National Geographic : 1970 Dec
Not so. I quickly learned that this bird has become the trust of fanciers and hobbyists, many of whom are by no means affluent. They cannot properly display the long-tails at their homes, and so they take them to those settings that do justice to their fabulous feathers. Long Tails Limit Movement A yen to specialize overtakes most breeders. They concentrate on develop ing color changes or greater length of tail, or on producing fowl to meet cer tain highly specific judging standards. With photographer Eiji Miyazawa and interpreter Syuichi Itoh, I traveled southwest from Tokyo to Kochi on Shi koku (map, below) to meet a man who has achieved remarkable changes in color, a specialty called experimental breeding. Most Onagadori in Japan de rive from the birds of Masashi Kubota. Mr. Kubota had agreed to let us see and photograph his outstanding collec tion, developed over many years through selective breeding. He raises the three principal long-tailed varieties-the black-and-white Shirafuji and the two others that spring from it, the red-and black Akazasa-onaga and the pure white Shiro-onaga. Mr. Kubota keeps most of his birds at his new Onagadori Center, beside the highway in a Kochi suburb called Nankoku. Visitors drop in to buy tea and sandwiches from one of his attrac tive daughters. For about 30 cents, they may proceed to the center's showroom to observe the long-tailed fowl. We met Mr. Kubota at his Onagadori Center, and he led us through the tea house to the showroom in the back, which he designed especially for the North Pacific Ocean husbandry and exhibition of his valu able birds. "There are no real secrets to raising the long-tailed fowl," he told us. "One must have good breeding stock and look for birds of calm disposition, and one must keep them in good health and train them to withstand confinement." Several birds faced us from tall specially built roost boxes (page 851). A glass door on one of the narrow boxes let one see its occupant, his tail rolled into loops and suspended by a cord from a hook on the rear wall. Except when being exercised or ex hibited, the birds are kept constantly in the boxes to protect the yards and yards of tail feathers. If a bird gets sick or falls from his perch, the tail feathers may break off. In adjacent breeding pens roosters with clipped tails enjoyed greater free dom. Birds chosen for breeding are usually those that won't adjust to the confinement of the roost boxes. Regal Bird Requires a Trainbearer We accompanied Mr. Kubota as he took a white Shiro-onaga for a walk in a field behind his house. He carried the bird's 25-foot tail as a trainbearer fol lows a king, to protect the feathers from snagging stones. At the center Mr. Kubota had shown us his Onagadori eggs, which strangely produce two females to every male. Smaller than those of other chickens, the eggs are difficult to hatch. I felt deeply honored when our host gave me 30 to take back to the United States. The story of Onagadori begins in Japan 300 years ago, when the bird was bred from the domestic chicken. These chicks in hand are worth any number of ordinary fowl, for they carry the genetic blueprint for the long-tailed trait-painstakingly nur tured over the centuries by breeders on Japan's island of Shikoku (map, left). Both the male and female Onagadori can pass the special genes on to their progeny, but only the male grows the long feathers. oo 0.. 41 STATUTEMILES © N.G.S. '"