The National Birmingham Roller Club is an outstanding organization that’s been promoting the Birmingham roller as a flying and performing breed since 1961. The club was formed by several unique men, that took pride in the aerial antics of this little pigeon. Men like Bill Pensom, J. Leroy Smith and Buss Lutes with a board of directors including Ralph Hilton, Russ Harter, Howard McCully, Stan Plona, Hans Roettenbacher, John Spuria and Dick Stephens. These men promoted the Birmingham Roller at every turn, with every opportunity, they shared their knowledge and love for the birds. The Birmingham roller would not be such a popular breed of pigeon with out the work of these men.
Now at the helm of this wonderful organization is a man named Don Macauley. Don has a passion for these little birds, you can feel it as you read his reports in the NBRC bulletins. His love for the hobby is portrayed not only from his writings but also from his actions where he is always a good example of fairness and generosity. Don regularly donates his time,birds and knowledge for the betterment of the hobby.
The Utah State Roller Club members share his love for the Birmingham rollers. So I have asked Don to share some things about him and his birds with our members. I Thank Don for taking the time to answer my questions.
1-Tell us about yourself where you live, work etc.
I am 53 years young and born and raised in Las Vegas, Nv. I have lived here all my life. I have my wonderful wife Lynette, and my 21 year old son Richard. My wife is very supportive of my hobby. I didn’t have the rollers until we were married about 6 years but she has supported me along the way. My son Richard keeps me grounded with the birds. He is very knowledgable in pigeon genetics and has a great eye for type in rollers and is the common sense of our roller program! I couldn’t be more blessed with my wife and son. I was a Union Carpenter out of High School and then had my own landscaping business as I love working with my hands, but I ultimately got into the casino industry and am now in my 29th year at the company I work for. I am the Surveillance Director at 2 casino properties here in Vegas.
2- Tells us about your birds.
My orginal birds came to me in late 1993 from Doug Ouellette in a round about way. Long story so won’t go into that. This was my start in rollers. I then acquired some of Don Ouellette’s birds thru Doug. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was extremely fortunate to have acquired this high quality roller stock. Not the easiest to manage and fly, especially for a beginner, but I quickly discovered that there isn’t anything easy about flying quality rollers, and it you want the best then the harder it gets! I am still trying to do the Ouellette birds justice! I also have some Tim Decker birds, very nice quality, and some Randy Gibson and Willie Wright birds. In 2011 I acquired a few pair of Steve Smith/Sal Ortiz birds that have produced very well for me too. I also have some odd birds from different guys here and there in my loft. While I get nice quality out of all these lines, the Ouellettes are still my favorites as the best of these take your breath away. I can get blur speed out of any of these familys, but the rare Champion spinner that shrinks up into a small ball with extreme blur speed is what takes my breath away. I have seen only a handful of these in the air, and the best I have seen are the Ouellettes. I have one hen in particular that was never any deeper then 15′, she appeared to stand still when she went into a spin. I can still envision her in the air. And lots of guys under my kits at the time never really spotted her as they were more fixated on the deeper birds that were seperating from the kit on the breaks. This type of spinner is extremely rare. She has produced some very high quality ones for me, but I was not able to get her to reproduce herself in the air. I am hoping to see another like her before my roller days are up! I think the word “Champion” can and is used too loosely in this hobby. To me, this hen is the Secretariat of rollers that I have seen.
3- I know you have a passion for the roller pigeon. What are some of the ways you promote them?
