Insight & Analysis

Racing pigeon sold for record £1.07m

Published: Mar 2019

A bidding war between two Chinese racing enthusiasts sends the price of champion racing pigeon Armando sky high.

A champion racing pigeon – he has been dubbed the “Lewis Hamilton” of pigeons no less – has made history by being sold in Belgium for a record £1.07m (€1.25m), more than three times the previous world record, to a Chinese racing enthusiast.

Auction house Pigeon Paradise (Pipa) which organised the sale describes the pigeon, called Armando, the “best Belgian long-distance pigeon of all time”.

“It was unreal, the feeling – it was something out of this world,” Nikolaas Gyselbrecht, the CEO of Pipa told the BBC when the bidding exceeded €1m. “In our wildest dreams, we had never hoped for a price like that. We hoped for around €400,000 to €500,000, and we only dreamed of €600,000.”

Nikolaas said that two buyers from China ended up in a bidding war, escalating from €532,000 up to €1.25m in just over an hour. The usual price for a racing pigeon is around €2,500, he said.

According to the BBC, Chinese enthusiasm for the long-distance racing of homing pigeons has driven prices up sharply, with birds from the traditional heartland of the sport in Belgium being particularly prized. However, until the furious bidding over Armando, the record price stood at €376,000.

Icing on the cake

Armando’s owner, Joël Verschoot, from Ingelmunster in west Flanders, said his bird was born to be a champion but he had never dreamed of such a huge sum being paid for it. “The two Chinese buyers had told me in advance that they absolutely wanted Armando,” he told The Guardian. “But I didn’t see this coming. This is a crowning glory of all those years in the pigeon sport. The icing on the cake.”

While £1.1m for a racing pigeon seems extraordinary, it is clear that the buyer has the potential to more than recoup the investment: pigeon racing prize money in China has reached seven figures and seven of Armando’s offspring were also auctioned for an average price of €21,500 each.

The five-year-old Flemish flier, said to have “an exceptional sense of direction and remarkable wing strength”, may have highly profitable breeding years ahead of him – racing pigeons can carry on having chicks until they’re about ten, and live up to 20.

Armando is now entering retirement. The last three races of his career were the 2018 Ace Pigeon championship, the 2019 Pigeon Olympiad and the Angoulême. And he won them all.

Verschoot, a retired abattoir manager who claims to know all 500 of his birds by name, told The Guardian that he spent 12 hours a day working with his pigeons since dedicating himself to his hobby. “Ten hours a day in the pigeon loft and two hours of administration in the evening,” he said. “I have now earned more in two weeks than in those 40 years (at the abattoir).”

According to an online brochure, Verschoot’s birds are said to find tricky flying weather a “piece of cake” and to be “killers” when benefiting from a headwind on a warm and sunny day.

Asked what he planned to do with his windfall, Verschoot told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper: “Nothing special.”

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