Cat-chicken Hybrids

Are winged cats bird-cat hybrids?

EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS

     
This would have been the right kind of cat for me to keep if I had kept any; for why should not a poet’s cat be winged as well as his horse?
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Three live cats with wings.

Cats sometimes mate with hens.

Note: Claims that hybrids can be produced from this highly disparate cross require confirmation.

The uppermost video at right documents that winged cats exist. The only question is where do they come from? Are they mutants? Are they bird-mammal hybrids? Or are they perhaps suffering from a skin disease or a lack of grooming as some suggest?

It does seem unlikely that any sort of disease, or that any grooming deficiency, would cause many different cats (there are more than a hundred separate cases of winged cats reported) to sprout symmetrical wings in the exact position where one would expect wings to sprout, the shoulder-blade region. And what of the various reports that say these wings contain bones and muscle. Could disease or poor grooming produce bones and muscle tissue? Besides, the cats in the video do not look diseased or ill groomed.


A video documenting that hens sometimes adopt kittens.


A second video about a hen adopting kittens.


A third video about a hen adopting kittens.
Imprinting: It’s well established that hens will adopt kittens (see the videos above). In fact, hens are renowned for their willingness to adopt the young of almost any animal. The fact that hens will raise kittens is significant in the present context because most mammals imprint on whatever kind of animal raises them, that is, a cat raised by a hen, when it reached sexual maturity, might well choose a mate with a hen (read a discussion of imprinting elsewhere on this website). Imprinting may explain, too, why some cats voluntarily choose to live with chickens (see news story towards the bottom of this page entitled Cat’s Strange Whim) and/or incubate chicken eggs (see report below, Chickens Hatched by a Cat). I have not as yet found an example on YouTube of the reverse case, that of a cat fostering chicks. Such behavior has, however, been repeatedly observed, as evidenced by the screenshots of news reports below (sources: Report #1, Report #2, Report #3, Report #4, Report #5, Report #6). Note that the fourth report mentions that the cat actually nursed the chicks. To read four other, longer news stories about cats adopting chicks, click here and here and here and here.
cat fosters chicken cat fosters chicken cat fosters chicken cat fosters chicken cat fosters chicken

And if we are to suppose a mutation is the culprit, we must ask what sort of mutation would produce, in a single generation, winglike structures in a mammal? Are we to assume there has been a horizontal transfer of bird genes? And are we to suppose that this complex mutation occurred independently, affecting the same region of the body, in more than 100 different cats?

If the explanations just mentioned above seem impossible, then we are left with hybridization between a cat and a bird as the only remaining explanation. And as Arthur Conan Doyle once had Sherlock say, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” So let’s explore that option.

If cat-chicken hybrids are to be produced, the first requirement is that a cat and a chicken must mate. And in fact, it is well established that male cats will mount chickens and copulate with them (see, for example, the video at right above). And such matings may indeed be quite numerous when one considers all the chickens and cats that daily come into contact on farms.

The next question is whether such a distant cross could possibly produce hybrids. The truth is that no systematic investigation has been made of this question. It is known, however, that in certain fairly distant crosses many inseminations are required to produce only a few hybrids. For example, artificial insemination of turkey hens with rooster semen yields only about one mature hybrid per thousand inseminations.

So then, is it possible that matings between cat and chicken also, on rare occasion, produce cat-chicken hybrids? Judging from old news reports, the answer to this question seems to be in the affirmative. Thus, a notice about one such a hybrid appeared on page 2 (column 4) of the April 30, 1880 issue of The Cambria Freeman, a newspaper published in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania (source). It reads as follows:

Mr. Josiah Landis, druggist, of Manheim, Lancaster county, informs the Sentinel of that place that week before last one of his hens had among her brood a chick quite out of the common order of things. It was a monstrosity. Its head resembles that of a cat; it had no bill, but teeth instead; its legs were short, and it had claws resembling those of the feline race. It appeared to be half cat and half chicken. He attributes this monstrosity to fright, as he has known the hen to be frightened by the cat, and he thinks it serves to illustrate a well-known law of fright in human species. The chick lived but half an hour, and was seen by many of the neighbors.

