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THE CLASSIFICATION OF FOWLS.
“ The more I deliberate upon the best mode of arranging the different varieties of Poultry, the more I feel the difficulty of devising any satisfactory arrangement. Thus, supposing you should arrange them according to their combs and tufts, you place side by side fowls whose valuable qualities are of a totally different nature. Furthermore, some breeds, such as the Pheasant-Malay, and even the Hamburghs, are uncertain with regard to their combs. Then the Polands are some of them everlasting layers, and some not; while others of them can only be ranked as dunghills.”—J. S. W.
It is evident that if Domestic Fowls be believed to be merely altered forms of one or two wild races, under the influence of altered food and climate, which we have endeavoured to show that they are not, they must be arranged on different principles to what they would be if we allow them to take rank as original and independent varieties or species. In the one case we have to search out the wild bird nearest resembling any one domestic breed, and form our series from that as a beginning, as well as we can ; in the other case we have to become well acquainted with all the wild and all the domestic species of Gallus, and then arrange them in groups or in a continuous line, according to their resemblances and relationships, without any reference to the circumstance of their domestication or their untameability. The former plan can be carried out by a little theory and bold guess-work; the latter requires industry, accurate observation, and opportunities which few individuals, if any, have at present at command. In the meanwhile we may attempt something like an artificial arrangement of Fowls, which
afford a temporary assistance to the fancier, till a more scientific scheme is worked out, and which may perhaps be the means of leading to it, just as, to compare small things with great,
the artificial Linnean arrangement in Botany has cleared the way and been preliminary to the great natural system of classification that is now in vogue. Two desiderata are still required for the attainment of this object; one or other of them is indispensable—the first, a complete set of full-sized coloured figures of every variety, giving both the sexes, the egg, and the new hatched Chick, with accurate and technical descriptions of their plumage and their characteristic properties; the second, a collection of stuffed specimens of the representatives of every breed, for comparison and reference. The first can only be undertaken by a person of fortune ; the second can scarcely be expected from our Museums or Natural History Societies, devoted as they are to subjects of wider range, and more general interest. It is to be feared that Poultry will be considered beneath the dignity of the Royal Agricultural Society ; but such a work, or such a Museum, would be no discredit to their taste ; and, if the ladies of the leading members were to exert their influence, something might perhaps be done to illustrate a tribe of useful and engaging creatures, in whom so large a portion of society is more or less interested.
The correct mode of classifying Domestic Fowls would, we believe, be to arrange them, with the wild ones, in natural order and sequence ; but in the present state of our information, this is impossible, except in an unsatisfactorily rough approximation. Fifty years hence, when the successors of Sir James Brooke shall have explored the Indian Archipelago, such a thing may be successfully attempted.
It is a good exercise in this study, when, looking over a farm-yard, or casting an eye on a roadside lot of Hens, to endeavour to refer each one to some decided variety. Traces of the Dorkings, of the Polish, and the Golden and Silver Hamburghs, are very frequent. The best judges agree that there is no such variety as the Barndoor Fowl, (unless we agree to appropriate that name to
some one variety which has hitherto been scarcely distinguished with precision,) but that such barn-door collections are merely a rabble of mongrels, in which the results of accidental crosses have become apparent in all kinds
We will take, then, the serrated upright fleshy comb to be the typical distinction of the Cock—a feature which Aristotle has pointedly indicated—just as Mr. Swainson has fixed upon the broad bill of the Shoveller, to give that bird precedence among Ducks. The sickle feathers of the tail are perhaps equally characteristic of the genus, but they differ little in the respective varieties. Neither mark of distinction has, it is true, any functional office in the organization of the animal ; but it would be difficult to find one which had ; even the spurs being common to many other gallinaceous birds which have neither comb nor sickle feathers. In the Spanish Fowl, the comb is more developed than in any other breed; we will therefore take that bird as our type, and suggest, with diffidence, the following pro tempore arrangement. The list by no means professes to include all varieties; but it will be immediately seen how easy it is to assign a place in it to such as are omitted. We pass from the single and uprightcombed Spanish, through the smaller, or pendant, or rosecombed breeds, to the commencement of the tuft in the Lark-crested Fowls, placing the amply top-knotted Polanders last.
THE SPANISH FOWL.
The Spanish breed is, in all probability, of ancient and remote origin, and does really seem to have reached us from the country after which it is named. In North Devon they call the Spanish Fowls “Minorcas ;" others call them Portugal Fowl ; neither terms remove them far from their old established location, if not their original home. It is a noble race of Fowls, possessing many great merits ; of spirited and animated appearance, of considerable size, excellent for the table, both in whiteness of flesh and skin, and also in flavour, laying exceedingly large eggs in considerable numbers. Amongst birds of its own breed it is not deficient in courage ; though it yields without showing much fight to those which have a dash of game blood in their veins. It is a general favourite in all large cities, for the additional advantage that no soil of smoke or dirt is apparent on its plumage. The thoroughbred birds of the fancy should be entirely black, as far as feathers are concerned, and when in high condition display a greenish metallic lustre. The combs of both Cock and Hen are exceedingly large, of a vivid and most brilliant scarlet ; that of the Hen droops over on one side. Their most singular feature is a large white patch, or ear-lobe, on the cheek, of a fleshy substance, similar to the wattle, which is small in the Hens, but large and very conspicuous in the Cocks. This marked contrast of black, bright red, and white, makes the head of the Spanish Cock as handsome as that of any variety we have ; and in the genuine breed the whole form is equally good : but the scraggy, long-legged, mis-shapen mongrels one often sees in the poorer quarters of a town are enough to throw discredit on the whole race.
Spanish Hens are celebrated as good layers, and produce very large, quite white eggs, of a peculiar shape,