Oriental Rollers

By H. P. Macklin (1954)

Here of late it appears most of my pigeon subjects have such interesting histories that it takes two issues of the A.P.J. to get the facts covered. Such is the case of the Roller Pigeon, on which I found much material. First, I want to give you the history of this variety as written by Von Freisberg of Hamborn, Germany. Herrn Freisberg was President of the Roller Club there and this translation comes from the 1925 edition of my German pigeon book.

The Oriental Rollers belong to the class of medium beaked Tumblers. Its home is in the Orient and it came to Germany from India and Persia where it was popular in the coastal and inland ports of the Black Sea. From there the variety was brought by ships, around 1870, to Trieste and thence by land still further into north and western Europe.

The exact origin prior to this is not ascertainable but it is strongly felt that the port cities of Smyrna and Little Asia played a large part in the beginning of the Oriental Roller. One proof of this location is the address of a Greek naturalist fancier who lived there. This man sent many Rollers to Germany with ever so many going later by boat from Hamburg to England. Also, these pigeons appeared, a few at a time, over the land routes from Greece and the Balkans thence to Germany. Later, letters from members of the Club in Smyrna were received and this bringing together of ideas made it possible for the German fanciers to understand more fully and to distinguish the different kinds of Rollers in their homeland, where there are many kinds, which are very similar.

The main thing was the production of excellent air performers with much value laid on possibly beautiful and colorful feathers and tails of above normal feathering. However, from all these different varieties, the Smyrna (Oriental) Roller was about the only one brought into Germany. Its high flying ability and excellent aerobatics made it a favorite. The Oriental Roller comes in the following colors:
A---Selfs in black, blue, blueblack, blue checkered, larked, light silver, red, blue yellow and white.
B---Two colored like blue-black with silver cocks; silver-blue with red neck and bars; White flights, Whitetails and spangled.
C---Four colored or Almonds
Other Rollers popular in the Orient are. The Persian Roller; Crested and muffed only, in all the main colors. Most popular in White, Rolls and tumbles, not popular in Europe but seen often in Russia. Related to the Indian Floor Roller. The Cesaria Roller; From the territory of Skutari, in all colors, muffed, smooth headed, with a long beak which is strongly bent on the end, with an oil gland and many feathered tail. The Turkey-Asiatic Roller: Only in
yellow, red, blue and silver-blue, with a high carried tail, remindful of a Fantail. The Bukowina Roller: It is a decendant of the Smyrna Roller and a European Tumbler variety, predominantly bred in the neighborhood of Czernowitz. In appearance this variety resembles the Oriental in most points. An excellent high flyer and stunter. Unfortunately this variety was made practically extinct during the war. (1918).

So much for the German history on the Roller. Now I want to jump back in history to 1875, which time the Roller has become a favorite in England. I did not intend to include this but I found is so interesting I changed my mind. It is written by Ludlow, the famous artist, judge and fancier of England, for Fulton's Book of Pigeons. It is interesting to note that at this period of history the Birmingham has still to created into the well known breed it is today. Following is what Mr. Ludlow has to say about the Roller Pigeon: The number of pigeons which come under the head of Flying Tumblers are, in regard to numbers and peculiarities, almost incalculable; indeed, throughout the civilized world I (Ludlow) may safely say Tumbler pigeons are known, and in most places appreciated, but in Great Britain alone so great is the love of them that the number is legion. The most important varieties may be reckoned at about 30 recognized sorts- color and markings constituting the chief differences amongst them. The whole family may be divided into two sections; those with dark flights, and those with white wings. These can be either heavy muffed, light muffed, grouse muffed or clean. The temperament of these birds is quiet and contented. They make themselves happy and comfortable either high or low, in the garret or cellar (for I have known a good kit of fliers cellar-bred), or any quarters, provided they partake of liberty's feast at least once a day.

