Why do some pigeons have feathered feet?

Most pigeons have scales on their feet (and not feathers).

However, some pigeons have a genetic variation (or two) that gives them feathers on their legs and feet (a lot of feathers or a little bit).

Foot feathering comes from variations in two genes: slipper and grouse. A bird that has the feathery versions of both slipper and grouse have an extreme form of foot feathering, called muff.


The slipper gene comes in two versions, or alleles: ‘slipper’ and ‘no slipper.’ Pigeons inherit two copies of the slipper gene, one from each parent.


The grouse gene is completely separate from the slipper gene. It too comes in two versions: ‘grouse’ and ‘no grouse.’ And as with slipper, pigeons inherit two copies of grouse, one from each parent.


Grouse and slipper work together to make an extreme form of foot feathering, called muff. The largest muff (the most feathering on the feet) occurs when a bird has two copies of the ‘slipper’ allele and two copies of the ‘grouse’ allele.


Different allele combinations of slipper and grouse make birds with in-between amounts of foot feathering.

Indian Fantail Pigeon

Indian Fantail Pigeon – with normal feet (scales and not feathers)

American Fantail Pigeon

American Fantail Pigeon with some feathers on its feet

Saxon Shield Owl Pigeon

Saxon Shield Owl Pigeon with long feet feathers

Reverse Winged Pouter

Reverse Winged Pouter with extreme feet feathers

Source of information: Learn.Genetics. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu


Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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