Mangile's Pigeon Pages

"Baby Doll" - Is this disease genetic, or viral?

by Robert J. Mangile

At the 1976, American Pigeon Fancier's Council meeting in St. Louis, Herman Smith of Ava, Illinois, surprised me and several other  pigeon fanciers when he pulled this interesting, and  amusing bird out of a crate.  It was said to look like a "baby doll" and the moniker stuck.  (To my knowledge, this was the first of its type to be reported widely.)
Baby Doll milky fantail pigeon
Figure 1.

Dubbed as the "Baby Doll".

Photo of Fantail pigeon taken from:

"Pigeon Science & Genetics Newsletter"

-- 1976, Issue #6, page 17.

-- Editor: Dave Rinehart

Smith, who was quite learned  in genetics, thought that possibly this was a product from the combined affects of two genes; e.g., milky (my) and dominant opal (Od); but that was not confirmed. The "baby doll"  milky (my//my) Fantail pigeon in the photo (sex unknown) came from show quality Fantail stock.  All flights (rectrices and remiges; or, quill feathers) are missing, and the contour feathers have a silky, hair-like quality.   Though unable to fly, the bird appeared in good health.   Nothing more was reported on this bird.

The birds shown in Figures 2, 3, & 4 did not come from the same breeder, or select lines of breeding.  However, the pigeons in Figures 1 thru 4 share at least two characteristics; e.g., all have silky-like plumage, and all are near-white -  unlike the pigeons shown in Figures 5 and 6.  Dr. Paul Gibson has good evidence that homozygous dominant opal (Od//Od) produces a near white plumage.
Baby doll Fantail, cover of PGNV&C, Issue # 51.
Figure 2.

Another "baby doll" plumage Fantail!

Photo of Fantail taken from the Newsletter;

"Pigeon Genetics, News, Views & Comments"

-- September 1995, Issue #51, cover-page 1

-- Editor: Lester "Paul" Gibson

 In communications with Dr. Paul Gibson, he commented about the possibility of dominant opal (Od) being involved.  Gibson wrote; "I had the parents of the Fantail [in Figure 2] but they never produced another like that one. All of these birds had only one parent that was Dominant opal but the appearance was similar to homozygous Od (they could not be) when the homozygous young are in juvenile feather.  In the photos they look white but they are actually not genetically nor phenotypically white. They are a very light off-white and appear light yellow (buff) over the head where the feathers are nearly normal in structure."

The Indian Fantail in Figure 3 clearly displays a similar plumage; e.g., silky-like and near-white.  Notice the feathered legs and the partially defined peak crest at the back of its head, which are typical characteristics of the Indian Fantail breed.  None of the near-white, silky-types have been know to reproduce; therefore data on breeding tests are nonexistent.
Baby doll Indian Fantail, cover PGNV&C Issue # 51.
Figure 3.

Yet, another "baby doll" - Indian Fantail!

Photo of Indian Fantail taken from the Newsletter;

"Pigeon Genetics, News, Views & Comments"

-- September 1995, Issue #51, cover - page 1

-- Editor: Lester "Paul" Gibson

The male Racing Homer in Figure 4, though not as cute as the "baby doll" Fantails, clearly displays the same near-white and silky-like plumage characteristics.  It seems readily apparent that the pigeons in Figures 1 thru 4 have been produced by the same causative agent(s).  This male is reported to have no interest in mating.
Baby doll Racing Homer, cover PGNV&C, Issue # 51.
Figure 4.

Racing Homer "baby doll".

Photo of  Racing Homer from: "Pigeon Genetics, News, Views & Comments" Newsletter.

-- Sep. 1995, Issue #51, page 1.

-- Editor: Lester "Paul" Gibson

This grizzle (G) Birmingham Roller squeaker appears quite similar to the pigeons in Figures 1, 2, 3, & 4.   In June of 1977, Gene Grand of Manchester, Ohio reported that this bird was produced by a long standing pair of show quality Birmingham Rollers.  Prior to this aberration they produced only normal plumaged offspring.  This bird appears to have remnants of some flights (rectrices and remiges) as compared to the silky types (Figures 1, 2, 3 & 4.), which are completely flightless.  And, unlike the hair-like plumage of the silky-types, the contour feathers appear to be normal.
Baby Doll Roller pigeon
Figure 5.

