St. Paul police are searching for the crook that crept into private coop and pilfered dozens of racing pigeons worth more than $20,000 from their roost in the 1500 block of Huron Street on Tuesday night.
Whoever stole 3 dozen birds from their prized perch knew the difference between the common city bird and a purebred, and police say some of purloined pigeons are worth serious cash.
In the competitive world of pigeon racing, bloodlines matter just as much as they do on horse tracks.
"We're talking about thoroughbred racing pigeons," John Kaiyalethe told Fox 9 News. "They all have pedigrees on them."
Lineage is lucrative, and Kaiyalethe believe the birds were stolen for breeding purposes.
"They somehow found out what I had, what pedigrees I was working with, the strain," he said. "My guess is they intend to breed off these and send them to money races to try and win some of those $70,-$100,000 pots."
Kaiyalethe has spent years breeding some of the fastest pigeons he could afford, and over that time, he developed a reputation for speed.
"That bird is worth about $10,000 by itself," he said of a pigeon called The Godfather.
The Godfather was imported from Belgium, and his sire recently sold for nearly $60,000 -- but now, Kaiyalethe's entire brood of 6 breeding pairs and two dozen racers are gone.
"My loft is very small compared to my competitors, so I really have to pick out the best birds I can find -- and that's taken me 5 years to get these 6 pairs of breeders," he lamented.
Kaiyalethe says his birds are bred for both endurance and speed, and they're trained to always return to the same location, sometimes flying 600 miles in a single-day to get there.
Yet, the chances of getting the birds back may be slim. The racers are fitted with a microchip and would fly back home if released, but Kaiyalethe believes whoever stole the birds knew what they were doing and probably won't release them and risk the chance.
"They can cut off that little plastic band that you saw, and there's no way to really prove," he said. "I could pick my pigeons out of a line, no problem -- but am I ever going to get a line of pigeons to pick from?"
The birds are not insured, and while there was a lock on their loft, it wasn't currently secured because Kaiyalethe's brother lost the key.
The department receives reports regarding this type of theft a few times each year, St. Paul police confirmed with a Twitter user on Wednesday.
Anyone with information is asked to call 651-266-5632.