Several times a year, I’ll get an email or a phone call from someone who thinks they’ve discovered a completely new lovebird color mutation. Typically, these “new mutations” turn out to be isolated anomalies, such as red suffusions, or they are merely a mix of previous mutations that the breeder did not notice.
However, I just learnt about a bird line that may be carrying a novel mutation. Although many concerns remain regarding these birds, early evidence suggest that this color feature is persistent and unique, and it may be heritable.
These birds have emerged at Becky Anderson’s aviary, where the color is known as “Rose-Headed,” after the most striking feature of their look. A image will accompany this article, but many of the most exquisite and delicate characteristics of the birds’ colors did not show up well in pictures, so a detailed description of the birds is still required. I didn’t realize how beautiful these birds were until I got to see them in person.
Their most distinguishing trait is the color of their head. The face and forehead are colored similarly to a conventional peachfaced, but the red of the face wraps entirely around the head, comparable to the black hood of the masked lovebird. Each ear is covered with a little violet patch of hue. This patch is modest, but noticeable when the birds are looked closely.
Rose-Heads are further distinguished from regular Peachies by their lighter green bodies. The color is comparable to that of an American Cinnamon, but much brighter in tint. The margins of most of their wing feathers, as well as a few of the red feathers around the lower back of the head and upper back of the neck, are edged in an even brighter yellow-green. This produces a “scaling” appearance, similar to what we observe in the black edging of the American Yellow or the Greywing.
The third big difference is that the rump is not blue, but rather the same green as the rest of the body, with a trace of iridescence. Instead of the typical red dots seen in Peachfaced tail feathers, the tail has a wide, complete band of red-orange hue, with barely a tinge of green at the tip.
Rose-Headed infants are simple to distinguish as soon as pinfeathers arrive because they are lighter in color than conventional peachfaced newborns and the red on the rear of the head is visible. They also seem to have down that is somewhat yellower than that of conventional Peachfaced chicks. When immature Rose-headed babies molt into adults, they obtain the typical splotches of red “measles,” much like any other peachie, but the splotches cover the whole head, not just the face.
The breeder of these birds maintained meticulous records, so although we still don’t know much about them, we have enough information to make some educated judgments. I’ll start by telling you what we know about the origins of these birds, and then I’ll provide some early theories.
On January 18, 1997, the first Rose-Headed infant was born, and there are currently six visible Rose-Heads. All five of these birds have been sexed and are female. The sixth visible bird’s sex is yet unclear. All of these birds are descended from a single couple, Ozzie and Harriet. Ozzie is a Normal Green, whereas Harriet is a Medium Green. Except for Ozzie’s tail, which contains spots of red that are greater than would be anticipated in a regular peachie, neither exhibits any indication of hybridization, is pied, or seems to be odd in any way. When he is poised at rest, these patches are plainly apparent.
The birds were tracked down to their original breeder, who said that Ozzie’s father was a Lutino. Both birds are also Dutch Blue split since they have produced one Dutch Blue offspring. Ozzie and Harriet have had fourteen children, all of whom have survived infancy. Six Rose-heads, five hens, one of unknown gender, one Dutch Blue, a male, and seven regular or medium greens, four cocks, one hen, and two of unknown gender have been seen.
Though much remains unknown about these birds, the breeder and I have developed some working hypotheses concerning the genesis of the Rose-Headed hue and its likely mechanism inheritance.
Ozzie and Harriet, the parents, have passed the mutation on to several kids. This would imply that the mutation is already present in Ozzie and Harriet’s genetic composition and was not created by chance during their mating. If both parents have the mutation but do not exhibit it, it must be a recessive trait carried by both parents or a sex-linked recessive trait carried only by Ozzie, the father. Because both parents came from the same aviary, we can’t rule out the possibility that a Rose-Headed gene evolved alone in some common ancestor of theirs and is just now showing itself visually. However, considering that all known visual Rose-Heads are females, it is also plausible, and honestly, seems more probable, that the color is sex-linked, and that Ozzie is the single progenitor.
With this in mind, it’s worth noting that Ozzie’s father, as previously said, is thought to have been a Lutino. If this is right, Ozzie’s lack of Lutino daughters is quite exceptional. In theory, half of Ozzie’s daughters, or one-fourth of his descendants, should have become Lutinos. The statistical probability of a split Lutino male having no Lutino daughters out of fourteen chicks is less than 2%. This is not proven, but I believe the Lutino gene that Ozzie got from his father mutated into the Rose-Headed effect at the time of Ozzie’s conception. If this is right, Ozzie will never have Lutino daughters; instead, all girls who inherit the mutant Lutino gene will be visual Rose-Heads. If this is the case, then six visible Rose-Heads out of fourteen offspring, although greater than the chances would suggest, are not implausible.
If it is a sex-linked trait, it may be feasible to visually recognize men divided by color. As I previously said, Ozzie and at least one of his kids seem to have a considerably more noticeable red band in the tail than a typical green Peachfaced. Though this may turn out to be a valuable signal, there is no way to check this notion until some of Ozzie’s sons create their own kids.
Clearly, there is still a lot to learn about the Rose-Headed effect. Ozzie and Harriet’s eldest kids have just lately achieved breeding maturity. At the time of writing, the eldest visible Rose-Headed hen is sitting on her first clutch of eggs, while another adult Rose-Headed hen is waiting for the unrelated male chosen to be her mate to arrive.
It is much too soon to presume that the assumptions stated above are totally correct. Furthermore, assuming that the characteristic may become established at all is a leap of faith unless it is proved that Ozzie and Harriet’s children are able to pass the trait on to their own progeny. With six visible birds already here, early indicators are promising. There have been no health concerns with any of the birds (knock on wood), hatch rates have been excellent, and enough information is available to make some educated assumptions about inheritance.
It should be emphasized that these birds originally emerged in the aviary of a self-proclaimed beginner breeder. She has, however, maintained meticulous records, which have been very useful in designing a breeding program for these birds. A timely reminder to all of us that strong breeding records may give enormous rewards, even in the most unlikely of situations.
That’s all there is to it. Is this a new mutation or simply a curious quirk? Time will only tell. For the time being, though, it is exhilarating to watch such an intriguing hue arise and to envisage the future color combinations it may enable.
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