For centuries, pigeon fanciers have used careful selection to create some of the most jaw-dropping pigeon breeds you'll ever see. They look like they came straight out of the imaginations of artists, yet here they are, in all their unusually feathered glory.

Frillback pigeon

This breed is descended from rock pigeons, and through selective breeding has come to sport curls on the wing shield feathers, giving it an extra fancy appearance. While the frills look fun, judging these birds in competition is serious business, with points awarded based on color, the shape of its head, the shape of its body, the curl of its feathers and other criteria.

frillback pigeon

Photo: Jiel Beaumadier/Wikipedia

grey frillback pigeon

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

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Barb pigeon

The barb pigeon has been around for a while, dating as far back as the 1600s in England. Most notable about this pigeon is the wattling around the eyes and beak, which can take up to two years to fully develop into the fleshy flower-like ring around the eye. 

barb pigeon

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

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Ice pigeon

The color of this breed is its namesake. It sports a pale grey (or "ice blue") color, but it also gets some of its unique look due to the powder down that covers the feathers in a white-ish dust, making it look even softer and more pale. Plus, it sports some fancy long feathers around its feet.

ice pigeon

Photo: Graham Manning/Wikipedia

ice pigeon

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

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Brunner pouter pigeon

Pouter pigeons look much as if they walk with their chests held high ... very, very high. This is actually the "globe," or the inflated crop, and according to fanciers, "should be round on the Brunner giving nearly the appearance of a ball on a stick." In case you weren't sure about the shape, "The globe must, I repeat must be ROUND AS A BALL. Not pear shaped, not oblong but ROUND AS A BALL." So, round as a ball. On a stick.

brunner pouter pigeon

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

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English pouter pigeon

The English pouter is a big larger than the Brunner, standing around 16 inches tall to the Brunner's 13 inches. There's an emphasis on the length of the bird, with nice long legs and a long slender body desired by breeders. What is interesting about the English pouter as well as other pouter breeds is their personalities — they are noted for being very friendly.

english pouter pigeon

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

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Pigmy pouter pigeon

Every domestic animal breed seems to have a mini version, and the pigeon is no exception. The pigmy pouter isn't nearly as popular as its larger counterparts, but it still has a dedicated fan base. It's understandable when you see such an odd and delicate little bird. But despite the name, the pigmy pouter isn't significantly shorter than the Brunner, standing at less than 12 inches tall.

pygmy pouter pigeon

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

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English short-faced tumbler

Just as breeders have tinkered with the size and shape of a pigeon's globe, they've tinkered with the size and shape of the whole head. This breed dates back to the 1700s or older. There has been a club dedicated to this breed since 1886. According to fanciers, the ideal for this breed's head is "large, broad, lofty and round; short as possible from front to back." The emphasis on short certainly gives the pigeon an appearance as if straight out of a cartoon.

english short faced tumbler pigeon

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

english short faced tumbler

Photo: Graham Manning/Wikipedia

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English carrier pigeon

This pigeon breed is unusual in many ways, but perhaps most notable is its huge eye ceres (of course, not as large as the Barb!) and wattling around the beak. Despite what you may think you know about carrier pigeons and message delivery, well, that's merely an ancient part of the breed's history. The breed is descended from pigeons that were used for that purpose, but today the English carrier breed is all show.

English carrier

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

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Oriental frill pigeon

This pigeon has an almost parrot-like appearance. It was developed in Turkey, specifically for the Ottoman sultans and is also known as Hünkari, or "bird of the sultans." The "frill" part of the name comes from the ruff of feathers that runs from the neck to the chest. In show birds, there are specific standards for how frilly the frill needs to be and how it is shaped.

oriental frill pigeon

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

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English trumpeter pigeon

This is one of the most popular breeds in the United States among pigeon fanciers, and is considered one of the most ornamental. That's reasonable, considering its coloring, its fancy feathers around its head, and of course the multiple layers of very long feathers on its feet.

english trumpeter

Photo: Graham Manning/Wikipedia

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German Modena pigeon

If you were to breed a pigeon that looks much like a chicken, you'd have the German Modena. The breed originated in Italy but was imported to Germany in the 1870s. It is the smallest of the "hen" or "chicken" breeds, which have a body shape reminiscent of their barnyard cousins.

modena pigeon

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

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Capuchin red pigeon

It's easy to see what sets this pigeon apart. While its color is interesting, it's the neck feathers that turn up like a cowl that make it truly noticeable. It is similar to the Jacobin pigeon, which also makes such a fashion statement.

capuchen red

Photo: Jim Gifford/Flickr CC

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Saxon fairy swallow pigeon

This breed sports extraordinary feathers on its feet, and there are actually three separate layers of feathers. This is one of the types of swallow pigeons, a name that comes from their coloring. They are named after terns, or "sea swallows," which have a white body, colored wings, and colored caps on their heads. Swallow pigeons have this same coloring, including the little splash of color on top of its head — plus, of course, their ultra-fancy foot feathers.

fairy swallow

Photo; Gyyr/Wikipedia

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African owl pigeon

Just as swallow pigeons are named after a wild bird that they resemble in some small way, so too are owl pigeons, which are named after the raptors that have round heads and short beaks (albeit, short beaks that could rip an owl pigeon to pieces...). The beaks of this breed are miniscule (almost just a head-nod to an actual beak) which gives the birds an appearance of having a ball-shaped head.

african owl

Photo: Jim Gifford/Wikipedia

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Nun pigeon

This pigeon got its name from its coloring, and we'll give you three guesses as to why. The birds of this breed are all white except for a colored head and bib, tail, and 10 primary flight feathers. They also have a distinctive "shell crest" of upturned feathers along the back of the neck.

nun pigeon

Photo: Graham Manning/Wikipedia

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Polish helmet pigeon

This bird is named for the "helmet" of color on the top of its head. This as well as its tail are the only parts that have color, while the rest of the body is pure white. Like some other breeds, the pigeon sports a "muff" or long feathers at its feet. It also has a small and delicate crest, much like the nun pigeon above.

polish helmet pigeon

Photo: /Shutterstock

polish helmeted

Photo: /Shutterstock

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German helmet pigeon

This breed is similar to its Polish counterpart but with a few distinct differences. Most notably, its crest is much more dramatic and makes quite the fashion statement. These flashy pigeons look like they're wearing a fancy winter coat. The color on the head extends down lower to the neck as well. They are certainly one of the more ornate pigeons shown off among fanciers.

german helmet

Photo: /Shutterstock

german helmet

Photo: /Shutterstock

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Budapest highflyer pigeon

No, these images haven't been Photoshopped. The Budapest highflyers have eyes that can look particularly huge due to the bulges of bare flesh around them. It is also known as the Budapest short-faced tumbler, which might ring a bell if you remember the English short-faced tumbler pictured above that has an extremely distinctive face. Its name originally came from the breed's ability to fly extraordinarily high, and they were even trained for competitive flying. Today, however, the breed is known more for looks than flying ability.

budapest pigeon

Photo: /Shutterstock

budapest pigeon

Photo; /Shutterstock

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Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.