When answering this question I realize I have been more of a supporter of the hobby then a promoter, though support is promoting in a sense. I fly in the World Cup and NBRC Fly every year that I have been able to, regardless to whether I feel my birds are competitive or not. Birmingham Rollers are a performing breed. Flying and performing is what I feel these birds were made for. Developing that champion spinner or performing kit is what I strive for. I attend a number of lawn shows each year in California and donate framed roller pictures and birds to support those clubs. I donate birds each year to the NBRC and World Cup auctions, and I band NBRC and have been a member since I got into rollers. I have been a Regional Director for the NBRC and World Cup a number of times, and now serve as NBRC President and interim Fly Director, as well as our WC RD for Southern Nevada. We hosted the 2011 NBRC convention here in Las Vegas, and I organized the World Of Wings Pigeon Musuem fundraiser last year. We are having our 5th annual Tribute to Pensom Lawn show this year. We make it a family event with coloring contest and jumper for the kids, and a free women’s raffle for the ladies. We also bring in William Pensom’s granddaugher Karen Work and she displays memorobilia of her grandfather’s and others. Nice and rare chance to see this roller history. And most recently we are seeing fundraisers for individuals in need. I support and donate toas many of these as feasible. When I first got into rollers it was all about the birds, but as I gained more and more friends in the hobby I quickly realized fellowship and those friendships were much more important to me. A Champion bird is very hard to obtain from egg to stock loft, but Champion type friends are much harder to obtain and replace. I value my friendships made in this hobby much more then my birds. I support the NBRC and volunteer my time and efforts to our national club as if it wasn’t for the NBRC, I wouldn’t have met these friends, shared the fellowship, and be in this hobby that I love. Rollers and this hobby have become a way of life for me. I do have, or have been given, a number of ways to promote our hobby and I hope to be able to work on those in the future. Right now with the dual role as NBRC President and Fly Director, I am afraid my volunteer time for rollers and the hobby is stretched. My hope is that a Fly Diretor will come forward as I ony have 1 year left as President and feel I can accomplish more in that role if I don’t have to carry the load of both positions. Once my term as President is over I will remain active in whatever capacity I can with the NBRC, as well as be able to work on some new ways to promote and make our hobby even more enjoyable. A youth program is something Guil Rand and I have worked on in the past and still hasn’t been implemented into the NBRC. One of my main goals for 2013!
4- Your son Richard is also involved in the hobby. When did he start with the birds, and do you both work with the same birds?
My son Richard always had a interest in all birds. But I think he really got the roller bug at about age 6 when I took him to his first lawn show, the Pensom Memorial Show at the Pomona Feed Store put on by the CPRC. Jerry Higgins was the auctioneer and I remember my son sitting down right in front of Jerry the entire auction. While spending time with my good friend Randy Gibson and the late great Doug Brown,who both are walking encyclopedias when it comes to pigeon genetics, my son and I learned alot about this. My son retained more then I at his young age. We would be at someone’s loft and they would be showing us a bird and what it is out of, and my son would tell them that is not possible and ask if they bred open loft. The answer would be yes but I know what my bird is out of and don’t tell me different! Not many guys wanted a 9 to 12 yr old kid telling them what their birds are out of! My son would get very frustrated. Guys like Jerry Higgins, Randy Gibson, Tim Decker, and the late Doug Brown always took time to listen to my son and answer his questions. My son keeps me grounded with my birds and I can always rely on him to do so. We work together on the birds, but he wants certain birds bred for him so that after college and when the time is right, he can work with the birds he selected rather then out of my breedings only. Smart young man!!!
5- What is one of your favorite roller moments?
My favorite roller moment is at the convention in the 90’s hosted by CPRC. Frank Lavin was inducted to the Hall of Fame. I remember a huge standing ovation when he was given his plaque. I to this day haven’t seen such a loud response to such a award, and this response brought tears to Frank’s eyes, as well as many grown men in attendance, including myself. Frank, now in his 80’s, continues to support our hobby and I have corrosponded with him a number of times.
Another great moment I will add, as it hits close to home for Utah, is when Guil Rand stopped at my place with the late and truely great Paul Bradford in the 90’s. It may have been on the way back from Utah from the same convention above. I had visited Paul in Salt Lake City prior to this and I believe I drove him crazy with questions. But he was very patient and also gave me a few birds. Now this legend was in my backyard under my kit and says to me ” you got some real good ones up there”. Paul’s patience and consideration to me as a roller rookie I will remember and treasure forever.
6- Being the NBRC President puts you in the “Lime Light” of the hobby. I have seen how you have shared your passion for the birds in your writings. How else have you used this to improve the hobby?
