Color Me Different


Discover what new color mutations are on the rise – and on the horizon.

Other than breeders, most potential bird owners are unlikely to be interested in how a particular hue is generated. They just know that the bird that has captured their attention is the brightest, most beautiful bird they have ever seen. However, beauty is subjective, and certain color mutations – or variations, as they’re frequently known – are more popular than others.

Rick Jordan of Hill Country Aviaries in Texas specializes in color mutations in Indian ringnecks, conures, cockatiels, and other birds. He described mutation as a genetic alteration in a bird’s visual color. “It’s still a pure species,” he remarked, noting that color variations occur regularly in nature. “Nature, not humans, initiates mutations,” Jordan said, noting that mutations have been discovered in wild-caught birds such as the lutino cockatiel, the blue yellow-naped Amazon, and the red-pied severe macaw. Hill Country Aviaries boasts 27 types of Indian ringnecked and plum-headed parakeets, as well as various mutations of green-cheeked, black-capped, and brown-throated conures, according to Jordan. He also has cinnamon red-lored Amazons and quaker mutations. Pineapple green-cheeked, blue green-cheeked, and violet ringneck conures are among the favorites.

Richard Cusick of Outback Aviaries in California enjoys raising birds for brightness and color as well. And, according to him, the brighter the bird, the higher the demand.

“I receive the most requests for green cheek (conure) variants,” he remarked. Turquoise and related kinds, such as the new turquoise pineapple — a triple mix of turquoise, yellow-sided, and cinnamon green-cheeked conures — are among the most popular. Despite the fact that this is the newest mutation, Cusick says the three most popular right now are turquoise, yellow-sided, and cinnamon green cheeks.

Prices vary throughout the nation and from breeder to breeder, but are often connected to a color’s popularity and newness. Cusick claims that a pair of turquoise green cheeks used to sell for roughly $2,500, but that the price has decreased to around $1,400 in the past four years – and will continue to fall. “It’s supply and demand,” he noted, adding that most ring neck and green cheek mutations are inexpensive. Cusick predicts that pricing for mutations of pied and red sun conures will soon be inexpensive for pet owners who like a little “fire” in their bird.

Overwhelming Colors

The variety of colors available, particularly among Asian parakeets, might be dizzying. Here is an example: Dark green, olive, gray green, aqua blue, turquoise blue, turquoise cobalt, turquoise gray, blue, cobalt, mauve, gray, violet green, violet turquoise, violet blue, violet, lutino, aqua-ino, turquoise-ino, albino, cinnamon, edged, grizzled, opaline, misty, pallid, bronze, pied, and others are among the Indian ring neck mutations. Then there’s the recently discovered white-headed white-tailed violet.

The fact that color names vary per species complicates matters even further. “It’s incredible,” Cusick added. The opaline mutation, for example, is shared by the red-rumped parrot, the yellow-sided green-cheeked conure, the rose Bourke’s parrot, and the pearl cockatiel.

According to Cusick, there is a propensity to make the inheritance of color genes more difficult to grasp than required. “There are essentially three sorts of heredity,” he said, “sex-linked, recessive, and dominant.” “Once you grasp how each works, you realize how every color variation is inherited, regardless of the species.”

Cusick, for example, claims that the color cinnamon is sex-linked in cockatiels and every other species. “If you understand how the cinnamon gene is inherited in cockatiels, you will understand how it is inherited in Indian ring necks, red rumps, Amazons, and so on.” Not only that, but if you understand how cinnamon, which is sex-linked, is inherited, you also understand how lutino, opaline, and every other sex-linked color gene in every species is inherited.”

What Bird Is That?

Misnamed mutations, according to Cusick, might add to the uncertainty. Cinnamon green-cheeked conures were originally called fallows, and many breeders still do. “You may have assumed the fallow green cheek was a recessive mutation if you didn’t know fallow was inherited recessively.” It is, however, sex-linked and hence a cinnamon.”

