Darwin's Pigeons

The dawn of an idea with the

aid of peristronic steps..........

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Randal Keynes

Great, great, grandson of Charles Darwin

John Murray III

Publisher 'Origin' 1859

Almond Tumbler  

Darwin Specimens


Rock Dove

 Charles Darwin, as a young man, travelled round the world after his tutor John Henslow recommended him to the Captain of the scientific ship the Beagle during the voyage he became the ship's naturalist, replacing McCormack. Darwin had a thirst for knowledge about the natural world and it was on this voyage he made various studies of volcanic rock formations on the Galapagos islands and his better known study of the Galapagos finches.  The finches had been isolated by the distance between the many islands and had developed particular traits, differing head and beak sizes, depending on what the birds main food sources were, this aiding their survival. Darwin recorded thirteen different varieties of finch. Although today we know it was the Mocking Bird which Charles recognised as having 3 different varieties.  

After five years away painstakingly recording his findings Charles returned to England and was met with scientific acclaim and recognition for his observations and scientific papers.

Before his journey on the Beagle his family had thought that Charles would settle down to life as a country Parson. Even though the Darwin family were known for their high academic achievements, until this point Darwin had not seemed to follow suit. However, after this epic voyage he was to spend his life devoted to scientific research, agonising on the subject of Man's and the World's evolution rather than accepting the creationist theories of the Bible.

This was made all the more difficult by his frequent bouts of illness and self doubt and his wife Emma's [nee Wedgewood] strong church beliefs.


In early 1855 Charles and his family spent several weeks in London in what was to become one of the coldest winters in living memory, parts of the Thames froze at Richmond  at low tide. It was at this time that Charles maybe on one of his regular walks noticed common pigeons foraging for oats from spilt horse feed.  Later at home by the fire reading the Illustrated London News, where fancy pigeons featured on the front page, perhaps an idea came to Charles to prove that all fancy pigeons are descended from the common pigeon known as Columba Livia or Rock Dove. This particular research, in turn, would help him with his theories towards the 'Origin of Species'.He finally made up his mind when Yarrell the well known ornithologist persuaded him to try.


So in March 1855 Charles Darwin was to become a pigeon fancier and set up a breeding loft at his home in the village of Downe, Kent.


This site is intended to celebrate the pigeons which played such an important part in Darwin's work.  2009 was the 150th anniversary since the publication of the 'Origin of  Species' and also the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. I hope to give you some insight into the variety of fancy pigeon breeds that Darwin worked with.

More pages will be added during the year particularly the breeds that Darwin studied.



                   John Ross, an enthusiastic pigeon fancier, breeder and judge.

                   The Charles Darwin Trust advisor on fancy pigeons.






1859-2009 - 150 years of Darwin's 'Origin of Species'

Launched 12th February 2009 to celebrate

the 200th anniversary of his birth

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Web Site and content by John Ross

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Charles Darwin Trust video page  showing students reaction to meeting  Fancy pigeons for the first time at Down house

Saturday 1st September  2012

A selection of fancy pigeon breeds were displayed at the Phoenix Garden and St. Giles Fayre London  including the Jacobin, English Pouter,

Scandaroon and the smallest breed in the world the Valencian Figurita.

Barb right

Victorian Peristeronic Club  show pens, salvaged from a warehouse in London and restored by Brian Coulson.

photo courtesy Katrina Van Grouw

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7th February 2013 University of Utah genetic study of head crest in the Rock dove


English Pouter

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Loncon 3 August  2014  International author Robin Hobb Author of  ''The  Wizzard of  the pigeons'' talks to John Ross about her long fascination with fancy pigeons.

Tuesday 30th January 2018  was the  150th anniversary of the publication of  Variation under  Domestication, published by John Murray,50  Albemarle Street, London in 1868.published in 2  volumes

Darwin took the chance to include two chapters on his  pigeon breeding studies, reinforcing the importance of pigeons in his work on evolution, as well  as  chapters on cats, dogs and other domestic livestock.

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