The Scandaroon is an ancient breed of fancy pigeon. It has a most distinct beak which is long and curves downwards and a striking red eye cere. Darwin called these birds Scandaroon Runts and they caught his attention.
The breed in Victorian England was only ever kept by a few fanciers, as is the case today. It is thought that the name came from the port of Scandaroon in the Levant however the breed origin is most likely to be ancient Persia. Scandaroon is the Turkish word for Alexander and it is possible that this being an old breed it was used as a message carrier by Alexander the Great in his conquests. This part of Asia is strongly associated with early pigeon breeds.
The Scandaroon used by Darwin was the Bagdotten type imported through France almost certainly coming from stock developed in Nurnburg, Germany. This is a larger bird than the type known in England and this was apparent to me when I visited the Dutch National show in January 2011.
The European Scandaroons are larger in size and weight , the beak is much stronger and longer but interestingly not as curved as its English counterpart. The feet are larger which confirms Darwin’s own findings of large beak, large feet. It would seem the English fanciers have always preferred the smaller birds which have more of a curve to the beak, even 100 years ago an English fancier writing in a journal states “the German birds were too large and ugly.” Darwin was interested in the extremes of types and the German type bird suited him well.
The French have developed their own type which is taller, more upright in stance and slimmer naming it the French Baghdad. So, in three countries fairly close to each other we see how Man has changed the direction a breed can be altered.
The French Baghdad has been used in crosses with several other breeds to improve and alter them such as the English Magpie which was a shorter legged, flying type pigeon in Darwin's time. I have handled one of Darwin’s own Magpie specimens in the Natural History Museum at Tring which bears this out. Now, the English Magpie is both taller, more elegant and purely a show pigeon. Also in the collection at Tring is the skull of the Scandaroon donated by Darwin and it has been noted by Hein van Grouw, a Curator of Birds at the museum, that the drawing of such in Darwin’s Variation and Domestication has the lower mandible missing. This intrigued Hein who checked the actual skull in the collection and found this was also missing its lower mandible. Since this discovery Katrina van Grouw has drawn a complete skull including the lower mandible. see picture on this page
Despite what seems an ungainly beak the Scandaroon is a most attentive and capable parent. Although at first glance the breed is somewhat ugly, they are calm, quiet, intelligent and interesting pigeons to keep and study. Darwin was disappointed when he lost a hen of his pair to illness.
Colours include white, black, blue, red and yellow. In England the birds shown are generally the pied version having a white head, coloured patch under the beak, mainly white wings and a coloured tail.
This exhibit formed part of a Darwin display in South Kensington Museum during late Victorian times.
The Natural History Museum,London
Black Scandaroon from a German Pigeon show
Mick Bassett Germany
Scandaroon chick June 2010
approx 3 weeks of age
Scandaroon hen, one of the six breeds present at John Murray Publishing to celebrate the 150th anniversary of "On The Origin Of Species".
drawn by Katrina van Grouw and available as limited edition signed numbered print
Photo Katrina van Grouw
Web Site and content by John Ross