The specimens sent to me from Madras by Sir W. Elliot are white, slightly feathered on the feet, with the feathers on the head reversed; and they are rather smaller than the rock or dovecote pigeon. The beak is proportionally only slightly shorter and rather thinner than in the rock-pigeon. These birds when gently shaken and placed on the ground immediately begin tumbling head over heels, and they continue thus to tumble until taken up and soothed,--the ceremony being generally to blow in their faces, as in recovering a person from a state of hypnotism or mesmerism. It is asserted that they will continue to roll over till they die, if not taken up. There is abundant evidence with respect to these remarkable peculiarities; but what makes the case the more worthy of attention is, that the habit has been inherited since before the year 1600, for the breed is distinctly described in the 'Ayeen Akbery.' (5/15. English translation by F. Gladwin 4th edition volume 1. The habit of the Lotan is also described in the Persian treatise before alluded to, published about 100 years ago: at this date the Lotans were generally white and crested as at present. Mr. Blyth describes these birds in 'Annals and Mag. of Nat. Hist.' volume 14 1847 page 104; he says that they "may be seen at any of the Calcutta bird-dealers.") Mr. Evans kept a pair in London, imported by Captain Vigne; and he assures me that he has seen them tumble in the air, as well as in the manner above described on the ground. Sir W. Elliot, however, writes to me from Madras, that he is informed that they tumble exclusively on the ground, or at a very small height above it. He also mentions birds of another sub-variety, called the Kalmi Lotan, which begin to roll over if only touched on the neck with a rod or wand.


These birds have exactly the same habits as the Persian Tumbler, but tumble better. The English bird is rather smaller than the Persian, and the beak is plainly shorter. Compared with the rock-pigeon, and proportionally with the size of body, the beak is from .15 to nearly .2 of an inch shorter, but it is not thinner. There are several varieties of the common Tumbler, namely, Baldheads, Beards, and Dutch Rollers. I have kept the latter alive; they have differently shaped heads, longer necks, and are feather-footed. They tumble to an extraordinary degree; as Mr. Brent remarks (5/16. 'Journal of Horticulture' October 22, 1861 page 76.), "Every few seconds over they go; one, two, or three summersaults at a time. Here and there a bird gives a very quick and rapid spin, revolving like a wheel, though they sometimes lose their balance, and make a rather ungraceful fall, in which they occasionally hurt themselves by striking some object." From Madras I have received several specimens of the common Tumbler of India, differing slightly from each other in the length of their beaks. Mr. Brent sent me a dead specimen of a "House-tumbler" (5/17. See the account of the House- tumblers kept at Glasgow, in the 'Cottage Gardener' 1858 page 285. Also Mr. Brent's paper 'Journal of Horticulture' 1861 page 76.), which is a Scotch variety, not differing in general appearance and form of beak from the common Tumbler. Mr. Brent states that these birds generally begin to tumble "almost as soon as they can well fly; at three months old they tumble well, but still fly strong; at five or six months they tumble excessively; and in the second year they mostly give up flying, on account of their tumbling so much and so close to the ground. Some fly round with the flock, throwing a clean summersault every few yards, till they are obliged to settle from giddiness and exhaustion. These are called Air Tumblers, and they commonly throw from twenty to thirty summersaults in a minute, each clear and clean. I have one red cock that I have on two or three occasions timed by my watch, and counted forty summersaults in the minute. Others tumble differently. At first they throw a single summersault, then it is double, till it becomes a continuous roll, which puts an end to flying, for if they fly a few yards over they go, and roll till they reach the ground.

Charles Darwin

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