BANTAM ducks are garden ducks. Much lighter in weight than the traditional egg-laying and table birds, the bantams can make good pets. Tight sitters and fair layers, these smaller ducks will make less mess in the garden than Rouens or Indian Runners. If pets and looks are more important than performance, then bantams are a good choice.

Although the term bantam usually refers to small breeds of chickens like Pekin and Japanese, it can refer to any miniature bird. 'True bantams' like the Sebright chicken are about quarter the size of large fowl, but miniatures are allowed to be one third the size of the large fowl, and usually have a larger counterpart.

In the duck breeds the bantams are all replicas of larger-sized ducks. The bantam class includes the Silver Appleyard Miniature, Silver Bantam, Black East Indian and Miniature Crested.

Call ducks are sometimes included in this bantam class, but in fact they are quite different. They are very much smaller, probably because of dwarf genes, and deserve a classification all of their own because they are unique. Indeed, the Call has probably been used to produce the bantam class duck breeds.

In theory, any large breed such as the Aylesbury, Rouen, Orpington or Pekin duck could be made in a smaller version. In fact, with the very distinctively shaped breeds it would be difficult. It can only really be done where the bantamized version aimed for has an average duck shape - no extreme keel or blocky body and no upright carriage. In the 1950s, bantam runners did seem to be a possibility but unfortunately disappeared from the news. It does seem to need the genes of the little Call duck to bring size down - and that sort of cross-breed would not keep the shape of the runner. It would be a very long route to achieve the 'bantam runner' goal.

Making the Silver Bantam Reginald Appleyard of Ixworth in Suffolk was the inventor of the UK bantam ducks. We are fortunate to have early evidence of the development of his Silver Bantam from both Appleyard himself and John Hall who also worked for Appleyard at Ixworth in the 1950s. So first hand information has been available from two sources.

Appleyard produced the Silver Bantam from a cross between a White Call drake and a Khaki Campbell duck on the River at Ixworth in the 1940s. Appleyard first exhibited the Silver Bantam Appleyard at the Warwickshire Federation of Young Farmers in 1950. The breed was eventually on show at Olympia and was publicised by Colonel A.A. Johnson (who bought Appleyard's establishment). Both Colonel Johnson and the reporter Easom Smith wrote about the breed in the 1950s and 60s.(1) The Silver Bantam is really the same colour genotype as the Silver Call, and the Abacot Ranger not the Silver Appleyard in the larger ducks. The correct ducklings all hatch exactly as the Silver Call and Abacot with a 'hood' of darker fluff on the head. In the 1980s, many of the birds were rather pale, but in recent years colourful birds have been on show once more.

It may a bit of a mystery how a white drake, crossed with a brown duck produced a Silver Bantam. Firstly, the original white Call must have been carrying the 'silver' genes (known as 'harlequin') beneath the white exterior. The colour beneath the homozygous white would have been revealed on the first cross because white, when heterozygous, does not show. Secondly, the brown of the khaki duck is sex linked. The female offspring would not have been brown, and the males would only have been heterozygous for brown. So, if the breeder had kept picking out the more colourful ducks, then the light silver colour, with no brown, could have been achieved in as little as two or three generations. I don't expect they knew the genetics - but then genetics is about using common sense from what you see in practice.

Miniature Appleyard Silver Bantam ducks were very popular in the 1980s. However, when Tom Bartlett of Folly Farm, Gloucestershire developed the Silver Appleyard Miniature - a real replica of the large Silver Appleyard - the original Silver Bantam rather lost its way. Chunky Miniatures with their distinct white cheek patches and silver throat in the males, and eye-stripes in the ducks, elbowed the Bantam out of the show pens. Many exhibitors and judges did not know the difference between the two, and show classifications in the late 1980s and early 1990s offered only one class for the Silver Bantam Appleyard, as it was then called. Confusion reigned until the Silver Miniature Appleyard had had more publicity and show schedules were expanded to accommodate the two classes.

There really should be no confusion now. The Miniature Appleyard looks like the big Appleyard. And the Silver Bantam looks like the Abacot Ranger. The problem was that in the 1970s even the big ducks - the Appleyard and the Abacot -had been muddled up too!

Perhaps the reader might like to make their own choice from the photographs.

Miniature Crested ducks Just as Reginald Appleyard and Tom Bartlett created the bantam silver birds, so breeders in the 1980s set about creating a Miniature Crested duck. These ducks look cute, as if they are wearing a bonnet. Cresteds look even more desirable in a miniature form and were produced, of course, by using the Call duck. The standard Crested duck weighs between 6 and 7 lbs, compared with only 2-2 lbs for the miniature. Crested ducks can be of any colour, the proportion of the bird and its crest being more important.

As early as 1902 (2), Harrison Weir recorded that crested birds looked attractive, but that the crest is made out of a tuft of feathers which grow on fatty material covering a hole in the skull. It is the result of a cranial hernia.

The fact is that in several types of domesticated animals - cats, dogs, cattle, chickens and ducks - humans sometimes keep breeds which harbour lethal recessive genes. Such is the case with the Crested duck. As with the creeper gene in Scots Dumpy chickens, the crested gene in ducks is a lethal gene too. A proportion of the ducks will not hatch; these are the ones which are homozygous for the crested gene.

