Letter icon
Letter 1849

Blyth, Edward to Darwin, C. R.

[3 Apr 1856]

    Summary Add

  • +

    Reports observations on Indian pigeons from David Scott at Hansi. EB adds remarks on Indian breeds he has encountered. Suggests Egypt, Turkey, and Syria would be good places from which to obtain specimens. Believes domestic races are all descended from Columba livia; their calls are all similar and they pair indiscriminately.

  • +

    Guinea-fowl.

Transcription

Notes for Mr Darwin.

The following remarks on Indian Pigeons are transcribed from a letter, recd from Dr David Scott, of the Hurriána Light Infantry, stationed at Hansi (about 60 miles, distant from the desert): He lost his right hand not long ago, & is therefore obliged to correspond with his left; & his present writing is not a little difficult to decypher. A gun accident; Scott being still a most indefatigable sportsman, and an excellent Nat. Hist. observer, the J. J. of the ‘Indian Sporting Review’, under which signature you will find some capital articles of their kind. Poor fellow, his calligraphy is indeed such, that I must transcribe it in order to understand it myself.—

“For the fancy Pigeons, I put in one column the English names, with what I believe to be the native names opposite; and I take them according to size”.— Vide overleaf. Mem. That our wild Pigeons here have pink feet; & that I have now obtained Bald-pates of the typical colouring, but with white rump. diag ‘English Hindustáni Runts. 1. Kábūli Kabuta (literally Kábul Pigeon).

’ 2. Si maab

’ 3 Shirazi Powter Gul phula (literally full gullet, gula!)— Fantails Lukkha Tumblers Girra-baz

’ Almond Choa-chundun

’ Ground Lotun Carrier (native name unknown). Nuns Muki

Gáhu ramme

“Two other native names I know nothing of, viz.—(illegible).

“The three first I believe are all what are called Runts at home.— As its name betokens, the first comes from Kábul; and I had a lot of them at Pesháwur, where I remember paying four rupees for a pair. They are very large, generally blue-speckled, with more or less white. Often like what is called ‘feather-about’. They are heavy clumsy birds, and very bad breeders; for I never remember above one young in a nest brought up”. (This is evidently what is here known as the Bághdád breed!)

“The Simaab or ‘silver-water’ is, I think, merely so called from the colour resembling quicksilver. The only pair I ever saw came from Calcutta.” (An ash-coloured Shirázi, apparently; here common enough, with upper-parts silvery-grey, more or less dark, the same as in most Gulls and Terns.)

“The Shirázi is very common, of various colours,—black & white, blue & white, or red & white. They are large heavy birds, also bad breeders, & useless brutes” (sic, after much trouble to make it out! Well, our Indian runts bear names which indicate a western origin, so far as this country is concerned; i.e. Shiráz, Bághdád, & Kábul).

“The Powter I have never seen in India, though it does exist, introduced I think from home”.—

“The Fantails are precisely like those at home, but generally indifferently bred. I have seen the blue bar-winged ones at home, but not here”. (N.B. I have got another white fantail with black tail, making a pair. Are there English fantails with occipital top-knot, & with long feathers on toes?) Scott adds, “I have seen Fantails generally bare-legged”.

Palmon (?) is a name applied to all kinds having feathered legs. Some here have handsome tufts on head, like ½ bred ‘Ruffs’. The Yábu is like a ½ bred ‘Ruff’, but has a few feathers like a tuft just over the beak. I have only seen one.

“The Mukis are, I believe, simply ‘Nuns’. They are small, and black, blue, or slate-colour, with white heads and white flight-feathers. They are handsome, but bad breeders.

“The first kind of Tumbler is that kept for flying. They are generally blue with light-coloured eyes (Here dark-legged, black bill, pearl eye, & small & delicately made). They are of every colour here.

“The Choa Chundun are, I think, but am not sure, ‘Almond Tumblers’. They are of various colours, with short heads, and very small bills; & the bird itself is small. The Lotuns are a kind that roll about on the ground.

“What is called the Carrier here is not the real kind, but has got the name from having merely a fleshy knob on beak, and the eyes also surrounded by a fleshy margin. Those I have seen were thick-necked brutes, a shade better than common Pigeons.

“Delhi & Lucknow are the places for Pigeons, and I have never been stationed at either.” (N.B. Both Musálman capitals!)

