Thus I had one kill herself, and another broke his leg. Many of them turn over only a few inches from the ground, and will tumble two or three times in flying across their loft. These are called House-tumblers, from tumbling in the house. The act of tumbling seems to be one over which they have no control, an involuntary movement which they seem to try to prevent. I have seen a bird sometimes in his struggles fly a yard or two straight upwards, the impulse forcing him backwards while he struggles to go forwards. If suddenly startled, or in a strange place, they seem less able to fly than if quiet in their accustomed loft." These House-tumblers differ from the Lotan or Ground Tumbler of India, in not requiring to be shaken in order to begin tumbling. The breed has probably been formed merely by selecting the best common Tumblers, though it is possible that they may have been crossed at some former period with Lotans.
(FIGURE 23. SHORT-FACED ENGLISH TUMBLER.)
SUB-RACE 7/1V. SHORT-FACED TUMBLERS
These are marvellous birds, and are the glory and pride of many fanciers. In their extremely short, sharp, and conical beaks, with the skin over the nostrils but little developed, they almost depart from the type of the Columbidae. Their heads are nearly globular and upright in front, so that some fanciers say (5/18. J.M. Eaton 'Treatise on Pigeons' 1852 page 9.) "the head should resemble a cherry with a barleycorn stuck in it." These are the smallest kind of pigeons. Mr. Esquilant possessed a blue Baldhead, two years old, which when alive weighed, before feeding-time, only 6 ounces 5 drs.; two others, each weighed 7 ounces. We have seen that a wild rock- pigeon weighed 14 ounces 2 drs., and a Runt 34 ounces 4 drs. Short-faced Tumblers have a remarkably erect carriage, with prominent breasts, drooping wings, and very small feet. The length of the beak from the tip to the feathered base was in one good bird only .4 of an inch; in a wild rock- pigeon it was exactly double this length. As these Tumblers have shorter bodies than the wild rock-pigeon, they ought of course to have shorter beaks; but proportionally with the size of the body, the beak is .28 of an inch too short. So, again, the feet of this bird were actually .45 shorter, and proportionally .21 of an inch shorter, than the feet of the rock- pigeon. The middle toe has only twelve or thirteen, instead of fourteen or fifteen scutellae. The primary wing-feathers are not rarely nine instead of ten in number. The improved short-faced Tumblers have almost lost the power of tumbling; but there are several authentic accounts of their occasionally tumbling. There are several sub-varieties, such as Bald-heads, Beards, Mottles, and Almonds; the latter are remarkable from not acquiring their perfectly-coloured plumage until they have moulted three or four times. There is good reason to believe that most of these sub-varieties, some of which breed truly, have arisen since the publication of Moore's treatise in 1735. (5/19. J.M. Eaton 'Treatise' edition 1858 page 76.)
Finally, in regard to the whole group of Tumblers, it is impossible to conceive a more perfect gradation than I have now lying before me, from the rock-pigeon, through Persian, Lotan, and common Tumblers, up to the marvellous short-faced birds; which latter, no ornithologist, judging from mere external structure, would place in the same genus with the rock- pigeon. The differences between the successive steps in this series are not greater than those which may be observed between common dovecote-pigeons (C. livia) brought from different countries.]
RACE VIII. INDIAN FRILL-BACK.
Beak very short; feathers reversed.
[A specimen of this bird, in spirits, was sent to me from Madras by Sir W. Elliot. It is wholly different from the Frill-back often exhibited in England. It is a smallish bird, about the size of the common Tumbler, but has a beak in all its proportions like our short-faced Tumblers. The beak, measured from the tip to the feathered base, was only .46 of an inch in length.