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The starting point for colour genetics is the blue bar or wild type as depicted by the European Rock Dove, Columba livia, generally accepted as the ancestor of the domestic pigeon (other races of the Rock Dove have plumage variations.) This is the point of reference for all mutations of the domestic pigeon, they are dominant, partially dominant, recessive or partially recessive to this colour and pattern.
In these notes only genes relevant to the Roller pigeon, flying or show, in the UK will be discussed.
Ash-red – BA *
Brown – b *
Almond – St *
Faded - StF *
Dilute – d *
Recessive red – e
Indigo – In
Dominant opal - Od
Spread – S
T-pattern chequer - CT
Dark chequer – CD
Light chequer - CL
Chequer - C
Grizzle - G
Tiger grizzle - GT
Sooty - so
Dirty - V
Kite - bronze - K
Wild-type blue bar is assigned the symbol +
Upper case lettering indicates dominance to wild type and lower case indicates recessiveness to wild type, this scenario is confused slightly by some genes being only partially expressed in the dominant or recessive spectrum.
The genes with an asterix, are located on the sex chromosome and referred to as sex-linked genes, the others are autosomal genes – not sex-linked and are located on other chromosomes. The list indicates that some of the sex-linked genes are dominant and some recessive, consequently their method of inheritance varies. The male pigeon has two sex-chromosomes and the hen one. The male pigeon can be two sex-linked colours, for example, he can have two ash-red genes or one ash-red and one brown. He will pass one of these colours to his offspring; if the hen he is paired with is blue (she has only one sex-linked gene) and he has two ash-red genes all their offspring will be ash-red and all the young cocks will carry (be heterozygous for) blue. An ash-red cock carrying blue, paired with a blue hen, would produce ash-red and blue sons and daughters. If the ash-red cock carried brown (paired with a blue hen) the sons would be ash-red, heterozygous for blue and his daughters would be ash-red or brown. If the hen is ash-red and the cock blue, all the sons will be ash-red/blue and the daughters will be blue. Cocks carrying blue can be identified by black flecking, or if carrying brown, brown flecking.
Is a sex-linked dominant gene, its genetic symbol St, assigned it by Christie & Wreight in 1925, actually refers to the characteristic flecking - gesprenkelt; the ‘classical almond’ colouration of the short-faced tumbler is generally what people envisage when ‘almond’ is mentioned. However, ‘almond’ can be extremely variable depending on the genes and modifying factors present. The “classical” almond is generally a combination of kite bronze, heterozygous recessive red, chequer, sooty, dirty and other selected polygenes; it is a complex combination to emulate.
Is an allele of almond and is found at the same point on the chromosome, and is also sex-linked and dominant. Homozygous faded cocks are not afflicted by the same eye disorders as homozygous almond cocks.
Is a sex-linked recessive gene; a dilute cocks daughters will be dilute, his sons will all carry dilute. A dilute hen will not produce dilute offspring unless her mate is dilute or carries a dilute gene; her sons will inherit the dilute gene from her.
Recessive red (e)
Is an autosomal recessive gene, it is also epistatic, meaning it is capable of covering most of the pigeon colour and pattern genes.
A partial dominant, non sex-linked gene. Heterozygous indigo combined with spread blue (black) will produce “andalusian”, patterned indigo are bronze coloured, homozygous (pure) indigo bar/chequer resemble ash-red.
Dominant Opal (Od)
A partial dominant non sex-linked gene which has a range of expressions; with blue it can produce white/bars cheqs, at the other end of the colour spectrum minimal bronzing of these areas occurs. Flight and tail feathers show varying degrees of “washing-out” or bleaching. With ash-red variable pinkish expressions can be produced, with brown pale cream colours result.
Homozygous dominant opal is not viable, the embryo dies during incubation or the young die shortly after hatching.
