White tails

Colored pigeons with white tails were somewhat special for Edmund Zurth. To him, they also seemed to have a mysterious character of their own. He dedicated own stories to them and the related white-wing white-tailed pigeons. And that from his own experience, provided with own drawings. In his Magdeburg white tails, the white of the tail reached down to the rump as may be seen in several of his drawing.


Fig. 1: Magdeburg white-tailed blue hen and white-wing white-tailed yellow old capon in the booklet from Edmund Zurth, Pigeons. Factual reports. Fates and riddles in their essence (German language), Bochum 1948

What you see on the white tail isn't just the white rectrices or main tail feathers. The front parts of the main tail feathers are overlaid by the upper tail covert feathers, which are also white. The position of the covert feathers is shown in the following picture and is made even clearer by the illustration in volume 1 of the anthology 'Alles über Rassetauben' published by Erich Müller.


Fig. 2: Upper covert feathers to partially cover the main tail feathers and feather corridors in the tail area in volume 1, Alles über Rassetauben, published by Erich Müller. Oertel + Spörer Reutlingen 2000

The upper covert feathers can also be colored with white main tail feathers. The color of the covert feathers and the main tail feathers are not genetically correlated. With a side view and normal wing posture, the ‘color or white’ of the covert feathers is often indistinguishable. In the case of Seljuks with a gable-like tail, the differences are obvious, as is the case here with the individual with black upper coverts.


Fig. 3: German Long-Beaked Tumbler white-tailed with white upper coverts and Seljuk white-tailed with black upper coverts

Upper coverts in pigeon standards

In standards, white upper covert feathers are required for almost all breeds, as is the case with the German Long-Beaked Tumbler. The former ‘Magdeburgers’ from Zurth are now a color group of the German Long-Beaked Tumblers. Exceptions to the color of the upper covert feathers in the German standard are the white tails of the old Dutch Tumblers, and Thuringian Mäuser Pigeons sometimes have it. For them also in Germany nobody really knows why ‘Mäuser’ and what it means. Mäuser are otherwise not self but have a white cap marking. 1-2 colored edge feathers are allowed in the tail on both sides. Colored edge feathers are also allowed in black white-tailed Seljuks, a color-class created in Germany for that breed. The upper covert feathers should be white with these according to the standard. They are, at least not with many of the individuals shown at exhibitions. The extent to which corrective action is taken at exhibitions by removing colored covert feathers in order to still convey the impression can hardly be seen from the outside. In the case of the black Seljuk White Tail shown below, you can see in the photo in comparison with the ice-colored individual, however, that, and also where, black covert feathers were pulled before. The upper covert feathers are missing where the keels of the main tail feathers can be seen almost in full length. The photos are intended to encourage caution when interpreting documents.


Fig. 4: Seljuk white tail with missing (cleaned) upper covert feathers in the tail area. For comparison, an ice-colored individual with existing covert feathers

Under covert feathers in pigeon standards

Under covert feathers cover the main tail feathers from below. Depending on the position of the wings and tail, the difference between white and colored covert feathers is often not very noticeable. In the case of Thurgau White Tail, the under covert feathers should be white, for example, while in the Berne White Tail they are required in color. With the Berne White Tail in the standard, even with the chosen perspective for the drawing from Jean Louis Frindel, one can see that the under covert feathers are separated from the white main tail feathers, unlike in the Bern White Tail.


Fig. 5: Thurgau White Tail with white under covert feathers and Berne White Tail with colored under covert feathers in the ring binder of the German Standard of Pigeon Breeds. Drawings by Jean Louis Frindel. BDRG German pigeon standard in color

Combination of under and upper covert feathers coloring

Theoretically there are four possible combinations, which are shown in the table with examples. The requirements of the standard are not always met.



