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The Sicilian Buttercup is a breed of domestic chicken from the island of Sicily. The breed was imported from the island of Sicily over 100 years ago and is another member of the Mediterranean class. It has attracted widespread interest over the country because of its unique beauty. The golden color and cup-shaped comb are the basis for the very descriptive name. The comb is a cup-shaped crown with a complete circle of medium sized regular points. The male and female do not look alike in coloring. The males are a rich, brilliant orange red with some black spangles in the feather of the body fluff and cape feathers at the base of the hackle; with lustrous, greenish black tail. The base color of the female is buff with all feathers on the body marked by parallel rows of black elongated spangles, giving the hen an appearance of being beautifully spotted and suggesting a ringneck pheasant hen. Skin color is yellow and shanks and toes are a willow green. Eggs are small and can be colored anywhere from white to heavily tinted. They are good fliers and free-ranging Buttercups will often be seen perching in elevated areas such as fencetops, haylofts, trees, and arbors.
The Sicilian Buttercup is a member of the Mediterranean class. It was imported from the island of Sicily in 1892 and is considered to be a very rare breed. Because of its beauty and rich coloring, it has attracted much interest in America, especially as an exhibition bird. The red cup-shaped comb is a unique feature in the poultry world and is the reason behind the descriptive name.
The Sicilian Buttercup probably did not actually originate on the Mediterranean island of Sicily but possibly in the Italian colony of Tripoli. Loyl Stromberg, in his Poultry of the World, quotes Reverend Ray Trudgian, in an article on the subject published in Poultry Overseas. Trudgian recounts an experience of following a cock's crow in Bethlehem, to discover a flock of Buttercups protected by guard dogs. Trudgian refers to Easom Smith's Modern Poultry Development, published in 1976. Smith contends that Buttercups were developed by Arabs of North Africa, who traveled through the Mediterranean countries. The breed could have made its way to Europe via Sicily, where the birds picked up their name. Smith describes the comb as a veritable King David's crown. There was possibly a crossing between the native north African breeds poissibly the Fayoumi or similarly marked birds and Italian breeds. Some also suggest that the French Houdan was added. The first importation to the United States came from the island of Sicily coming in 1835.The first importation to the US of Sicilian Buttercups was in 1835. The present stock descends from hatching eggs imported in 1892. There are other colors in the UK, including White Buttercups and Brown Buttercups(which was at one time called the Sicilian Flower Bird). There are also Silver Duckiwing Buttercups in New Zealand. Sicilian Buttercups were admitted to the APA Standard in 1918. The Sicilian Buttercup bantam was later developed in America and was admitted into the APA Standard in 1960. Shape and color are the same as large Buttercups.
Sir Edward Brown echoes the North African origin, quoting Professor Ghigli of Bologna, Italy on the subject. The North African fowls are smaller than the Sicilian Buttercup, and the comb of the former is less fleshy. He suggests that the latter is due to a cross between the North African and the Italian, also stating that in Tripoli and adjacent countries there is much crossing of European races, such as the Leghorn, upon the small African breed, writes in Poultry Breeding and Production, 1929.
Buttercup chickens are non-broody, lays 200 of small white eggs a year and are kept strictly as ornamental fowl. A small, spritely breed from Sicily, their chief distinguishing feature is their cup-shaped comb. Buttercup chickens do not do well in close confinement; they are very fidgety, active, flighty, wild even for a Mediterrean breed. Buttercup chickens tend to avoid human contact. Buttercup chickens are very rare chickens and have a large buttercup comb on top of their heads. Because of its unusual appearance the Buttercup is an excellent breed for exhibition projects. Their combs are subject to frostbite in cold weather.
Buttercups are alert and very active and make great foragers or free-range birds. Care must be taken to protect Buttercups from extreme cold and below-freezing temperatures, but on the flip side - they are very heat tolerant. Chicks mature early, and you might hear your cocks grow as soon as 2 months. Often mislabeled as timid birds, the males especially can be quite friendly and curious if raised from a chick, and will eat from your hand, or even hop on your lap to check for treats.
The Standard says they were first imported to the U.S. in 1835. Stromberg credits Mrs. Colbeck of Yorkshire with importing them to England in 1912. Hatching eggs were first imported to the U.S. in 1892. Sicilian Buttercups were accepted into the Standard of Perfection in 1918.
The Buttercup cock has an impressive cup-shaped comb, almond-shaped white earlobes, well-rounded wattles, and striking feathering. Because of the large combs, they are susceptible to frostbite. Legs that are not willow green in color will disqualify a bird at show. This green tint is difficult to obtain. Chicks' legs are yellowish until they develop the slate color at four to six months of age. At that age, the greenish tint will also develop.
The comb must stand straight, not flop over, and not have a third row of points. A third row of points in the comb of a bantam Buttercup is a common problem. Check the developing comb when the chicks are six to eight weeks old, looking for extra points between the cups of the comb.
The required coloring can be just as difficult to breed as the correct comb and leg tone. Males are darker than females. The ideal male coloring, from top to bottom, is: The comb should be a brilliant red and the beak a light horn to compliment it. Red is undesirable in the earlobes, which should be white. Earlobes less than one third white are a disqualification in showing. Feathers from the head down to the cape should be lustrous reddish orange. The tail should be black with the desired green sheen.
As for the hens, they should be golden buff with little points of black within the feathers. Overall, the regal tones of the coloring add to the royal look of this heritage breed. The hens often develop spurs. The spurs are not a disqualification because they are a Mediterranean breed. Male and female chicks can be distinguished within weeks by larger development of the male comb. Like other Mediterranean breeds, they are non-sitters. They are an egg production breed and lay white eggs. Exhibition weights top out at 7 lbs. for males and 5 lbs. for females.
They live up to their reputation as a flighty breed. They are accused of being squirrel-tailed, but that may reflect their high-strung Mediterranean nature. If they are frequently handled and accustomed to interacting with people, they hold their tails lower. It's not a conformation defect, but a matter of training. The hours spent handling them bring out their exceptional carriage. They are much more royal than the average poultry in your yard.
The Sicilian Buttercups are on the SPPA Critical List for poultry breeds. Over the years many poultry fanciers have taken an interest in them.
The Buttercup is rather wild and very active. It is a good flier and prefers to roost in haylofts and trees if accessible. It doesn’t do well under close confinement and it is a nervous, fidgety breed. The Buttercup chicken is available in a bantam variety as well as a standard type. Although very rare, it is popular as an ornamental breed and is exhibited in the Mediterranean class. They are flighty, active birds and do not like being kept in confined runs, preferring to be out free ranging where possible. They are prone to frostbite on their elaborate combs so care needs to be taken when the temperatures drop below freezing. Chicks are early maturing but the cup shaped comb takes a while to develop fully.