Jerry Higgins – Unlocking the Roll


 By Jerry Higgins


What is the secret to Raising better rollers? What is the combination of variables needed? This combination may be a better description of what is needed for selecting and breeding the better Birmingham Rollers. There are certain aspects of selecting Rollers as breeders, which need to be considered and studied. I will attempt to identify and explain the selection process that I use to select potential stock birds as breeders and how I matched them with each other. This process will be called COMBINATION. The selection process starts with the young kit as training begins. If you’re serious about raising good Rollers you must be willing to put the time in. How the bird develops is of Paramount importance in the final analysis and selection of stock birds Selecting stock birds and training are the most critical aspects of raising good Rollers. The birds you select for breeding have a direct relationship on the quality of the birds that you will produce and fly. By taking your time at this point and having a good understanding of what you’re looking for you will save many hours of frustration and anxiety.

The selection of stock birds starts with good observation and notes in your breeding records. Time and time again you’ll refer back to your breeding records to refresh your memory as to how the bird has progressed. In selecting stock birds you will want to know at what age a bird started to develop the spin.

You must have a clear understanding in your mind’s eye of what you’re looking for in a stock bird. You should be able to close your eyes and visualize the ideal stock bird. You should be able to see this ideal bird in 2 ways, what it looks like spinning, what it looks like standing on the ground. This picture that you have in your minds eye must be firmly instilled to make sure that it does not change throughout the selection process.

The ideal situation would be to have a bird that has all the primary attributes I have listed below, but must understand that very few Rollers will have them. To achieve this combination we must make sure that in our matings that all attribute combinations exist. The combinations needed to create this balance will in most cases not be found in any individual bird but between the 2 mates.




Type is one of the most important factors to be considered in selecting a stock bird. Type is the set of physical attributes that make up the Roller. A roller should be small. If you do not fully understand type, 1 general rule that will help is that the best spinners are small. The smaller a Roller is the less resistance it has to the roll. Because of this fact we want to breed our Rollers small; this is a feature and quality we must always keep in mind. The rule of thumb I try to use is ”short short short and short”: short wings, short keel, short tails, short legs and an overall short body.

If you select a small bird in most cases it will not have a wealth of feathers. This is good. One of the features the Roller does not need is a wealth of feathers. We want a bird that has thin flight feathers and tail feathers. Balance is very important in selecting the correct type in A roller. Balance means that all the features we have discussed are equal to each other in there relationship to each other. For example, the wing tips would not be longer than the tail. A small bird would not have big feet and long legs; they would be in proportion to the rest of the body. Balancing the bird will also mean that its keel depth would not be excessive. You would not want a good balanced Roller to carry excess weight in the chest. Too much weight in the front of a Roller would cause it to spin out of balance. I prefer a narrow bird through the shoulders. In most cases hens are better spinners than cocks. I think the reason is because hens are smaller and narrower than cocks.


Eyes in my opinion fill an important role in my family of Rollers. I prefer an eye that is clearer without any blemishes; this will exclude any cracked eyed or half Bull eyed birds. This does not mean that those birds cannot roll; it simply means that I do not like these birds for stock birds. The eye color I prefer is a light lemon colored eye. This eye color to me indicates the bird that has been cultivated for the roll. The eye color I do not care for is the pearl eye which in my opinion indicates a strong flyer. It is important to know that the pearl eye and what it represents is a useful part of the combination you will need to match a pair of Rollers. For example, if you have one of the mates come to the roll early and rolled very deep, you would want to add to this mating more vigor in flying capabilities. In this case, if you did not have a strong dark colored bird both mates could be recessive red If one had pearl eye.


Color may not seem important as a selection criteria for breeding better Rollers to some, but I have found over the last 30 years color plays a significant role in breeding Rollers. In my family of Rollers I try to balance the hard colors with the soft. A hard colored Roller is a dark checker self or blue bar self. They can also be red checkers or red bars. The soft colored bird is normally the recessive red. The hard colored Rollers carry the vigor and stamina to fly long periods of time and have the strength to continually roll for substantial time. The soft colored Rollers carry an abundance of the roll factor and provide frequency and fly lower and less time. In order for a Roller to fly the time, roll often and deep and still be able to get back to the kit, a balance between these 2 factors is required.

I have heard many people state that color has nothing to do with roll but in the same breath they would tell you that they want to break up the hard colored blue checkers so that they have white flights or badge to improve frequency. For the past 10 years i have used color balancing in my pairs and this technique has served me well. It is important to remember just because a bird is recessive red in color on the outside it may not carry a strong roll factor. Some birds that appear recessive red in color on the outside are actually blue on the inside. This is to say that they do not carry the roll factor as most recessive red birds that have been cultivated for the roll generation after generation do, you need to know the family and individual bird.


The spin in the Roller has been described many times so I will not elaborate on this point. It is sufficient to say that the bird should spin at a very high velocity and as deep as possible and still be able to get back to the kit. Many Rollers can spin but it is not pleasant to the eye. These birds my fall a long distance but he velocity is so slow that it does not meet minimum qualifications. I find the reason in most cases is that the owner has mated his pairs based only one consideration: spin. Most of the time when pairs are selected solely on their spin ability and mated together they have identical faults. Because of this offspring have the same faults multiplied. When the faults compounded and carried by offspring, they are not able to spin correctly. When matching your pairs together, make sure they never carry the same or similar faults. Always attempt to balance your matings to correct any fault that each of the birds may have. Do not base your matings solely on spin. Spins is but one of the factors in combination that should be considered; it carries no more weight than any of the other factors.

The age at which the bird came to the roll is very important to me. I like early developers, 5-6 months of age. A Roller in full-grown at 6 months of age and I see no reason it should not roll hard at that age. My family of Rollers usually start rolling at about 3-4 months of age and continue to develop to their capacity through the 7-8 month of age. They then stabilize at the depth that they are going to be for most of their life, usually around 20’-30’.Their velocity continues to improve through their 2nd year of life.

Another very important element in this category is where the bird flies in the kit. Our preference would be that the bird flies at the front of the kit, but if not at the front of the kit in the middle would be good. Frequency is another element in this category that we would want to consider. If we could select a bird that flies at the front of the kit and volunteered to roll often this would be our ideal bird. A frequent spinner should roll at least 30-35 scoreable times in a 20 minute period.


Temperament is also one of the most important features to look for. Temperament is the hardest feature to describe and in most cases it is only learned through experience. One of my best ways to describe temperament is to make sure you do not select a bird for stock that is always the last bird to land or the last bird to drop through the trap. Poor temperament in a bird will show sometimes in a bird that will fly above the kit most of the time. In temperament you want a Roller that is easy to train and is always eager to cooperate. Some people can see a calmness when looking into the eyes of a Roller, they sometimes describe this by saying the Roller appears to be looking back at them and making some evaluation.


These 5 features we’ve identified are like the numbers to a combination lock. Each one of the pairs you select for stock must contain these 5 features. It is necessary, nor will it often find any 1 bird that has all of these features. But as long as they exist in the pairs make up you will open the lock and be successful in raising a high percentage of good Rollers.