According to Cusick, the cinnamon, fallow, and faint hues are the most often misnamed and misdiagnosed variants. “Sometimes, like with pineapple green-cheeked conures, marketing names are provided that provide no indication of ancestry.”

Cusick defined a primary mutation as a change in plumage colors caused by a single mutant gene for persons who are unfamiliar with genetics. A secondary color mutation is caused by the interaction of two or more main color mutations. Lutino, cinnamon, opaline, blue, turquoise, gray-green, and other main mutations are examples. Albino, a mix of lutino and blue gray (gray-green and blue), cinnamon-blue, and other secondary color mutations exist.

“Natural” Color

Color mutations occur at the same rate in the wild as in captivity, according to Cusick, and certain color mutations are coveted for their beauty. However, it is indiscriminate inbreeding, not mutant color genes, that is responsible for the inheritance of undesired features.

Cusick admitted that color mutants had a poor survivorship in nature, but in captivity, there is no difference in survivability between regularly colored birds and color mutations. “Both should be valued, but none has a distinct benefit in captivity,” he says. Cusick further said that mutant color genes cannot be used to replace normal color genes since a color gene is one among thousands. He stated, “It may be chosen against and eradicated from the population.”

Although some inbreeding is required to develop a color mutation, Cusick advises color breeders to establish the correct balance between inbreeding and outcrossing.

A Roll Of The Dye

What about consistency? Cusick claims that if you understand how certain mutations are inherited, you can predict the colors. “Percentages are a different story,” he said. “Genetic percentages are similar to slot machines in Las Vegas.” You cannot expect to have a specific hue once in every clutch of four infants just because it is anticipated 25% of the time.”

Cusick said that if a regularly colored green cheek male is divided to a cinnamon and matched with a normally colored female, 50% of the female progeny, or 25% of the total offspring, should be cinnamon. “However, you may have two or three clutches in a succession with no cinnamon kids… or you could have four cinnamon babies in your first clutch of infants.”

What is the most exciting aspect of color breeding? Cusick said, “Color mutation breeders are like kids on Christmas morning.” “You have a notion of what you’re going to receive when you open the nest box, but it’s always amazing to peek inside for the first time and see the bouquet of colors.”

Julie Allen, president of the National Cockatiel Society and a long-time certified cockatiel judge from Florida, wholeheartedly agreed. “It would be really boring if there wasn’t any diversity,” she observed. “As exhibitors, we may breed for one reason, but when we walk into an aviary and see these gorgeous gems out there, a beautiful mutation simply glows.”

One of these sparklers is the lemon cockatiel, which is now highly popular, according to Allen. The black-headed cockatiel is the most recent mutation. This mutation, according to Allen, was brought into the United States from Brazil and is not yet accessible to the general population. However, the bird sounds stunning: the whole head is black, and the remainder of the bird might be cinnamon, white face, or any other hue, even gray.

Color mutations’ beauty is one of its most enticing aspects, according to Allen. She claims that white-faced pieds and white-faced pearls are now the most popular with both cockatiel breeders and pet buyers, despite the fact that display breeders do not breed for color. According to Allen, they breed for vibrancy, size, conformation, balance (or proportion), and health.

Color preferences are occasionally expressed by exhibitors, according to Allen. The pieds are popular, as are the lutino pearls, which are yellow birds with dark yellow lace on their wings and red eyes and a dark yellow head. She also has gold-cheeked cockatiels and sometimes breeds for this mutation.

Allen, like Jordan and Cusick, believes that there aren’t many completely normal grey cockatiels surviving in the United States, particularly males. She claims that practically every guy has a pearl in his past.

Fine-Tuned ‘Tiels

Allen projected that in the future, cockatiel breeders would fine-tune the colors that are already available to heighten and improve the tone of mutations. She used steel-colored cinnamon as an example, with the purpose of increasing intensity and achieving a brown tone. Breeders may also attempt to breed a darker gray normal cockatiel. In terms of whitefaced, she believes that improved designs will be introduced in the future to make these birds even more elegant.

