Rolling Backwards In The Sky

Birmingham roller pigeon (yellow), Scottish flying breeds show, 2007 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Eurasia is home to wild rock pigeons (Columba livia) where people domesticated them for food and fancy (Columba livia domestica). 10,000 years later there are a thousand different breeds. Some are pets. Some are messengers. Some are racing pigeons. But have you ever heard of stunt pigeons? Birmingham rollers? They were news to me last week.

Birmingham rollers are popular domestic pigeons that were first bred in Birmingham, England for their tendency to do backward somersaults in flight. Some of them spin so rapidly that they look like a plummeting ball but they recover and continue flying. Pigeon fanciers enter them in competitions with high points for multiple birds tumbling at the same time.

Much of this video is in slow motion show you can see how the pigeons move.

Some pigeon breeders have taken things a step further by selecting to the point where the rollers cannot fly, merely tumble backwards on the ground. Clearly these birds would not survive in the wild. (Compilation video includes footage from the one above.)

Knowing peregrine falcons as I do, I can imagine what one thinks when it sees a Birmingham roller in flight. Mmmm hmmm!

p.s. Thank you to Scott Young for telling me about Birmingham rollers.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

3 thoughts on “Rolling Backwards In The Sky

  1. Honestly, I’m not really sure how I feel about this. It would seem at first glance like these birds (and especially the ones that can’t even fly) has some sort of genetic neurological deficit. Is this behavior voluntary or involuntary? It seem involuntary based on the videos. If voluntary, does rolling/tumbling serve any purpose? Courtship display? But as for the birds that can’t fly, this is clearly maladaptive and almost seems like exploiting animals with genetic defects for our own amusement almost like the freak shows of the early 20th century.

    1. J, Wikipedia says it’s neurological and inherited. I don’t know if the birds do it voluntarily or not.

  2. Breeders, there’s an axiom which goes something like this: “Because you CAN, doesn’t mean you HAVE to.” Just sayin’.

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