GENETICS FOR AVICULTURISTS Current Myths in Avian Genetics Nomenclature



As aviculturists we should never underestimate the importance of avian genetics and, just as crucial, color mutation genetics, the latter often serving as .n easy access route for companion bird owners and hobiyists to enter into the world of aviculture. The facts are ndisputable. The number one and number two pet birds .ept in over six million U.S. households are still the sudgerigar, and the Cockatiel, respectively (PIJAC 1995).

The enormous variety of color mutations in both pecies has clearly aided in their popularity and is a funlamental reason the companion bird owner/hobbyist first ries his hand at breeding, only later to be seduced into the iobby in the quest for "more colorful birds." Although .orne hobbyists continue on to breed larger, or additional iew species (in effect swelling the ranks of aviculture), here remains a significant number of new breeders who iecome color specialists engrossed only with the chalenge that color genetics uniquely provides.


Objective Observation

Yet, where does the curious color breeder turn for information? There are several avenues one can pursue to accumulate additional knowledge even beyond the usual avicultural books, such as textbooks, scientific articles or papers, and of course, the "lab," or aviary. Furthermore, descriptions from the aviary are usually contributed by aviculturists who work directly with the birds and who are intent on publishing and sharing their results.

However, part of the problem with relying on descriptions given by aviculturists, lies in our methods of reporting. A truly objective documentation of new or atypical color anomalies, from nest feather through to the adult molt, is seldom reported with an unbiased point of view and is frequently colored by our subjective interpretations. As aviculturists, we have yet to establish a scientific standard on the formal nomenclature on established (e.g., classified) color mutations.

However, putting such problems aside, the color breeder must still be able to decipher what is posited in the literature, or lecture, and that generally occurs only after some rudimentary knowledge has been accumulated. Unfortunately, the typical color breeder may not possess either the text book knowledge, or the curiosity to separate scientific fact from sophist rhetoric. In truth, many of us learn avian genetics, not through formal study, hut from hands-on work "in the field" (i.e., the aviary), where the gradual absorption of facts contributes to the subtle and


seemingly effortless process of learning by "osmosis."

Clarifying Information

When deciphering information, one might assume it is the novice who suffers the most confusion. Oddly enough, it may be the advanced breeder who experiences the most disconcertion, since it is generally the seasoned breeder who yearns to add to his fundamental storehouse of knowledge.

Even worse, it is often the advanced breeder himself who, in all innocence, erroneously contributes, inappropriately endorses, or does not recognize such misinformation. Or, perhaps just as faulty, the aviculturist who does not wish to publicly embarrass or correct a peer. Yet, more often than not, the novice is still seeking basic information and his "cup is not yet full" with prior conceptions or material for comparison .. Obviously, misinformation will set the novice on the wrong course and the resulting frustration may prevent further pursuit in this area.

In the author's opinion, when such a paradox arises it is the responsibility of the aviculturist to aid in the clarification of misinformation for the benefit of aviculture as a whole. However, such clarifications, or indeed any declaration of information needs to be backed by viable references such as those which the reader or listener will be able to confirm for themselves.

The listing of references meaningful only to the author does little to substantiate an article, body of work, or any plausible theory. Conversely, personal observations, opinions, and supposition, needs to be stated as such, as less blame is assigned when the material is merely an "offering," rather than presented solely as objective fact.

Although the myths outlined below focus on color mutations, it is well to keep in mind that such rules of genetics may be applicable to other areas of avian inheri-

tance, once their inheritance mode is identified. ·

As more information becomes generally known, it will hopefully encourage scientists to apply such understanding of gene mapping to captive avian species outside of poultry and encourage breeders to establish viable lines (e.g., livestock breeding that is relevant to current times), and consistently produce healthy, long-lived, fertile offspring capable of successfully reproducing, for generations to come.

In the spirit of contributing a combination of facts and personal observations, the author wishes to aid in the clarification of some common misconceptions currently prevailing. Being experienced in teaching color genetic workshops to breeders over the years, the author has become familiar with common problem areas and the pitfalls which often prevail with novice and even seasoned aviculturists. And so, here then are 10 of the most common misconceptions, or myths, that immediately spring to mind.




Baastian, T. and Baastian, G.j.j. (1995). Ringneck Parakeets and Their Mutations. Australia.

Enger, Gibson, Lromelink, Ross, Smith, (1977). Concepts in Biology.

Iowa. Wm. C. Brownly Company Publishers.

Farnsworth, M.W. (1978). Genetics. New York. Harper & Row.

Publishers. Inc.

NCS Magazine. (1995). Genetic Jottings. Bulletin of the National Cockatiel Society, V. XII, No. 1: p. 12.

Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC). 1995 study. Petletter.

Washington, D.C.

Rocheleau, Nancy. (1996). Dominant Pastel-faced Cockatiels. Ar:.4 Watchbird XXlll (No.4): 42-43.

Rubin, Linda, S. (1992). Cockatiel Genetics Made Easy: From the Basics to Whiteface Cross Mutations to Dominant Silvers. Newton, MA. Tangowood Aviary.

Rubin, Linda. S. (1988). The Complete Guide To Cockatiel Color

Mutations. Newton, MA., Tangowood Aviary.

Rutgers. A. (1967). Budgerigars in Color: Their Care and Feeding.

London, Blandford Press Ltd.

[Excerpt from the newly revised: Cockatiel Genetics Made Easy: The Special Edition and specially prepared for this journal.]