Cinnamon, pearl, lutino, pied, silver, fallow, whiteface, lutino whiteface (albino), cinnamon pearl, cinnamon-pearl-pied, and cinnamon-pearl-whiteface are some cockatiel mutations.

Allen advised buyers looking for their first pet bird to choose a normally colored cockatiel or a pearl. “They are powerful and loving,” she remarked, adding that they are also attractive.

Color Me Budgie

Louise Loeske is the president of the American Budgerigar Society, as well as a budgie exhibitor and breeder. She said that the spangled type of budgies was released a few years ago but that there are currently no new budgie kinds.

When hunting for a budgie, expect to see up to 24 different variations. Blue, pied, yellow, lutino, yellowface, dark green, cobalt or dark blue, white, mauve, greywing, greying blue (also greywing dark blue and mauve), violet, fallow, yellow-wing, albino, cinnamon, opaline, white wing, yellowface, lacewing, mottled, spangled, saddleback, and blackface are just a few examples.

Although Loeske claims she does not breed for color, she does have a preference for the violet and violet opaline variety of budgies. The violet has a violet body, a white face, and black lines across the back. The opaline series has a transparent V-back with opalescence that extends into the wings. She also said that the exhibition budgie, sometimes known as an English budgerigar, is frequently bigger than many colony-bred domestic budgies.

Lovely Lovebird Colors

Color variations are as enticing as the birds themselves for people who like lovebirds – and who can resist a hand-fed, socialized jewel of a lovebird? According to Doug Bedwell of the African Lovebird Society, the peach face has three sex-linked mutations. The lutino, American cinnamon, and Australian cinnamon are the three varieties. According to an article on the Society’s website, cinnamons are less abundant than lutinos and hence less widely recognized. The American cinnamon has a whitefaced appearance.

The fallow, Australian recessive pied, lacewing, orangeface, whiteface blue, sea green, and Dutch blue are other peach face variants. Blue, lutino, yellow, dark factor, violet, fallow, and pied mutations may occur in the Fisher’s, black-cheeked, and Nyasa.

Colorful Others

Color variations in the quaker parakeet are also prevalent. Among them are lutino, cinnamon, blue-cinnamon, and pied.

Color variation is not confined to hookbills. The National Colorbred Association is a worldwide group committed to the promotion, display, and development of colored canaries, and it even has its own color association. As predicted, mutation colors are extensive and encompass complete series of hues such as rose, opal, ino and satinette, pastel, onyx, topaz, and Euno. Expect to see the previously stated yellow, white, blue, cinnamon, pied, and other colors. The array of possible hues is huge and deserves its own post. [For additional information on canaries and canary variants, see Rebecca Sweat’s article “Why We Love Canaries” in the September 2004 edition of BIRD TALK.]

Finch breeders have also created a plethora of variants. Color mutations in the zebra finch alone include pied, black cheek, black breast, the penguin series, fawn, Florida fancy, chestnut-flanked white, silver, pied, and Phaeo. The same is true for Gouldian finches. These mutations include red, black, yellow, and different combinations of these hues, as well as numerous body and breast colors related with the head color variations. On the Internet and via finch breeding groups, you may get detailed information on individual mutations for different finch species.

Breeders of doves have not been idle either. There are over 40 ring neck mutations alone, including delightful variations such as bulleyed white, light cream, chimoy, dark ivory, rosy, orange and orange-pearled, roan, sunkist, platinum, apricot, blinde, silver ivory, silky, tangerine, dark frosty, frosty ash pearl, several variations of pied, albino, peach, and so on.

To many people, nothing is more beautiful or spectacular than the birds seen in nature. The flash of a blue-and-gold or scarlet macaw, as well as the Amazons, conures, and parakeets throughout the globe, is unrivaled. And the parrotlets, whether Pacific, green rump, celestial, or any of the seven species, are stunning. But breeders are always looking for the one-of-a-kind, the pinnacle of perfection, to color their world and ours with the best that nature, with a little help from humanity, has to offer.

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