These two distinct cases are often confounded in treatises on inheritance.

Lastly, the hybrids or mongrels from between all the domestic breeds of pigeons are perfectly fertile. I can state this from my own observations, purposely made on the most distinct breeds. Now, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to bring forward one case of the hybrid offspring of two animals CLEARLY DISTINCT being themselves perfectly fertile. Some authors believe that long-continued domestication eliminates this strong tendency to sterility: from the history of the dog I think there is some probability in this hypothesis, if applied to species closely related together, though it is unsupported by a single experiment. But to extend the hypothesis so far as to suppose that species, aboriginally as distinct as carriers, tumblers, pouters, and fantails now are, should yield offspring perfectly fertile, inter se, seems to me rash in the extreme.

From these several reasons, namely, the improbability of man having formerly got seven or eight supposed species of pigeons to breed freely under domestication; these supposed species being quite unknown in a wild state, and their becoming nowhere feral; these species having very abnormal characters in certain respects, as compared with all other Columbidae, though so like in most other respects to the rock-pigeon; the blue colour and various marks occasionally appearing in all the breeds, both when kept pure and when crossed; the mongrel offspring being perfectly fertile;--from these several reasons, taken together, I can feel no doubt that all our domestic breeds have descended from the Columba livia with its geographical sub-species.

In favour of this view, I may add, firstly, that C. livia, or the rock-pigeon, has been found capable of domestication in Europe and in India; and that it agrees in habits and in a great number of points of structure with all the domestic breeds. Secondly, although an English carrier or short-faced tumbler differs immensely in certain characters from the rock-pigeon, yet by comparing the several sub-breeds of these breeds, more especially those brought from distant countries, we can make an almost perfect series between the extremes of structure. Thirdly, those characters which are mainly distinctive of each breed, for instance the wattle and length of beak of the carrier, the shortness of that of the tumbler, and the number of tail-feathers in the fantail, are in each breed eminently variable; and the explanation of this fact will be obvious when we come to treat of selection. Fourthly, pigeons have been watched, and tended with the utmost care, and loved by many people. They have been domesticated for thousands of years in several quarters of the world; the earliest known record of pigeons is in the fifth Aegyptian dynasty, about 3000 B.C., as was pointed out to me by Professor Lepsius; but Mr. Birch informs me that pigeons are given in a bill of fare in the previous dynasty. In the time of the Romans, as we hear from Pliny, immense prices were given for pigeons; "nay, they are come to this pass, that they can reckon up their pedigree and race." Pigeons were much valued by Akber Khan in India, about the year 1600; never less than 20,000 pigeons were taken with the court. "The monarchs of Iran and Turan sent him some very rare birds;" and, continues the courtly historian, "His Majesty by crossing the breeds, which method was never practised before, has improved them astonishingly." About this same period the Dutch were as eager about pigeons as were the old Romans. The paramount importance of these considerations in explaining the immense amount of variation which pigeons have undergone, will be obvious when we treat of Selection. We shall then, also, see how it is that the breeds so often have a somewhat monstrous character. It is also a most favourable circumstance for the production of distinct breeds, that male and female pigeons can be easily mated for life; and thus different breeds can be kept together in the same aviary.

On the Origin of Species Page 15

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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