A Blue Orlik
Photo courtesy of K. D. Spurling

Fascinating Orliks of the Ukraine

Text by
K. D. Spurling

In the Ukrainian region of the ex United Soviet Socialist Republic exists a certain class of flying pigeons that is most interesting.

This particular class of pigeons is native to the Black Sea region of the South Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula and are generally known there by the name of "Tucheresi" or "Tucurez." It said that the first of these birds appeared at the city of Nikolayev (Nicholaev) in the last century and over time have spread into the surrounding regions. This class of pigeons has reach North America, beginning first in Canada as early as 1967; and are often referred to as "Ukrainian Skycutters." However, the term "Ukrainian Skycutter" is not exactly 100% correct and has led to a great amount of misunderstanding. As I understand it, Nikolayev is a city in the South Ukraine and "Tuchereti" will in fact translate to mean "Cloud Cutter" -- hence "Ukrainian Skycutter." Unfortunately, a clear conception of the name has never been held on this continent and in fact, three different breeds have been given the generic name of "Ukrainian Skycutter" resulting in a great amount of confusion. These three races are the two Orlik varieties, the Ukrainian Shield Tumblers and a strain of white Nikolajevski. The result has been that because of this generic name, the three have been crossed to a horrible degree. It would be my opinion that at least half of the so called Ukrainian Shields in North America are actually crosses between the two Orlik races and the White Nikolajevski. So for the future, let us rid ourselves of this term "SkyCutter" as a breed; since it refers to a class of similar breeds and let Orliks be known as Orliks, Nikolajevski as Nikolajevski (or Nikos) and the Shield races (2 races of these) as Shields. This situation would be much worse if other Tuchereti races such as the Kursks, Charkovski Whitetails and others were present in North America. In stead of three races being confused as one. These differing races have in common a relation to one another that is as similar as the Saxon Spots, Saxon Storks and Saxon Shields. The birds are related so closely that they differ very little from one another, but no one in their right mind would call them as one race and maliciously cross them together for no genuine reason.

It is not the purpose of this paper to describe the entire Tuchereti family as space does not permit for this, but instead it is aimed at discussing the two races which are known as Orliks in their native land. Still, much of what applies to the Orlik does apply to the Nikolajevski Tuchereti, Nikolajevski Boczaty (Ukrainian Shield), Kurski Tuchereti, Charkovski Whitetails and the others for the general enlightenment.

The Orlik as it is known could be defined as being the westernmost race of Tuchereti class breeds. This race is indigenous to the grassy plains of East Poland and western White Russia. Undoubtedly, the breed is of a Russian/Ukrainian descent but the breed is regarded as one of the most traditional flying breeds in Poland. All authorities upon Polish breeds claim the breed as Polish in origin, and in fact, the name "Orlik" is the Polish name for a young eagle (eaglet). This name was given by early fanciers who saw them in the air, due to the breed's short neck and broad wings and tail; a similarity to a small eagle who rode air thermals to high altitudes. In fact, when the breed first reached the English speaking countries, they were referred to as "Orlik Falcon Tumblers" -- even in this country. Well, they are no Falcons and definitely not a Tumbler!

Senor Ralph Buch Brage of Cuba has put forth the belief in his correspondences to Levi that the Orlik was descended from birds brought to the Black Sea region by Spanish sailors in the 18th century. Brage cited the Catalonian Red Whitetails (Roig Coliblancas) as the parent of this class of pigeon in this theory. However, Brage was never able to put forth any proof or even supporting evidence to even begin to suggest such a thing. I for one, cannot understand how a careful student of Domestic Pigeons could even begin to put forth such a blunderous theory! The fact is, such a theory borders on near insanity. Having kept and flown both races I am prepared to say it, there are absolutely no similarities between the Tuchereti and Roig Coliblancas other than the color and to my knowledge, throughout the world is found no other class of breeds who exhibit the tell tale signs of family Tucheresi in the air -- and definitely not among the Catalonian and its related breeds, which are a very far cry from ever matching the Tuchereti for endurance or altitude, let alone displaying anything near the true flying style. Any sort of connection between the two had to be a product of Brage's own imagination.

