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The Evolution of Show Pigeons
January 1999


By: Terry Bishop
Iíve heard the cries that our birds being bred and judged for today do not reflect the current written standard over and over by several different breeders, mostly by those regarded as ďOld TimersĒ. These opinions have got me to thinking. I mean really thinking. Why are they saying this, and where did it come from? After thinking this over, I have come to my own conclusion, and formed my own opinion which I will present to you here in this article.

Pigeon breeders historically have never been content to stand still. Whether you are breeding for performance in flying birds, or qualities in show birds, everybody is intent on trying to improve their birds. The one thing that is constant is change. The West of England Tumbler has changed since our current written standard was put in place. Whether the change was for the better or not is a matter of opinion, and another subject entirely. Still, the fact remains that the bird has changed. It has changed in the direction that the breeders have bred for, and the judges have picked for. It is something that obviously the majority have desired, or the change would not have come about. And that in itself makes the birds better.

Americans in general have always strived for their things to be bigger, prettier, fancier, and most of all better. The pigeon hobby is no exception. The Wests are certainly not alone in the change that has occurred in the birds. Most all of the major breeds that are actively bred in America have undergone changes, some of which have been very drastic. Take for example the English Trumpeter. These birds have changed dramatically from the birds that were bred and shown in the 60ís. These birds have thicker, fuller necks, taller and deeper crests, larger and stronger heads, and are shorter and lower set than they used to be. My dad judged the Trumpeters at the Pageant decades ago, and yet by his own admission would not be qualified to judge the birds of today. Why? Because the bird has changed so much. How many times do you think their standard has changed since the sixties? Iíll bet more than a time or two.

My Dad and I walked through the American Show Racers at the recent Roseville show because this is a breed we both have long admired. We noticed that the bird had changed a great deal since we last showed interest in them. We decided to approach a couple of the more prominent breeders to inquire about the breed. We were told that the standard was about to be changed. Why? Because the bird had changed. The birds being selected today are larger and have more reach in the head than the current standard calls for. So the winning birds being selected exceed the current standard. Sound Familiar? Is this wrong? I donít think so, as long it is the desire of the majority of those involved Are these isolated instances? I donít think so. The Kormorner Tumbler is a bird that I actively raised as a junior breeder. The Kormorners of today are vastly different that those birds I raised years ago. The crests are much higher and deeper, the heads are much broader and stronger, and selfs were unheard of back then. Their standard has changed because the bird has changed. If you ask the current top breeders, they will tell you the bird is better than it was before.

I was active in Show Rollers both as a junior, and later in life after getting out of the military. Those of you who remember, both flying and show rollers used to be one breed. It wasnít until after the bird had changed so much did the birds split into two different entities and a new standard was created. First the bird changes (in the direction the breeders want to go), then the standard changes to reflect the birds being bred and judged for. If you ask the current top breeders of Show Rollers, they too will tell you that the birds of today are far better than the birds of yesteryear. They are bigger, heavier birds with much thicker and fuller necks, and bigger, wider and stronger heads than ever before. The ones who complain about them are the ones who refused to change ( to go along with the desires of the majority), or the ones who gave up all together. Look at the Modenas of today versus the birds of decades ago. They are larger and rounder than they have ever been. Look at the Pouter/Cropper family of breeds. The globes of these birds are bigger and better than they have ever been. Look at the Fantails. The birds have actually gotten smaller, and yet the tails have gotten larger, broader, and flatter than they have ever been. Ask the top breeders of all of these breeds if they think the birds are better today than they used to be. I think for the most part you will hear a resounding YES!!! I could go on and on citing examples of breeds that have changed over the years - Nuns, Jacobins, Kings, Chinese Owls, Helmets, Domestic Show Flights, etc, etc.

All of these breeds have changed, and they have changed for the better. Why are they better? Because they followed the desires of the majority of the breeders and judges active in the breed. And once these birds changed so much that they were better than the current standard of the breed, the standard was changed also to reflect the desires of the breeders and judges of the breed. First the bird changed, then the standard changed to catch up with the bird. There are some pro-active clubs that have had the wisdom or foresight to see that the birds would constantly be changing, that they have set a standard that so far excels the current birds that it may take decades to reach the standard. Domestic Show Flights come to mind, and there are others. But these are exceptions, not the rule. Most breeds change first, and only then do they revise the standard to reflect the qualities of the birds being bred and judged for. So where does that leave us with our breed, the West of England Tumbler? Are our birds being judged to the current written standard? I donít think so, or at least not entirely. The are still some areas of the standard that still apply such as the points breakdown, etc. I wouldnít argue that point for a minute with anyone. That is exactly why we are currently revising the written standard of our breed. So what have we done in the mean time? What are we all breeding and judging to if not the written standard? Well, we are fortunate in Wests that we have an approved Standard Drawing. It is a visual image of what the majority of the active breeders and judges have been breeding for and selecting for. There is an old saying that ďa picture is worth a thousand words.Ē That couldnít be more true in the Wests today. There are some who have taken steps to ensure that this visual image has been promoted, so that the breeders wouldnít be left in the dark when deciding what to breed for. This has been especially important for those who donít have regular contact at the shows, etc.

The most obvious and most notable efforts have been those of Bob Shoemaker who puts this image on the fine awards he produces. He distributes these awards at all of the NWOETC shows including all of the district shows. This image is spread all over the country through these means. I have seen paper copies placed up at shows for all to see. I have seen this image placed in bulletins from the National club, the SCWOETC bulletins, and was even used extensively by Pete Price in his Go-Wests bulletins. I really donít believe anybody has been left in the dark. If youíve seen these visual images over and over, and youíve attended shows and watched the judges pick the same type of bird over and over, and you see what the top breeders are bringing to the shows over and over again, you should know what to breed and select for. Ideally, when the picture was approved and brought into use, the written standard should have been revised at the same time. The written standard and the picture should compliment each other as best as possible. For whatever reason (Iím not qualified to speculate), this was not done. I can tell you that the draft of the revised written standard goes very well with the picture, and when approved will alleviate the problem entirely.

Iíve yet to see a perfect West, but when the day comes you see several different birds by different breeders that start to closely approach the ideal (written and pictures), you can bet the farm that the birds will change again. In the mean time, is it fair to criticize the majority of the judges and breeders because of the birds we see being bred for and winning today? I donít think so. We live in a democratic society and belong to clubs run by the democratic process, where the views of the majority rule. The birds we see today are a direct reflection of the desires of the majority of those involved. If that was not true, the birds would still resemble the birds of yesteryear, and would not have evolved into the fine birds we have today. Competition is as close as ever, and the judges are as consistent as ever. Why? Because the majority of the active members are breeding for and judging for the same visual image. You can live in the past, refuse to accept the changes that have occurred, and complain because the birds donít resemble an obviously outdated written standard (that has been changed). Or, you can join in with the views of the majority, and breed for the fine breed we have in the West of England Tumbler today.

 Terry Bishop
The Evolution of Show Pigeons
January 1999


 
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