African  Owl of The Past **

                                                       by JOHN IZZO

I have a very good collection of old pigeon books and thought you may be interested in what some of the past authors had to say about our little friend the African Owl.

John Moore 1735

he owl is a small pigeon, very little larger than a Jacobin. (The Jacobin was one of the smallest of all. J.I.) It's beak is very short and hooked over at the end like an Owl's, from whence it takes its' name. Its' plumage is always entirely white, blue or black.

Daniel Ghton 1765

its beak is very short and hooked over at the end, like an Owl, from whence it takes its name, the shorter it is the better., it has a very round button head and a gravel eye. The feathers on the breast open, and reflect both ways, expanding itself something like a rose, which is called the pearl by some, and by others the frill, and the more the bird has of that the better, with the gullet reaching down from the beak to the frill. Its plumage is always of one entire colour.

W.B. Tegetmeler 1868

Recently a new variety has come upon the scene. At one of the shows held at the Crystal Palace some eight or ten years since, a pair of exquisitely beautiful birds of a white colour, and very small in size, were shown in the variety class as Booz pigeons from Tunis. They were exhibited by Vernon Harcourt, the gentleman who imported them into this country. The slightest inspection showed them to be white Owls of the most diminutive size, and possessing the properties or characters of the breed to a degree for surpassing the larger English specimens. This was the first introduction of African Owls into England, since that time numerous importations of white, blue and black specimens have taken place. One great character of African Owls is extreme diminutiveness. A pair will weigh only seven ounces each. The cock is eleven inches, measured from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail, when the neck is extended. The length of the beak, measured in the usual manner from the front of the eye, is less than three quarters of an inch. The head should be small and round, and should gradually merge, as it were, into the short hooked beak. The eye should be very large, full and expressive, the iris dark. Since the first introduction of these small foreign Owls, a variety with a singular modification of plumage has been imported. In these birds the tail is dark, the remainder of the plumage being perfectly white.

Robert Fulton 1874

As to the origin of the Owl, there is hardly the shadow of doubt that it came to us from the East and was either discovered or created, at all events perfected, by Moslim fanciers. The Owl itself, has branched off into three varieties, namely the so-called English Owl, the foreign, better known as the African Owl, and the Whiskered Owl. If ever there was a class of Fancy pigeons that can be said to be really "bred to perfection" it is the small or African Owl. They are bad breeders, besides being very delicate. Specimens of pure white Africans were in the possession of George Ure, of Dundee, so far back as 1838.


George Ure 1866"

They are a little gem of a pigeon, the owl  the foreign owl I mean for that is "the owl par excellence." 1 remember well the sensation in the fancy caused by a pair shown - 1 cannot remember the exact date, but it must be nearly thirty years ago at Birmingham or the Crystal Palace by, if 1 am not mistaken, Mr. George Morgan of Manchester. They were entered in the catalogue as "Booze Pigeons from Tunis" not as owls. Fanciers were so pleased with them that very soon more were imported by the prominent dealers, and they soon became extensively known and shown as African Owls. The best were all white, some with black tails, others all blue or black - the later color often smoky, but good other- wise.

Long previous to the first appearance of these birds in the year 1829 my brother brought from the port of Riga a pair of pigeons, and such pigeons! Nobody here had ever seen the like. Though we did not then know, we afterwards learned that they were a pair of African or Foreign Owls, then almost entirely unknown in this country. In our ignorance we simply called them Russians. They were white with black tails, the hen, as usual, much finer than the cock, with a fine frill or purle, while the cock had only a slit or opening, showing not more than two or three feathers of the frill. An English merchant said they were known as German "meeves" or "meaves." 1 bred them for a good many years. Once or twice they threw a red tailed young bird. Having to breed in-and-in in the closest manner they at last died out. (Ure knew the Turbit was a close relative to the Owl, too had he did not cross them together, they would not have died out on him! J.I.) The next I saw were those i have mentioned, and they were beyond a doubt the same birds.


The original breeders of these fine birds, whether Africans or Asia tics, must have been possessed of rare good taste and skill, quite fit to stand alongside the best fanciers in this or any other country.

