Violet (Or What’s Wrong with Roller Pigeons?)

Beautiful shiny black iridescent pigeon


Violet is a strikingly beautiful, gentle, petite Birmingham Roller who is trying really hard to recover from a devastating injury. She was taken to WildCare in January, unable to walk or stand. She still cannot unless she is flapping her wings to generate lift. Her legs aren’t paralyzed but they lack the strength and control she needs. Her WildCare report states, “Came to WildCare on January 17th, found in El Sobrante, unable to stand with no deep pain response in either leg and a deep  laceration along her keel along with multiple puncture wounds – we assume caught by a hawk based on this presentation. Through physical therapy, anti-inflammatory and pain meds, was able to stand, with pain reponse in both legs, wounds all healed, but with lasting spinal and probably nerve damage. Physical therapy included active and passive range of motion along with a sling during the day. She was always calm and began eating on her own once she got the sling in early February. By mid February she had plateaued, standing but wobbly. So was removed from WC and sent to Palomacy.”


Violet flaps her wings in order to stand & to walk

Roller pigeons are tragically selectively inbred for the genetic inclination to flip backwards in flight. They inordinately suffer injuries and death from “roll downs” and raptor strikes. Roller Pigeons are used in competitions and their performances are judged. The “Ariel Standard” from Lewis Wright’s book titled The Practical Pigeon Keeper states, “the true Birmingham Roller turns over backwards with inconceivable rapidity through a considerable distance like a spinning ball.”

Fanciers consider the rolling beautiful but how anyone can enjoy a hobby that so endangers the birds? This news article excerpt is telling.

Four Inland men are among suspects accused of killing raptors to protect pigeons.
Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Press-Enterprise
Seven Southern California men, including four from the Inland region, were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of killing scores of red-tailed hawks and other raptors that prey on the pigeons they breed for aerial acrobatic competition. The men have been charged with violating the federal Migratory Bird Act, which protects raptors. Each misdemeanor count carries a maximum sentence of six months in federal prison. Brian McCormick, 40, of Norco, denied the charges Thursday and said he was “extremely shocked” when federal agents showed up on his doorstep at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. He said that while hawks and falcons cause “devastating losses” to enthusiasts who breed and raise champion birds, he would never kill them. A breeding pair of roller pigeons that perform backward somersaults while in flight can fetch $300 to $500, he said. “For me the loss is emotional,” McCormick said. “I raise 100 birds to make a team and half of them are eaten by birds of prey. It’s heartbreaking.”

Heartbreaking indeed.

Violet was extremely lucky, when she was injured in January, most likely from a “roll down” collision into the ground, to be found and taken to WildCare. They cared for her for a month in the hopes that she could recover the use of her legs and be transferred to the Marin Humane Society for adoption.

Despite all their resources and best efforts, she made little progress. She clearly wanted to live- she ate and preened and paid close attention to all the happenings around her- but she couldn’t stand up. She was unadoptable and would be euthanized if transferred to the shelter. In February, when she had to have a placement, WildCare RVT Nat reached out to Palomacy on her behalf to ask if we could take her on to our caseload. Nat knew we were full and offered to foster her for us. We said yes.

Wildlife RVT Nat holding little Violet

Nat & Violet

Nat lovingly fostered Violet until May when she transferred into my care. Throughout all this time, her progress has been incredibly slow.

Injured Roller Pigeon sits abnormally

Violet’s sitting posture 4/2/15

Injured Roller pigeon sits using her tail for support

Violet still sitting back on her tail 5/12/15

Injured Roller Pigeon leaning on wing and tail

Violet lounging in her special cage set up 5/13/15

Violet is fostered in my special needs bird room. She can’t be out of her cage all the time because she has to time-share the space with other birds. When too-aggressive Freckles is out of his cage, she has to be in hers. But she loves to come out for a couple hours each morning and evening. As soon as I open her cage door, she flies out and begins flapping her wings.

