The Birmingham Roller in brevity
by Abel Diaz, 2015
A bird that can perform up to 10 backward somersaults per second? Yes, per second. Various things attract people to this type of pigeon, but what creates the most intrigue is their unique aerial acrobatic abilities. Many non-enthusiasts have heard of ‘roller pigeons,’ but what you will find is that many haven’t had the pleasure of seeing a great performing group of Birmingham Rollers in flight. When they do, they are usually awe-struck. A group of high class Birmingham Roller in flight will resemble a Cirque du Soleil show. The joy that comes from watching them perform can be compared to watching your favorite Olympic gymnast or athlete perform.
A “roller pigeon” is the general term used to describe a pigeon that rolls or performs a backward somersault maneuver, either during flight or on the ground. Thus, this generic term may be used to describe different breeds such as Tumbler, Parlor, Oriental Roller, and Birmingham Rollers. To be clear, this article is specific to the Birmingham Roller. The description of this breed deviates slightly from one source to another but conveys the same general idea. According to the book The Birmingham Roller Pigeon written by William H. Pensom, the Birmingham Roller is “noted for its exclusive ability to turn backwards and rotate with inestimable speed for considerable distances downward”. And, what many consider the standard for the Birmingham Rollers is “The true Birmingham Roller which turns over backwards with inconceivable rapidity through a considerable distance like a spinning ball”. Knowing how to differentiate between a subpar and a high quality Birmingham Roller is essential in obtaining and cultivating the highest class Birmingham Rollers.
In regards to the aerial performance pigeon breeds, the Birmingham Roller has no rival. If consistently flown, fed and trained to maturity, a high quality Birmingham Roller will roll with tremendous velocity and with what seems to be almost perfect coordination of movements (termed “style”) so as to look like a fast spinning ball. It will also perform with ideal frequency, depth and will display absolute control of its actions so as to prevent crashes while in flight or performing. This performance is not only stunning but very graceful.
Thus, we can extract five primary traits, four of which each vary in degree and the ideal combination of which represents a high quality Birmingham Roller. Stability does not vary and is the most important trait for the simple fact that if the bird cannot control the urge to roll, it will not be able to perform aerially and become a rolldown. It must possess stability, period. If a roller is a rolldown, the other traits become irrelevant. It is also cruel to continue to breed rolldowns if you can help it given that these birds may eventually hurt or kill themselves. With that said, the other traits listed in order of importance include velocity or the speed at which it rolls, quality or position the pigeon exhibits while rolling, frequency at which it performs, and depth or the vertical distance it travels while rolling. There are secondary traits that will not be discussed here which include kiting ability, type, character, position in the kit when rolling commences, etc.
As it turns out, all of the traits listed above are difficult to accurately measure. There are no tools used or internal accessories carried by the pigeons that measure for those traits so they are all estimated. Velocity for example is said to be measured by the estimated number of backward somersaults (rolls) executed either per a specified distance or period time such as seconds. The higher the number of rolls per feet or per second the faster the roller is. However, this rating is rarely described in those terms. When placing a value on velocity, assumptions of the number of somersaults per second are made based on the visual representation as the roller performs. A high velocity roller will turn over backwards approximately 8 – 10 times per feet/ second. Some rollers perform with such a high degree of velocity that their wings become blurred and seem to disappear which makes the pigeon look like a falling circular ball. This is said to be ideal velocity. Style, sometimes referred to as “quality”, describes the wing and general rolling posture while the pigeon is rolling and any deviation from vertically straight backward somersaults such as turning sideways or rolling at an angle is considered flawed. Rolling straight down with wings held upright resembling the letter H or A is considered ideal style. The pigeon must also begin and end its performance cleanly & gracefully without any odd positioning or twisting which is most noted at the end of an instance of performance. It must in a sense “snap out” of its roll and within a split second, revert to normal flight & returning to the kit. If those two criteria are met, the roller’s quality is rated high. A pigeon with a high quality roll will create the optical illusion of looking like the shape of a donut if looking at it from a side view while it’s performing (blurred ball displaying a transparent hole at center). Frequency is measured by the amount of times if performs per a specified amount of time. The ideal is if a roller performs once or twice a minute. The last of the four traits that vary in degree is depth. While the pigeon performs, it is also falling vertically & the distance it falls is termed depth. An ideal depth would be an estimated 20-30 feet. The minimum for competition in order to score is usually 10 feet or more.
Birmingham Rollers are flown as a kit and depending on their diet, approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour. A kit of yearlings is usually flown once a day and older kits are flown less frequently (3-4 times a week). When a kit is flown for a reasonable amount of time the pigeons instinctively develop chemistry amongst each other, sometimes referred to as kit chemistry, and will likely begin to perform simultaneously. This simultaneous performance tends to gradually increase as the kit becomes mature & the chemistry becomes greater. The term used for a simultaneous performance of 5 or more rollers is a “break”. To clarify, “simultaneous” in this context refers to a break in which subsequent rollers involved must begin performing within ½ second of the first, and that all continue performing together for a least ½ second. The less rollers involved in the break, the less impressive the break is (and less scoring in competition). The most impressive break would be one in which the whole kit breaks and is termed “whole kit break” or “full turn” which is extremely rare. There are also individual roller competitions in which the focus is on a particular roller within a kit. What you might find is that most of the time & when not involved in competition, Birmingham Rollers are rated for their individual performance by the fancier who fly’s or breeds them. For example, a Birmingham Roller which is being considered for stock will usually be rated with an emphasis on its individual performance followed by other factors such kitting ability, type, etc.
The Birmingham Roller is also noted for exhibiting various colors and patterns. The most common colors/ patterns are blue & red displaying the following patterns or modifiers: checkered, bar, self, spread, bald, badge, mottle and grizzle. Other sought after traits which may impact performance are type, size, feather quality, temperament and eye features. The lack of or quality of these and other traits represent the criteria used to judge rollers in show competitions.
It is evident that the Birmingham Roller is unique. Discuss them with non-enthusiasts and it very likely spark interest. No other bird exhibits similar aerial traits that are not directly tied to its ability to attain sustenance or procreate. Its abilities and variety of beautiful colors/ patterns along with its graceful manner make it one of the most popular breeds of pigeons. In addition, the comradeship that ensues within this hobby is significant and many times supersedes the source of the comradeship, the pigeons itself. Most recently, competitions such as the World Cup Fly have brought out the competitiveness of fanciers and fueled the hobby with energy. One can only hope that this great hobby continues to flourish for years to come and the cultivation of high quality Birmingham Roller pigeons continues.