The 20 birds vaulted from their loft and headed skyward in a tightly knit spiral. Silhouetted against the grey of an overcast sky, the birds seemed to tumble from the air only to right themselves in mid-flight and scramble for altitude before tumbling again.
And again, like rambunctious children on arial monkey bars.
There is a moment of near panic among us earth-bound humans as the distinctive shape of a falcon’s wings slice the air overhead. Someone grabs a pair of binoculars, and with a sigh of relief identifies the intruder as a nighthawk, who feeds on insects. Other hawks and falcons wreak devastation on flocks of pigeons.
Last Sunday morning I was invited to the home of Bob and Chandra Peterson to watch Bob’s roller pigeons compete in the regional competition, which includes southern Colorado and New Mexico.
The judge of this year’s regional competition was Jim Schneider of Alamogordo. Also present were competitors Larry Bogan of Tijeras, Victor Bobilonia of Clovis, Alan Wilson of Raton, David Westbrook of Lubbock, Texas, and fellow observer Ronnie Knapp of Tucumcari.
Bob flew two groups of birds, known as kits. The first kit didn’t perform as well as expected, but the second kit flew beautifully. Bob’s birds won the regional competition with a score of 189 points, which qualifies him to compete in the World Championships later this month.
Only the top 50 competitors from around the globe are invited to compete in theWorld Finals.
It is a small but dedicated group of enthusiasts from around the state who participate in the competitions. Only about 20 people in New Mexico raise roller pigeons, with about 8 or 10 competing. The practice of flying pigeons is more popular in other countries like England, Canada and Australia.
Roller pigeons, also know as Tumbler pigeons, originated in Birmingham, England and were brought to this country in the late 1800s. Pigeon flying is an extremely popular pastime in England, requiring very little space in which to raise the birds.
Judging a competition is far more complicated than a casual observer might think. The birds are judged on how well they fly together as a kit. There are between 16 and 20 birds to a kit. With 16 birds, all of them must stay with their kit and fly as a cohesive unit. With 20 birds you are allowed two out-flyers, or birds that leave the kit to fly on their own. More than that and you lose points.
The birds are also judge on the quantity and quality of their tumbles. There must be at least five birds tumbling at once to earn points, and the tumbles must be 20 vertical feet or more in duration.
No one really knows what makes these birds tumble, but it is a quality which can be fine-tuned with selective breeding. The ideal is a bird that tumbles rapidly for 40 to 60 feet. You don’t want a bird that gives a flip or two and quits. Likewise, a bird that tumbles into the ground is a no-no.
I was fascinated with the pigeons. Their tumbling is a joyful thing to watch, and the birds come in a wide array of beautiful colors. Their soft cooing is melodious and easy on the ears. Sitting in the shade of tall trees, listening to the voices of the birds, watching the iridescent colors flash across their shoulders, a hot cup of coffee and fresh-baked cinnamon bread, the company of some of the world’s nicest people; What a wonderful way to begin the day.