The Parlor Roller – A Unique Pigeon Breed That Does Backflips Instead of Flying

Although there are plenty of flightless bird species on Earth, the Parlor Roller pigeon is believed to be the only one selectively bred by humans until it lost its capacity to take to the skies and developed a completely new and bizarre means of getting around – backflips.

Seeing a parlor roller pigeon roll on the ground, you would think it was having some sort of seizure, but in reality, the birds are rolling on the ground because it comes naturally to them. No one knows exactly how or when the breed was created, but experts and enthusiasts speculate that its origins can be traced back to mid-19th century Scotland when someone probably encountered a specimen with a slight tendency to roll on the ground and decided it was worth emphasizing via selective breeding. It is believed that over years of selective breeding, pigeons that rolled over long distances were obtained.

Photo: Vivek Doshi/Unsplash

The parlor roller is a common-looking pigeon that weighs between 7 and 10 ounces and comes in a variety of colors. What sets it apart from any other pigeon breed is its inability to fly, and its tendency to continuously do backflips on the ground, especially when encouraged. Interestingly, parlor rollers are physically equipped to fly and are not heavier than other pigeon breeds, so there is no logical reason why they can’t fly. The exact cause of this is unknown, but some believe they have “some defect in the balance centers of the brain” that causes them to roll on the ground instead of flying.


Doing backflips is what these pigeons are good at and what they are bred for. Fanciers will hold them in the palm of their hand and roll them on the ground like bowling balls, just to get them started. The birds will then continue to roll for up to a few hundred feet. The current record for the longest roll currently sits at a whopping 662 feet.


The parlor roller is a more extreme offshoot of another breed of acrobatically gifted pigeon, the parlor tumbler. The most notable difference between the two is that the tumbler can fly and tumbles through the air, while the roller can’t fly at all past the age of about three months. Before then they briefly achieve some level of flight.


Although controversial among animal lovers, many of whom consider it cruel to breed a living being in order to enhance what they consider a disability, parlor roller pigeons are very popular among fanciers.

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