The following is a brief description of each; sub-variety and the peculiarities by which they are known and distinguished; Rollers are those which at every exhibition of their rolling powers pass through an unaccountable number of backward evolutions or somersaults, in such quick succession as to appear like a falling
ball. Most fanciers are satisfied if they come through the kit as a ring, but when they appear in a solid form, it is known their convolutions are performed with still greater velocity. A good Roller should fairly roll 20 feet. There are lots who descend by a series of treble or more somersaults to a greater distance, but the most perfect complete a long descent in one spinning bout. Tumblers are such as fly and roll, frequently taking 1,2, or more backward evolutions as up they go and at every turn. Tipplers should merely throw a single somersault, and this very frequently; but any more (or less) is sufficient to cause him to be "plucked" at the earliest opportunity. Mad Tumblers are those possessing the propensity of tumbling to an extraordinary and uncontrollable and almost unaccountable degree, such as, if liberated, even in a room will be likely to strike against some object and fall a lifeless victim of their own strange habit. Twizzlers are by some fanciers thought very interesting in their mode of operation, which action consists of a sideways spinning or pirouette movement, at the same time as the general flock take their "turns" . For my own part, I (Ludlow) consider this movement an imperfect attempt of probably good birds to work well.

Upon being liberated and started up, the Rollers gradually rise to a compact body, now flying in a uniform and regular manner steadily rising as they go, and at every turn of about 3 minutes interval the whole lot will "go off", as it were, simultaneously, like a sudden burst of fireworks, every bird passing through his evolutions clearly and well, and on the completion and recovery from each of these aerial circumgyrations the disordered flight speedily reunite. The Orientals, which generally fly alone and to the front of the flight, by reason of their extraordinary series of evolutions at each exhibition, may be seen falling through the busy mass like spinning balls, even to a considerable distance beneath the lot; then with a strange and dexterous movement----wings outstretched and rudder out spread----they 'catch themselves' as it is termed---- steady themselves----and upon regaining their equilibrium, speedily ascend to the busy company above and describe their circles again and again.

I (Ludlow) have heard it said of birds that habitually complete their day's fly with a long roll of say 15 to 20 feet and with a dexterous stop within an ace of a bang against chimney roof, 'Ah! He rolls with his eyes open'. Now, although I should not like to say positively that they do not roll with open eyes, still I am inclined to believe at least most of their ordinary efforts are passed through with a clear vision; yet of course, in some of the more wonderful rolls, the bird becomes somewhat giddy or stupefied, on account of the rapidity or velocity at which he revolves, and thus partially, or it may be entirely loses his powers of vision. Still, those fanciers who habitually fly large numbers of performers together, will know that the notwithstanding the close and compact space in which they all moved, and the regularity and unity of action, and the rapidity of those simultaneous movements, that a collision is almost unknown even as an accident; but if they perform with closed eyes, frequent contact would be inevitable.

Again much speculation has been made as to whether or not this singular of tumbling or rolling is an involuntary one. In the case of "mad" mainly Tumblers, the action is I believe, an involuntary movement over which they have little, if any, control; and this excessive propensity arises from the desires of fanciers to propagate "long rollers" (or other kinds which possess the peculiarity to an eccentric degree) by mating the extraordinary ones together, and also by close breeding, thereby obtaining progeny in each case possessing to a still more remarkable degree and in a concentrated form the peculiarities of their parents, until they really cannot venture a foot from terra firma without endangering their lives by striking forcible against any object that may chance to be in their way. Such, indeed are mad Tumblers. But those kinds that can sustain along flights and perform freely, must have control over the natural tendency, for were they unable to exercise any such powers there would be no unity of action in a flight of them, no simultaneous acrobatic movements such as is the case with good fliers, but each bird would be propelled or guided by his own involuntary agency, and aerial collisions would be of frequent

