Genetics and pigeon breeding: Did we miss the enlightenment?

Genetics in pigeons in scientific publications today are almost exclusively about molecular genetics. Most of the fanciers and opinion leaders in the organization and clubs, probably not only in Germany, have not yet internalized the classic Mendelian laws in pigeon breeding. This is clearly based on heredity experiments. On this basis, Prof. W.F. Hollander and other scientists brought a system into the interaction of the different genetic factors. For those who have become familiar with it, the numerous colors in some breeds will no longer appear like an unsystematic listing and a chaos that must be prevented.

When the General Exhibition Regulations (AAB) of the Federation of German Breeders of Poultry (BDRG) were formulated, it was certainly not clear to those responsible how easy it was to mate different colors (in the standards color-classes) in a breed without damage for the breed. Also not that individual colors are not isolated from each other, but can be seen as part of a breeding group. Even today, many cannot understand that the mating of a (recessive) yellow pigeon with a black pigeon produces well-colored, dun in the first generation and that from an ash red cock with a blue-check hen, neatly colored ash red check young appear in the first generation (Fig. 1).


Fig. 1 und 2: Zwischenfarbenschläge. Rotfahlgehämmert aus Rotfahl und Blaugehämmert; Römer blaufahl mit Binden unter den Neuzüchtungen

If there are recessive yellow Romans, dilute blue (former silver in some terminology) will automatically appear at some point in the breeding (Fig. 2). Why should these be examined for years in a recognition class new breeds and colors for the breed type if they themselves come from breed-typical Romans? The fact that they are not all perfect or near to perfect individuals should also go without saying and is also so in the other collections in the general section.

If the question is raised in social media why 'intermediate-colors' have to go through such a long recognition process within a breed, the answer quickly comes that there are already too many breeds and color anyway with at the same time the decreasing number of breeders. With such a comment, one does not know whether it is intended to change an uncomfortable topic. It is likely that the commentator actually does not know that mating within a breed two different colors and creating or recognizing new breeds is completely different in animal breeding. Crosses of colors are not a mixture of hereditary factors or even the blood, as many believe. The use of language from ancient times with bloodline, blood freshening etc. leads to such thinking. Hereditary factors can initially be hidden in new gene combinations. They can, however, reappear unadulterated in later generations. As in the photo montage of the blue-barless Chinese Owls (Fig. 3), in which a blue-bar individual is mated with a blue-check, both of which come from a blue-barless parent.

Fig. 3: Mating of a blue bar and blue check Chinese Owls that both are heterozygous barless. At the right the potential outcome. Source: Sell 2004, 2007

Punnett’s Square in Fig. 3 invites for "practicing": besides blue-bar and blue-check youngsters, blue-barless at the right in the offspring. Even if you don't trust Mendel, you can prove it with molecular genetic analyzes of the relevant DNA sections based on identical amino acid sequences, as they appear in the family tree of the ancestors.

Those responsible for the AAB from the improved knowledge about inheritance do not seem to have derived the need for changes the procedural rules. That seems the only explanation for the high hurdles for recognition and the long, often unsuccessful try to get a color standardized. There is even the rule in the AAB that colors can be revoked if they have not been shown at national shows or the main special show for several years. Anyone who discovers an interest in a traditional color that has reappeared in breeding has to try his luck again over years, sometimes decades, in the new breeding recognition process.

The answer from other opponents of any change comes from the fact that one should first breed the main colors to perfection before allowing new ones. Anyone who argues in this way has not understood the mechanisms of competition in the exhibition system. There can be no perfection in the system. If the standard is achieved by a 'too large' number of individuals, it can no longer serve its purpose of selecting and rewarding a small number of top individuals. New breeding difficulties must be added against which the breeders compete. The resulting development of many races over time is reproduced here for the Strasser breed.

Fig. 4: Development of the Strasser-breed over a century

You can also get it illustrated in many breed monographs, such as the example of the brochure by Jonnie L. Blaine with the change in standard images for the English Long-faced Tumblers.


Fig. 5 and Fig. 6: English Long Faced Tumbler about 1905 painted by A.J. Simpson and the painting of a 1908 Mottle cock, painted by Wippell. Source: Blaine 1978.

Fig. 7 and Fig. 8: J.W. Ludlow’s Ideal head which was adopted by the Long Faced Tumbler Club April 14, 1910 and the cover of Jonnie Blaine’ booklet with a painting of John Mahaffay that has been accepted as the New Ideal Drawing by the Pacific Tumbler Club. Source: Blaine 1978.

Some knowledge of genetics would not only be good for breeding planning, but also for the reputation of poultry breeding in general. However, because of the same ignorance and lack of information about inheritance, many reports in social media from breeders and unsuitable 'likes' can be explained. So if someone shows a breeding pair with two sprinkles or with two Dominant Opal. They should not be mated for animal welfare due to the genetic defects in some of their offspring, and the members of the group give applause. Even in view of the difficult situation of the hobby and the loss of members in the organization, it is hardly understandable that the BDRG offends creative breeders and friends of rare colors and does not try to involve them.

Large entries at the national shows may obscure the decrease at the local level, so perhaps the feeling the organization can afford the luxury of exclusion. The picture is deceptive: Compared to earlier, a higher proportion of the (decreasing) number of breeders seems to attend with their pigeon the great National Shows, and then with higher numbers of pigeons per breeder. There are no systematic studies on this. A look at old catalogs suggests it. Was it in Munich in January 1975 e.g. 6.5 pigeons per exhibitor, so there were over 14 in Kassel in January 2019.


Blaine, Jonnie L., The English Long Faced Tumbler “Update 1978”, Whittier, California 1978.

Domyan, Eric T., Michael D. Shapiro, Pigeonetics takes flight: evolution, development, and genetics of intraspecific variation, Dev Biol. 2017 Jul 15: 427(2): 241-250. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5521274/

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