'This is the Messi of pigeons' - Armando the racing pigeon sells for record €1.25m
A pigeon described as the best ever has been sold for a record fee of more than €1,252,000.
Joel Verschoot's bird Armando was sold by auction house Pipa for £1.07 million after a two-week online bidding war.
Nikolaas Gyselbrecht, the founder and chief executive of Pipa, told the Press Association: "This pigeon has a race record that has never been matched by any other pigeon.
"In football terms you have Messi and Ronaldo - it's that level."
The figure made Armando the most valuable bird ever sold in an online auction, according to Pipa, dwarfing the previous record of 376,000 euros (£322,000), which was set in November.
It also beat the record offline price of 500,000 euros (£428,000) paid for a pigeon named Mr Fantastic, Mr Gyselbrecht said.
Armando attracted bids from countries around the world, including the United States, South Africa and Belgium.
But the price, already a record, was pushed up by about 700,000 euros (£600,000) by two Chinese fanciers in the final hour of the two-week auction.
"There was nobody in the pigeon world who thought that would happen," said Mr Gyselbrecht.
"We were hoping for four or five hundred thousand, and maybe a little bit dreaming of six."
Armando is retired from racing at five years old, but holds such high value because of his breeding potential.
A number of his offspring were sold for five-figure sums in the same auction.
The bird has been described as the "Lewis Hamilton of pigeons" but the name does not impress Mr Gyselbrecht.
"I don't know how important Lewis Hamilton is in Formula One," he said. "Is he the best ever?
"Maybe Schumacher. This pigeon is the best ever."
While the high-value sale has brought publicity to the pigeon world, it has not been without controversy.
"A lot of people I know congratulate me and think it's good," said Mr Gyselbrecht.
"But there's also a group of people that do not like that so much money is involved.
"It's like in football, some people can't believe the money being paid. There are some who don't like it."