The Birmingham Roller

By K.D. Spurling

It has now been a very long while since I have written upon the Birmingham Roller, but due to great requests, it is once again that I find myself writing about what I still know best, and that which I still hold most dear, none other than the true Birmingham Roller as I have come to know it over an excess of some twenty years of time. In this
sense, it comes quickly, easily and exactly, for this is not but simple second nature, but exact first nature.

Being that a great period has now passed since I have written of the Birmingham breed, it should start afresh and with a beginning, for I feel it neccessary to clarify the abilities and merits of the true Birmingham Roller as it has existed for an excess of  some two centuries or more in time.

        What Is A Birmingham Roller?

A Birmingham Roller is a pigeon of breathtaking and exquisite performance, turning over rapidly a succession of backward somersaults while descending toward earth in an unbroken sequence like a spinning ball. While long performances may be seen as the most spectacular, the true Birmingham Roller is not neccessarily a deep performer, but rather one whose merits are measured and valued strictly upon the rapidity of its performance. Contrary to the popular misconception, the velocity or rapidity of the roll is not its rate of descent, but the rate at which each backward revolution is executed and the highest velocity pigeons execute the most revolutions
in what is a shorter space than so others of greater depths, as well descending at a slower rate than their counterparts who are lacking in velocity. Many are the times I have heard of, as well as also having seen pigeons, which by the common terminology appear to "accelerate" near the end of the roll, in that before completion they begin to  drop with a much greater rate than their previous descent, and many are the pigeons who are valued for such, when in reality they are far less than perfect, due to the fact that in ending they have actually begun to perform far less vigorously as to the rate of each revolution. This occurs simply due to the so called "blur factor", which entails the fact that the higher the rate of each revolution, the slower the pigeon descends and the
less it will roll in its depth. However, some rare examples of the true "shrinking effect" can be seen in the highest calibre of families, when a particular top notch example seems to "catch and hang" near the end of the roll and the diameter of the face of the roll, which is nothing more than optical illusion of a pigeon in the full tuck
position revolving backwards at an immense rate, thereby appearing as a small round ball, appears to shrink in its size. Although the pigeon itself is incapable of tucking in to a greater extent than its somewhat lesser examples, due to an even greater velocity, the illusion of an even smaller than normal ball-like form is viewed.

On viewing the roll from the front or rear view, opposed to from the side, it is relatively simple to grade the merits of any individual performer, in that what I consider to be a "good" roller is one which will be seen dropping not only straight on a calm, windless day, but dropping with its wingtips in an upright position and looking like an initial "H"
and being completely free of any fine irregularities or wing changing at periodicals.  I  should say, that while such are not truly rare, they exist in some real numbers only in select lofts where the aspiration is to produce a family of only the highest velocity pigeons with little regard as to the idea of colors, markings or of performance in unison. I should also note, that a pigeon of this particular calibre could come as a pigeon who is capable of rolling any range of depths; from rolling at an immense velocity in one place and upwards to the neighborhood of some 50 or so feet. I will go so far as to say that while safe performances of 75, 100 and 125 feet and beyond are not only possible in breeds such as the North American Highflying Roller, Central Asiatic Roller, Oriental Roller, Sarajevo Roller, Slovak Roller and others in what can be deemed as ideal examples in those particular breeds, that such depths are an impossibility for a true high calibre Birmingham Roller, simply because the mentioned  others have entirely different ideals and are far from similiar to the Birmingham Roller in their requirements in that the same style of rolling is not aspired for and the styles of one should not be aspired for in the next. Extreme depths are viewed in these other breeds simply because their requirements are in no way similiar to those of the Birmingham, and if the true Birmingham style, frequency and velocity were to ever be combined with that sort of depth, this extremely volatile combination will lead to a physical disaster of the worst sort.

          The Ideal:

The Birmingham Roller is one of few animals under standardized domestication where in an ideal can be not only attained, but bred and viewed. Despite the fact that this ideal has been well understood for well over a century and has been described and also drawn for over 70 years in literature, many still remain scrambled largely due to either
misunderstandings or outright ignorance.

The late Wm. Hyla Pensom wrote something that is very important and factual about this breed many years ago, in that he wrote that the individual performance of this breed cannot be improved upon, but that the modern fancier, and even the fanciers of his time, can only strive to produce a higher percentage of the best as they progress from year to year. This is very distressing to the majority, in that most believe themselves to be such great breeders that they have somehow improved upon the individual capacities of this breed and every mother's son seems to believe that he is some sort of mystical messiah who if followed can lead all to the promised land of the true Birmingham Roller. A number of the pathetic believers, and unfortunately, their numbers are legion, even insist that the late Wm. H. Pensom intentionally misled scores of fanciers for his own personal gain, yet noone before, nor since Bill Pensom has had the same sort of positive impact on the Birmingham breed, and this remains true even after more than 30 years after the death of Pensom. I submit that elbowing a dead man out of the way to enter the spotlight is not only a cheap shot, but the practice of a true heathen. Not so strangely, when one comes to the point of being able to interpret fully, the message Pensom was trying to get across, his ideas begin to work for you, opposed to against you. One of the greatest reasons that many fail to  understand the gospel of Pensom has much to do with Pensom himself. In the first place, he was a true writer of the English language in that he was British and also in that his writing was very much of a Victorian style, in that it was far more suited for use in the day of his grandfather and would have been considered old fashioned even in Pensom's earliest years. Consequently, minus some sort of schooling in literature, Pensom's doctrine is more than difficult to fully understand. Luckily, the late Howard McCulley did an excellent job in putting the same doctrine to paper in what was not only a precise, cut and dry style, but often in one that was nearly assaultingly abusive at times to get the idea across to the American fancier.