A dominant epistatic gene. With wild-type blue produces black, with ash-red it produces various shades/expressions of ‘lavender’ and with brown an even brown colour. Spread masks the pattern genes, but they can often be seen through the spread. Good-coloured blacks are dark cheq/T-pattern cheq with colour modifiers such as sooty and dirty. Polygenetic selection in some breeds has resulted in glossy beetle-green blacks.
The order of dominance is: T-pattern cheq> dark chequer> light chequer> chequer> bar. There may be some identification issues between the different chequers when sooty is present.
Partial dominant, non sex-linked. Heterozygous grizzle with blue bar produces a ‘salt and pepper expression’. Homozygous grizzles are predominantly white.
Tiger grizzle (GT)
Partial dominant non sex-linked. Grizzled juvenile feathers moult to white giving a distinct colour/white pattern, homozygous tiger grizzles are predominantly white. ‘Tortoiseshell’ is a combination of grizzle and blue chequer; it may be grizzle (G) or tiger grizzle (GT), the variable bronzing being dependant on other modifying genes.
Recessive non sex-linked gene, produces a pseudo-chequer expression on the shield, probably causes some confusion with the identification of chequer and may not be evident in the juvenile plumage.
Dominant and not sex-linked produces a darkening effect to the plumage.
Most commonly associated with T-pattern or dark chequer blues, not as evident on ash-red and recessive red although will intensify these colours. Some bars will have varying shades of bronzing.
There are various piebald genes controlling white flights, white tail, head markings, etc.
The résumé for this article was to “keep it simple”, consequently detailed analysis of the genes discussed was not possible. The internet has a multitude of websites pertaining to pigeon colour genetics; a good starting point is Frank Mosca’s site:
Which will link to Tom Barnhart’s and Ron Huntley’s excellent sites.
Pigeon colour genetics books:
Joe Quinn - Pigeon Breeders Notebook
Axel Sell - Breeding and Inheritance in Pigeons
Paul Gibson - Genetics of Pigeons
WF Hollander - Origins and Excursions in Pigeon Genetics
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In 1971, when I attended my first NRC show, the exhibits were a mixed bag in type. Bill Hughes in particular, plus a few other fanciers, had a clear vision of the short, type, expression bird which had come to be deemed as the ideal. It was Ken White of Coventry writing in the 1960's issue of Feathered World, who put down what had become the accepted truth. "Get the heads right and you're more than halfway there". That said, I believe it was Bill Hughes who instilled his vision of expression into the many, many aspiring fanciers who visited his Wigan lofts to view Bill's superb stud of sixteen to twenty breeding pairs, and to imbibe Bill's straight talking views about his passion for his rollers. I think it is no exaggeration to say that during a period of 20 years, Bill's stud won at more major shows than the rest of us put together. He was 'Mr Roller', but that was not his greatest achievement for the NRC, this was Bill's generosity with his birds. He gave good birds to everyone who showed real interest in the breed. Anyone who made the effort to travel to Wigan would go home with birds. I'm talking of dozens and dozens of fanciers. His influence was outstanding, and I believe he set the culture within the club which persists today; that being the way birds are given or loaned between members, and if sold, the price is minimal. Bill Hughes passed away in July 2007 aged eighty one years. In his memory the NRC purchased two trophies, named the Bill Hughes Memorial Expression Trophies. They will be awarded annually to the Cock and Hen birds with the Best Expression in the show. Terry Broad judged these two classes in Jan 2009, so we couldn't have a Roller judge better qualified to pick the first winners.
Winner of the Bill Hughes Memorial Expression Trophy - January 2009
White Self Hen - Jeff Davies
In 1971, when I attended my first NRC show, the exhibits were a mixed bag in type. Bill Hughes in particular, plus a few other fanciers, had a clear vision of the short, type, expression bird which had come to be deemed as the ideal. It was Ken White of Coventry writing in the 1960's issue of Feathered World, who put down what had become the accepted truth. "Get the heads right and you're more than halfway there".