Upper covert feathers white

Upper covert feathers colored

Under covert feathers white

German Long Beaked Tumbler

Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Netherland White-Tail

Romanian White-Tail


Danish Tumbler

Thurgau White-Tail

Moravian Strasser Whit-Tail

Some Thuringian Mäuser in practice

Under covert feathers colored

Thuringian White-Tail


South German White-Tail

Saxon White-Tail

Berne Gugger-White-Tail

Zurich White-Tail

Old-Dutch Tumbler White-Tail

Some Thuringian  Mäuser


Fig. 6: Combinations of white and colored upper and under covert feathers in the German standard and partly - deviating from the standard - in reality


Upper coverts white

Upper coverts colored

Under coverts white

Under coverts  colored

Fig. 7: Combinations of white and colored upper and under covert feathers in selected breeds

In the upper left quadrant a Hamburg White Tail with white under and upper covert feathers. To the right as a detail the photo of a yellow Thuringian Mäuser. In that individual the upper covert feathers are colored. There is also a yellow edge main tail feather in place. The white under covert feathers stand out under the white main tail feathers and the slightly hanging yellow edge main color feather. This combination of colored upper and white under covert feathers not seem to be provided for in any standard. Lower left a Zurich white tail correctly with a white upper coverts and colored under coverts. Next to it an old Dutch Tumbler, also compliant with the standards, with a colored upper and under coverts. Picture taken from a Facebook post about a club show in January 2020 of the German Special Club for Old Dutch Tumblers.

On the genetics of the white tail

Investigations of the genetics of white tails were carried out and documented almost 100 years ago by the Norwegians Christie and Wriedt. They embedded the investigation in a more extensive analysis of piebalds such as magpies and shield pigeons and suspected that two different hereditary factors, one recessive, the other dominant, alternatively could be responsible for the white tail. Their experiments and today's findings are documented in the author's books 'Genetik der Taubenfärbungen, Achim 2015' and 'Pigeon Genetics, Achim 2012'. The relationships seem more complex than can be expressed with the terms recessive and dominant. The main tail feathers are often white in different numbers. After crossbreeding, many generations of selection are required to stabilize the pied marking again. Also not surprising and unique for the breeders, because after crossbreeding of white flights and magpies with selfs or other pied markings, the breeders feel the same way with the correctness of the marking. Even in the first mating with selfs, contradictions with the first Mendelian law, the uniformity of the first generation of crosses, arise when a young individual shows different numbers of white main tail feathers and the nest sibling none. The same applies to the under and upper covert feathers.

Surprising results

Paul Gibson assumed after his observations in white tails that colored edge feathers were an indication of the partially dominant gene (Genetics of Pigeons 2005, p. 78). If the colored edge feathers were lost, the white would tend to expand to other areas of the body. The dominance thesis cannot be generalized. Recently, the mating of a black cross-breed hen (from a check cock Ice Pigeon with a Spread Ash Pomeranian Eye-Crested Highflyer) back to the Ice Pigeon cock resulted in a black white tail with a colored edge tail feather on each side. The upper cover feathers predominantly colored, the under cover feathers predominantly white.


Fig. 8: Ice-Pigeon check cock and F1 hen out of mating with a Spread Ash Pomeranian hen with two youngsters from the same clutch. At the right tail and upper cover feathers of the black white-tail young. The gap in the coverts is not due to not yet grown black feathers, but to two white feather feathers instead, next to the black ones.

White tails of different breeds

In many breeds, white tails can be seen in combination with other white feather parts. So, with the South German, Thuringian and Saxon White-Tails in combination with a white forehead. The white bars of the Saxon White-Tails are not pied white, but a lightening of the bars through the combination of several color factors.


Fig. 9: Thuringian and Saxon White-Tail

According to the standard, white-tailed Fantails should have a 'front and rear cushion' as white as possible. Shown in the picture is a blue beard with some colored feathers at the upper coverts and a lavender white-tail (Spread Milky) with some smaller colored feathers in the upper coverts and in addition colored edge main tail feathers.


Fig. 10: Fantail lavendel white-tail and blue beard white-tailed

The combination of colored upper covert feathers and white under coverts is not found in any standard, but it was found occasionally in Thuringian Mäuser. In this breed with a white under and a white upper coverts imperfections from the view of the standard may be recognized at the shows, the standard, however is not easy to read.


Fig. 11: Thuringian Mäuser at a great German show with colored upper coverts (at the left) and from a show report in the Geflügel-Zeitung 10/2020 with white under and upper coverts