Monday, December 21, 2009

Four Calling Birds

As noted last year, the ‘calling’ birds entry is thought to be a corruption of ‘colley,’ meaning coal black birds. Some historic breeds exist only in black, or are traditionally black. Many breeds have modern black color varieties.

American breeds such as Javas, Jersey Giants, sometimes called Black Giants, and the English Orpington, such as Michelle Conrad's magnificent rooster shown here, have influential black heritage. Asian breeds such as Cochins and Langshans, such as this one to the left, have a strong history of black plumage. Sumatras are always black. Black varieties of Orientals are relatively recent, such as Malays and Cubalayas. Among Mediterranean breeds such as the White-Faced Black Spanish noted last year, Minorcas were originally an entirely black breed called Red-Faced Black Spanish. In the Continental category, the old breeds Crevecoeurs, shown here, and La Fleche, noted last year as two of the three French hens, are always black.

Black East Indies ducks are an old breed, although whether they date back to the 17th century is a matter of discussion. Some authorities trace their history back only as far as the 19th century. Cayuga ducks, such as these of Robert Gibson at Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire,, are always black. The recognition of the breed dates back to the 19th century, but it originated from wild American Black Ducks crossing with domestic ducks. In that sense, it is an older breed. A black variety of Runner Ducks is recent, 20th century. Black ducks could fit the description of ‘colley’ birds.

Black turkeys were popular in Europe, after the wild turkey was introduced by Columbus. Colonists crossing the Atlantic to settle in America brought domesticated black varieties with them. Turkeys were often known by their origin as well, such as the Norfolk Black and the Black Spanish.

In domestic poultry, black plumage has an iridescent quality that gives it a greenish sheen, sometimes complemented with violet. The feathers are truly beautiful and eye-catching, suitable for a gift that would honor the season.

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