For decades now, the roller hobby has been plagued by friction and hostility with regard to certain issues. The aggressive and abusive nature of communications from some individuals have threatened the very core of the fancy since its inception. The impact of such discourtesy lives on like a dark cloud as more and more men join the ranks of non-participation in roller organizations; content to fly their birds for their own enjoyment in their backyards….in peace. It is, indeed, a tragedy when we lose a good man in the hobby because of this…and we have lost many. Among the most divisive of issues (and there have been several), none elicits more emotion than the issue of the nature of the True Birmingham Roller as it relates to breed outcrossing. Fraught with rumors, fears, ignorance, and suspicion, it has become difficult to separate science from illusion; and fact from myth. Let us join together in an effort to separate out these elements and to gain a better understanding of the nature of the True Birmingham Roller. The following is offered for your consideration for the purposes of clarification:
The Birmingham Roller appears to be the result of a series of breed outcrosses of the Oriental Roller, the Dutch Tumbler, and the Cumulet (reference, WHP, and The Yearbook of the United Roller Club, 1936-37). Today’s Birmingham Roller has evolved from a breed identified by the NPA and WHP as British High Flying Tumblers and Rollers (WH Pensom, The Feathered World, July 29, 1932) which gave rise to the Birmingham Roller and the West of England Tumbler (WH Pensom, Pigeons of England, September 10, 1930 and Arthur C. Karp, Pigeons of England, March 20, 1930).
The BR is clearly distinguished from Tumblers by a strict performance standard: ” Any Pigeon which can not turn over at least 10 times in a space of about four feet at the maturity of development , must be regarded as a common Tumbler. A roller , or spinner , as is often termed, and I think more descriptive, is a far different proposition and same is esteemed according to the distance it will roll and the velocity at which it rotates. ALTHOUGH OF THE SAME COMMON STOCK,THE ROLLER IS, TO SAY THE LEAST, A CULTIVATED TUMBLER.” page 10. The Birmingham Roller Pigeon WHP.
” We can therefor estimate, and without any exaggeration, that from the total number of BIRMINGHAM ROLLERS BRED, ninety percent are of no value whatever. A LARGE NUMBER OF THESE BIRDS DO NOT DESERVE THE TITLE OF BIRMINGHAM ROLLER AS THEY DO NOT POSSES THE NECESSARY QUALIFICATIONS.” page 65. The Birmingham Roller Pigeon WHP.
Pensom insisted that a Tumbler and a BR could, indeed, occupy the same nest : “Although these two types are of the same family, they are as distant in relationship as the two poles from a performing point of view; in fact; two distinct breeds.” (WHPensom, Feathered World of England, November 8, 1931.)
The performance definititon of the True Birmingham Roller continued to be articulated over the years as the fancy progressed in the US: ” To be worthy of the designation of BIRMINGHAM ROLLER, Pensom states the bird should roll straight down, like a falling ball, with inconceivable rapidity.” Ray Perkins The Birmingham Roller Pigeon, P.44 By WHP and others.
“ANY BIRD THAT ROLLS, is a Roller. If this Roller can perform to standard, it can earn the TITLE…. of a BIRMINGHAM ROLLER.” Ray Perkins, The Birmingham Roller P.45 By WHP and others.
The true spinner may have existed prior to this, but according to WHP, 1900 seems to have been the period when these higher-class birds were kept in the Black Country of England. (reference WHP, Birmingham Rollers, 1959.)
Rollers in the old days were judged individually on the distance they rolled, how they rolled, and the greatest number of times they rolled. If any bird gave a sign of a twist or change during rolling, it was disqualified.
(W H Pensom Feathered World of England, November 8, 1931.)
Regarding the performance of the Birmingham Roller, some are dangerous when coming to land. Any bird is apt to make mistakes. Your best and soundest pigeon may make a mistake no matter if they are three months old or three years old. (W H Pensom, American Pigeon Keeper, October, 1938)
From the time of its origin though the middle of the 20th century, there appear to have been a number of breed outcrosses with the Birmingham Roller of the day, for both performance (WHP outcrossed the Birmingham Roller to both Oriental Rolers and West of England Tumblers) and color (Indigo was found in rollers at about the same time), the latter including included Tippler Grizzle, Indigo and Dominant Opal. (reference Wendell Levi). This practice, and considering the genetic make-up of the parent breeds, resulted in an inevitable broad genetic diversity in the Birmingham Roller for feather color and type. While it improved the rolling qualities, these outcrosses also changed the character and type of the Birminghams. (Yearbook of the United Roller Club, 1936-37) Additional breed outcrosses have undoubtedly occurred in the latter half of the 20th century and continue in isolated lofts across the USA, today, working with such factors as Toy Stencil and Pencil .
In 1934, the Reduced-modifying gene began to appear in rollers, identified as the result of a genetic mutation. (Graef, reference-Levi).
The genetic factors for colors and modifiers in the general population of BR by the middle of the 20th century must have included those that were present in the parent breeds, in addition to the mutated reduced gene, as well as those introduced through breed out-crossing in the first half of the 20th century.
