Circus Lofts

The Greatest Show on Earth

 Starting out with Flying Oriental Rollers

by Alan Bliven

Performance VS The Birmingham Roller

The most common question I get asked by the curious about Flying Oriental Rollers is if they can they perform like a Birmingham Roller? The answer is yes and no. 

They are not Birmingham Rollers and they do perform differently. The best Birmingham Roller can not perform like the true Flying Oriental Roller. But Flying Oriental Rollers could never compete against Birmingham Rollers with Birmingham Roller rules. The reason being they are two separate breeds, bred to do different things. It's comparing Apples with Oranges. The Flying Oriental Roller is bred to do many more things than a Birmingham Roller. The following is a list of many of them: Highflying, long flying, spiral and spin diving like Diver breeds. (In fact, the Donek and many other Diver breeds originated with the Flying Oriental Roller)..  Soaring, deep tail rides, propeller spins etc. The Birmingham Roller is bred for a different type of performance.

Flying Oriental Rollers don't just roll one way. They are very diverse in their performance. They might roll fast and deep one time and later in the same flight roll shallow and very frequent. A fast roll also looks different. It's like it rips the sky, as opposed to a fast gentle fall. I don't know how else to explain it.
Sometimes they will do a long 100 foot fast spin and turn around a few minutes later and do single quick flips, one after another in a straight row, and then do a long loose roll. And at other times they will do Propeller Spins. But most of their performance is fast rolling. 

Sometimes they Roll horizontally; rolls are briefly behind each other, one after another, very frequently and chaotic.

They also do stretched out deeper rolls with in-between pauses.

They also will Roll in a rising line and Roll in the rising line against the wind coming from the direction of the wind.

They are great divers and can be taught to dive as the diving breeds are. In fact most diving breeds where originally bred from Flying Oriental Rollers. It is a high flyer that returns to its loft in a death defying dive.

Another unique characteristic of it's performance is it's darting about during flight.

Another part that impresses me is the soaring when they are high. They look like eagles soaring, little or no wing movement, just soaring around and around through the air. Many times when called in to land they will soar down from way up there and land on the roof without hardly moving their wings all the way down.

Unlike Birmingham Rollers they are great flyers in the wind and even do better in the wind than a calm day. They are a Performance Roller breed that's also a strong and swift flyer. The reason being, they are very swift and strong on the wing compared to Birmingham Rollers and love playing the wind. The Flying Oriental Roller is known as "the king of the air."  I had a hen that flew with my Birmingham Rollers because I was homing her by taking out her first two primary flights and she could still out fly the Birmingham Rollers. In comparison, the Birmingham Rollers fly more like a butterfly, whereas the Flying Oriental Rollers fly like a lark. Flying Oriental Rollers can fly in winds that would put a Birmingham Roller into the trees (like 40 mph). And they actually perform better in a breeze than with none. You can see it in their wings. They have longer and stronger wings and you can feel their strength in the hand. 

Unlike Birmingham Rollers they are great at avoiding hawks. They are built specifically for evading the desert falcon in the Mid East. I am surprised more Birmingham Roller people that get eaten up by the hawks don't keep Flying Oriental Rollers too. Very rarely can a hawk catch a Flying Oriental Roller. If he does, you don't want him anyway. It's a natural way to cull. These birds should be able to avoid hawks, if they can't they are not worthy of being stocked. 

Notice the shape of the Flying Oriental Roller, it's not just for looks. Every part of that shape and size is there for performance.

It's best not to fly more than a dozen per kit if you desire good kitting.

Exhibition Oriental Roller vs the Flying Oriental Roller. 

Think of it this way. If you were breeding Birmingham Rollers for only exhibition and didn't pick your stock birds from the air for 20 years, how good would the performance of your stock be after those 20 years? You would have been breeding from many culls for the last 20 years. Plus, on the grounds that they are not breeding them for the flying type, they are breeding them for a type that will hinder performance, not help it. The show birds are bred away from the original type by breeding for more loose feathers and a "power" look.

Now, in Europe it's a different story. They also have show and flying birds, but they both have the same standard. The show birds are the same type as our Flying Oriental Rollers.

For this reason, in general there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the "Oriental Roller." The true FLYING Oriental Roller is a completely separate breed from the common OR we see in the states. The common breed is a show bird. The TRUE Flying Oriental Roller is rare here. But that's changing.

One of the most common misconceptions I find with these breeds is to lump all Oriental Rollers in with the show birds. That's why many people have a wrong conception of what a Flying Oriental Roller is. They have owned Oriental Rollers in the past or have had friends who had them and they were trying to fly the common show birds and as a result believe all Oriental Rollers perform as the show rollers do.

On October 4, 1999 the NPA board of directors voted on the acceptance of the Flying Oriental Roller as a separate and distinct breed from the show type Oriental Roller.

The AZ Pigeon Club has a standard for both breeds. The following is the standard for the FLYING Oriental Roller: and this next one is for the show type Oriental Roller:

I guess you could say their attractiveness in the show pen has been their greatest curse. It causes us to start breeding for looks over performance. But that's not the end of the story. There are some of us who have held down a standard of performance first and these strains are the true "Flying" Oriental Roller.