The significance of this report, if correct, is that it tends to confirm that hybrids between cat and bird are, at least in rare instances, possible, a fact that would provide a clear explanation of the origin of winged cats, that is, they would be bird-mammal hybrids. And, although the alleged hybrid, described in the report above, reportedly died after only half an hour, its very existence would suggest this bizarre cross to be far more feasible than one might otherwise suppose. Moreover, hybrids from some distant crosses show a great deal of variability with respect to how long they survive, with some dying very young and others reaching maturity. Possibly, too, the early death of this “chick” was due, not to its own inviability, but rather to the fact that its mother had no milk to give it.

Indeed, an additional report, though brief, seems to directly confirm that at least one winged cat was the offspring of a chicken. The notice in question appeared on page 6, column 7 of the April 20, 1901 issue of The St. Louis Republic, a newspaper published in St. Louis, Missouri. The report, which appeared in many U.S. newspapers, originated in Girardville, Pennsylvania (source). It reads as follows:

CAT WITH WINGS HATCHED FROM EGG

Girardville, Pa., April 19. — John Bilder, the owner of a large poultry yard at Mahanoy Plane, is the possessor of a remarkable freak. Recently Bilder set some eggs under a hen, and from every egg but one was hatched a chick. This one egg brought forth something resembling both a cat and a chicken. It has two well formed wings, a cat’s head and four legs.

So we must either suppose that this widely circulated report (another copy of the same story) was a hoax or that cat-chicken hybrids do occasionally, perhaps only very rarely, occur. Some may find the latter explanation implausible, but it must be remembered that there must be some causative event producing winged cats, which have definitely been observed. If that cause is not hybridization, then what? It seems only reasonable, given that farmers have reported such hybrids, at least to entertain the idea that these animals are hybrids. Better to investigate the possibility than to ignore it. As Abelard once said, “By doubting we come to questioning, and by questioning we perceive the truth.”

Cats, at least certain rare cats, voluntarily incubate chicken eggs. The behavior of one such cat is described in the story quoted below, which appeared on page 4, column 4 of the December 11, 1879 issue of The Anderson Intelligencer, a newspaper published in Anderson, South Carolina (source). It originally appeared in the New York Herald. The report reads as follows:

Chickens Hatched by a Cat

A remarkable cat lives at No. 63 Fifteenth street, South Brooklyn. From an early age she has displayed a great fondness for hatching out chickens. She sets on eggs like an old hen until the feathered young break the shell, and then she cares for them as affectionately as if they were orthodox kittens. Four families of chickens have been hatched by this cat, and she is now busily engaged on the fifth, with a very fair prospect of success. The animal is the property of Mrs. Leonard, an intelligent Irish woman, who resides with her husband in a cottage at the above address.

A Herald reporter called at the house yesterday afternoon to see the wonder. In one corner of the kitchen, partitioned off from the rest of the rooms, was a large bird cage, around which a dozen chickens were strutting and picking up a meal. Inside of the cage, on a bed of straw, was a cat of unprepossessing appearance, but of stalwart proportions, covering four eggs. The latter was disclosed to view as the reporter approached the cage, and the animal left her nest to play with a chicken. Then she returned to her task, extending her body at full length over the eggs and completely hiding them. The chickens she had already brought into the world seemed to possess as much filial affection as is generally shown by little chicks for their natural mothers, and they pirouetted about the cat in the most familiar way, climbing on her back, enjoying her warm coat of fur until a movement of her body tumbled them off. After she had become weary of setting, the cat made a tour among her young and carried them to different parts of the enclosure. Her method of transportation was by the neck, and the chickens did not seem to mind this kind of transit any more than if they were kittens. She has been very kind to them, and has never made a meal of her offspring. It is related that when her first chicks appeared she carried one of them by the neck up the cellar stairs. The flesh of the young biped being very tender and the journey somewhat long, blood soon flowed. Instead of devouring the chick after she had tasted its blood, she applied her tongue daily to the neck until the wound healed.

