Identity theft: carriers
and carrier pigeons
The enthusiasm for pigeons
with oversized beak and eye wattles is not so much in active
fanciers of racing homers, but in fanciers of 'beauty homers'. In
many cases, these really do hold them for the original messenger
pigeons, although there was never a messenger pigeon with such large
wattles as some of the beauty homers today.
The strain of racing homers,
with which the author in his youth competed at the first races,
still based on chicken feed, also tended to stronger nose wattles
(Fig. 1). However, these were never dimensioned as they are today
sought by some so called beauty homers with reference to the alleged
ancient tradition as carrier pigeons.
Fig. 1: Racing homers in the
author’s loft 1957
If one sticks to the facts,
then neither the Belgian racing homer, which essentially goes back
to high-flyers and rough owls, nor the "Turkish pigeon" as
historical messenger pigeon (carrier) of the Orient possessed an
excessive wattling. The reference to the old messenger pigeons may
be promotional for some exhibition breeds, however, it is not
correct as justification for extreme wattles. Gessner (1555 and
1557) and Aldrovandi (1600, 1610) still do not mention messengers or
wattle pigeons in their descriptions of breeds. Only in the enlarged
version of the ‘Gessner’ by Horst (1669, p. 178) are they mentioned
in the German-speaking world as 'Dückmäuler' (thick moulth) from
Frankfurt. On the upper beak they would have a 'warty proliferation'
and warts around their eyes. Both would increase with age. They are
difficult to get used to, and it is the say, "that they fly back
from 40 miles to their proper place and are therefore often served
in sieges of theirs as messenger or letter carrier." At about the
same time, 'carriers' were described as carrier pigeons in the
Turkish Empire by Willughby 1678 similarly: size of the ordinary
pigeon, the beak of moderate length, the eye framed by bare skin and
on the beak a double crust like skin (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2: Description of the
carrier pigeon (Willughby 1678)
The description was made not
only by hearsay, because such pigeons would have been seen in the
Royal Aviary in St. Jame's Park and at another point in London. No
indication in both sources on an extreme wattling, which also covers
the lower beak. Willughby also mentioned 'Barbary Pigeons', which
run in Germany as ‘Indianer’. The beak is short and thick as in the
owls (turbits), the eye cere as the carrier. The eye color is white,
but there were also reports of red eyes. Drawings of the Turkish
Pigeon can be found at Frisch 1763 and Neumeister 1837 (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3: Turkish Pigeon at Frisch 1763 and
Pigeons with very strong
wattling, appeared only in the first monograph on domestic pigeons
by the London pharmacist Moore (1735) in the description of his
carrier. The wattling at the upper beak would be accompanied in this
sometimes by two excrescences on each side of the lower beak. In his
time was already bred on beauty attributes to a standard. His
carrier was much larger than the ordinary pigeon, the beak long,
straight and thick, the neck long and thin. Pictured is the ideal in
1765 in the Treatise. Impressive also the picture at Tegetmeier 1868
(Fig. 4). Little resemblance to the description of the original
carrier at Willughby and with the early pictures of the Turkish
Pigeon! Brent (1871) probably rightly suspects that the changes in
the neck and beak length were due to early crossings with French
Fig. 4: Carrier in der Treatise 1765 und bei
The increase in the wattling
may have been achieved by selective breeding and the use of
mutations in the desired direction. Overall, an impressive breeding
performance: For Moore and his friends, the English carrier was the
king of pigeons on the account of beauty and great sagacity. To
prove sagacity an impressive legend was needed. Moore created that
by transferring the history of the old 'carriers' of the Orient to
his now significantly changed exhibition carrier. Identity theft we
would call it today. Besides Tegetmeier, other early authors, such
as Selby (1843) and Fulton (1878), pointed out that his carrier had
already moved far from a messenger pigeon. To quote Tegetmeier: The
name carrier was regrettable, since one could not attend a show
without anyone who was deceived by the name speaking of them as the
true messenger pigeons (Tegetmeier 1868, p. 44). That does not deny
the attractiveness. Even Darwin (1868 Chapter VI) mentioned “the
Carrier with its wonderfully elongated beak and great wattles, the
Barb with its short broad beak and eye-wattles” that were developed,
however, from predecessors with beaks and wattle incomparably less
As an exhibition pigeon, the
carrier conquered the world starting from England. Also the heavily-wattled
short beaked English 'Barbs' became a figurehead of English breeding
art and were to be found as ‘Indianer’ of the English type in
Germany at the exhibitions until the 1960s.
