I didn’t know pigeons are that expensive

By John Toth

I When I was a child, I bought a parakeet for $6 from Woolworth’s. One day I found it expired on the bottom of the bird cage. I took it to the SPCA near my apartment complex, where a veterinarian informed me that the bird was dead.

Oh, the pains of growing up.

I was pretty torn about the bird dying, but not as torn as Hu Zhen Yu would be if his brand new, $328,000 pigeon dropped dead.

The Chinese shipbuilding magnate recently paid that much for a Dutch racing pigeon, the most amount anyone has ever paid for ... a pigeon.

Before I get too far, let me explain pigeon racing. I’ll do the best copy and paste job I can.

Pigeon racing is the sport of releasing specially trained racing pigeons, which then return to their homes over a carefully measured distance. The time it takes the animal to cover the specified distance is measured and the birds rate of travel is calculated and compared with all of the other pigeons in the race to determine which animal returned at the highest speed.

It is the sport with a single starting gate and a thousand finish lines.

That sounds so … exciting?

Pigeon racing must be an awkward spectator sport. The crowd would have to be very quiet and patient, since all there is to see is the birds taking off. Then they’ll have 1,000 finish lines to choose from to see the birds finish.

The play-by-play would have to be like at golf tournaments – whispering into the microphone.

“The pigeon is getting ready and should take off any time now. There it goes. Let’s see that again.”

I’m sure a lot of people are really into the sport. But I don’t know if it actually qualifies as a sport, since the pigeons are doing all of the racing.

Horse racing is a sport because there is a jockey riding on the horse, and I can bet on it.

Dog racing is a sport even though there is no jockey because I can bet on it.

Pig racing at county fairs is a sport because ... that’s not a good analogy.

Back to pigeon racing.

Yu bought the pigeon through an on-line auction based in Belgium put on by a group called Pigeon Paradise. The auction raised $2.5 million, also a record. A lot of people must like expensive pigeons. If I were selling pigeons for hundreds of thousads of dollars, I’d be in paradise too, pigeon or regular.

What kind of people get into pigeon racing? Wimps, you say? You mean wimps like former boxer Mike Tyson? That’s right, bad boy Tyson raced a team of pigeons at the Sun City Million Dollar Pigeon Race in South Africa recently.

The race featured 3,479 birds and attracted entries from 37 nations. Now, that’s impressive.

My parakeet would have had a great time meeting all of those other birds.

I let it out of its cage occasionally so it could experience the freedom of my apartment. The bird had a good time sitting on top of the door until my mom tried to close it. Just kidding. I wouldn’t let anything happen to that parakeet.

When I put it back into the birdcage, it stared at itself in the mirror and got into an argument with its own reflection.

Don’t laugh. He or she only cost $6.