and for those with the money
to buy the prize winners, these birds are a status symbol. But for those who’ve
been doing it for years, it’s not about the money, but the dedication and love of the sport. Barker: And nobody can
know what, really tell, what’s gonna breed a perfect pigeon. You could pay a fortune for a pigeon. I think there’s one been sold in China, the chances are, it may
never breed a decent pigeon. Who knows? But you could buy two
pigeons for 10 pound each, they hit on, and they could
breed you winner after winner. That’s what makes it so fascinating. Martire: I mean, I had one
bird, my hall-of-fame hen. She flew 1,000 miles in three weeks. I put her in a 200, a 250, and a 500. The best race I ever won
was the 500-mile race from my hall-of-fame hen. She’d come home a quarter
after nine at night in the dark like a bat. I’m waiting and waiting and
waiting, and all I heard was the whisper of the wings,
boom, she hit the coop, I jumped out of my shoes. Look, see her pecking
me? She’s pecking me. What’s the matter, girl? What? You love daddy, huh.

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