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Abstract

Domesticated birds exhibit a greater diversity in the morphology of their integument and its appendages than their wild ancestors. Many of these variations affect the appearance of a bird significantly and have been bred selectively by poultry and pigeon fanciers and aviculturists for the sake of visual appeal. Variations in feather distribution (e.g., feathering of legs and feet, featherless areas in normally feather-bearing skin) are widespread in chickens and pigeons. Variations in the number of feathers (e.g., increased number of tail feathers, lack of tail feathers) occur in certain pigeon and poultry breeds. Variations in feather length can affect certain body regions or the entire plumage. Variations in feather structure (e.g., silkiness, frilled feathering) can be found in exhibition poultry as well as in pet birds. Variations in feather arrangement (e.g., feather crests and vortices) occur in many domesticated bird species as a results of mutation and intense selective breeding. The causes of variations in the structure, distribution, length and arrangement of feathers is often unknown and opens a wide field for scientific research under various points of view (e.g., morphogenesis, pathogenesis, ethology, etc.). To that extent, variations in the morphology, distribution and arrangement of feathers in domesticated birds require also a concern for animal welfare because certain alleles responsible for integumentary variations in domesticated birds have pleiotropic effects, which often affect normal behaviour and viability. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 298B:91–108, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.