All BR were feather-legged at one time. (Quote from WHP, Question and Answers of WHP, November, 1963)
Pensom family Birmingham Rollers began to be imported into the US about 1947 although other families of Birmingham Rollers were imported into the US throughout the 20th century.
Due to the limited knowledge at the time in the field of genetics, and the lack of standard genetic vocabulary to describe colors and modifiers in rollers, it is logical to assume that genetic factors and modifiers may have been present and not identified in the general population of the Birmingham Roller in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.
As the science of genetics has improved and continues to expand, new genes for modifiers in the BR have been identified, such as Sooty, Smokey, and the alleles of Almond, Hickory and Sandy: and others will likely continue to be identified in the future.
Because of the ever-increasing number of generations of BR that have been bred since the first half of the 20th century, “throw back” offspring to the parent breed or any of the BR that were out crossed at the time for performance, or for color, are highly unlikely; though certain subtle traits and type characteristics may be displayed by individual Birmingham Rollers from time to time.
Certain families or strains of BR appear to have isolated them- selves from any further breed out crossing since the middle of the 20th century, and identify themselves as “pure” BR. The certainty of which BR strains or families that exist today can lay claim to the title of “pure”, cannot be determined beyond any doubt, although some, undoubtedly do exist.
There are few undisputable records, pedigrees, or genetic DNA tests available that can presently identify the genetic code of a BR, pure or otherwise.
It is also recognized, that the paramount importance of the pure strains of BR, in order to maintain the integrity of the breed, is supreme. Yet we must also acknowledge the basic nature of men, and the appeal of the challenge to improve the breed through continued out-crossing is likely to occur on a limited basis. It is also recognized that there exists, a remote possibility that breed out crossing may actually improve the performance or alter the esthetic value of feather color of the BR, to the betterment of the breed to some individuals in the future. While the rights of those individuals to conduct such test matings of their own accord should be respected, it is imperative that the progeny of these test matings not be infused into the general population of BR or misidentified as pure BR.
It is acknowledged that continued breed out-crossing of other breeds into the mainstream population of BR has the potential of expanding and diversifying the gene pool of the breed to the detriment of the performance and type standard that has been established for the breed, and is therefore, to be discouraged as a general practice in the roller hobby, except on a limited and isolated basis by those men who are astute and educated in the field of genetics.
Certain roller strains and families lay claim to the title of True Birmingham Roller, based entirely on the standard of performance defined by WHP. (WHP reference). Other families hold to the concept that in order to be a True BR, the family must also be “pure” based on pedigrees. There appears to be no compromise available in this description of families of rollers at this point in time. The disagreement of opinion on this issue appears to be based on the family of rollers one possesses.
It is acknowledged that the NBRC and WC, currently, maintain a performance standard of the definition of the BR, and accept all types of BR that qualify as such.
The most commonly held standard for type in the Birmingham Roller was established by W H Pensom in Pigeons of England , September 10, and October 4, 1930. “My ideal Roller, taken as a whole, must be well-balanced in all properties, a nice medium-sized bird with full, round chest, tail well shut; appearing as if it was only one feather; legs well-placed and rather short, with small feet and devoid of feathers, keel shallow to medium depth, nice round head, with yellow or white eyes surrounded by a very fine cere. The neck should be rather thick in keeping with the body. I like richness of color and regularity of markings. The feathers should be broad, fair length in wing tips, and these about half to three-quarters of an inch from the end of the tail. The secondaries should overlap and be a fair length; well covered with small feathers.”
It is, hereby, recommended that the roller hobby adopt certain vernacular and standards for the interaction with fellow roller enthusiasts, in order to promote mutual respect and fellowship among its members. First of all, Postulates I-XIX should be accepted and adopted by roller men as fact until such time as additional sources of information brought to light, may justify some modfication. Secondly, that those families of BR that perform according to standard, and whose type is standard; yet acknowledge that a breed outcross occurred somewhere in the history of the family, and that sufficient generations (7) have been bred so as to pass the genetic test for the return to the Birmingham type (WHP Pensom Roller Club book, article dated 1945), having met the established performance definition and adhering to the scientific basis of breed-outcrossing, shall henceforth be known as Birmingham Rollers. Furthermore, those families of BR in which breed outcrosses are currently being made…of less than seven generations and in the later half of the 20th century; henceforth, shall be known as Experimental or Project Birmingham Rollers. In the future, any reference to any families of Birmingham Rollers in such derogatory terms as “mongrels” or “mutts” or the breeders of any families as “purists”, or “pedigree men”, or “color-breeders”, will be viewed as deliberate antagonism with intent to impugn the reputation of the flyer and his family of rollers. Internet roller sites should immediately begin to enforce a zero tolerance for the use of such terminology in any posts on their roller forum sites. In so doing, we would set a new standard for the public conduct of roller men for the betterment of the roller hobby.
It is recommended that each and every member of the hobby adopt the following ideal in the breeding and flying of the BR:
“The Birmingham Roller, bred to meet the True Birmingham Roller standard of performance, has the highest value and worth and should be so prized by the owner.”