The Birmingham Roller as taken from the ASRA.
Origin - England, in and around Birmingham. The exact date of origin is uncertain. Fulton (1876) mentions it in one line. Charles Leinhard of Cincinnati, Ohio imported the breed into the United States in the late 1870’s; it was advertised in 1879. The birds used in the creation of the Birmingham Roller are uncertain, for there is a lack of contemporary literature. Lydell (1887) in England said it occurred in both clean legged and muffed in many colors and patterns and listed them by name. Lydell thought the Birmingham Roller was descended from the Dutch Tumbler described by Moore (1735).
Description - It is an air performer which should roll, that is, perform backward somersaults in a continuous and unbroken sequence, at the same time losing altitude. It is a neat pigeon with fairly tight feathering and carry its wings neatly folded upon it tail. (There have been some specimens that demonstrated droop wings and many believe it was due to a more recent out-cross. Droop wings are also a characteristic of the Oriental Roller which is believed by many to be a part of the development of the Birmingham Roller).
Size - Small, average weight of cocks about 9 ½ ounces; hens about 8 ½ ounces. Weights vary in different strains in the United States. Its wings, tail, and legs are well proportioned for flight and acrobatics.
Ornaments - It is plain headed and should be clean legged. Some specimens may have been grouse legged, or small muffed, but clean legs are usually desired, especially for the show room. (You will find specimens having large muffed feet and crests or peaks on the head. Many believe these are due to recent out-crosses and/or breeders breeding for this trait and not for performance, mostly found in the United States.
Colors - It is bred in most colors and patterns: selfs in black, dun, blue, silver, red, yellow, almond, and white. Patterns: rosewing, mottled; whiteside, saddle, badge, beard, baldhead, and bell neck. (You will find specimens that far outreach these colors and patterns and it is believed by many to be from recent out- crosses from non-performing breeds primarily in the United States)
The breed is one of the most popular in the United States. It has several clubs both national; regional; and local sponsoring it for the show room as well as performance. (The ASRA is just one of the local clubs)
There is an ongoing argument within the Birmingham Roller world in the United States with one side claiming that the Birmingham Roller is a specific breed. The other saying that only the performance defines the Birmingham Roller.
English Development Of The Birmingham Roller Pigeon:
In any event, it is known and accepted that flying tumblers were common in England, particularly in the “West Midland” counties of Staffordshire and Worcestershire, for at least two hundred years prior to 1900. What is not commonly known is that the term, “roller” was usually reserved as a description of a pigeon's performance, and was rarely used to describe a distinct breed.
Although references to “Birmingham Rollers” exist as far back as 1879, in Birmingham City and its surrounding Midland hamlets, all performing pigeons were commonly referred to as “flying tumblers.” These were distinguished according to their performances. “Common tumblers” flipped and tumbled several slow somersaults. Some were described as “twizzlers,” their performance consisting of the pigeon horizontally chasing its tail so as to resemble a very fast-spinning plate. “Plate rollers” were those that slowly descended a considerable distance while twizzling. “Rollers” were those which turned rapid backward somersaults while descending several yards from the flock or “kit.”
While flying tumblers were bred in profusion throughout England in the 19th century, the deep “rollers” seemed unique to the cities of Birmingham and Newcastle. So it was that in his 1899 treatise, The Practical Pigeon Keeper, Lewis Wright wrote: “Tumblers often make two, three, or more backward revolutions without stopping; and lastly, there is the true Birmingham Roller, which turns over backwards with inconceivable rapidity through a considerable distance like a spinning ball.”
With the birth of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century in the West Midlands, thousands of Midlanders abandoned their farms to work in the burgeoning iron foundries, steel mills, and factories. During the 19th century, the population of Birmingham grew from 71,000 to 500,000. Nevertheless, the adage that “you can take the boy out of the farm, but you cannot take the farm out of the boy,” held true. These miners and iron workers may have given up their farms, but they didn’t give up their love of livestock breeding. Numerous breeds of terrier dogs were founded by the rough men of the Midlands, including the Staffordshire Pit Bull Terrier, which was bred to fight in the “pits” where the owner of the most powerful dog in the district could expect to amass a small fortune gambling on his dog’s fighting prowess. Similarly, his tumbler-flying neighbor was wont to wager his best pigeon’s “rolling” prowess against the quality of other fanciers’ tumblers in competitions. These competitions were hatched in each district’s local pub, where hard-headed industrial workers and miners resorted after work to consume a pint of the local ale, and brag about their champion tumblers as they sat at tables, their legs stretched out, their feet resting on the floors which were strewn with sawdust to catch the spilled ale and chewing tobacco which missed the spittoons.
Although many tumbler fanciers flew kits of pigeons that tumbled, twizzled, and plated, the “champion” of any kit was the pigeon which rolled deep and solid for many yards. The most highly prized pigeons were those whose velocity of roll or spin was the greatest, and those who could finish off a solid, 10-yard roll with a quick twizzle.
