(13/25. Azara 'Essais Hist. Nat. de Paraguay' tome 2 1801 page 372.) White and black Bantams, both of which generally breed true, sometimes assume as they grow old a saffron or red plumage. For instance, a first-rate black bantam has been described, which during three seasons was perfectly black, but then annually became more and more red; and it deserves notice that this tendency to change, whenever it occurs in a bantam, "is almost certain to prove hereditary." (13/26. These facts are given on the high authority of Mr. Hewitt in 'The Poultry Book' by Mr. Tegetmeier 1866 page 248.) The cuckoo or blue-mottled Dorking cock, when old, is liable to acquire yellow or orange hackles in place of his proper bluish-grey hackles. (13/27. 'The Poultry Book' by Tegetmeier 1866 page 97.) Now as Gallus bankiva is coloured red and orange, and as Dorking fowls and bantams are descended from this species, we can hardly doubt that the change which occasionally occurs in the plumage of these birds as their age advances, results from a tendency in the individual to revert to the primitive type.


It has long been notorious that hybrids and mongrels often revert to both or to one of their parent-forms, after an interval of from two to seven or eight, or, according to some authorities, even a greater number of generations. But that the act of crossing in itself gives an impulse towards reversion, as shown by the reappearance of long-lost characters, has never, I believe, been hitherto proved. The proof lies in certain peculiarities, which do not characterise the immediate parents, and therefore cannot have been derived from them, frequently appearing in the offspring of two breeds when crossed, which peculiarities never appear, or appear with extreme rarity, in these same breeds, as long as they are precluded from crossing. As this conclusion seems to me highly curious and novel, I will give the evidence in detail.

[My attention was first called to this subject, and I was led to make numerous experiments, by MM. Boitard and Corbie having stated that, when they crossed certain breeds of pigeons, birds coloured like the wild C. livia, or the common dovecote--namely, slaty-blue, with double black wing-bars, sometimes chequered with black, white loins, the tail barred with black, with the outer feathers edged with white,--were almost invariably produced. The breeds which I crossed, and the remarkable results attained, have been fully described in the sixth chapter. I selected pigeons belonging to true and ancient breeds, which had not a trace of blue or any of the above specified marks; but when crossed, and their mongrels recrossed, young birds were often produced, more or less plainly coloured slaty-blue, with some or all of the proper characteristic marks. I may recall to the reader's memory one case, namely, that of a pigeon, hardly distinguishable from the wild Shetland species, the grandchild of a red-spot, white fantail, and two black barbs, from any of which, when purely-bred, the production of a pigeon coloured like the wild C. livia would have been almost a prodigy.

I was thus led to make the experiments, recorded in the seventh chapter, on fowls. I selected long-established pure breeds, in which there was not a trace of red, yet in several of the mongrels feathers of this colour appeared; and one magnificent bird, the offspring of a black Spanish cock and white Silk hen, was coloured almost exactly like the wild Gallus bankiva. All who know anything of the breeding of poultry will admit that tens of thousands of pure Spanish and of pure white Silk fowls might have been reared without the appearance of a red feather. The fact, given on the authority of Mr. Tegetmeier, of the frequent appearance, in mongrel fowls, of pencilled or transversely-barred feathers, like those common to many gallinaceous birds, is likewise apparently a case of reversion to a character formerly possessed by some ancient progenitor of the family. I owe to the kindness of this excellent observer the opportunity of inspecting some neck-hackles and tail-feathers from a hybrid between the common fowl and a very distinct species, the Gallus varius; and these feathers are transversely striped in a conspicuous manner with dark metallic blue and grey, a character which could not have been derived from either immediate parent.

Charles Darwin

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