Roller Pigeons

Chris Higgins

Last week I discussed Homing Pigeons; now it's time for an introduction to the strange world of Roller Pigeons. These birds (also known as Birmingham Rollers) are bred for a genetic defect which causes brief seizures during flight -- causing the birds to roll in mid-air. Breeders hold competitions in which they attempt to synchronize the birds' seizures, measuring the length and quality of the resulting aerial acrobatics. Generally the birds recover before hitting the ground.

If that's not odd enough, there's a dark side to some "roller clubs" -- club members allegedly trap and kill raptors that sometimes prey on their roller pigeons (the predators are attracted by the unusual flapping of the birds while they "roll"). An undercover investigation called Operation High Roller recently resulted in seven arrests in southern California and three charges in Oregon. (Read more on the California arrests in an LA Times article [requires registration] or the Oregon charges in a Salem News article.) The California men are charged with killing an incredible 1,000 to 2,000 raptors annually. From the LA Times article: "When you take out a predatory bird, you're taking out the upper end of the food chain," said Special Agent Lisa Nichols of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "It blows the balance of everything."

Further reading: news release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.