Photo of Roller pigeon taken from:

"Pigeon Science & Genetics Newsletter"

-- 1976, Issue #6, page 30.

-- Editor: Dave Rinehart

In PS&GN, Issue #6, editor Dave Rinehart reported: "As of October, the near-featherless critter is doing well."; also, indicating it has survived approximately five months.  It was thought to be a female.   This is one of four photos of the bird in that report.  I'm unaware of any further reports on this bird.

On July 22, 1999, I received a telephone call from a lady informing me that she had a pigeon with a broken wing that was staying on her front porch for the past two days, and that she hoped that I would take the bird and do something with it!   The porch was an enclosed, brick porch with an open stairway consisting of about three steps.  The enclosure offered some security and probably saved it from prowling cats.
Baby Doll Feral Pigeon
Figure 6.

Fledgling, feral "blue checked" pigeon.

Approximately, seven weeks of age when photographed.

Photo taken on August 7, 1999

-- by Robert J. Mangile.

I approached the house and immediately spotted a feral pigeon nest on the house roof.  They'd put wire in the corners to prevent nesting but not enough, and the feral pigeons found a spot to construct a nest.  Upon walking up the steps to knock on the door, I spotted the bird she had reported.   At first I though either a child, or a cat managed to mutilate all of its flight feathers; but investigation revealed no feather stumps.   Then I knew what it was.  It was a blue check, squeaker, "baby doll" of course!

My assessment of the situation was that it was raised in the nest on the house; and  was at fledgling age, when it either fell off the roof; attempted to fly off, or was driven off by other pigeons.   In either case, it fell about 15 feet to the ground with no serious harm.   The few low steps were not much of an obstacle and it sought safety on the porch.

Needles to say, I brought the bird home.  As of November 1, 1999, it is doing just fine in my 30 inch square breeding coops.  Other Racing Homer squeakers are put in its coop at times to keep it socialized.

Discussions and Comments:

It appears that the pigeons in Figures 1 thru 4 share two characteristics that are not seen in the birds in Figures 5 and 6; which are - near-white and silky-like plumage.  Gibson was unable to produce another sibling from the parents of the bird in Figure 2; which may or may not be significant, depending on the number of offspring produced.  The indications are that these flightless types are either unable or uninterested in breeding.  It seems there are two variations of these flightless types; e.g., the near-white, silky-like type, and the  colored plumage, non-silky-like type.

Herman Smith's theory of  homozygous dominant opal and homozygous milky cannot be ruled out, at least in the near-white, silky-type.  Heterozygous dominant opal (Od//+) has a wide range of expression and some birds go undetected as being dominant opal, particularly in checkered patterns and/or in adult plumage.  If one parent to the silky-types was dominant opal, as Gibson stated;  perhaps the other parent was also dominant opal, but was not correctly identified as a hetereozygote.  It should not be ruled out, owing to the fact that the fanciers had dominant opal in their pigeons.

It would seem that testing the parents for both dominant opal and milky would shed some light on the matter.  Herman Smith may have been correct?  It would appear that dominant opal, combined with another mutant is producing the near-white, silky-type phenotype.  To further confuse the matter, the "colored plumage" types, in Figures 5 and 6, are basically normal with regards to feather structure; but lack flight feathers.   It would seem highly unlikely that the feral squeaker in Figure 6  had a dominant opal parent.   Could this be a dominant mutation of an instable gene?

Perhaps, the  jury is still out as to the cause of this disease; but some pigeon fanciers think that it may be caused by a virus.  The rebutal to that is - which plumage type?  I'm not aware of any pigeon breeder that has done breeding tests on this condition to determine if it is an inherited genetic trait.   Learning of any scientific reports on this disease would be appreciated.

A similar condition, called the "French Molt" exists in cage bred budgerigar (budgie's, or parakeets); and is of serious concern among budgie breeders.  Some discussion tends to conclude that it is a nutritional problem.  For a discussion on the French Molt click on the following URL.

[Though these flightless birds do not appear to be sickly or ill, their condition is still considered a disease; regardless that the condition is the result of either a pathogen (virus, bacterium, fungi) or heredity (genetic disease).  Also, flights are defined as large quill feathers of the wings or tail of a bird, necessary for flight.]

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