Competitions were held frequently in each district in and around Birmingham. A neutral judge was chosen to determine which fancier’s champion put up the best performance on the day. Each competitor’s champion would be flown with a small kit of common tumblers, but only the champion was judged.
In general, the best “rollers” were to be found in the more rural or less built-up neighborhoods of Birmingham, particularly in the mining and smeltering neighborhoods of the “Black Country,” to the west and southwest of Birmingham proper. The Black Country was so named because of the density of smoke and soot which belched from the smelters and industrial smokestacks throughout the area.
Within the built-up neighborhoods of the huge City of Birmingham, the shorter-working tumblers were preferred, since they were less likely to meet with casualties when flying low over the roofs of the tens of thousands of closely built row houses with tiny back yards (typically about 20 feet by 20 feet). Many stories have been told of fanciers who kept small kits of 20 flying tumblers which trapped into a box after flying, after which the box, with the birds inside, was stored in the attic until their next daily exercise.
Although competitions among the best individual rollers of every district and hamlet of the Midlands had been common throughout the 19th century, and probably even before that, along about 1921, the first flying tumbler club, the Perry Barr Club of Birmingham, initiated kit competitions. Each club member flew his flock or kit of twenty pigeons, to be judged for twenty minutes. Scoring was based solely on “turns” or “breaks,” without regard to quality, depth, or velocity of roll. Turns or breaks are when more than five of the kit members perform simultaneously. Well-trained kits can perform together each time they turn or change direction while flying. The more birds tumbling, twizzling, or rolling on each turn, the greater were the number of points awarded. One “full turn” in which all twenty of the kit members perform simultaneously, with no hold-outs, would beat any number of quarter-turns, half-turns, or three-quarter turns. Twizzling was scorable, tumbling was scorable.
High-quality, deep-spinning rollers were at a disadvantage in these competitions, because they performed less frequently and, when they did perform, they required more time to return to the kit than did the common tumblers. So the birds cultivated for these competitions were short workers with a range of tumbling contortions that would qualify for turns under these rules. Many fanciers of good, deep-rolling pigeons gave them up for the short-working “Competition Tumblers” which were bred specially for these competitions.
By the 1930s, numerous clubs in the Birmingham area staged their own local flying kit competitions. The largest of these was the Harborne Roller Club, of Harborne, then a suburb of Birmingham, some five to seven miles from the Black Country. Harborne was more residential and commercial than industrial in nature. About the same time, the Midland Roller Society was formed, which was an amalgamation of the various local clubs. The Midland Roller Society staged annual competitions in which the best three kits of each local club were entered in a competition to see which kit was the best of the Midlands. - (Unknown)=====================================================================================================================
Colors and Patterns That Are Indigenous To The Birmingham Roller
Of the three basic color alleles (alternate possible genes appearing at the same chromosome locus), both blue-black and ash-red are found in pure rollers. The third color allele, brown, is not.
The pattern alleles found in pure rollers are, in order of dominance, T-check (a.k.a. T-pattern), check, and bar. The most recessive allele for pattern, barless, is not found in pure rollers.
The modifiers (or what I call modifiers):
The epistemic gene, "spread" is found in rollers. This modifies pattern to "spread" the color, resulting in lavenders in ash-red and blacks in blue-black. The birds are still whatever pattern they inherited, but the pattern is no longer visible (or is much less visible) because spread "covers" the pattern. This is what an "epistemic" gene does.
Another epistemic gene is recessive red. Unlike spread, which is dominant (requiring only one gene), recessive red is recessive, so the bird must carry two such genes for recessive red to show up. Recessive red is epistemic to both color and pattern. That is, it "covers" color so that, whether the bird is ash-red or blue-black, it appears as recessive red. It likewise covers pattern, so you can't tell whether the bird is check or bar or whatever, beneath the recessive red.
Other modifiers found in pure rollers include:
-- flash grizzle,
-- tiger grizzle,
-- bronze (kite),
-- piebald (white), perhaps other white modifiers, and
I guess there may be others, but those are the principal modifiers that come to mind at the moment.
About these different varieties of grizzle:
Flash grizzle is similar to undergrizzle, except it shows up in the tail feathers. It may just be an aberration of undergrizzle. I don't think the geneticists are sure about flash grizzle yet.
Undergrizzle is what we see in rollers with colored flights that appear grizzled, yet the bird is not otherwise grizzled, and its parents have no grizzle. A dark checker bronze self with undergrizzle will appear to be a tortoiseshell from below when you watch it flying, yet when it comes down; it shows no grizzle until you open the wing, when you'll notice that the flights appear grizzled. This rarely occurs in the tail. When you see it in the flights and the tail, that's likely to be flash grizzle.
