World

Not for eating: British fanciers show off their top pigeons, battle for Supreme Champion title

  • In this photo taken Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, a British King pigeon sits in a cage adorned with a rosette in the fancy pigeon show during the annual British Homing World Show at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, northwest England. (AP Photo/David Azia)

    In this photo taken Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, a British King pigeon sits in a cage adorned with a rosette in the fancy pigeon show during the annual British Homing World Show at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, northwest England. (AP Photo/David Azia)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo taken Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, a pigeon fancier uses a loupe to inspect the eye of a bird for sale during the annual British Homing World Show at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, northwest England. (AP Photo/David Azia)

    In this photo taken Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, a pigeon fancier uses a loupe to inspect the eye of a bird for sale during the annual British Homing World Show at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, northwest England. (AP Photo/David Azia)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo taken Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, pigeon fanciers talk in front of prize-winning pigeons at the annual British Homing World Show in the Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, northwest England. (AP Photo/David Azia)

    In this photo taken Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, pigeon fanciers talk in front of prize-winning pigeons at the annual British Homing World Show in the Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, northwest England. (AP Photo/David Azia)  (The Associated Press)

Once a major tourist destination for Britons heading to the beach, the seaside town of Blackpool now draws a different kind of visitor. 

Every January, thousands of pigeon enthusiasts — known as fanciers — flock to Blackpool's Winter Gardens, a 137-year-old, once-grand entertainment complex, to attend the British Homing World Show of the Year. The gathering showcases thousands of pigeons, ranging from birds prized for their endurance and speed to fancy pigeons bred for their appearance.

The pigeons compete in races held between March and September, ranging from 100 miles (160 kilometers) to more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) long.

In the Empress Ballroom, hundreds of pigeons lined up in cages were the object of much attention from visitors who came from as far away as China. For fanciers, the show is an opportunity to admire the finest pigeons in Britain. For those with a bird in the show, it's a chance for recognition and to boost the value of their breeding stock. 

The show hands out prizes in 62 classes, with one bird getting named the Supreme Champion. With pedigree playing an important role in the pigeon trade, a first-place finish can mean a bird worth thousands of pounds (dollars). Hundreds of pigeons are bought and sold at the show, at auctions and stalls set up by breeding farms.

This year the champ was Wilson, owned by Roland Thresher, from Minehead, Somerset, beating some 2,500 birds for the top spot.