Burmese Bantams

A Burmese Bantam rooster
Photo by Matthew Crabb on behalf of the Cobthorn Trust, courtesy of Andrew Sheppy

Text by Andrew Sheppy

The original Burmese Bantams were exported from Burma (now known as Myanmar) in the 1880s and came first to Scotland. They were sent by an army officer in the British India Army to a colleague in Scotland. The climate didn't agree with these little birds and the stock almost died out. The last remaining male went to the great Victorian bantam breeder, William Entwisle, who set about breeding them with Sultan bantams which he had made using Poland and Booted Bantams with large fowl Sultans. From these crosses mated back to the old Burmese cock and subsequent generations, Entwisle produced the Burmese Bantam as we know it today.

They were never popular, but a few were spread around in the last few years of the 19th century. It was thought that they had in fact died out completely in the early part of the 20th century and any books which mentioned them at all put them down as extinct. Then in the early 1970s, following the establishment of the Rare Breeds Society (now Rare Poultry Society) in the UK, a few Burmese turned up. They came to Cobthorn from an old breeder who only had a couple left, but they were very close to the original. After this a breeding programme which followed Entwisle's original was used to produce more birds which could be bred back to the originals, just as he had done.

It has been a great struggle to keep this breed going, but we have done. The stock is all still here at Cobthorn, with two reserve populations on other sites for safety. 2003 has been a good year and more have been reared than in any year before. They are still exceedingly rare.

The Burmese Bantam is a true bantam, with no large fowl counterpart. They are almost exclusively whites, with bright yellow legs, a crest and masses of foot feather. They have single combs and red ear lobes. Their character is amazing, being very quiet and friendly, often becoming very tame indeed. I find them charming and confiding, as well as being superb broodies and mothers. They have four toes, but there are still one or two that show five toes from the inclusion of Sultan in the background.

There have been rumours of somebody in continental Europe "making" Burmese Bantams from scratch without using any of the original. Those birds are said to have a horn comb instead of the correct single. As far as we know, all the genuine Burmese Bantams are held by the National Poultry Collection here at Cobthorn and that stock has never had any connection with the birds in Europe.

The [Cobthorn Trust] photos show a quite nice pair and another different cock, all in the National Poultry Collection. These are not very recent photos and are not the best birds we have. Another try with some of the 2003 youngsters may produce something better, but these will give you an idea. The best of them are very short in the leg, right down on the floor like Japs or Pekins and with rather better crests than the ones in the pictures.

A Burmese Bantam pair
Photo by Matthew Crabb on behalf of the Cobthorn Trust, courtesy of Andrew Sheppy

A Splash Burmese bantam
Photo courtesy of Jørn Clevin

A Burma Bantam flock
Photo courtesy of Hans Ringnalda

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