The cat came to Mrs. Leonard's house about a year ago unheralded and unknown, and next day was found on a nest of eggs deserted by a hen who should have been setting. Sue was driven off repeatedly, for fear she would break the eggs; but, persisting in her purpose, brought forth a brood of chickens that astonished the household. About a score of chickens have been brought into the world through her agency, eight of which survive. South Brooklyn has been very much interested over the phenomenon, and hundreds of visitors have seen and admired the feline incubator. -New York Herald.

Another report, which also circulated widely, describes a mature cat with “pheasant’s wings.” The story quoted here appeared in the June 26, 1897 issue of the High Peak News, a newspaper published in Matlock, Derbyshire, England. A chicken is a type of pheasant, but in England any reference to a “pheasant” would almost certainly refer to the common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), not a chicken. The report reads as follows:

Extraordinary Capture at Winster

A Tomcat With Wings

A pheasant’s wing A pheasant’s wing
(Phasianus colchicus)
A tortoiseshell cat A tortoiseshell cat

The most interesting item in natural history, so far as the Matlock district is concerned, transpired this morning (Friday). Our reporter learns that Mr Roper of Winster, while on Brown Edge near that village, shot what he thought to be a fox, which had been seen in the locality some time previously, on Mr Foxlow’s land. Thinking he had missed his aim, Mr Roper gave up the quest, but returning later he found he had killed the animal. It proved to be an extraordinarily large tomcat, tortoiseshell in colour with fur two and a half inches long, with the remarkable addition of fully-grown pheasant wings projecting from each side of its fourth rib. Unfortunately, the climate having been so excessively hot, the animal was allowed to putrefy, and after being generally exhibited all round the district the carcase has now been interred. It was seen by Mr Joseph Hardy and ample witnesses, so that there is no doubt the museums have missed a most curious animal. Never has its like been seen before, and eye-witnesses state that when running the animal used its wings outstretched to help it over the surface of the ground, which it covered at a tremendous pace.

winged cat Above: Screenshot of a story on page 599 (vol. 18, 1899) of Strand Magazine (source). Cat show judge H. C. Brooke described the same animal in the magazine Cat Gossip in 1927: “This cat had growing from its back two appendages which reminded the observer irresistibly of the wings of a chicken before the adult feathers appear. These appendages were not flabby, but apparently gristly, about six or eight inches long, and placed in exactly the position assumed by the wings of a bird in the act of taking flight. They did not make their appearance until the kitten was several weeks old.” When the owner had its wings amputated, it died.

In 1926 a cat with wings was found in a chicken yard in Wapato, Washington. Its owner took it on tour and charged thousands to see it. The following story about this animal appeared that year in Time magazine (Monday, Dec. 27, 1926, p. 54). This cat, however, had four wings, not two.

Science: Winged Cat

Citizens of Portland, Ore., flocked to see a curious creature publicly exhibited by one Arthur Kingery of Wapato, Wash., who said he had captured it in his chicken-yard. It was a cat, thrice the size of a house cat [note that the Matlock animal, described above, was supposed to be “extraordinarily large.” Luxuriant growth, a manifestation of heterosis, is common in hybrids.], with a tail heavy and furry, like a coyote's. On each side of its spine, beginning just back of the shoulders, grew a pair of muscular ridges, for all the world like two pairs of rudimentary wings, furred heavily. The feline's hind feet measured five inches, spreading out like the feet of a snow-shoe rabbit.

Old settlers were reminded of Paul Bunyan’s “minktums” and “tigermonks.” Natural scientists suspected it was a cross between a lynx and a house cat. Nature lovers recalled that Naturalist Henry David Thoreau, in his book Walden mentioned a “winged cat.” It was the pet of a farmer-neighbor, described as “dark brownish grey color, with a white spot on her throat, and white feet, and had a large bushy tail like a fox; that in the winter the fur grew thick and flatted out along her sides, forming strips ten or twelve inches long by two and a half wide, and under her chin like a muff, the upper side loose, the under matted like felt, and in the spring these appendages dropped off. They gave me a pair of her ‘wings,’ which I keep still. There is no appearance of a membrane about them.” [See the complete passage from Thoreau, quoted below.]

winged cat Above: A news report about another cat with four wings instead of the usual two. This brief account appeared on page 6 (column 4) of the October 26, 1906 issue of the The Worthington Advance, a newspaper published in Worthington, Minnesota (source).