This gene has probably arisen many times in birds; several species and breeds with crests have been recorded. However, in the wild, this characteristic would affect a bird's chance of survival and would tend to eliminate the gene from the population.

Crested ducks are not a breed for beginners. If Crested ducks are to be bred, then it is very important that fit examples of stock birds are chosen, on welfare grounds for the offspring. That means the breeder must know the performance of breed lines, and be able to recognise physical deformities in birds. All too often, people cannot detect that the 'breeding stock' is defective. Birds with crests often also suffer from spinal deformities such as wry tail and over-bent neck, and poor eyesight. This becomes very much worse with inbreeding, and examples of such birds are not viable. It's fine to keep these little birds as pets, but don't get carried away with breeding them without seeking good advice, and experience of other breeds first. They are not a beginner's duck. The other breeds of bantams are just as cute - and healthier.

The Black East Indian The Black East Indian has been known by a variety of names. According to Darrel Sheraw (3), the French still call it the 'Labrador Duck' and the Americans 'the Black East Indie'. It is said to have been first imported into Britain by the Earl of Derby. The shipping papers indicated that Buenos Aires was the point of departure for the ship carrying his East Indie foundation stock to England in about 1850/51. Some birds were acquired by the Zoological Society of London and were called 'the Buenos Ayres Duck'.

Buenos Aires may have been the original port of departure for the trading ship which carried the newly imported stock acquired by the London Zoo and so, true to the custom of the time (as with imported geese), the birds were named accordingly.

However, these black ducks had never been seen in South America. Weir was surprised to hear that the bird was unknown to his son, even though he knew all the other varieties of domestic ducks in that country. Weir concluded that the live cargo had therefore been picked up elsewhere. Weir also doubted that these were the first imports, 'for when I was at school in 1836 a boy brought some black and sooty duck eggs which he said were laid by the same black ducks that his father had got from abroad; doubtless they were from the same breed'.

The reference by Weir to the eggs in the 1830s is interesting. Wingfield and Johnson's Poultry Book (reference 4, 1853) describes BEI eggs thus: The first eggs laid by the Duck, in the beginning of the season, are frequently smeared with a dark, greasy matter, which causes them to appear of a slaty, and sometimes even of a black hue. The colouring matter does not penetrate the shell, but may be scraped off like the similar coating on the bones of the white Silk Fowl. When six or eight eggs have been deposited, they gradually fade away to dull white. . . .

Indie eggs can be very distinctive indeed, and one has no doubt that the eggs that Weir referred to in 1836 were from a type of black duck. Recently, research by Professor Wolfgang Rudolph confirmed that the BEI were definitely in the UK in the 1830s.

Mr John Edwards (Zoological Society of London) with whom I am having an exchange of views on the history of breed, recently came across an article published by the ZSL in March 1832. In the Report on the Farm of the Zoological Society it was stated 'A pair of Black Buenos Ayres ducks also in on one of the ponds' They were kept on the farm maintained by the ZSL at Kingston-on-Thames from about 1831-1834 . . .

So how did the name East Indian arise? The real ducks of the East Indies are the egg-laying breed, the Indian Runner. The original Runners were in fawn, or fawn-and-white. Not only were they the wrong colour to develop the BEI, but also the wrong shape as well. Sheraw amusingly remarks 'Needless to say, the Malay Archipelago is not peopled with fanciers who have the leisure to create a miniature, ornamental black-plumaged duck suited in neither colour nor size for clean plucking and eating, whose unique value seems only to be its beautiful plumage, rather than its economic qualities.' He concludes that the name is one that took someone's fancy and cites several instances of names being made up for new colours and new crosses which have nothing to do with the place of origin. Harrison Weir attributed their fanciful name to 'Messrs Baker of Chelsea who, after many importations, still kept the part of the "Indies" they got them from a profound secret'.

Although Sheraw had access to extensive American literature he traced no specific early reference to the black bantam ducks other than the British Standard of 1865 and the American standard of 1874 when the Cayuga and Black East Indie 'were both admitted with numerous breeds which had been around for a century or more'.

Black ducks seem to have arrived in the USA in the first decade of the 1800s when they were spotted on a pond in Duchess County, New York State. These birds were bigger than the BEI and it is believed by some Americans that they were derived from the wild Black Duck. Paul Ives reports that wild black duck were common as a domesticated species in barnyards in the vicinity of Boston, and that popular opinion in the 1800s was that American domesticated black ducks resulted from an 'intermixture' of the wild type.

These American black farmyard ducks - wherever they came from - were the precursor of the modern Cayuga (a large black duck), and perhaps the Black East Indian as well. Both breeds could have originated from a common stock. Weights for the BEI quoted in 1853 by Wingfield and Johnson were that BEI males rarely exceeded 5lbs and the female 4lbs, and were quite a lot higher than today's weights of 1 - 2 lbs However, the 1874 edition of Lewis Wright's The Book of Poultry contains a colour plate of a pair of Black East Indians and pair of Cayugas which shows the Indians are small in comparison, perhaps 1/3 or the weight of the Cayugas. We don't know if that happened here or in the USA, if the breed originated in the USA or elsewhere, or where the Farm of the Zoological Society obtained its birds in 1831.

The UK birds do seem to have come from imports: references from the 1830s and 1850s both refer to imported eggs and birds. Whatever the truth, the origin of the Black East Indian truly remains a mystery.