Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Birds of Prey and Rollers

The following story is a few months old, but it was news to me when I found out about it yesterday. I'm really trying to understand the joy of breeding and flying Roller Pigeons, but it's so bizarre from my perspective I don't think I can write about it without exhibiting a natural bias favoring Cooper's Hawks and other raptors.

What is a Birmingham Roller Pigeon, anyway?

From Wikipedia:

"This 8 ounce feathered friend is genetically programmed to flip backwards, provided adequate training, diet, and exercise. The spinning can appear to be so fast that the bird looks like a ball of feathers falling toward the ground. They recover from the spin and return to their flock, called a ‘kit' in competition. The pigeon continues to do the same acrobatics with regular frequency, oftentimes in unison with other birds in the kit. The frequency, depth, style, tightness of roll, and angle are all determined by careful and methodical breeding. The flight time, height of flight, and responsiveness to the trainer's commands are all determined by strict training and diet, along with consistent daily routine."

For an example, watch this YouTube video:

Now for the story...

Press release from May - US Fish and Wildlife Service:

"Federal authorities have charged seven Southern California men associated with ‘roller pigeon' clubs on charges related to the fatal beatings and shootings of federally protected raptors. Six of the defendants were arrested throughout the day yesterday as part of a nationwide investigation - Operation High Roller - that is targeting roller pigeon owners who believe that hawks and falcons, while protected under federal law, should be killed because they attack pigeons, particularly when they suffer seizures in flight and tumble uncontrollably toward the ground."

Audubon Society of Portalnd (where I first heard about this story):

"Audubon commends the US Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents Office for their outstanding work on this case. If the charges are proven, this will stand as one of the most significant crimes against birds since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act made it illegal to kill native birds of prey as well as other native bird species in 1918."

The other side of the story from the National Birmingham Roller Club:

"However frustrating it may be, we understand and work with the hawk problem by not exposing our birds routinely to hawks when they are present and also by not flying at all during the seasons of the year when hawks are most prevalent, typically fall and winter in North America. This is the only method the NBRC recommends and endorses."

Wait a second... there's a hawk problem?

"Contrary to what some may have been led to believe, Cooper's Hawks are now to be found in abundance across the United States. They have become relentless in their pursuit of prey not only in rural and remote regions but even in major metropolitan cities."

There are many other bird species that are abundant across the United States. American Robins are relentless in their pursuit of earthworms and other invertebrates. Why do I get the impression that the NBRC tacitly approves of killing raptors? After all, their president, Juan Navarro, is among those charged with killing protected birds of prey. To gain a little insight on some Roller fanciers, here's a thread "NBRC needs some real leadership" from another Roller forum regarding this issue.

Please pardon my insensitivity, but the only sentiment I can express for Cooper's Hawks and other raptors across our land is bon app├ętit!

Cooper's Hawk © 2007 Mike McDowell

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