Injured Roller flaps her wings to lift herself on to her feet

Flapping her wings for lift, Violet can stand & walk

She spends most of her out-of-cage time flap flap flapping. When she flaps, it generates the lift she needs to be able to stand up and to walk a few steps. She’ll flap continuously for an hour or more. It seems almost involuntary or compulsive while she is doing it but there are times when she chooses not to do it (when she’s in her cage or sitting in a food bowl) so perhaps it feels good or reduces discomfort from sitting all the time.

The trauma Violet endured when she was injured has impacted the transmission of neural information between her brain and her legs. She has feeling in her legs and can control them (somewhat). We were surprised to discover that when turned on her back, which I did the first time to exam her, she will pedal pedal pedal her legs. This does seem more involuntary than deliberate. I occasionally turn her over for some pedal time in the hopes that it will help her recovery.

We know that birds sometime make extraordinary recoveries if given enough time and support (see Ava’s story and Bell’s story for examples). Violet seems to be getting better rather than worse and she shows a strong desire to live. We are committed to helping her live the very best life she can.

Injured Roller pigeon briefly standing upright

Briefly standing (!) without flapping 6/6/15

Breeding domestic pigeons to fly wild skies is an inhumane practice from the start but to further endanger them by selectively inbreeding “Roller Pigeons” for the genetic inclination to somersault mid-flight is truly heartless. The fanciers’ enjoyment of their “sport” in no way makes up for the suffering of the birds. Breeders have gone so far as to create “Parlor Rollers”, pigeons so compromised that when they try to fly, can only somersault across the ground. (The current world record roll is 662 feet.) It is perverse and indefensible. Watch Parlor Rollers compete to see for yourself and set aside time to see the BBC documentary Pedigreed Dogs Exposed to learn more about the horrors of “purebreds”.

But Violet can’t help any of that. She is here and she wants a life just as we all do.


I think Violet’s progress may be plateaued and that she needs some extra help to increase her chances for success. I want to rig up a sling that can help her bear some weight on her legs and improve her strength and control. Slings aren’t easy to get right and I’ve not had much luck with past slings that I’ve made. Here’s one I found on the Internet (creator unknown) that has inspired me. I’ve also been thinking about how a pair of pigeon pants or a flight suit might be modified to serve as a sling… Stay tuned.


Thank you for reading Violet’s story and for helping us to help her and all the others. Compassion matters.

This morning, until funds run out, you can make a donation in support of the work that we do and GlobalGiving will add a 50% bonus match to your donation. Please, if you can, make a donation right now. Bonus match funds run out early. Thank you.

Recovering Roller Pigeon Violet

Violet thanks you

10/18/17 UPDATE: See Violet’s adoption story- Violet to Go!



  1. Hi Palomacy and Elizabeth,

    Thank-you for sharing Violet’s story – I did not know about Birmingham Rollers. What a perverse “sport”, and just another in a long line of exploitative behaviours that only humans can conjure up…

    At Lenny’s Lair (Vegan) Cockatiel Sanctuary, we now have 6 Ringneck doves, including Arwyn, who appears to suffer from similar leg problems. She likewise must have separate time out of her cage to avoid conflicts with both doves and cockatiels, although these are rare.

    Just wanted to say thanks for all you do, and apologize for being unable to contribute to Palomacy. We currently support the World Parrot Refuge on Vancouver Island, which like you is chronically short of funds, and Free from Harm, to assist with Vegan advocacy.


    Jonathan Martin

  2. I actually saw a couple of pigeons that looked exactly like Violet, today. One seemed fine, while the other one was limping/hopping. I didn’t know what to do, because I was walking to my college class, and they were also not very used to people, as they ran from me. Figured they were a pair, since they stuck close together. By the time my class ended and I was on my way out, I walked by the same spot I saw them, and they weren’t there.

    Pigeons aren’t naturally completely black with orange eyes, are they? And if there is a species naturally colored like that, I wouldn’t think it normal to find them in Tucson AZ…

  3. my rescue has the very same symptoms and I was so glad to read your story which Elizabeth sent me.
    I named her Sweetie Pie. She’s had exhausted, antibiotics, anti inflammatories. eats and drinks on her own , she pedals her feet when I pick her up too!
    I am so released and feel hopeful. Thank you

  4. Pingback: Kit & Caboodle |


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