That said, I believe it was Bill Hughes who instilled his vision of expression into the many, many aspiring fanciers who visited his Wigan lofts to view Bill's superb stud of sixteen to twenty breeding pairs, and to imbibe Bill's straight talking views about his passion for his rollers.
I think it is no exaggeration to say that during a period of 20 years, Bill's stud won at more major shows than the rest of us put together. He was 'Mr Roller', but that was not his greatest achievement for the NRC, this was Bill's generosity with his birds. He gave good birds to everyone who showed real interest in the breed. Anyone who made the effort to travel to Wigan would go home with birds. I'm talking of dozens and dozens of fanciers. His influence was outstanding, and I believe he set the culture within the club which persists today; that being the way birds are given or loaned between members, and if sold, the price is minimal.
Bill Hughes passed away in July 2007 aged eighty one years. In his memory the NRC purchased two trophies, named the Bill Hughes Memorial Expression Trophies. They will be awarded annually to the Cock and Hen birds with the Best Expression in the show. Terry Broad judged these two classes in Jan 2009, so we couldn't have a Roller judge better qualified to pick the first winners.
In late Winter the pigeon fancier turns his attention to the start of the breeding programme. The birds are already paired 'on paper' and it's the time to put the cock birds into the breeding compartments.
For most breeds a compartment measuring 8ft x 5ft x 8ft in height is adequate to house 8 pairs. The nest boxes are built against the rear wall of the compartment and have half the frontage covered to provide the dim light preferred by these descendants of the cave-nesting Red Dove. At this stage the other half of the boxes are open fronted allowing the cocks to vie with each other for the preferred top boxes. Generally, the old cocks will secure the boxes which they had used during the previous season, whilst the young ones will fight over the remaining ones. I like to allow the cocks two weeks before the hens are introduced. In this time 'the dust' has generally settled.
Before the hens are introduced a nest bowl is placed in each nest box and the sealed doors are put in place. The hens are then put in with their intended mate. This is a time of intense excitement for the birds and generally pairing is immediate, the cocks driving madly whilst the hen birds are showing and then copulation completes the ritual. This done, the fancier can be almost sure that the pair bond will be secured and the hen is unlikely to be scalped by an over-zealous mate. However, if the hen is not in a receptive state, ie not in breeding condition, she must be removed from the nest box to avoid the serious damage which can and does occur when the confines of the nest box having no escape. In this case give the hen a few days rest before trying again or place the two birds into an empty loft compartment and allow them free space to pair at leisure and where the hen can escape the cock's too-close attention. Once the pairs are settled, allow one pair at a time out of the nest box. This helps to ensure that they know their own box and also helps to avoid birds trespassing in their neighbour's box, where fights may occur and eggs be broken.
When the birds have been together for four or five days and they are seen together on the nest bowl, nesting materials should be given. Providing this earlier may result in it becoming fouled. A good layer of sawdust or a nest pan felt pad are both ideal insulation materials, over which a good handful of straw is ideal.
After eight to tens days, the first egg should appear, this will be laid in the late afternoon. The second egg is laid two days later in the early part of the afternoon and incubation will commence. Cock birds incubate the eggs from about 10am - 4pm, the hen sit the remainder of the time
During incubation the birds are fed and watered in their nest boxes. But I believe that the pigeons 'do' better when they are allowed to go in and out of their nest boxes when they wish. This is achieved by systematically allowing, for example, a pair from a top box 'out' at the same time as a pair from a box lower down. This is a painstaking business but well worth the effort once all the pairs know their own boxes.
In my loft after this is achieved, I remove the slatted box fronts allowing the birds the freedom of the loft compartment and the adjoining aviary. Of course, with this system, one can never be certain of parentage, for a certain amount of cross treading will occur. I think that this is more satisfactory than having the pairs locked into their nest boxes for weeks on end, which induces boredom and poor parenting, particularly when two or more rounds of young are required.