Going into my term as President I had so many ideas to improve the hobby. I figured I could do one or two proposals a month so I could get a minimum of 30 improvements implemented. But once elected I had 14 vacant Regional Director spots to fill and a Fly Director spot as well. This took me into late February to accomplish. The Executive Committee wasn’t in place and active until near the end of March. Then in June the Fly Director resigned as we started making a schedule. I was unable to find a willing replacement so I took on that responsibility as well. Overall a positive experience as I learned first hand about our National Fly, mostly good and very little bad, but time consuming and really stretched my time available for the hobby. So has been a challenging first year as President. I think a very good foundation has been laid as I move forward thru my term. We have a very good Executive Committee with a blend of veterans and newer members. I make my self available to all members and use a open line of communication. I am very direct and share my ideas openly and in detail in my bulletin submissions. I feel that I have kept things positive and met the challenges so far head on. We had a great convention and National Fly. We had very successful internet auction that shows us that we can support our events with fundraisers and thus control membership costs. So I hope my efforts have shown that I am committed to do the best I can as President, and no obstacle, such as having to take over as Fly Director, will stand in the way towards that goal. Looking for some more significant acccomplishments in 2013. How much I can improve the hobby during my term will be judged by the members.
7- Seeing as many kits and birds that you have, are their any that stay in your mind as being outstanding?
The best kit quality-wise I have ever seen is in my backyard. I have had several world class performances out of my birds, but I was the only person there to see it! The one time that my kit was putting on a world class performance in our NBRC regional fly the falcon spoiled that at the 7 minute mark! And the worst kit I have seen is also in my backyard! There are 3 kits that I have seen outside my yard that I vividly remember. The best team of rollers I have seen was at Robert Parker’s in the mid-90’s, the year he won the World Cup. This was on a CPRC Fly and his kit broke together in unison consistently and clean in and out of the roll. Smooth stylish birds that were very good. What impressed me most about this team is how they broke together and consistently rolled the same depth overall, about 25′ to 30′. This kit was like a bunch of simultaneous yoyo’s with the same length of string. Not the fastest I have seen, but the best teamwork and kit chemistry from start to finish.
One time at Tim Decker’s there were a bunch of guys on a fly. It was windy and Tim’s birds got blown away some at first. After about 15 minutes most everybody left to head to the next flier. I stayed to visit more and watch his kit. As they worked their way back over his house and had the wind figured out, all of the sudden they started breaking big with back to back to back breaks. This went on for about 10 minutes and the more they broke the better the quality became. This is the most impressive sustained display of quality spin at a high work rate that I have ever seen. These birds were going only about 20′ but 3 times a minute with buzzsaw speed! My jaw still drops when I think about this performance!
The third kit that comes to mind was at Eric Schoelkopf’s place in San Diego area. Eric put up a team of quality spinners with 40′ to 50′ depth. I have never seen a kit work this deep together and hold the quality of their spin for that depth. A couple outbirds didn’t allow a huge score, but very impresssive deep quality team.
8- What does the hobby do for you? The hobby keeps me young and like a child. I always was known as the bird nut as a kid. I spend time with my rollers each morning before starting my day of work and family time. The birds keep me grounded and are like therapy for me each morning before facing the real world. Having rollers also keeps me disciplined and focused, 2 key qualities needed to take these birds to a high level and meet the challenges of trying to reach that level- as well as 2 qualities needed to be successful at work and in life. I enjoy life all together, but as far as time to myself I enjoy nothing more then laying on my loung chair in my littie paradise in my backyard and watching a nice performance by my birds in the air, especially the young teams as they start to show their potential. This hobby also has provided me many great friends and I value those friendships more then the birds, though at times I may not act like it!
9-In your opinion do lawn shows hurt or promote the roller as a performer? I attend 6 or more lawn shows a year in Southern California. Over the years I have seen many different judges consistently select the same type of birds as winners in the classes shown. And that type is representative of what the best performing rollers should look like. It is amazing to me how consistent most these judges are in selecting the winners based on performance type. While we don’t know what these winners do in the air, As long as the birds shown are judged by this representation of performing type, rather then moving towards a show bird type standard, then showing these birds as Birmingham Rollers is a good thing. Now showing birds can become a little of a beauty contest in a sense, but rightfully so. After all, it is a show and those that take the time to get their birds in show condition typically win, but typically beauty only wins with correct performance type And with the ever increasing bird of prey situation causing more and more in our hobby to lock their birds down for longer and longer lengths of times, these lawn shows provide a alternate way to enjoy our birds. Most importantly, these lawn show are about fellowship and sharing our love for our hobby. I have made so many friends at these shows and many of them I only see at these shows. The auctions at these shows are fun and usually a chance to pick up some good birds for a better price then say a internet auction. Over the years I have bought many auction birds -too many! And I have gotten some junk as well, especially in years past. But I have seen a tremendous improvement in overall quality of birds donated at these shows. I think the vast majority realize there is no benefit to donating your culls to your club show and risking that club’s reputation by doing so. I enjoy these shows as they are fun and also give me a boost and rejuvination for the hobby as at times we can get loft blind and a little stagnant spending time just in our backyards and watching our own birds.
