I have already alluded to the remarkable fact that the characteristic differences between the chief domestic races are eminently variable; we see this plainly in the great difference in the number of the tail-feathers in the Fantail, in the development of the crop in Pouters, in the length of the beak in Tumblers, in the state of the wattle in Carriers, etc. If these characters are the result of successive variations added together by selection, we can understand why they should be so variable: for these are the very parts which have varied since the domestication of the pigeon, and therefore would be likely still to vary; these variations moreover have been recently, and are still being accumulated by man's selection; therefore they have not as yet become firmly fixed.


All the domestic races pair readily together, and, what is equally important, their mongrel offspring are perfectly fertile. To ascertain this fact I made many experiments, which are given in the note below; and recently Mr. Tegetmeier has made similar experiments with the same result. (6/19. I have drawn out a long table of the various crosses made by fanciers between the several domestic breeds but I do not think it worth while publishing. I have myself made for this special purpose many crosses, and all were perfectly fertile. I have united in one bird five of the most distinct races, and with patience I might undoubtedly have thus united all. The case of five distinct breeds being blended together with unimpaired fertility is important, because Gartner has shown that it is a very general, though not, as he thought, universal rule, that complex crosses between several species are excessively sterile. I have met with only two or three cases of reported sterility in the offspring of certain races when crossed. Pistor ('Das Ganze der Feldtaubenzucht' 1831 s. 15) asserts that the mongrels from Barbs and Fantails are sterile: I have proved this to be erroneous, not only by crossing those hybrids with several other hybrids of the same parentage, but by the more severe test of pairing brother and sister hybrids inter se, and they were PERFECTLY fertile. Temminck has stated ('Hist. Nat. Gen. des Pigeons' tome 1 page 197) that the Turbit or Owl will not cross readily with other breeds: but my Turbits crossed, when left free with Almond Tumblers and with Trumpeters; the same thing has occurred (Rev. E.S. Dixon 'The Dovecote' page 107) between Turbits and Dovecotes and Nuns. I have crossed Turbits with Barbs, as has M. Boitard (page 34), who says the hybrids were very fertile. Hybrids from a Turbit and Fantail have been known to breed inter se (Riedel 'Taubenzucht' s. 25 and Bechstein 'Naturgesch. Deutsch.' b. 4 s. 44. Turbits (Riedel s. 26) have been crossed with Pouters and with Jacobins, and with a hybrid Jacobin-trumpeter (Riedel s. 27). The latter author has, however, made some vague statements (s. 22) on the sterility of Turbits when crossed with certain other crossed breeds. But I have little doubt that the Rev. E.S. Dixon's explanation of such statements is correct, viz. that individual birds both with Turbits and other breeds are occasionally sterile.) The accurate Neumeister asserts that when dovecotes are crossed with pigeons of any other breed, the mongrels are extremely fertile and hardy. (6/20. 'Das Ganze der Taubenzucht' s. 18.) MM. Boitard and Corbie (6/21. 'Les Pigeons' etc. page 35.) affirm, after their great experience, that the more distinct the breeds are which are crossed, the more productive are their mongrel offspring. I admit that the doctrine first broached by Pallas is highly probable, if not actually proved, namely, that closely allied species, which in a state of nature or when first captured would have been in some degree sterile if crossed, lose this sterility after a long course of domestication; yet when we consider the great difference between such races as Pouters, Carriers, Runts, Fantails, Turbits, Tumblers etc., the fact of their perfect, or even increased, fertility when intercrossed in the most complicated manner becomes a strong argument in favour of their having all descended from a single species.

Charles Darwin

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