In fact, we have a very good idea as to how the Orlik came about. In the Middle East there is a breed known as "Ghirbhaz" (not sure if this spelling is correct having only been told of this breed in conversations with fanciers of Mid Eastern descent). The Ghirbhaz are a small race of tumblers with very large wings (28 to 30 inch wing spans). These birds are commonly Com. Red and Yellow pigeons; either white tail marked, Bellnecked or splashed. The Ghirbhaz are said to "fly like ravens" in that they ride the air thermals and are capable of standstill flight, the birds on occasion tumbling. It is known that all but a handful of all Slavic races of tumblers were introduced into Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, the Ukraine, etc. with the Turkish dominion. It would be my personal opinion that the Ghirbhaz were introduced to the South Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula by the Turks and from these have sprung the Nikolajevski Tutcheresi and possibly other races which came to be with the Ghirbhaz being bred to the local tastes. It is interesting to note, that in portions of Romania are to be found some races who bear some similarity to the Nikolajevski Tutchereti, but they lack the flying style. These birds include the Romanian White Tailed Tumbler (Porumbel Codalb Romanesc), the Bucharest Ciung (Ciung de Bucuresti) and also the Romanian Naked Necked Tumbler (Ciung Cheli or "Git Golass"). These birds are strikingly similar in type to the Nikolajevski. The latter is very interesting for a number of reasons. In the first place, some authorities have described a race of Russian Naked Necked Tumbler called "Golsenia" and they cite this as the originator of the Romanian race. The Golsenia is (or was?) somewhat similar to the Nikolajevski so there seems to be some relation there. Even more interesting, many of the Nikolajevski, Nikolajevski Boczaty and Orliks in North America exhibit the signs of being heterozygous for the naked neck factor. Many of the young birds show a tendency for thin plumage and damaged barbules in the back of the neck, but these signs generally disappear after the juvenile moult. In years past, this writer had not only the Romanian Naked Necks, but also a strain of Dom. Red Thailand Fantails with naked necks. These naked necked Thailands arose from typical Thailands with normal necks, but on occasions produced a naked necked specimen. All of the heterozygous birds were intermediate for the factor showing "damaged" plumage in the back of the neck, which generally disappeared after the first moult.

The first aerial standard of the Nikolajevski is said to have been put up at Nikolayev in 1872 and is denoted as "Nikolajevski-Torzovi" according to a chart that shows flying styles put up by Dmitri Geller in the 1980s. It seems that the Nikolajevski were gradually introduced into other portions of Western Russia during the 19th Century and bred to meet local tastes while upholding the theme of the flight style. It was in this way that the Orliks arose in the Northwest of the Russian Ukrain and splitting into two sub-varieties.

The first of these sub-varieties is the "Orlik Wilenski," denoting cultivation at Vilnius (Wilno), which after the Bolshevik Revolution was in the northern portion of the White Russian S.S.R. Today Vilnius is the capital city of Lithuania. The Wilenski's easiest identifying mark is that it drags its wings beneath the tail.

The other sub-variety is "Orik Polski" or "Orlik Lubelski," which denotes the city of Lublin in East Poland. The Lubelski carries the wings upon the tail.

The breed occurs most commonly in Dom. Red and Yellow, but also existent are some Black/Bronze birds and also Blues wingbars. The Black/Bronze birds are of the "Kite" type with a rich red bronze cast over the Black. These are not very common. This writer has never seen a Blue Orlik, but he would like to obtain them! Also sometimes reported are Silvers, Dun/Sulphers and on occasions, Blue Checkers. The Orlik is a Self colored bird with a white tail, and on each side of the tail are two colored retrices as a frame (in the ideal). This is one area where the Nikolajevs and the Orliks differ. The Orlik is always white tailed with the frame feathers, whereas the Nikolajevski comes in all markings. The White Tailed Nikolajevski are not required to have the frame retrices. However, many Orliks are seen with white in the thumb feathers and also the primaries, as well as elsewhere. These are to be considered as faulted. Considering the 2 X 2 frame retrices as the ideal, the Orlik is not exactly simple to produce for the show room. This writer has seen only a handful of 2 X 2 birds, and unorthodoxly marked tails are far more the rule.

It is in the air where the Orliks and other Tutcheresi show their true mettle, and all birds should be valued primarily upon their flying ability. In the first place, the terms "Tumbler" or "Highflier" are incorrect. "Tumbler" implies that the birds execute backward (or even forward) somersaults - something no Orlik, Nikolajevski or other member of this class should do. The act of tumbling is to be regarded as a severe fault and any birds which show such actions should be destroyed outright upon sight. The term "highflier," while more suitable, is not 100% correct. Thomas Hellmann of Germany (pers. com.) has suggested the use of the term "style flier" and for the record, that is the best to date along with the term "Tutcheresi" or "Tucerez," as indeed the birds are to be evaluated based upon their style of flight and wing action.