Fig. 5: Barbary Pigeon of
the old type in Germany, champion at the German National Hamburg
1953 (Taubenwelt 2/1954).
An example of an English
carrier before 1900 is preserved in the Natural History Museum in
Braunschweig. Labeled is it as 'bagdette'. This is because the
English carrier in Germany was also called 'Long Beaked Bagdette'
(in contrast to the Nuremberg Bagdette). It was donated in 1887 by
Hugo du Roi, then president of the Club of German and
Austrian-Hungarian Poultry Breeders.
Fig. 6: Photo in the
description of the Italian Exhibition Homer
(Viaggiatore Italiano da esposizione)
http://www.agraria.org/colombi/viaggiatoreitaliano.htm and a
preparatory of an English Carrier from 1887 at the Natural Historic
With the English carrier,
the myth of the English carrier spun by Moore as an ancient
messenger pigeon was evidently transferred to other countries and
the heads of admires. That should be the background for the
presentation of similar pigeons as old Polish and old Hungarian
pigeons as well as Italian beauty pigeons. Rather embarrassing that
one can still read in the German standard, that the English carrier
was an ancient messenger pigeon of the Near East and North Africa. A
sustainable marketing of Moore, which also today's marketing experts
will have to concede!
It is an open question
whether the wrong statement of the English carrier's past as a
carrier pigeon today is positive for the breed. Probably one would
perceive the features of the English carrier in terms of neck and
leg length, the sloping stand and the peculiarities in head shape
and beak even better, if there were not the permanent comparison
with the homing pigeon in the background.
Fig. 7: Young Carriers with
restriction of beak wattle at the upper chap of the bill and a fully
developed adult at the right
Wattle pigeons have had
followers for about three hundred years now, and will continue to
have them, even without the mistaken claim of a past as a messenger
pigeon. Thus, we should accept that many of the pigeons today
propagated nationally and regionally as old messenger breeds are in
the tradition of the exhibition carrier and early forms of the
English Barbary Pigeon and not in that of true homing pigeons.
A Treatise on Domestic Pigeons, London MDCCLXV (1765), Reprint
Chicheley, Buckinghamshire 1972.
Brent, B.P., The Pigeon Book. Containing the
Description and Classification of all the known Varieties of the
Domestic Pigeon, with numerous highly-finished Illustrations, third
edition London (1871).
Darwin, Charles, The Variation of Animals and
Plants under Domestication, Vol. I,
London, John Murray 1868.
Fulton, R., The Illustrated
Book of Pigeons. London, Paris, New York and Melbourne 1876.
Gesner, Conrad, Vogelbuch, Frankfurt am Main
1669, aus dem Lateinischen mit Verbesserungen durch Georgium
Horstium, Reprint Schlütersche Verlagsanstalt und Druckerei
Moore, John, Columbarium: or
the Pigeon House, London 1735.
Neumeister, G., Das Ganze der Taubenzucht,
Selby, P.J., The
Naturalist’s Library, edited by Sir W. Jardine, Bart., Vol. XIX.
Ornithology. Pigeons, Edinburgh 1843, (preface 1835).
Sell, Axel, Brieftauben und ihre Verwandten,
Sell, Axel, Pigeon Genetics.
Applied Genetics in the Domestic Pigeon, Achim 2012.
Sell, Axel, Taubenrassen. Entstehung, Herkunft,
Verwandtschaften. Faszination Tauben durch die
Jahrhunderte, Achim 2009.
Tegetmeier, W.B., Pigeons:
their structure, varieties, habits and management, London 1868.
Ornithologia, Libres Tres, Londini MDCLXXVI (1676);
The Ornithology in Three Books. Translated into English, and
enlarged with many Additions throughout the whole work by John Ray,
Fellow of the Royal Society, London 1678.