Art, visions and genetic limitations: On the quantitative dimension of qualitative genes

"Possibilities and Limitations of Breeding Design", so the possible translation of the subtitle of the German language book ‘Pigeon breeding 'of 2019. Artists have it easier than breeders. They can follow their visions free of genetic laws and detach themselves from the templates. The inspiration for the expressive oil painting of the Pomeranian Eye-Crested Highflyers by Jan Hatzmann was obviously from a photo shown in an anthology edited by Wittig 1925. The elegance of the pigeons and the play of the light are wonderfully captured, similar to the photo. Realistically, however, the abundance of feather and the fit of the hood are exaggerated.

Fig. 1: Pomeranian Eye-Crested Highflyers in an oil painting by Jan Hatzmann

In this case one can save oneself also the discussion often led with other works of art, it must have given it so, if the artist so represented it. That often even in old literature with the hint, after the nature painted. In the individual presentation of the animals from the same breeder it becomes even clearer. Distinctive eye-crests, the feather cap with volume, but very low and not outstanding the skull.


Fig. 2: Pomeranian Eye-Crested Highflyers from the breeder Hauenstein-Kolberg in Pomerania, pictured in the anthology of Wittig 1925, reprinted in Sell, Pigeon Breeds from Pomerania, Achim 2010.

Breeders know the problems. When the hood is set very high, eventually disappears the desired rosette. When the feather abundance increases and so does the length of the hood feathers, the neck plumage appears fuller and the elegance of the neck guide is lost.

The quantitative dimension of qualitative genes

Decades ago, the author examined the different characteristics empirically for Eye-Crested Highflyers and variously documented them. The measurements and analysis were done still in 1978 with a hood height and expression in the range as indicated in Fig. 4 in the drawing for 4 characteristics of hood and eye-crests. The length and width of the eye-crests, the height of the cap approach and the length of the hood feathers were measured on 70 old individuals (35 pairs) and 140 offspring from 31 of these pairs.

Fig. 3: Head structure in Pomeranian Eye-Crested Highflyers (source: Sell, Taubenzucht, Achim 2019, there Fig. 112).

Hoods, beak tufts, beak rosettes and the like are usually considered as qualitative genes, they are present or not. That they have a quantitative dimension is also evident in this sample. Despite differences in size between the sexes, which are also reflected in the weight, the differences in the feather structures in the averages are low. The range was, however, wider in the case of the males than in the females, as is evident on the left for the measured feather length of shell crest in Fig. 4.


Fig. 4: Length of the hood by gender in cm for 35 pairs from the author's loft at that time, blue ; Connection of eye-crest length and width for 70 old birds, data compressed by overlapping

The quantitative dimension of the "qualitative" feature of the eye-crests is also evident in these, whereby the graph (Fig. 4, right) shows the positive relationship between width and length in the individuals (statistically a correlation coefficient of 79%). This positive relationship between width and length also existed between features of the eye-crest and hood height, but was not so strict.

These quantitative differences between the individuals in the different characteristics are also hereditary according to the analysis of parents and offspring. The individual characteristics could thus be increased by selection over the generations, if one ignores other racial characteristics.

Successful and less successful presentations

Shell crest height and fullness are more realistic in a drawing by Carl Witzmann than in the vision by Jan Hatzmann. The vision of an elegant highflyer with a slender neck and yet attractive feather abundance is lost. The lightness and elegance of the pigeons is gone. Figure, head shape and beak setting are those of a field or utility pigeon. Also note the technical error that the blue with a light bill (smoky blue) in the tail has a white-edged local spring. They do not exist genetically in smoky blue.

Fig. 5: Art print supplement to the Journal Kleintier-Züchter with Pomeranian Eye-Crested Highflyers (Pommersche Schaukappe) by Carl Witzmann

How a one-sided selection can lead to pronounced eye crests and cap fullness is shown in Fig. 6 left. The elegance, however, is gone. On the other hand, elegance is captured and hinted at one of Ingolf Jungnickel's photo taken at a show in Hamburg in 1985 from pigeons of the author's brother (Fig. 6, right).

Fig. 6: Pomeranian Eye-Crested Tumbler with great feather abundance, but distinct defects in elegance (left); Pomeranian Eye-Crested Tumbler Smoky blue and a couple of whites by Joachim Sell on a photo by Ingolf Jungnickel (source for these pictures: Sell, Pomeranian pigeon breeds, Achim 2010).

Exemplarity of this investigation

With perhaps twenty breeders of the breed worldwide, the effort of such an investigation is exaggerated. However, there was the ultimately unfulfilled hope that others could be motivated to take up similar issues in other races. In some ways, however, the study is revealing of the understanding of developments and divergence in other races. The standard, with the desire for feather fullness of the shell crest and clearly visible eye-crests, meets demands that run counter to the desire for a high-fitting shell crest and a slim neck. In this case, the breeders were keen to keep the balance between their wishes. However, if judges or a breeding community in other breeds in similarly genetically unstable situations decide to give absolute priority to one of several wishes, then the breed will change rapidly. Quick, because it is easier to describe extreme demands, such as small as possible, as large as possible, a cap as high as possible, the largest possible feather structures, and also easier to communicate than to speak as a balance the word.


The German Nuns corresponds in refinement and elegance still largely the type that Eaton had depicted in 1858. A focus on crest fullness and lack of slender neckline and rosette crest closure led to a visually different breed, the English nuns with other breeding priorities. Due to the abundance of feathers, some of the English Nuns above the eyes occasionally show a type of eye-brows that may have genetically different causes than the Pomeranian’s eye-crest.

Fig. 7: Historical Nuns at Eaton 1858, German Nuns and English Nuns (Source: Sell, Pigeon Genetics, Achim 2012)

Romans – Runts:

Runts (Giant Runts) are a breed occurring in the US, which, like the Romans, belong to the giant pigeons and have similar ancestors. In the standard of 1979, a medium length of neck is wanted, free from gullet and appearing broad and full towards the breast. Compared to the standard drawing of that time the breed has changed by emphasis on this demand in type in a few decades and differs even more strongly from the European Romans than before.

Fig. 8: Giant Runt from the Book of Pigeon Standards 1979 and Giant Runt 2006 from the book, Pigeon Genetics, Achim 2012, photo: Layne Gardner


Highly valued Oriental Rollers are characterized in many countries by a slender neck. In the USA, the UORA Roller with a strong neck is propagated in the standard picture (Fig. 9 at the right), possibly also the start of a new breed. The difference between the Oriental Roller and the UORA Roller in the USA is larger than the distance between the Oriental Roller and the Sarajevo Roller (Fig. 10).


Fig. 9: Oriental Roller yellow Leipzig 2018 graded excellent and standard drawing of an UORA Roller to US standard

Fig. 10: Oriental Roller silver black sprinkled and Sarajevo Roller white dun sprinkled on a European Pigeon Show (Source: Sell, Taubenzucht. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen züchterischer Gestaltung, Achim 2019)


Eaton, John Matthews, Treatise on the Art of Breeding and Managing Tame, Domesticated, Foreign and Fancy Pigeons, London 1858.

National Pigeon Assn., Book of Pigeon Standards. Revised 1979.

Sell, Axel, Pigeon Genetics. Applied Genetics in the Domestic Pigeon, Achim 2012.

Sell, Axel, Taubenzucht. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen züchterischer Gestaltung, Achim 2019.

Sell, Axel, Pommersche Taubenrassen. Pigeon Breeds from Pomerania, Achim 2009.

Wittig, Otto (ed.), Muster-Taubenbuch, Berlin 1925.