We thus see that embryology (as the comparison of very young animals may perhaps be called) comes into play in the classification of domestic varieties, as with species in a state of nature.

Fanciers, with some truth, compare the head and beak of the Barb to that of a bullfinch. The Barb, if found in a state of nature would certainly have been placed in a new genus formed for its reception. The body is a little larger than that of the rock-pigeon, but the beak is more than .2 of an inch shorter; although shorter, it is both vertically and horizontally thicker. From the outward flexure of the rami of the lower jaw, the mouth internally is very broad, in the proportion of .6 to .4 to that of the rock-pigeon. The whole head is broad. The skin over the nostril is swollen, but not carunculated, except slightly in first-rate birds when old; whilst the naked skin round the eye is broad and much carunculated. It is sometimes so much developed, that a bird belonging to Mr. Harrison Weir could hardly see to pick up food from the ground. The eyelids in one specimen were nearly twice as long as those of the rock-pigeon. The feet are coarse and strong, but proportionally rather shorter than in the rock- pigeon. The plumage is generally dark and uniform. Barbs, in short, may be called short-beaked Carriers, bearing the same relation to Carriers that the Tronfo of Aldrovandi does to the common Runt.]


This group is artificial, and includes a heterogeneous collection of distinct forms. It may be defined by the beak, in well-characterised specimens of the several races, being shorter than in the rock-pigeon, and by the skin round the eyes not being much developed.




Tail expanded, directed upwards, formed of many feathers; oil-gland aborted; body and beak rather short.

[The normal number of tail-feathers in the genus Columba is 12; but Fantails have from only 12 (as has been asserted) up to, according to MM. Boitard and Corbie, 42. I have counted in one of my own birds 33, and at Calcutta Mr. Blyth (5/12. 'Annals and Mag. of Nat. History' volume 19 1847 page 105.) has counted in an IMPERFECT tail 34 feathers. In Madras, as I am informed by Sir W. Elliot, 32 is the standard number; but in England number is much less valued than the position and expansion of the tail. The feathers are arranged in an irregular double row; their permanent fanlike expansion and their upward direction are more remarkable characters than their increased number. The tail is capable of the same movements as in other pigeons, and can be depressed so as to sweep the ground. It arises from a more expanded basis than in other pigeons; and in three skeletons there were one or two extra coccygeal vertebrae. I have examined many specimens of various colours from different countries, and there was no trace of the oil-gland; this is a curious case of abortion. (5/13. This gland occurs in most birds; but Nitzsch (in his 'Pterylographie' 1840 page 55) states that it is absent in two species of Columba, in several species of Psittacus, in some species of Otis, and in most or all birds of the Ostrich family. It can hardly be an accidental coincidence that the two species of Columba, which are destitute of an oil-gland, have an unusual number of tail-feathers, namely 16, and in this respect resemble Fantails.) The neck is thin and bowed backwards. The breast is broad and protuberant. The feet are small. The carriage of the bird is very different from that of other pigeons; in good birds the head touches the tail-feathers, which consequently often become crumpled. They habitually tremble much: and their necks have an extraordinary, apparently convulsive, backward and forward movement. Good birds walk in a singular manner, as if their small feet were stiff. Owing to their large tails, they fly badly on a windy day. The dark- coloured varieties are generally larger than white Fantails.

Although between the best and common Fantails, now existing in England, there is a vast difference in the position and size of the tail, in the carriage of the head and neck, in the convulsive movements of the neck, in the manner of walking, and in the breadth of the breast, the differences so graduate away, that it is impossible to make more than one sub-race.

Charles Darwin

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