10- What do you feel the hobby needs right now to keep it moving forward? I feel our hobby needs to be more understanding, respectful, and considerate to each other. We all have our opinions, and many of us very strong opinions!, but that doesn’t mean our opinion is always right or the only way to be part of this hobby and to enjoy the hobby. We need to be open-minded towards all aspects of our hobby. We also have to make sure we don’t let the internet become more of a negative tool then positive for our hobby. The actions and words of a tiny minority on some of these internet sites can overtake these sites and have a strong negative affect, if we let it. But the majority on these sites are positive and we need to make sure and focus on the positives, learn from the negatives to make those positives, and be respectful to everyone’s age group and backgrounds. We also need to get more programs in place to get the youth involved in our hobby. At the same time, our hobby is a great one and not as broken and disfunctional as some may think. We need to remind ourselves why we are in this hobby, and that is to have fun and share a common interest and love for our birds.
11- Any tips for the new fanciers? The best tip I have for new fanciers is to be patient. I can’t emphasize that enough. Don’t be like me and gather birds from all over. Take your time and visit lofts, be observant of loft setups and birds. See the birds in the air. Before jumping in full steam ahead, ask yourself if you are ready to make the commitment it takes to keep birds, let alone a performing bird that also needs to be flown besides raised. Take it slow. I recommend getting a kit first and try flying it. This is the best test if you are ready for Birmingham Rollers. Find a mentor near you if you can that has birds you like. Be PATIENT! You will have to prove yourself to this mentor or your local group before they are willing to give you the best birds. And make sure and keep it fun, especially if you start competing. I had point where I got way too serious in competing and sucked the fun out of the hobby. No ones fault but my own. I took a break from competing until I got my proper perspective back and could put the word FUN before the word WIN. A hobby should be a way to have fun and get away from the challenges of the real world. Keep it fun!
12- Any tips for the long time hobbyist? For longtime hobbyist I also say be patient. Be patient with the newcomers and up and comers. Remember you were there once yourself! Share your knowledge and passion for the hobby. A high level of knowledge in this hobby can only be gained by experience, and knowledge gained by experience is so much more valuable then book or internet knowledge. Be open minded to new ideas and ways to enjoy the hobby. The older we get the less accepting we can be towards change, but change is part of life no matter what age and making it positive is the best way to accept change.
13- I know you have a passion for almonds, tells about them, and any other projects you may be working on. My passion for Almonds mainly comes from the fact that my foundation cock was my old Hugo Blaas cock that got me started in this hobby. It was Hugo’s phone number on the band of this cock that I called and found out what rollers were all about. I got a near white Almond from James Turner that was a nice spinner and bred it to the Blaas black white flight cock. They produced a outstanding 30′ spinning Almond cock for me that became the foundation of my Almond project. He is in a 1996 bird in retirement. I have a son that has taken his place. I have produced some very nice spinning Almond hens but few Almond cocks. nothing like the 1996 bird was in the air. I haven’t bred many Almonds lately. The falcon took 7 or 8 I bred in 2010, so I stocked the last son that was coming in snappy. Falcon seems to like that color best! I don’t have many other color projects as I used to. A few Andulusians from Randy Gibson that he has spinning as good as any roller. I also have a few barless from Scott Laufer that I am playing with. Got a couple in the air spinning nice. I do enjoy breeding the color birds and seeing what comes out of the nest, and do miss that aspect. But these color breedings are definitely called projects for the right reason! It is challenging enough to try to breed top quality spinners regardlss to color. But as I retire and have more time I will play around with color a little more.
14-Last thoughts? Well, I see I have gotten quite lengthy so not much to add. Everyone enjoy the hobby, and I appreciate the friendships I have made and the support I have been given in my current role as President and Fly Director. Your club in Utah has shown longevity and growth and is a great model and example of what a roller club should be. I look forward to being able to visit some of you folks in the future. Thanks for asking me for the interview. I am honored to be chosen to do so.