Every living organism shows variations in many forms. Birds, including pigeons, show huge diversity in the distribution of feathers, the color they bear, their shape and size, and so many more traits.
The distribution of feathers in pigeons is another such variation that can be seen in many of its breeds. Some of these pigeon breeds have scales on their feet while some are seen with feathered-foot. The feathered feet of pigeons are also called ‘muffs’.
History Of Feather-footed Pigeons
The University of Utah has traced back the pigeons to dinosaurs. As per the study, the scales and feathers that you see on birds were developed by dinosaurs before they turned into birds. So what you see today is the result of evolution.
As you know, two genes are responsible for these feathered feet. Pigeons with feathers on their feet have the hindlimb-development gene Pitx1 less active than it should, while the forelimb-development gene Tbx5 is more active than it should.
The biologist Mike Shapiro said that these feathered feet are partially wings. The biologists stated that the DNA regulatory sequences in genes cause the changes, lower the activity of Pitx1, and turn up the activity of Tbx5. Therefore, they work differently in different birds with feathered feet and non-feathered feet.
You know many other birds have feathered feet, but the distinction is very clear.
Some birds only have scaled feet, while others have legs covered with feathers. Only chickens and domestic pigeons have been bred with both feathered and non-feathered feet.
It is claimed that dinosaurs had foot feathers. During evolution, all their scales turned into feathers. Thus, by exploring pigeons, scientists trace the genetic mechanisms which have evolved over centuries.
Scientists have found striking similarities in genetic changes causing feathered feet in dinosaurs and pigeons. The biologists are also trying to learn how ancient birds lost their “than normal” foot feathers.
Pigeon with feathered feet
Pigeons, especially domestic, show a striking variation in the distribution of feathers on their feet. Some breeds of the same species have scales on their feet while some have feathery feet. Pigeons with feathered feet have feathers covering their feet.
These feathers can be in variable lengths and numbers. Some breeds, such as ice pigeons, trumpeters, develop very long feathers on their feet of about 4 to 6 inches in length. While some breeds develop partial feathers on their feet.
The feathered feet variation in pigeons affects their capabilities for locomotion, maintaining thermal comfort, and mainly the aerodynamics of pigeons. Pigeons with feathered feet, hence, generally do not fly, rather prefer to walk or run.
Why do some pigeons have feathers on their feet?
Genetic variations are responsible for the development of feathers on feet. There are mainly two DNA mutations that lead to the feathered feet in pigeons. The genes involved in it are Tbx5 and Pitx1.
These genes are generally related to the fore and hindlimb growth of all the organisms belonging to the animal kingdom.
The fact behind foot feathering explains that the mutations aren’t directing the foot skin to grow feathers, but they are partially directing the pigeon’s feet to program as wings.
Tbx5, which normally directs the developing forelimb to grow as a wing, gets activated in both the fore and hindlimb because of one mutation. The other gene, Pitx1, which normally is responsible for developing hindlimb into legs and feet, get reduced because of another mutation.
What kind of pigeons have feathers on their feet?
The pigeons that had undergone the DNA mutations and their next generations had chances of having feathers on their feet. The pigeon having copies of the ‘slipper’ and ‘grouse’ allele in their DNA forms feathers on their feet.
Different allele combinations result in different amounts of feathers on the feet. The ‘slipper’ and ‘no slipper’ are two alleles of the slipper gene, whereas, the ‘grouse’ and ‘no grouse’ are two alleles of the grouse gene.
The largest feathers develop when a pigeon inherits two copies of both the slipper and grouse allele. Most specifically, the fancy pigeons acquire feet with extra-long feathers or plumage.
Pigeon breeds with feathered feet:
- Frillback pigeons
- Ice pigeons
- English Trumpeter pigeons
- Saxon Fairy Swallow pigeons
- Helmet pigeons
- Lahore pigeons
- Armenian Tumbler
- Saxon shield pigeon
- Prissy Pigeons
- Taxidermy Pigeons
- Ghent cropper
- Tiger swallow
- Reverse wing pouter
- Hungarian giant house
How fancy pigeons grow feathery feet?
Muffed pigeons compose different muscular and skeletal morphology. The feathered feet programs partially like a forelimb.
Therefore, most of the fancy pigeons have leg components more winglike such as feathers covering their feet. The Pitx1 and Tbx5 both are responsible for such differences in their morphology.
Fancy pigeons include all those pigeon breeds which consist of distinctive characteristics. One of those characteristics is the presence of ‘muffs’ in pigeons.
Fancy pigeon breeds such as fantail and ice pigeon are bred and displayed for their distinctive appearance or behavior.
Are Feathered Feet A Deformity?
No. It is not a deformity. It’s a change in genetic structure due to cross-breeding. As birds with different genes mate, their genes cause these changes in their offspring.
Biologists conducted research where they crossed scale-footed Scandaroons and muffed Pomeranian pouters. Then they crossed their kids, and the grandkids had inherited every kind of gene.
Some of them were muffed, while some were scale-footed, and others were in between. So, this is a genetic change and not a deformity.
Many pigeon breeds, especially fancy pigeons, develop feathered feet due to variations in their genetic compositions. This depends on the alleles they receive from their parents. The feathered feet have become an identical factor for many breeds.
People adore their appearance and even breed them because of their distinctive characteristics. Hence, the fancy birds, mostly with feathered feet, are shown in exhibitions and shows.