The only undergrizzle birds I have at present are recessive reds. Recessive reds are not the best example of undergrizzle because recessive red is often prone to pigment depletion or "washing out" anyway. I am attaching two photos of a recessive red with undergrizzle and two photos of a recessive red without undergrizzle, to provide contrast. I have bred dark checks showing undergrizzle. Upon opening their wings, the flights show lots of white and bronze, rather than just bronze, as in the case of most dark checks carrying bronze. I am also attaching a photo from the Internet of a non-roller pigeon that shows the presence of undergrizzle, though it has other odd genetic features as well.
Some of these grizzle variations could have mutated in pure Birmingham Rollers after they came to North America. Jay Starley's birds produce many birds showing undergrizzle, and I can guarantee that they're pure Pensom Birmingham Rollers.
Tiger grizzle causes white feathers to show up whole in the shield of the bird, rather than as grizzled feathers. Black mottles are often tiger grizzles, though it's difficult to tell the difference between a spread black tiger grizzle and a spread black regular grizzle, because both can have slight grizzling in the neck or hackle feathers. Black pepper heads are not tiger grizzle.
Recessive red mottles and spangles are usually tiger grizzles. Bill Pensom's MRS 25.521 Red Spangled Cock appears to be tiger grizzle, especially because you see no grizzling in the neck feathers.
Tiger grizzles often appear darker until they go through their first molt, at which time they molt in much lighter or with many more white feathers. Some are even white sides. This is particularly true of recessive red spangles and mottles. If they have a lot of grizzling so that the individual shield feathers carry both colors, that's just regular grizzle. If all the shield feathers are either solid white or solid colored, that's likely to be tiger grizzle.
Tiger grizzle can also appear in checked or t-check birds.
All these genes were to be found in the ancestors of the Birmingham Roller, principally the English common tumbler and the Dutch Tumbler. Those origins may be subject to argument, but my belief is that the Birmingham Roller descends principally from these two breeds. The English common tumbler dates back to the middle Ages in Britain. The Dutch Tumbler likely came to England during the 16th Century, by the hundreds of Dutch immigrants to the Midlands who brought with them certain ale-brewing techniques. It would not be surprising if some of them also brought along their Dutch Tumblers. The Dutch Tumbler and the Birmingham Roller resemble each other in many features.
The rollers imported to this country and Canada between about 1868 and 1950 all originated in Birmingham City and its suburbs throughout the counties of Staffordshire, Worcestershire, and Leicestershire. The communities most prevalent were those in the Black Country, southwest of Birmingham and northward into Wolverhampton. We don't know which English immigrants first brought rollers to North America between about 1868 and 1890, but the principal importers later on were:
-- J.V. McAree, who imported rollers from the Whittinghams in Wolverhampton into Toronto in the late 1890s through about 1920;
-- James E. Graham importing rollers from both Wolverhampton and the Black Country into Canada and thereafter to the USA about 1930 through 1940;
-- Bill Pensom exporting rollers to a number of USA fanciers from about 1930 through 1950. Pensom also exported and imported rollers both ways across the Atlantic after he moved to the USA in 1950. Pensom's exports were all derived from the Black Country and Harborne, a suburban Birmingham community along the eastern borders of the Black Country.
A few other fanciers exported rollers to the USA in the 1950s through the present, such as Ken Payne, O.D. Harris, Bob Brown, Bill Barrett, and Ernie Stratford, but all these pigeons were derived more or less from the same sources as those listed for Bill Pensom. One exception is Ernie Stratford, who admitted to crossing Parlor Tumbler into his pigeons at some point.
All these colors, patterns, and modifiers were found among the importations from all these sources. Almond has been challenged, but we know that almond was present in the old English common tumbler, so it's probably safe to assume that almond is also found in pure rollers, though many almonds may also have Oriental Roller ancestry.
A fancier can breed pure rollers that come in a wide variety in appearance, using these basic colors, patterns, and modifiers. Anything else is not a pure roller, though the color breeding advocates will argue to their deaths that a roller becomes "pure" if it's bred for enough generations away from the initial outcross - Tom Monson.(edited)
The Birmingham Roller was selected by its creators for its tumbling or spinning ability. Birds failing to so perform were eliminated in the course of breeding. The Birmingham Roller should fly high and reasonably long, should kit well, and should "spin" (performing backward somersaults) for a good distance in a "roll", which is not a long series of tumbles nor a lazy drop, but an unbroken whirl like a spinning ball. In a good roller there is no separate motion or distance between each revolution or spin of the body, but the spins are made in unbroken sequence of inconceivable rapidity and lightning whirls. All Rollers do not so perform. Some are merely Tumblers and some roll or spin for only a few yards. Some birds plate-roll or twizzle, which is undesirable. In twizzling, the bird flies in the same plane, apparently trying to touch its tail feathers with its beak. Twizzling is not approved of in good Rollers. Bumping, ie rolling so deep as to hit the ground, is also undesirable. - The Pigeon by Wendell M. Levi
Central Roller Club