Two main variations of flight are recognized amongst this class of breeds:


The "Serpasti" style is thought to be the oldest of the two variations and was known at the latest by the early 19th Century at Nikolayev in the South Ukrain. Of the two flying styles, it is also somewhat less desirable.

The "Serpasti" are those who maintain a more normal (front to back) wing action as seen in other races of high caliber flying pigeons. The wing action is graceful and light in its power and the birds will ride upon air thermals in broad circles, soaring like birds of prey. (Hence the name "Orlik" -- small eagle). The "Serpasti" type does not "kit" as could a kit of rollers or Viennas, but tend to soar in broad circles in total disregard to one another as is seen in kettles of Vultures who amass in very large numbers over the top of carrion.

This type of flight seems to be the most often seen amongst this breed, and is of less value than the more developed type as described below.


As already stated, the "Torzovi" type is considered to be of more value that the "Serpasti" type. The Nikolajevski-Torzovi was first standardized at Nikolayev in 1872 and from this has arisen several sub-types which are hard to describe.

The basic "Torzovi" is a pigeon of a unique wing action and flight style. Unlike other pigeons, this type has a reversed wing action which is back to front, opposed to the normal front to back. It is my opinion that because of this wing action they are able to somehow manipulate their style of flight. This adverse wing action is even conspicuous to an experienced flying fancier at a very high altitude as one can see the wings flashing rather conspicuously; especially on a sunny day about late morning. One will see these pigeons form loose kits at very low altitudes and then they will come to a complete standstill in mid air, their wings flashing oddly while the birds hang in place. This action is called "Stop" and old experienced fliers may hang in one spot in mid flight for a few minutes on end. It is found that the birds continue to improve with age. These pigeons will then soar upwards without circling like kites to an extreme altitude. Most good highflying breeds require 20 to 30 minutes of flight to reach the edge of invisibility, but the Torzovi can cover this altitude in a matter of only a few minutes time. Kits of older experienced birds have been timed from liberation to invisibility at times of only five minutes, and one team has covered this ground in 4 minutes 46 seconds. These pigeons are capable of such fast ascendance rates primarily due to the fact that their manner of flight is straight up as though they were climbing a ladder, opposed to gradual climbing by flying in circles or zig zagging upwards.

After experience with over 300 breeds, I am prepared to say it: no breed in this world is remotely capable of matching the Tutchereti class for high flying or endurance and I am prepared to prove this. In the future, I will accept any reasonable flying challenge from any team of Tipplers, Budapests, Viennas, Swifts, Srebrniaks, Szegedins or others on this continent and for any rate of wager. This is being done for the much needed serious promotion of the flying sports on the North American continent and also to once and for all rid this country of the "bull" that is being slung about by dealers of so-called flying pigeons when in fact the glowing accounts of these reports are the invention of a few nonscrupulous merchants for the sake of hype and the all mighty dollar. Keep in mind, I am definitely not against the active commercialization of breeds of pigeons -- but, there are some fanciers in this country charging hundreds of dollars for a pair of so called high caliber flying pigeons and for their money people are receiving garbage in the form of "roof warmers."

Unfortunately, the Tutcheresi are not the easiest pigeons to train to meet their full potential. Some breeds, such as the Budapest Highfliers are natural fliers who require limited amount of work for good results, but others require extra time. The Orliks are stubborn pigeons and if the fancier is not in control of them, the Orliks will be in control of the fancier himself. The breed is best flown in a selected kit of three proven birds and they must be disciplined strictly as to feed, type of feed and where to land after. If one does not put forth the effort, he will not, and should not expect to, receive good results. When the birds are at their best, there is nothing that they cannot do. Fanciers in the USA will never come close to matching the 28 hour record put up at Petrograd in NW Russia because there are many environmental barriers that we cannot overcome. Particularly, in No. Russia, all flying contests are held during the summer months and especially during the "White Nights" when there is only at best 20 minutes of dusk. With 24 hours of day-like light the teams can fly to their utmost physical limit. In this country, we do not have such a thing and even in order to exceed 15 or so hours we must use high power spotlights and leg bells to try to track the kit. The birds can fly in darkness and I generally fly mine at about 3 AM, but without the spotlights and bells they are virtually impossible to track in the darkness. Even at that, no national club permits night time contests even with such devices.

The Training Of Orliks And Other Tutcheresi

Text by
K. D. Spurling

In September 1998, my paper "Fascinating Orliks of The Ukrain" drew much attention. In fact, the attention was so great, that I received roughly five dozen letters and postcards and also a couple dozen phone calls, including many from Russian and Ukranian immigrants, all in praise of what was written. The thirst for knowledge of the Tutchereti class is so great that a second article has been requested, especially one which will detail the training of these races for the air, how they are to be fed and also some have asked how they are to be flown in kit competitions.

