« PreviousContinue »
siderable antiquity. I have associated with several eminent fanciers, and have been permitted to join two of the London Pigeon Clubs. The diversity of the breeds is something astonishing. Compare the English carrier and the short-faced tumbler, and see the wonderful difference in their beaks, entailing corresponding differences in their skulls. The carrier, more especially the male bird, is also remarkable from the wonderful development of the carunculated skin about the head, and this is accompanied by greatly elongated eyelids, very large external orifices to the nostrils, and a wide gape of mouth. The short-faced tumbler has a beak in outline almost like that of a finch; and the common tumbler has the singular inherited habit of flying at a great height in a compact flock, and tumbling in the air head over heels. The runt is a bird of great size, with long, massive beak and large feet; some of the sub-breeds of runts have very long necks, others very long wings and tails, others singularly short tails. The barb is allied to the carrier, but, instead of a very long beak, has a very short and very broad one. The pouter has a much elongated body, wings, and legs; and its enormously developed crop, which it glories in inflating, may well excite astonishment and even laughter. The turbit has a very short and conical beak, with a line of reversed feathers down the breast; and it has the habit of continually expanding slightly the upper part of the oesophagus. The Jacobin has the feathers so much reversed along the back of the neck that they form a hood, and it has, proportionally to its size, much elongated wing and tail feathers. The trumpeter and laugher, as their names express, utter a very different coo from the other breeds. The fantail has thirty or even forty tail feathers, instead of twelve or fourteen, the normal number in all members of the great pigeon family; and these feathers are kept expanded, and are
carried so erect that in good birds the head and tail
English carrier, the short-faced tumbler, the runt, the barb, pouter, and fantail in the same genus; more especially as in each of these breeds several trulyinherited sub-breeds, or species as he might have called them, could be shown him. Great as the differences are between the breeds of pigeons, I am fully convinced that the common opinion of naturalists is correct, namely, that all have descended from the rock-pigeon (Columba livia), including under this term several geographical races or sub-species, which differ from each other in the most trifling respects. As several of the reasons which have led me to this belief are in some degree applicable in other cases, I will here briefly give them. If the several breeds are not varieties, and have not proceeded from the rock-pigeon, they must have descended from at least seven or eight aboriginal stocks; for it is impossible to make the present domestic breeds by the crossing of any lesser number: how, for instance, could a pouter be produced by crossing two breeds unless one of the parent-stocks possessed the characteristic enormous crop 2 The supposed aboriginal stocks must all have been rock-pigeons, that is, not breeding or willingly perching on trees. But besides C. livia, with its geographical sub-species, only two or three other species of rock-pigeons are known; and these have not any of the characters of the domestic breeds. Hence the supposed aboriginal stocks must either still exist in the countries where they were originally domesticated, and yet be unknown to ornithologists; and this, considering their size, habits, and remarkable characters, seems very improbable; or they must have become extinct in the wild state. But birds breeding on precipices, and good fliers, are unlikely to be exterminated; and the common rock-pigeon, which has the same habits with the domestic breeds, has not been exterminated even on several of the smaller British islets, or on the shores of the Mediterranean. Hence the supposed extermination of so many species having similar habits with the rock-pigeon seems to me a YoY rash assumption. Moreover, the several above-named domesticated breeds have been transported to all parts of the world, and, therefore, some of them must have been carried back again into their native country; but not one has ever become wild or feral, though the dovecot-pigeon, which is the rock-pigeon in a very slightly altered state. has become feral in several places. Again, all recent experience shows that it is most difficult to get any wild animal to breed freely under domestication; yet on the hypothesis of the multiple origin of our pigeons, it must be assumed that at least seven or eight species were so thoroughly domesticated in ancient times by half-civilized man, as to be quite prolific under confinement. An argument, as it seems to me, of great weight, and applicable in several other cases, is, that the abovespecified breeds, though agreeing generally in constitution, habits, voice, colouring, and in most parts of their structure, with the wild rock-pigeon, yet are certainly highly abnormal in other parts of their structure; We may look in vain throughout the whole great family of Columbidae for a beak like that of the English carrier, or that of the short-faced tumbler, or barb; for reversed feathers like those of the Jacobin; for a crop like that of the pouter; for tail-feathers like those of the fantail. Hence it must be assumed not only that half-civilized man succeeded in thoroughly domesticating several species, but that he intentionally or by chance picked out extraordinarily abnormal species; and further, that these very species have since all become extinct or unknown. So many strange contingencies seem to me improbable in the highest degree.
Some facts in regard to the colouring of pigeons well deserve consideration. The rock-pigeon is of a slaty-blue, and has a white rump (the Indian sub
the tail has a terminal dark bar, with the bases of the outer feathers externally edged with white; the wings have two black bars; some semi-domestic breeds and some apparently truly wild breeds have, besides the two black bars, the wings chequered with black. These several marks do not occur together in any other species of the whole family. Now, in every one of the domestic breeds, taking thoroughly well-bred birds, all the above marks, even to the white edging of the outer tailfeathers, sometimes concur perfectly developed. Moreover, when two birds belonging to two distinct breeds are crossed, neither of which is blue or has any of the above-specified marks, the mongrel offspring are very apt suddenly to acquire these characters; for instance, I crossed some uniformly white fantails with some uniformly black barbs, and they produced mottled brown and black birds; these I again crossed together, and one grandchild of the pure white fantail and pure black barb was of as beautiful a blue colour, with the white rump, double black wing-bar, and barred and white-edged tail-feathers, as any wild rock-pigeon We can understand these facts, on the well-known principle of reversion to ancestral characters, if all the domestie breeds have descended from the rock-pigeon. But if we deny this, we must make one of the two following highly improbable suppositions. Either, firstly, that all the several imagined aboriginal stocks were coloured and marked like the rock-pigeon, although no other existing species is thus coloured and marked, so that in each separate breed there might be a tendency to revert to the very same colours and markings. Or, secondly, C