The accompanying engraving is a correct representation (Orientals) of a very remarkable species of pigeon, which it may be truly said far excels all European Tumblers or Rollers in at least their aerial performances, for although they cannot lay claim to our consideration as beauties, they certainly cannot fail to attract our attention, and receive our admiration, as perfect wonders in their acrobatic feats up aloft. These singular looking and remarkable birds hail, from an Eastern clime, as their name denotes, but they are by no means a numerous breed, even in the place of their nativity. The majority however (in their pure and uncrossed state) are to be found in parts of Turkey, Greece and far away into the interior of Asia Minor, at which place they are held in the highest esteem as 'top fliers' or 'leaders' of large flights, which are generally a mixed or miscellaneous composition of non-tumbling birds, above which they delight to soar for hours together.

The illustration represents a Black and an Almond-feathered bird. It is some what singular to relate, that all the Blacks have white, or rather pale flesh, colored beaks, with a simple tip of black upon the point of the upper mandible. The Almond-feathered ones are not so rich or variegate as our "Almond" proper, but rather more closely resemble an "Almond-Splash", the actual almond ground tint being altogether absent in some and more or less apparent in others, but rarely so rich or conspicuous. There are, in fact, all colors and white included. Duns also are to be found and I have heard of some wonderful performers clad in this last named dingy tint; but Oriental Rollers are not judged by any color or markings. Their miraculous acrobatic feats, evolutions, or gymnastic revolutions in the clouds alone are enough to win the estimation of those who admire good Roller pigeons. I may say that great length and hollowness from neck to tip of tail is a most desirable feature and such is (apart from a tail) one of the best signs of quality. The birds posses an elasticity of form which is quite uncommon, and whilst trotting about in search of food or after taking a refreshing draught, they will raise their tails, and thus hollow their backs to a strange degree. Another remarkable feature in them is that the little pointed oil gland immediately above the tail (common poultry and most kind of pigeons) is not to be found in any pure birds of this breed, which is quite destitute of this common characteristic. The tail also is peculiar and quite uncommon. It is long, and composed of from 14 to 22 feathers, 16 being about the average number in these birds. The greater the number of quills in Oriental Rollers the more the specimens are valued.

Oriental Rollers do not care so much about the close companionship of other pigeons, even of the same loft or pen and never mix with them or any others when flying. On liberating the entire flock, the common habit of pigeons that are regularly flown is to gradually commence their upward journey in a circular manner, until the highest altitude is attained, but not so the Orientals. They will probably find first the highest point of their own or neighboring habitation and for a few moments perch thereon, and from this place they bolt in a straight line, just in a similar manner as would a good Homer, with his destination in view and for a time those unaccustomed to their ways would be inclined to say, it is not so. Those who know them best know full well "their little game" and contentedly away the interval. Sometimes a little town is passed over, but usually about 5 to 15 minutes elapse between the bolt and their reappearance mountains high and yet mounting, at which, time they appear more in the fashion of Rollers, but still avoiding the flock entirely until the highest point is reached; then recognizing their own loft companions by assuming an exalted position above them, they follow over them whenever they go and now, at this stupendous height, the fun begins. Not that there have not been a few paroxysms already, but it is simplicity itself in comparison to what complete revolutions are passed through when the maximum height is attained. They then fly gently and easily not in circles, but hither and thither, with a slight jerking appearance and now and again whizzing over and over with great velocity until they descend to the common flock beneath, then to out vie each other, for they really seem each time to regain their positions as it were to make further efforts to do something on a still more extended scale; and this is the way these birds can comfortably pass two or three hours in the realms of space. Like some of our British "top sawyers" so it is with the Orientals; the best bit occurs at or shortly before the drop-scene. When tired of the upper regions, and hungry, they are "homeward bound", they then, with extended wings---like a hawk over a mouse---appear to gauge the distance between them and home and down, down they come like a falling ring, with a series of rolls, more elaborated, if possible, then before, until at length terra firma is regained, Orientals have developed the homing faculty to more than an ordinary degree and are not easily lost. (To be continued next month)