The following report, and various others like it, about a Spanish winged cat named Angolina circulated widely. This a transcript of the report as it appeared in on page 6 of the Medford Mail Tribune, a newspaper published in Medford, Oregon:

Fur-Winged Cat Amazes Spain

Birds Too If It Learns To Fly

Madrid, Spain, May 31 (U.P) — It will be a sad day for the birds when Angolina learns to use her wings. Angolina is a cat. And she is the only cat in this or any other country with wings, her owner, Juan Priego, proudly claims. Priego’s cat, a dusty gray angora, has 10-inch fur-covered wings sprouting from the middle of her back and folding neatly over each side.

Priego admitted that Angolina still has not learned how to spread her wings and take off after birds in their own element, but he explained that she is pretty young yet. “We have had her three months,” the 55 year-old Priego said. “We took her over from a neighbor who would not feed her. Except for the wings, she is like any other cat.” And Angolina is. She has green eyes, whiskers and she meows.

Priego and his 50-year-old wife, Victoria, have given Angolina a place of honor in the kitchen of their basement apartment because such is such an unusual pet. So unusual, In fact, that Priego has turned down offers running as high as $70,000 and plans to take her on tour in Mexico next week if the government will give him and his cat a passport.

Fee charged

He said 30,000 persons have tried to get a look at Angolina since the news got out that she is a cat with wings. “We started out charging a fee to see her, but it got out of bounds,” Priego said. He said the rush was so great it nearly drove his wife crazy. Mrs. Priego, armed with a stick to repulse a horde of curious visitors trying to peek in through the kitchen door, confirmed this. “I have been married 30 years, but I never went through anything like this,” she said. “I can’t rest, eat or sleep anymore. It’s horrible.”

Priego said his cat has many admirers. “An air force captain offered to swap me his house for her. Wanted to take her on tour.” He wouldn’t say who the air force captain was, but said another bidder had offered him 700,000 pesetas ($70,000) if he would sell Angolina. Doctors who have examined Angolina say that the wings are real. They are formed by a type of cartilage. All the excitement doesn’t bother Angolina. Wings folded neatly over her body, she dozes in the Priego kitchen and licks her wings — almost like any other cat.

winged cat A 1950 news story about winged cats in Madrid, Spain. The following is an enlarged transcript of the caption beneath the photo:
According to newspaper reports, Madrid, Spain has been very excited during the past few months at the appearance of winged cats in the city. Here is one of them, Michi by name. Except for the “wings” on each side of the body, Michi is like any other cat and veterinarians have stated that these are formed by a quick growth of cartilage that eventually forms bone. They are well covered by fur and sprout up to 10 inches in length. The cat is able to fold them up chickenwise. It is reported that thousands of people have rushed to see the flying cats of Madrid and in one instance the owners have "cashed in" to the extent of a substantial daily gate. Fantastic sums are said to have been involved in insurance, exploitation rights, etc and it appears likely that one of the winged cats will fly to America, but not under its own power!

The following is another news report, a United Press wire story dated June 14th, 1950, about the animal shown in the picture above:

Second Winged Cat Crops Up in Spain
by Haynes Thompson

Madrid, Spain. Mithi is just like any other cat with wings, except than Mithi can fly. Or so claims Mithi’s owner, Senora Josefa Munoz, 63 year-old widow. The claim is doubted by the owner of Angolina [see below], a cat which has wings but doesn’t fly.

