For our purpose, modifications of all kinds are equally important, and if affecting a part which does not commonly vary, are of more importance than a modification in some conspicuous part. At the present day any visible deviation of character in a well-established breed is rejected as a blemish; but it by no means follows that at an early period, before well-marked breeds had been formed, such deviations would have been rejected; on the contrary, they would have been eagerly preserved as presenting a novelty, and would then have been slowly augmented, as we shall hereafter more clearly see, by the process of unconscious selection.
[I have made numerous measurements of the various parts of the body in the several breeds, and have hardly ever found them quite the same in birds of the same breed,--the differences being greater than we commonly meet with in wild species within the same district. To begin with the primary feathers of the wing and tail; but I must first mention, as some readers may not be aware of the fact, that the number of the primary wing and tail- feathers in wild birds is generally constant, and characterises, not only whole genera, but even whole families. When the tail-feathers are unusually numerous, as for instance in the swan, they are apt to be variable in number; but this does not apply to the several species and genera of the Columbidae, which never (as far as I can hear) have less than twelve or more than sixteen tail-feathers; and these numbers characterise, with rare exception, whole sub-families. (5/27. 'Coup-d'oeil sur L'Ordre des Pigeons' par C.L. Bonaparte 'Comptes Rendus' 1854-55. Mr. Blyth in 'Annals of Nat. Hist.' volume 19 1847 page 41, mentions, as a very singular fact, "that of the two species of Ectopistes, which are nearly allied to each other, one should have fourteen tail-feathers, while the other, the passenger pigeon of North America, should possess but the usual number--twelve.") The wild rock-pigeon has twelve tail-feathers. With Fantails, as we have seen, the number varies from fourteen to forty-two. In two young birds in the same nest I counted twenty-two and twenty-seven feathers. Pouters are very liable to have additional tail-feathers, and I have seen on several occasions fourteen or fifteen in my own birds. Mr. Bult had a specimen, examined by Mr. Yarrell, with seventeen tail-feathers. I had a Nun with thirteen, and another with fourteen tail-feathers; and in a Helmet, a breed barely distinguishable from the Nun, I have counted fifteen, and have heard of other such instances. On the other hand, Mr. Brent possessed a Dragon, which during its whole life never had more than ten tail-feathers; and one of my Dragons, descended from Mr. Brent's, had only eleven. I have seen a Bald-head Tumbler with only ten; and Mr. Brent had an Air-Tumbler with the same number, but another with fourteen tail-feathers. Two of these latter Tumblers, bred by Mr. Brent, were remarkable,--one from having the two central tail-feathers a little divergent, and the other from having the two outer feathers longer by three-eighths of an inch than the others; so that in both cases the tail exhibited a tendency, but in different ways, to become forked. And this shows us how a swallow-tailed breed, like that described by Bechstein, might have been formed by careful selection.
With respect to the primary wing-feathers, the number in the Columbidae, as far as I can find out, is always nine or ten. In the rock-pigeon it is ten; but I have seen no less than eight short-faced Tumblers with only nine primaries, and the occurrence of this number has been noticed by fanciers, owing to ten primaries of a white colour being one of the points in Short- faced Bald-head-Tumblers. Mr. Brent, however, had an Air-Tumbler (not short-faced) which had in both wings eleven primaries. Mr. Corker, the eminent breeder of prize Carriers, assures me that some of his birds had eleven primaries in both wings. I have seen eleven in one wing in two Pouters. I have been assur