J.C. Lyell 1887

The African Owl is the smallest domestic pigeon known. It is short in neck, broad chested, short in flights and tall, the legs long enough to make the thighs visible in profile. the back rather hollow, and the rump rather full. Carriage very erect. The head as round as possible. both from the nape to the beak wattle, and from eye to eye. The forehead very broad and prominent, the cheeks full. The beak is to be short and thick, the mouth should be wide, and deep in the head. The eye should be large, prominent and bolting, and placed in the centre of the head. Frill is the property in which the African is most deficient.

Lewis Wright 1890

Foreign Owls are generally white, blues and blacks, they are desired as small as can possible be got. The whole head should be as globular as possible in every direction. Beak and head are the most difficult points to procure. Next comes "gullet" or a development of loose skin under the beak or chin, like a dewlap. This should come as low as possible, and adds to the apparent shortness of the head. The carriage should be up, with the head thrown back, the feather short, the chest broad, the shoulders round. Foreign Owls are very delicate and need nurses.  Foreign Owls require having their lofts well vented, yet perfectly free from damp, and draught, else they die by dozens.

 W.F. Lumley 1895

    The Owl is a pigeon of considerable originality, and is undoubtedly  the progenitor of all short faced frill  varieties. (The Turbit, the whole Biondinette and Satinette family). As  to the origin of this pigeon, there is  hardly the shadow of doubt that it  came to us from the East and was  either discovered or created by  Muslims fanciers. The skull very round, when viewed either from  the front or side. The swiftness and duration of flight remarkable. If ever there was a class of Fancy pigeons that can be said to be really "bred to perfection" it is the Small or African Owl. 

Carl Nether 1939  

  The African Owl is a very attractive bird, which has been bred for centuries in the North of Africa,  mainly Tunis, and is sometimes  called Tunisian Owl. Today's African Owl is a hardy pigeon, an  alert bird  of jaunty carriage. In body it should be plump. not long, with a   wide and  full chest. "The head is the most valuable properly of the Owl. " It should be held reasonably    high and be very round and massive.  Wendell Levi 1941 The Owl. and the African Owl  especially, is one of the daintiest of  all breeds. Today in profile, the head of the African Owl, with the eye as the center, describes almost a complete circle. The beak has been so developed, that it is a small continuation of the curve of the frontal.  For the beak to protrude, mousiness" or "mousy face" is most undesirable. From the front view, the head should be broad and it is important the cheeks be full, so as to give the head a round ball-like appearance.

R.B. Fair 1958 

In the early days of the African Fancy, the points most valued were smallness of body, frill, gullet, eye and jaunty carriage, with as round a head as possible. It was not, how- ever, till the late nineties and the beginning of the present century that breeders and judges began to stress the major importance of head structure, and a further decade was to elapse before the special importance attached to frontal - or nose - came into vogue.    African Owls are to be found in most colors of which, at present, the most popular are duns (of a variety of shades), blacks, whites, blues, silvers, reds, yellows, mealles, creams. Lavenders and chequers (of the various colors) are occasionally met with.Pieds are generally the outcome of mating specimens of different colors (say white to dun, etc.) usually with the object of improving a particular property in one or the other. From such matings, a proportion of mismarked birds must be looked for, and many of these will be equal - if not superior - in structural points to the standard marked members of the same family. For this reason, classes are provided for pled Africans at the leading shows and many exhibits of high merit may be seen therein.    An African Owl should be small in size, possessing a round broad head, short thick beak, small neat wattle, bolting (or prominent) eye centrally placed, fine cere, short feather. broad chest, short neck, full gullet, plenty of frill, short legs and carrying itself in an upright sprightly manner. The flight and tail feathers should be short and close fitting, with the flights carried over the tail.   Size is not the be all and end all of an African though a small bird should always defeat a larger one, other points being equal. Many prominent winners in recent years could not be described as small, but rather of medium size and, in my view, no less attractive on that account.

John lzzo, 1985 

  A very wide head, plenty of top- skull, good roll over and full in cheeks. Eyes bold and bright, good frill and gullet. The body is to be short and compact, carriage erect.   It seems as though everybody was looking for the same thing. From Moore 1735 to us today 1985. Two hundred and fifty years later. The big, wide, massive and very round head with the eye bold and centrally located. The body small, wide across the chest and good carriage, with good frill and gullet.   Probably two hundred and fifty years from now they will be looking for the same things .

**APJ August1985