I would like to begin with the subject of aerial competition for the Tutchereti class, both in North America and in its homeland of the Russian Ukrain. Firstly, it should be realized that there are two trains of thought in this class of breed's homeland and it is these two trains of thought that I would like to talk about first.

The first train of thought is the one held primarily in the heartland of Tutchereti culture in cities such as Nikolayev, Cherson, Charkov, Kiev and other cities in the Ukrain, as well as in Crimea. In this region, the emphasis is nearly devoted strictly upon the style of flight, in reference to the aerial standard set down at Nikolayev in 1982, which has been evolving since the last century. Since it is difficult to describe in words and do justice to the standard, I am hereby enclosing the accompanying chart entitled "Ukranian Skycutters" which depicts the evolution of the modern aerial standard and I hope it reproduces. [Ed. note: This chart was not included with the online version of this article.] This chart is accredited to Mr. Dmitry Geller of New Jersey who immigrated to the USA from the Ukrain and had grown up in the heartland of Tutcheretis culture. The bird at the bottom, labeled "Ochiakovski Last one (standard from 1982"), is to represent the modern ideal. The other three, while old ideals, are predicted to this day, although they represent less than perfection. The bird at the top (labeled: Nickolivski 1st, end of 19th century), if I am not wrong, is to represent the older and less common Serpasti type. The lower three are Torzovi style birds. The last type is what we should all be striving for. It also a requisite of the ideal (besides the style itself), that the birds are to rise up into the air in as straight a line as is possible. In fact, the word "Torzovi" means "beam" (as in the piece of timber) and refers to the straightness of flight. In this light, the birds are to face into the breeze and begin rising in as near a straight line as possible. In the Ukrain, the birds are generally flown in much larger kits than they are flown in Northern Russia and the emphasis is upon only style of flight. Ten birds per kit are said to be about right for day to day flying and few have concerns on altitude or endurance. Many are the fanciers who are satisfied with only 20 minutes of flight. In the competitions, a fancier will select his best bird and fly it individually, or with one or two others. A very long length of string is tied to the bird and it is released, with the string being held slightly taunt by another official. The idea is that the bird is to rise straight up without other movements and that the string is to remain as straight as possible. To my knowledge, such competition has not occurred in North America to date. In our Redwood Empire Club, this subject has been discussed. It was voted that tying a string to our best kit bird is not very wise due to our local geography as it would be very easy for the bird to get the string tangled in tree branches or power lines and it is a potential danger that we are not willing to impose on our best kit birds. Perhaps if there are some fanciers in the Great Plains region, such a contest may occur in North America.

In Northern Russia, the school of thought is aimed at both the flying style and upon the altitude and duration of flight, In fact, it said that the Russian endurance record stands at over 28 hours. The pigeons are often trained to fly in darkness, yet the contests are actually held during the mid Summer in the "White Nights." While many Tippler fanciers may scoff at the very idea of 28 hour duration, it has got to be realized that the North Russian Summer is an environmental advantage found in few other places of the world. During the White Nights, over twenty-three hours of true daylight exists and as dark as it will get is a mere twenty or twenty-five minutes of dusk like light. In this environment, the pigeons can fly to their utmost physical limits without the cover of darkness. If Tipplers were flown in the same sort of environment, and I question the existence of Tipplers in Northern Russia, odds are existing Tippler records would likely crumble.

In my locale, those of us who are breeding a Tutchereti race (there are four of us), are of the same school as found in North Russia and most of our stock was imported from Northern Russia. In this area, while our main interest is flying style, we are also selecting and competing for endurance and optimum altitude. In this case, we are also competing against Tippers and quite an array of Continental Highfliers or Endurance Flying Tumblers. We do train our kits to fly in complete darkness and it is not rare in our club for someone to choose a very, very early flying time such as 2 or 3 A.M. The kits often wearing small sets of bangles and the judge is armed with a high power spotlight to allow flight during darkness. Due to space, I cannot go into details about training of kits for flying in darkness, but if the interest is there and readers ask for it, it can be the subject of another paper. Locally, we are conducting two styles of contests. The first is for endurance where the pigeons are timed from liberation to landing, but again, there is not space for details of the rules. The second is the ascendance contests, which time the pigeons from liberation to "sky out" (where the kit goes out of sight) with the idea of the kit rising out of sight quickly as possible. The latter is a specialty in our club that has existed since the early 1980s, and while the drive to get birds high is quite fierce between lofts, it is not of the highest honor. This style of contest was developed to emphasize the selection of those birds who could reach great heights as is so required of Continental races, and also for the purpose of loft touring as unlike the endurance contests, many kits can be flown in one day and all fliers can attend and look over the birds in the loft.

