Tuesday, June 03, 2014

TOP STORY >> World-class pigeons

Leader staff writer

Lonoke County resident Dave Hafner had his flock of Birmingham Roller pigeons compete Thursday in the prestigious World Cup Roller Fly international competition.

Hafner, co-owner of Fin, Feather-n-Fur taxidermy in Jacksonville, raises roller pigeons at his home on Kerr Station Road south of Cabot.

Roller pigeons are bred for their aerial-acrobatic performances. The kit (a group) of 20 pigeons fly from the coop into the air. They fly in a looping pattern overhead. Then, for some odd reason, they do backward somersaults, dropping several feet in the air until they fly out of the tumble and rejoin the group in flight.

Hafner represented the Missouri-Arkansas region of National Birmingham Roller Pigeons in the competition. The region has 20 competitors.

Four-time World Cup Roller Fly champion Heine Bijker of The Netherlands, arrived at Hafner’s home to judge his birds. Bijker was traveling the U.S. and Canada judging other roller pigeons for the competition.

“It’s just for bragging rights, no more than that,” Hafner said.

Several roller-pigeon breeders from across the state came to Hafner’s house to watch the judging.

Hafner’s birds were not up for the performance. They did not roll as a group but flipped individually, causing a low score. Perhaps they were affected by the rain.

Hafner said his interest in pigeons began when he was a youngster. He had wild birds as pets and was introduced to someone who had roller pigeons. He returned to roller pigeons after college.

“There are not very many of us anymore,” Hafner said.

Hafner has 70 roller pigeons. Hawks can be a big problem for breeders. They snatch the pigeons out of the sky because they are not fast and tumble. Hafner said his biggest expense is feed.

“Compared to golf, it is cheap,” Hafner joked.

According to the Arkansas State Roller Association’s website, roller pigeons originated in Birmingham, England, some 300 years ago. Competitions grew as British breeders wanted to see who had the best performers.

Bijker has been raising rollers pigeons and competing for 25 years. The sport does not have a large following.

“It’s too difficult and complicated for what we want our birds to do. We want to have 20 birds roll at the same time,” Bijker said.

Bijker said roller-pigeon owners have to choose if they want an individual performer or a group. The birds have to be bred to work together.

“You want a team, harmony, a family. The birds have to behave in the group at the beginning. If a bird fights, it’s out,” Bijker.

Bijker said the roller pigeons should be treated well for them to give their best performances.

He said some breeders believe in raising their birds in harsh conditions.

“They should look like athletes. They should not be starved or tortured. That doesn’t make sense. They should be in open lofts. They don’t have to be kept in dark boxes. A lot should change,” Bijker said.

A man from Oklahoma who raises roller pigeons was watching the judging.

“I’m still in awe when a pigeon starts rolling. What they do is incredible,” he said.

People interested in pigeons can contact the American Pigeon Museum and Library in Oklahoma City, which will have a grand opening June 13-14.