North American Highflying Rollers, American Rollers, and the American Flying Tumblers

By K.D. Spurling (1998)

In light of the fact that the three breeds in the title are now so widely kept from Sacramento to Seattle and the facts that so much confusion exists about the three, it becomes time to differentiate among the three breeds.

As a group, the North American Highflying Roller, American Rollers (two varieties) and the American Flying Tumbler is not only similar to one another, but are closely related and are allied breeds.

The true North American Highflying Roller makes up the root of this group of breeds and first appeared in the loft of George 'Old Man' Stevens of Toronto, Canada in 1869. These first came from a cross of Almond Oriental Roller cock of ~ old Kurdistan type (which is conntrary to those seen today and tended to be larger, stronger, and sloppier feathered pigeons similar to Sarajevo and Lowicz Rollers), so crossed upon a Blue Offside Badge Birmingham hen. This Birmingham hen was said to be a roll down of such uncontrollable ability that she barely made it off the ground and was a short, squatty pigeon with heavy grouse. In those days, the Birmingham Roller was unlike what is seen today;  It is said that half would roll down and more resembled the Old English flying Muffed Tumblers than what known today as a Birmingham. This particular Blue Oddside hen was bred Thomas Boddy of Wolverhampton, Britain and exported to Stevens in 1867. The resulting young of the Almond Oriental cock and the Blue Oddside hen were particularly valueable pigeons due to being of a fine  color quality, vivid markings and most importantly were very high and long fliers and deep rollers. Being that Steven was a skilled artist, he immortalized the pair and their best young in various mediums in the 1960's Chapman (1940) relates having seen the oil painting of a Blue hen in 1894. Today most of these paintings by Stevens have been lost to the fancy. However, the painting of the Blue Oddside hen and some of the youngsters is today in the collection of a fancier in Saskatchewan.
 
The resulting descendants of this above mating soon spread like a wildfire throughout Toronto and into Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York in the 1960's Historically, Chas. Lienhard of Cincinnati, OH was the first in the US to have them and that was 1876. Fanciers such as F.W. Liebchen and A.C. Karp (both of Cleveland).   F.S.   Schlicter (Portsmouth, OH), N.A. Brenner (Youngstown, OH), R.R. Krupke (Canton, OH), E.R.B. Chapman (MA), Jack LaRue (NY), and others acquired these pigeons in the late 1870's and early 1880's from both the Toronto fanciers and also Lienhard.

Rich color, vibrant markings, depth of the roll and high and long flight were to be the measure of value for these pigeons. As well, a lot of crossing was to take place in the 1880's and 1890's to continue the breeds evolution. So for example, in 1883 A.C. Karp crossed his Toronto birds into Red and Yellow Gansel Komorners. In those days, the KT's were good flying pigeons with close kitting instincts and perfect horizontal performance and a large share was also plain headed. Karp created a fabulous line of Red and Yellow Spangles largely from this. The fanciers around Pittsburgh performed crosses into Scotch House Tumblers and this yielded a number of famous lines of Black Badge birds of extreme death. Liebchen, Schlicter and Brenner performed crosses into more Orientals and also Central Asiatics upon the advice of Karp. In New York the Old German Flight and the Romanian Botosani Tumbler also entered the gene pool. Rumors also circulate that Hamburg Whitetails and Cologne Tumblers also entered the gene pool and while these birds were easily accessible to many fanciers (since a large number was German immigrants and imported many pigeons as it was) - but we have no real proof. In the process, many birds were sold, traded and given between the top fanciers and the progeny of most crosses reached over 90% of all top lofts. In this way, the birds represented a blending of Birmingham's,  Scotch  House Tumblers, Orientals, Central Asiatics, German Flight, Botosani and also true Hungarian Komorner. Using records that are  available  and  many experimental crosses, we have come to a conclusion that the majority at existing North Americans are mainly descendant of the Central Asiatics and the Komorner Gansel and are composed of very little blood of the Birmingham Roller.

The resulting birds were larger, longer cast and stronger pigeons all around than any Birmingham Roller as a rule. Here we are not referring to size in the show sense where the pigeons are increased in size, feather, etc., for sake of looks - but for the sake of the vigor and aerial strength. These birds flew 2 to 8 hours and rolled in excesses of about 50 and 75 feet or more. At one point, they were widespread on this continent and possibly the dominant breed in North America. The first written standard was put up in 1912 by over 20 fanciers in Norman Brenner's basement.

Today, these pigeons have mostly died out and there are likely less than twenty breeders in North America. However, even though we have no club, we are a very, very organized group with all of us working for the same goals. At this point, we profess that our breed is the ultimate example of a 'Super Pigeon'. We still maintain the physical appearance of our birds, and for example, our revised standard of the 1912 version gives 30 points for colorquality (that's alot!). We are still working towards optimum depth and as these are not Birmingham Rollers, we are not too concerned with optimum velocity or frequency. Today, most members of the breed roll a minimum of 50 and 75 feet with near perfect safety and that is what we want - just depth. Today, at full development; many of the best pigeons roll in excess of 125 or 150 Feet. Also we are aiming towards optimum duration and we will (and have) competed with Tipplers and other endurance breeds. On average, most existing lofts are flying 7 to 10 hours in competition and a few of us are flying quite beyond this and posting times of 12 to 14 hours. The modern record was set on Sept. 8th, 1998 by Mr. Phil Roark of Grants Pass, OR (and Portland) with a time of 14 hours, 53 minutes. Technically, even Phil will admit that kits having flown beyond the 15 hour mark are bred yearly - but these have kits have not done so on the day that it matters. As well, most of us are now selecting for homing ability. Three of us locally have actually been flying some sort 'NY Flight Style' races in the vicinity of 40 to 60 air miles within 2 or 4 hours time and there are tales of North Americans homing incredible distances of beyond 200 miles within a few days time. This is nothing for even poor examples of Racing Homers, but for a breed that has traditionally not been known as a homing breed, it is something very amazing.