This now leads to the subject of training our Tutchereti, and I would like to begin with a few words about what to feed and how to feed the kits. The first thing I would like to make clear is that no member of the Tutchereti family can be fed corn of any type with good results and I for one will admit that I learned this the hard way. If you want a group of fat, sloppy and lazy Orliks or Nikolajevski, feed "build" muscle or burn fat at even near the same rate as others. This can pose quite a problem, as it is found that if a fancier does not apply himself to his pigeons and neglects to fly them for even a week, it may take months to get them back into the same flying condition. In this light, corn is a wretched feed as the fat is put onto the birds faster than they can burn it off. The Ukrainians have understood this for years. In the same light, the breed should not be fed pelleted feed as pellets contain ground corn.

As far as what to feed, definitely, there are as many feed rations as there them corn, because that is what it will get you. This is not to say that corn is not good grain to have in a mix for other breeds, but it is to say that it should not be fed to any Tutchereti breed. Corn is the fastest and by far, the surest way to wreck your Tutchereti. As the majority of fanciers will know, corn will put fat on any animal. The trouble with the Tutchereti is that they do not fly in the same manner as other pigeons. Give me a group of fat little Helmets from the winningest show strain in the country and in 2 weeks I will burn every scrap of fat off their bodies, have them settled, kitting and flying strong. Give me a group of Modenas and I can have them doing the same within a month. Give me a group of Orliks and I'll have them settled all right, but it will take months to get them flying strong again. The fact is that your everyday breed in flight drives its wings from the body and it is possible, with time and effort to build good muscle on pigeons that have been bred strictly for exhibition for many years and with effort, even a Utility breed can be pushed to fly strong and they will appear very streamline. In fact, Levi cited a case of a White Carneau hen that was pushed to fly and eventually homed from beyond ten miles. Tutchereti do not fly in the same manner as others, and it is my opinion that they use the musculature of their wing tips more so than their breast as found in other birds. Use of the breast muscles is in fact quite minimal. Many flying fanciers are aware that the breast muscle of a good flying pigeon appears blue in color. However, this is not viewed even among the very strongest flying Tutchereti. The bottom line is that muscle use is very different among this group of breeds. As a result, they do not are fanciers. The best I can do is to give the details of my own feed mix, and that is one part red wheat, two parts Canada peas, one part Safflower, one part milo and three parts red millet.

Coming around to how to feed them, I do not feed mine much differently than one would feed a kit of rollers, except I give them about one and a half times of what I feed my rollers on the average day. (On that note, I give every three rollers one fist-full and that fistful is about 1/3 of a cup, but I do not technically measure it from day to day.) In the same light, just like rollers -- ALL of my kit birds are allowed one full drink per day. After feeding a kit I will leave them water for about 30 minutes. Excepting the hot weather, that is the right amount of water intake for any kit bird.

Now, regarding flying them itself. For endurance, 3 to 5 birds per kit is correct and I believe that 3 is ideal. Each kit is housed in a 2x3 kitbox with a single rail perch and no trap. As long as the birds are flown regularly (which is a must for the Tutchereti), they will stay in the peak of health. I should also say that to date, after many experiments, the only other breeds that can be flown successfully with any Tutchereti are the Russian Turmani racers such as Rzhevski Startail or Kalujski Turmani. I have also discovered that most Russian/Ukrainian breeds favor cool weather and detest heat. Temperatures over 85 degrees will usually drop the ability of any kit of Tutchereti, no matter how good, to just about nil and they would rather avoid the heat than fly. In my experience, it is best to reduce flying to night time only when the heat surpasses about 80 degrees. In this way, we can keep the birds in flying condition. As a rule, I do not suggest any Russian breed to a fancier in a hot climate and it has been found that many fanciers in hot climates do not have much luck even breeding the birds, let alone flying them. I have also come to the conclusion that if one has mature kit birds, it is best to separate the sexes. All the cocks will want to do is mate and I have seen even very well managed kits deteriorate very quickly because the cock birds have decided that they no longer have any interest in flying whatsoever. In fact, it is a fact that the Tutchereti are very stubborn as a whole and they will press their manager to his limits at times. In the end, they will either do their manager well or they will control the kit manager. The end result is up to each fancier.



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