Senora Munoz , permitted this correspondent to stroke Mithi's foot-long Angora wingspread. There was a purr like an airplane, motor. But she wouldn’t ask the cat to fly. You just have to take the word of Senora Munoz, who has an honest-looking face, or the word of her neighbors. Mithi just took to the ozone last week, Senora Munoz said. Mithi was perched on a six-foot back fence when suddenly she meowed and went into a 15-foot glide, landing on the roof of an inside court, her owner said. The widow Munoz insisted “It was more than a jump. Mithi’s wings were out and she seemed to glide."

“They eat cat food, not bird seed.”

Senora Munoz said Mithi has been flying each day since her solo and the neighbors, whose kitchen windows overlook the roofed court, agreed. By yesterday several thousand curious were standing outside the Munoz home. “We can't go on like this,” Senora Munoz fretted as she looked at the crowd pressed around her door, “We'll have to sell Mithi.” She said she already has received an offer of $4000.

But Juan Priego, owner of Angolina, Spain’s first winged cat to receive publicity, poo-poohed the story of Mithi. Angolina is on display in a glass cage at an exhibit where persons paid two pesetas each to see her yesterday. The two winged cats this correspondent has seen, Mithi, and Angolina are in other respects alike. They eat cat food, not bird seed.

More about winged cats >>

Thoreau’s Winged Cat

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau gave the following account: “A few years before I lived in the woods there was what was called a ‘winged cat’ in one of the farm-houses in Lincoln nearest the pond, Mr. Gilian Baker’s. When I called to see her in June 1842 she was gone a-hunting in the woods, as was her wont (I am not sure whether it was a male or a female and so use the more common pronoun), but her mistress told me that she came into the neighbourhood a little more than a year before, in April, and was finally taken into their house; that she was of a dark brownish-grey colour, with a white spot on her throat, and white feet, and had a large bushy tail like a fox; that in the winter the fur grew thick and flatted out along her sides, forming strips ten or twelve inches long by two and a half wide, and under her chin like a muff, the upper side loose, the under matted like felt, and in the spring these appendages dropped off. They gave me a pair of her ‘wings,’ which I keep still. There is no appearance of a membrane about them. Some thought it was part flying squirrel or some other wild animal, which is not impossible, for, according to naturalists, prolific hybrids have been produced by the union of the marten and domestic cat. This would have been the right kind of cat for me to keep if I had kept any; for why should not a poet’s cat be winged as well as his horse?”
winged cat Above: Screenshot of the earliest mention of a winged cat that I have as yet encountered in English (there is an earlier (1743) mention in French). From a description of the University of Leyden’s Hall of Anatomy in on p. 568 of Edward Cavendish Drake’s A New Universal Collection of Authentic Voyages and Travels, published in 1768 (source).
winged cat Above: Screenshot of a news story that circled the globe in June 1949. The cat described in the article seems to have had the largest recorded wing-span, 23 inches (58.4 cm), recorded for any winged cat. Supposedly it swooped down on a child before being shot. The remains were given to the Swedish Museum of Natural History. According to some reports, its hindquarters were covered in feathers. The pictured report appeared on page 2 (column 4) of the June 15, 1949 issue of an Australian (NSW) newspaper, the Glen Innes Examiner, (source).
winged cat Above: Screenshot of a news story about a cat who adopted baby chicks that appeared on page 2 (columns 3 and 4) of the May 16, 1921 issue of the Great Falls Tribune, a newspaper published in Great Falls, Montana (source).
cat who chose to live with chickens cat who chose to live with chickens cat who chose to live with chickens Above: Screenshot of a news story about a cat who chose to live with chickens (source).

A list of cat crosses

The following is a list of reported cat crosses. Some of these crosses are much better documented than others (as indicated by the reliability arrow). Indeed, some might seem completely impossible. But all have been reported at least once. The links below are to separate articles. Additional crosses, not listed here, are covered on the cat hybrids page.

reliability arrow

Table of contents >>

Bibliography >>

Internet citations >>

Biology Dictionary >>

By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).

If you know of other reports of strange hybrids or (much better!) have such an animal in your possession and would like to get it genetically tested, please contact the website.


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