My family and I had an amazing holiday this year, where I had the chance to show my wife and kids my country of origin and some of my past. During our couple of weeks I managed to spend time looking at some English Show Birmingham Rollers, which were a large part of my past, are a large part of my present and hopefully my future. My first look at Rollers was at my long time friend, John Weir’s house. I have known John since I was about 12, over 40 years ago.
John is the secretary of the Northern Roller Club,which is probably the best known roller club in England catering for both flying and show Birmingham Rollers. He has limited room in his garden, so has a couple of small breeding lofts for both flying and show Birmingham Rollers, a holding loft for show birds and a couple of kit lofts. We stayed at John’s for three or four nights and he flew his birds every day. John has some good performers in his two kits and is putting some interesting colours into the flyers, such as Opal, Andalusian, faded and more. He had a bad season last year with the show birds, losing a number of good youngsters. He had only bred a few this year but there were some good ones among them, including an outstanding Yellow hen. He showed me some good adults, including some excellent Mealies which has inspired me on a Mealy breeding project, which should come to fruition next year when I will pair Red chequers carrying bar together or to a Blue bar. One Mealy had won the eye fault class at the Northern Roller Club show, last year but his eyes had cleared up so he will be showing him in the open class next year.
I took a day out from my family holiday to go to see Jeff Davies and his birds. Jeff is a highly respected Show Birmingham Roller fancier and the author of the only book on Show Birmingham Rollers. John drove from South Shields to Darlington, where I was staying with my uncle. Mike Taylor, the famous Roller judge and fancier (currently without birds) from New South Wales, who was also on holiday in Darlington, staying with his sister, joined us at my uncle's. We picked Robert Bennion, the noted artist and Roller flyer, up on the way.
The four of us arrived at Jeff’s place on the other side of England to a welcome cup of tea and hot pies. Firstly we looked at Jeff’s stock birds, who were approaching the end of the breeding season, mostly still feeding babies, as it was July when I was there. They were an amazing collection of quality Rollers most of them being NPA Champions, which means that they had won three or more NPA Champion Certificates at different shows under different judges. It really was an awesome sight for a dedicated Show Birmingham Roller fancier such as myself. All of Jeff’s stock birds were full of power, an abundance of width and frontal with very full necks but still having the fine beak and expression of the true Show Birmingham Roller.
Simply looking at the photographs I have seen of the winners at NRC shows, I have often thought that they appeared overdone, with too much head and neck but when I saw them in real life, they were well balanced and very desirable. I would have loved to have been able to bring a couple of pairs home with me. Perhaps in the future we might bring a few pairs in, Jeff did say that he would be happy to let some good pairs come to Australia and bask in the sun. He had quality bird in most colours including Tortoiseshell, Blue chequer, Bronze chequer ,Red chequer, Mealy, Blue bar, Yellow and more.
We looked at young birds of various ages, but obvious quality. Jeff said he hadn’t really culled any birds as yet, but had a fair idea which birds were going to make the grade from observing them in the nest. He had only given away about 13 birds and they were mainly birds with eye faults. There were a large number of birds I would have loved to have brought back to Australia as I have already mentioned. It is only the expense, quarantine hassles, bird flu etc. etc. that is stopping me. Ricky Maslen and Dwight Wyatt from Lismore have both expressed a keen interest in visiting England for a look at the Show Birmingham Rollers, with a view to importing some birds and after this trip I certainly think it would be worthwhile, the birds I have seen would be a huge boost to our own.
We walked to the local pub and sampled a couple of pints of the local brew before the drive back across the country. We stopped at Robert’s place on the way back to watch his birds fly and look at some of his amazing colour projects. His birds were spectacular to watch, with good performances from most of the kit. They still hadn’t landed when we walked to the local pub before the final leg of the journey.
My trip to the Old Country has left me a much keener pigeon fancier, who is fired up and raring to breed a loft full of potential champions for the coming show season.