The Fantail is probably the best known breed of fancy pigeon to the general public, most people will know of it and could describe one fairly well, with dovecotes large and small still to be seen in parks and private gardens throughout the country. The U.K. Fantail club has recently celebrated it's 120th anniversary with a show judged by Bob Vincent of Arizona, U.S.A. some of the trophies presented on the day date back to the late 19th century.
Charles Darwin first contacted his cousin Fox to ask if he by chance had any Fantails, as Fox was known to have all sorts of animals and birds in his menagerie, he also asked at what age did they acquire their full compliment of tail feathers, Darwin admitted he had never seen a young pigeon before. This was quite strange as his Aunt who was also Emma Darwin's Mother was very well known for having aviaries of good quality fancy pigeons and Emma and her sister Fanny were often called the Dovelies' when little girls because they enjoyed the birds so much. Charles would have visited them many times as a young boy perhaps this was another case of his blocking out the past after his Mother died when he was eight years old.
The Fantail has sometimes as many as 42 tail feathers arranged in two rows because of this it does not have an oil preening gland which is found at the base of the tail in other breeds of pigeon. The type seen on the right is an Indian Fantail possibly the ancestor of the the Exhibition Fantail. The third type below is the Garden Fantail which usually has 16 to 28 tail feathers in more of a scoop shape. This bird is far more practical to keep at liberty in dovecotes as they have a much better chance of escaping predators, their vision is not obscured from behind, their sense of danger is more pronounced and their power of flight is as good as any ordinary pigeon.
A variety of Fantail which was popiular in Darwin's time but almost unknown today is the Lace Fantail.( also known today as the Silky fantail ) The tail feathers have very poor webbing and although very attractive when first moulted as the season progesses the tail becomes very ragged sometimes leaving only the feather shaft. Darwin had a very good specimen which I had the opportunity to handle while visiting the Natural History Museum, Tring, Hertfordshire. The Lace mutation is an autosomal dominant factor and due to the strong effect it has in double dose causes what is called porcupine with only the quill shafts showing. It is usual to pair a single factor Lace Fantail to a non Lace Fantail, 50% of the F1 will be Lace.