By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent
The hobby of pigeon raising in the Middle East goes back several years. Enthusiasts spend a great deal of time and money acquiring rare and beautiful birds. The supplies for housing pigeons are also very expensive. Pigeon owners often build elaborate cages on their rooftops or in their gardens. Each cage typically holds around thirty birds. A devout pigeon master often pays more attention to his birds than he does to his own children, because one sick bird can destroy the entire lot. For many enthusiasts, they have turned a mere hobby into an exact science.
There are so many rare varieties of pigeons, each varying in color, sheen and ability. The most popular in the Gulf region include the Sherazi, Sudani and Baljiki. However, the favorite pigeon amongst enthusiasts is known as the â€˜flipperâ€™. The reason it is so popular is because of its mid-flight aerobics that it performs at great heights, flipping full circle without losing speed. Exquisite and unique pigeons are much sought after by wealthy hobbyists who are often willing to pay thousands of dollars to acquire a prized bird for their collection. It is not uncommon for buyers to trade their expensive luxury cars and watches for a single bird. Most of the time, however, a lump of cash is enough to seal the deal.
Pigeon raising is also a lucrative sport. Enthusiasts gather to race their pigeons in competition with other birds. Most competitors will select their top five pigeons to perform in endurance races against the wind. The competitions are primarily held during the months of September and October when winds in the open desert often exceed 60 kilometers per hour. Each birdâ€™s flight is measured in terms of resistance.
Come March, prize-winning pigeons are tucked away into their cages with equally alluring mates. The offspring of award winning pigeons can fetch even more money than the â€˜contenderâ€™ bird himself. Newly hatched birds are also very easy to train for an optimum life span of racing and bringing joy to his masterâ€™s eyes.
In Saudi Arabia, where pigeon raising is a part of local traditions, there is a special pigeon market held every Friday in the city of Medina. The market opens right after the dawn prayers and bustles for several hours to around mid-morning when the heat of the desert sun becomes unbearable. Bidding wars are common during the auctions held for the most sought-after birds and often get heated as the passion for pigeon rearing usually defies all reason.
However, not everyone has the bankroll to fund an elaborate pigeon pen plus fill it with expensive birds, then feed and pay for the medicines often needed to keep the birds healthy. In the state of Kuwait, the love for pigeons is a public affair. Right in the center of Kuwait City is what has come to be known as â€˜Pigeon Squareâ€™. Hundreds of pigeons descend upon the square around the clock, often mingling with shoppers and spectators alike. The area is lined with small grocery stores and meat shops.
It has long been a Kuwaiti tradition during the Holy Month of Ramadan to take the children of the family to visit the pigeons of Pigeon Square right before the Iftar meal. The grocery stores often see a rise in business as visitors often buy bread to feed the pigeons. In return, the pigeons â€˜dotâ€™ the landscape with their droppings, which the very same shop owners must clean up. Many locals have longed for the square to be turned into a tourist destination complete with refurbished structures, restaurants and cafes.