On the other hand, the same cycle is starting all over again with some breeding the Flying breed for type and color first as well. I guess they'll always be there. And then we have those who cross the two not understanding we have two breeds here. Or trying to get a "dual purpose" bird. The bottom line is not to judge a book by it's cover. In this case, the title on the cover says the same thing but the text on the inside has become two different books.

At one time the Helmet was a flying/performing breed but because of trophy hunters the performance has been lost in this breed. That's the same path the Oriental Roller is taking and the reason for the split within the breed. The idea is to preserve the flying/performance abilities of the Oriental Roller before it ends up like the helmet.

Here in the states there are different types and as I mentioned earlier, even two different breeds of Oriental Roller. Let me categorize and describe them.

1) The exhibition type birds you see in the shows. They originally were performing only birds but for countless generations they have been bred for exhibition ONLY and their performance has degenerated.

The type is also different than the others, being bigger and a more loose feathered bird. These are labeled as "Oriental Roller" and are exclusively found in America, mainly in Utah. Flying, performing and hawk evasion skills varies but most of them cannot perform as they once did when they were selected exclusively for their performance.

2) The Flying Oriental Roller designated as a separate breed by the NPA has two types. The first type is the type that is primarily bred for performance. Most of them are the Husband family and Ferholtz family, but there are some of the old mid east imports still around. The Husband family are those Dale Husband has been flying since the 30's which originally came from Kurdistan. The Ferholtz family was imported from Europe from the loft of Hartmut Ferholtz of Germany.

3) The second type of Flying Oriental Roller is the German exhibition type. They have been imported in the states and go under the name Flying Oriental Roller. They have almost the same type as the other Flying Oriental Rollers but they also suffer in performance but can fly much, much better than the American exhibition type because the Germans haven't deviated from the flying type standard like the Americans have. These birds look almost identical to the performance type but because of lack of selection from the air, their performance also suffers. So, just because a bird is a Flying Oriental Roller it does not mean it's a performance bird.


Flying Oriental Roller's are more complicated to train than Birmingham Rollers. Training the young birds is the best idea instead of trying to mess with older birds because older birds will get lazy if they haven't been trained first when they are young. Train all young birds as soon as they are weaned. Don't wait till you have a full kit or they will be too old and many will be lazy.

If you want good kitting, I would advise against trying to fly more than a dozen per kit. Flying them out of a Birmingham type kit box is the best way to go.

Have patience, Flying Oriental Rollers are a slow developer. They can be a challenge to get into the air and flying high. The reasons for this are the breed in general is slow to mature when compared to the Birmingham. Plus, most Oriental Rollers are quick to develop habits that are difficult to break.

A big mistake we can make is raising the young on too rich of a diet. If the young birds are too heavy going into the kit box they will be difficult to get into the air and will be prone to develop bad habits. A high protein and low carbohydrate feed mixture is best, this will give the birds good feathers and muscles without a lot of fat.

Since they are slow developers there is little advantage in weaning them too quickly. Keep the young birds with their parents until the bond is broken and then begin training.

They also do good when trained from portable lofts.

Diving is the way they like to naturally land but you can refine that with simple training. Fly them hungry and blow the food whistle when you want them to dive to the loft. They will dive down to land when they hear the whistle. It works best with just a few birds but you can experiment.

Feeding really depends on your family of Orientals. Straight wheat may make many families sky-out (fly too high) and be lost. But you can experiment with the food as well to see what works best for your family. I like giving my kit birds 50/50 Milo and wheat. The Milo holds them down a little while the wheat sends them higher. You have to watch out for them skying-out and getting lost.

They also are less likely to sky-out if you fly them in a breeze or even wind. Unlike Birminghams they are great flyers in the wind and even do better in the wind than a calm day. The reason being, they are very swift and strong on the wing and love playing the wind.

These birds were originally bred to evade the desert falcon of the mid east. But no matter how much it's in their genes they need to be in condition. They need to be mature and in great flying shape. You just can't start training squeekers in the middle of hawk season when your area is infested with them. It's best to train them during the off season and get them in great flying condition before exposing them to the Hawks.

They also need to be flown and breeding stock selected by their performance and Raptor evasion abilities (unworthy birds get eaten, itís natural selection at work) 

Part of the entertainment in keeping these birds is watching the Raptor's futile attempt at catching one. The gyrations they go through to get away is amazing. But if the raptor is inexperienced the birds don't even fly off they roof to avoid him, they will just fly to the other side of the roof as if they have a lot of confidence in their abilities.

Many times a Coopers hawk will attack while the birds are landing. But these birds are also a diving breed and will shoot down from the sky like a falling rocket and hit the roof at an amazing speed. That makes it very difficult for an ambush predator like a Coopers Hawk to snag one.

There are other breeds good at evasion as well and use different techniques. But the FOR is the only one I know of that is an excellent Roller and an excellent hawk evader at the same time. If there is another breed that fits this category, someone please let me know!

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