Thus much verbatim et libratim. You will observe that Dr Scott's observations in Upper Hindustán coincide very nearly with mine here. However, our ‘Carriers’ are not so bad; & show, conspicuously, a much longer bill than other Pigeons, with more or less caruncle at base & surrounding eyes.— Turn to Dixon's book on Pigeons, p. 101,— the black ‘Barb’ there figured, I could here match exactly; the ‘Jacobine’ figured has the colouring of our Muki, except that the head only should be white; which latter (ours) is clearly the Nonnain Maurin of Temminck, vide p. 100; and the ‘Nun’ there figured has the same crest as our Muki, but its colouring is like that of some Lotuns or ‘Ground-tumblers’: these last have the same occipital crest, but no reverted plumes lower down. The ‘Jacobein’ looks to be a further modification of our Muki; & the latter is not the ‘Baldpate’ figured at p. 86. I have now obtained Muki with smooth occiput, i.e. true ‘Bald-pates’. I have not yet seen ‘Runts’ (Shirázi) of the typical colouring, slaty, with 2 black bars on wing, &c; but the fantail so coloured, & also our feather-footed with occipital reverted feathers, ditto, have no white band on rump; whereas the ‘Carriers’ & also the ‘Nuns’ (Muki ), have it; wherefore the latter should derive from the European livia, the former from the Asiatic intermedia! I must look to this matter as regards ‘Powters’.— It strikes me that Egypt (& Cairo—Kahirá—in particular) would be a good place where to study the races of tame Pigeons; also Turkey & Syria. Have you no friends in those countries, who might assist your enquiries?— With reference to my remark that the Numida or Meleagris or Gallina numidica (mistake for nubica) of the old Romans was N. ptilorhyncha of E. Africa, tamed no doubt, but scarcely domesticated,—I call your attention to a passage in G. W. Browne's ‘Travels in Africa’, &c (1792 to 1798), p. 264. We here learn, that so late as the close of the last century (if not still), “Guinea-fowl”—meaning of course the ptilorhynca—“are found in great numbers in Dar-fûr; whence they are carried, as a profitable commodity, to Kahirá, where, however, in a domestic state it is said that they seldom or never breed”. Mitchell should endeavour to procure a few pairs from Cairo. They are of a conspicuously distinct species from the modernly denominated N. meleagris; with hair-like frontal crest, and no vinous or plum-colour about the neck & breast. But who can now doubt the source of the Roman supply? A traffic doubtless continued uninterruptedly even to our times!— The more I see of domestic Pigeons, the more obvious becomes the conclusion, according to my judgement, of their having all descended from the livia (or barely separable intermedia, &c); and I think the voice attests this, quite as decidedly as with domestic fowls. Some difference of voice there undoubtedly is, among the races; but what is that amount of difference, compared with the distinct coo of any really different species? It is indeed surprising what varieties of cooing there are among the various wild or true species of Columbidæ; in all cases an unmistakeable Pigeon's voice, yet how different one species from another, & comparatively how very similar the coos of the different domestic races! Then their pairing so indiscriminately, however different the races!

    Footnotes Add

  • +
    f1 1849.f1
    The date is based on CD's annotation.
  • +
    f2 1849.f2
    David Scott of the Bengal Medical Establishment was assistant surgeon to the Hurrianah light infantry battalion stationed at Hansi (East-India register and army list, for 1856).
  • +
    f3 1849.f3
    Dixon 1851, p. 101, illustrates a nun, a barb, and a jacobin.
  • +
    f4 1849.f4
    Dixon 1851, p. 100, quotes Coenraad Jacob Temminck's description of the most beautiful specimens of nuns as ‘those which are black, but have the quill feathers and the head white: they are called Nonnains-Maurins.’
  • +
    f5 1849.f5
    Dixon 1851, p. 86.
  • +
    f6 1849.f6
    W. G. Browne 1799, p. 264: ‘This beautiful bird [guinea-fowl] is found in great numbers in Fûr … They are carried as a profitable commodity to Kahira, where however, in a domestic state, it is said they seldom or never breed.’ CD recorded having read this work in 1838 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 4a).
  • +
    f7 1849.f7
    David William Mitchell had been secretary of the Zoological Society of London since 1847.
  • +
    f8 1849.f8
    In his abstract of this letter, CD wrote only: ‘Letter 14— Notes on domestic Pigeons’ (DAR 203).
Maximized view Print letter