The ideal Birmingham Roller is a pigeon which turns over backwards with inconceivable rapidity while descending towards earth like a spinning ball and when viewed from the side, a small "hole" will be seen. This standard is so simple and contained in so few words that it should be never lost sight of, yet it has unfortunately been by far too many. Many are those who become very excited by the presence of a small gap or a bit of daylight slightly off center in the side of the roll, when the quality of such a performer is dramatically waning. Despite the fact that the insane believers of "more and better Rollers" than in the old days use these pathetically imperfect examples as "proof" that the small hole is an outdated model, the space and bit of daylight IS NOT the small hole or any ideal. One thing is true, and this is the fact that if these birds who show gaps on the face of the roll were the true hole types, those who view the concept as outdated would be truly correct. Even though these examples are
mistaken as the hole, at least most are in agreement that those who show gaps or a bit of distorted daylight on the face of the roll are examples of aerial trash.

The fact still remains, the true ideal remains very rare and many may never view it, let
alone produce it. The fact is, the small and perfectly rounded hole placed in the center of the face of the roll, is an optical illusion created by a perfectly balanced (perfectly
typed) pigeon passing through a correct roll. With this in mind, once a fancier can grasp an understanding of true rolling and perfect rolling type, a higher percentage of
the ideal can be produced.

In fact, no matter how scrambled their ideas are of what constitutes perfect type may be, nearly all roller fanciers maintain an interest in type, feather and expression.

Roughly ten years ago, the Performing Roller Association, due largely to my mentor in Rollers, Dan J. Ouellette, drew up an aerial ideal for the Birmingham Roller which today appears in the "NPA Encyclopedia Of Pigeon Standards". Going back to its formation in 1985, our organization received a great deal of flak because we endorsed the idea of displaying aerially tested performers in the show coop for educational and
promotional purposes. Fifteen years later, the idea is now widely accepted and practised, not only in North America and for only Birmingham Rollers, but also worldwide for many flying breeds. To this day, the basic ideal also receives great flak, largely from exhibition fanciers, over the fact that this standard states that there can be no conformation standard for a flying breed as the good ones occur in many body  types. While this is more than true, it is also somewhat misleading.

It would be true that good rollers can come in an array of body types, colors, markings, expressional types and feather types. This is due simply because the purebred Birmingham Roller, when flown under the correct methods, has no choice but to roll at some point in its life, although many may appear to be non performers due to a greater
genetic resistance to the roll and may not develop into the roll for two, three or even up to five years of age. As well, Birmingham Rollers come in an array of body types due simply to breeding preference and variation and as a result, good rollers occur in many different types, yet the ideal comes in ONLY one particular type due simply to
the physical mechanics of the "hole" in the side.

I spent thousands of hours around Dan Ouellette, and be aware, we discussed type, expression, feather and colors on a regular basis. It was always made quite clear that he knew that an ideal type was neccessary to yield the ideal and he understood this  type to an exact degree. In fact, on one occassion, he presented me with a Red Checker Self squeaker from an untested pair and he said: "He is the ideal type. If he can roll correctly, he will show the hole." and after taking the bird home and flying him hard for 15 months, he did in fact exhibit the hole and he was dead fast for 5-10 feet and about once or twice per minute. So despite what he had written, he knew that one
type was properly suited for the ideal result and he knew how to produce that type.

However, as an intense student of Roller history, he also knew full well that it was impossible to issue the breed a conformation guide simply due to the fact that every time it had been done historically, it was quickly abused and misused by those who look for an easy way out, disrespect the breed and seek glory only through the collecting of cheap hunks of plastic people call "trophies", when in reality, it is the quality bird itself that is the trophy! To this end, he wrote, more or less after Pensom, that "a conformation standard is a liscense to employ means which will alter a fancier's entire outlook, thereby it will become a fancy breed."

In otherwords, he had the hindsight and the foresight to understand that anytime a conformation ideal is put to paper officially, that some group would come forward to take advantage of the breed and select them only with the idea of winning prizes at a show, therby completely destroying the breed's aerial capacities. There are plenty of examples in history to prove this and one needs only to consider how many former  flying breeds have become strictly exhibition pigeons barely capable of flight, and the destructive and notorious deeds of such continue to afflict many breeds today and always with the outright decimation of the breed's aerial abilities.

This fact is unfortunate in that a destructive oddball few with no respect for the breeds and their history whose actions harm the breed in question, also stunt the progress of the dedicated flier in that a much needed guide to true aerial type can never be formulated on an official basis, simply because the showminded are continually ready
to find the easy way to earn their glory through a cheap hunk of plastic or ribbon, when in reality, there is no greater glory or importance to the birds than their continued  preservation in the air, and as it should and must be, nothing else truly matters.

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