I would also like to add that the breed is still evolving after 130 years. While type and color remains as it always has, the last several years some great strides have been accomplished from an endurance standpoint and we have been steady increases of depth and also control of the roll over the last few years. Some of this has actually come about through the aid of some strategic outcrosses. As one example, Phil Roark is now in possession of a small line of Indigos and Andalusians which hold the modern endurance record and are also very deep performers. These birds have come about from an outcross into Serbian Highflier. One can also now see a few Self Whites of incredible duration, but still lacking the depth we seek. These birds have resulted from outcrosses into Budapestian Poltli Highfliers.

The breed commonly known as the American Roller arose mainly in the Portland area during the 40's and 50's from true North Americans. At one point, the two were one breed; but the Portland fanciers selected for a bird more similar to the Birmingham Roller and I have audio documentation that proves that certain Portland area fanciers re-crossed to Birmingham. These birds have been more or less selected to conform to the basic Birmingham idea due to smaller sizes, much shorter depth, and lower duration. In the process, color has been largely ignored. As a whole, the Portland breeders modified their birds to be the happy medium between the North American and the Birmingham, and this group of birds actually has more in common with the Birmingham than they do with the North American. There are some who continue to insist tha~ the North American and American are one, but these are people who have nc genuine clue of what the modern Norti American Highflying Roller is capable of. NO ONE has never heard of an American homing 50 miles in a day and NO ONE has never heard of an American flying nonstop for 12 and 13 or 14 hours or more on a regular basis. In fact, I have NEVER heard of a fancier in Portland going beyond 6 hours from them and that is pushing the birds to their limit so that when they land, you see them gasping for air and dragging their wings and tail in exhaustion. I am convinced that they are incapable of going beyond this on a regular basis and no one expects this.
 
The bottom line is that the two breeds are related closely, and while they share a few things in common - they are complete1y separate breeds.

To further confuse the situation, is the existence of the show type of Agiencans which bear only a vague 'cscmblance of the above. These birds were largely created through the effort of Ray Chisholm and Alan Shaw in the lale 1970's. Reportedly, the birds are a fusion of Americans, Show type Red Cameaux, French Gros Mondains and Also Modena in varying doses. Keith Casteel is the purveyor of the Modena fusion. The addition of these other hmeds has created a strictly exhibition of a greater girth than the flying type. Richard Brooks and Keith Casteel are the two leading breeders, with Richard having the most success of the recent years.

        To make matters worse is the American (or Yankee) Tumblers. These birds were created by the late C.
Gus Lichtenwald starting in the 50's. The arose from crossing Black Amrrican cocks  onto "Bukowina" and
'Scouzafava' hens. The term Bukowina is a bastardization of the Hungarian 'Bukovinai' and both refers to the Romanian Botosan Tumblers. Jack LaRue of New York had them for a number of years (pre 40's) and Mr. Scouzafava, also of New York, inherited LaRue's pigeons. This term 'Scouzafava' would actually refer to LaRue's North Americans which carried extreme amounts of Botosan blood. In other words, the AFT's came about as a blending of the Portland Americans crossed onto pure Botosans and North American with heavy doses of Botosani blood. To confuse the situation worse, there are actually three varieties of Botosani Tumblers. One is beak crested, groused and carries the wings on the tail. The second is like the above, but also features a shell crest. The third is actually a Central Asiatic mimic like the Debrecins found in Hungary. The latter is the bird that history refers to.
Lichtenwald desired a bloodline of small, tame, pearl eyed tumblers with the classic head over feet stance that performed as actively as possible and flew in close kits at a good vantage point. Emphasis was placed on frequency and kitting, without regard to the type of performance. In his words: 'They tumble, flop, roll, and spin.'

Near the end of Lichtenwald's years (he died in 1978), he also outcrossed into the Flying Saddle Muffed Tumblers to mellow them as they were becoming very dangerous in the air. (Here again is substance to dangerous performance as a result of too much frequency.)

It is notable to mention that all four breeds were actually present at the last Fall Festival in November. To my knowledge, that was the first time in history that all four breeds could be seen at the same show.

If it all weren't confusing enough as it is, about 8 or 9 years ago I began developing the Kalla Tumbler. Small, short cast tumblers with semi short beaks, flat top heads and white grouse legs that extend only over the outer toe. These are a product of crossing together   North   Americans, Birmingham's, Parlors, Breslau MF Tumblers, Elbing SF Tumblers, AFT's, and an odd Kazan Trjasun Tumbler. At this point, they have appeared at three shows, have a written standard and have a few breeders across the country. And as one might expect, a few people on the Eastern seaboard have confused them into the North American - American mess. These are to be low duration fliers, tight kitters, and very, very active performers. In the air, performances of under 8 times per minute are not acceptable; the best performing 11 to 13 times a minute.
 

Back To Articles