Future Mutations

I have hesitated for a long time before writing this article, because, unlike the talks which I give from time to time, I cannot have the help of colour slides and laminates of various members of the Parrot family. However, I am vain enough to worry in case one of my predictions is overtaken by the appearance of the real thing before I have got into print.

Had I been writing this articles in the early 1930’s I like to think that on firm genetical grounds, I would have predicted the eventual appearance of a yellow-faced blue budgerigar. How thrilled I would have been when, only a few years later such birds appeared.

There is no space here to go into the complexities of colour in the Parrot family, fascinating as they are. Suffice it to say that colour in the budgerigar is due to the presence or absence of two pigments, black and yellow, and various feather structures which give the blue shades by selective reflection of light. Unusually, budgerigars have no red pigment and it is not possible for a mutation to produce one, hence there will never be a naturally occurring pink budgerigar. Contrary to most peoples’ perception, once a species is fixed, a mutation can only prevent (or modify) the formation of an existing substance.

Several parrot species other than budgerigars, have exactly the distribution of yellow pigment needed for “yellow-faced blue”. The various Caiques hve yellow heads above white breasts and Pilated Parrakeets have rich yellow heads above deep blue breasts. These are just two of a number of examples which show that in the Parrot family, one or more genes exist which can “switch off” yellow pigment selectively. The appearance of this type of gene in the budgerigar, is not, genetically speaking, a very big step and was reasonably predictable.

A number of parrot species have the precise distribution of pigment needed for “white-faced green” and I predict that sooner or later we shall get such a budgerigar.

The Cuban Amazon has a snow white area above its beak and around the eyes, and a body which is mainly shades of green. Maximilian’s Parrot and the Blue-headed Parrot have blue heads above green bodies and so have the correct distribution of the yellow pigment. Turquoisines have blue faces, flecked with white above yellow breasts. The Blue-fronted Amazon has a blue and white front to its head and the amount of white can vary between individuals. This variation may well be a factor for potential selection. For this reason it is essential to watch budgerigars heads for the slightest signs of white feathers. Even one feather might give material for selection.

I have several other predictions to make but I will save them for another day and a future newsletter.

Reprinted by kind permission of the Rare Variety and Colour Budgerigar Society.

Original text Copyright 1995, Dr Margaret Young.

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