Taiwanese pigeon racing wins
local and foreign fans
Words by Douglas Habecker
Translated by Angel Pu
With doctor-like hands, Wei Kuang-tan carefully picks up a delicate, bronze-eyed pigeon, splaying out a gray wing for inspection. He notes the bird is strong and powerful, able to fly long distances with ease. More a passion than hobby, pigeon racing for Wei has become a way of life. For the last 40 years, he has gotten up early to feed, train, race and breed his 60 or so pigeons.
"It's like raising children," says Wei, who also owns a feed store. "You must be careful at every stage of development."
Wei's wooden pigeon loft, atop of his Taichung city house, is like many throughout Taiwan. There are upwards of 100,000 people--mostly men--in Taiwan who practice pigeon racing, according to Wei. It's a sport and a business, as millions of NT dollars are spent annually raising and training these small birds, with billions more spent on betting.
While many are in it for the profit, or at least the dream of profits, Wei shows a real admiration for the birds themselves, the athletes in this sport. To be a winner, a pigeon in Taiwan must finish all six heats of a race. The heats get progressively longer, starting at 270 kilometers and ending at roughly 450 kilometers.
Taiwan's pigeons are internationally-known for their endurance and ability to fly over open water. However, the reality is that most of them don't make it home. Many find another place to live, others are captured in nets and later resold, and some perish along the way. Still, those who do return are given star-like status and valued by their owners as future breeding stock. "I love pigeons; therefore I love the sport," says Wei.
Also sharing the love of the sport is American Sam Webster, Wei's friend and fellow pigeon racer. On a warm winter day, Webster stands on his Taichung rooftop ready to welcome his tired and hungry pigeons home with a whistle and a shake of a food bowl. Without warning, a white streak appears in the blue sky.
"That's my red hen," he says excitedly. "Good girl!"
She has flown 360 kilometers in just under four hours. Her rhythmic cooing means that she is happy, he says. "She's had a ball," he remarks and, it appears, so has her owner.