Cockatiels Take Flight!

Words By Dr Terry Martin BVSc
Photograph By Peter Odekerken. Image: Paleface Dilute Grey Cockatiel cock.

The hobby of Cockatiel breeding in Australia has matured during the past decade into a fancy for dedicated breeders. Like all birds in aviculture, the rise in popularity of a species begins with the appearance of new mutations. This attracts the ‘speculator’ breeder hoping to be the first with a new colour that they can sell for substantial gain. For some in this first wave of breeders, the reward might simply be that they were the first to produce a new colour. Inevitably, within a few years, this phase runs its course and many of those early breeders move on to a new species of bird.

This is when the truly dedicated Cockatiel specialist begins to come to the fore as we enter the ‘mature’ phase for the fancy. Specialist Cockatiel societies are formed and the emphasis in breeding begins to move away from being the ‘first’, towards producing high quality specimens of all the different colours. During this process, exhibitions become more important and breeders learn that not all mutations should be combined together. In Australia, the first expansion wave began in the early 1990s and now, in 2007, we are well into the mature phase.

That is not to say that there are no new colours to be bred. In fact, while researching and compiling photographs for ABK Publications’ newly revised title, A Guide to Cockatiels and Their Mutations as Pet and Aviary Birds, it became apparent that numerous combination colours were yet to be produced or photographed. While some combinations are inadvisable, Cockatiel breeding in Australia still offers many new possibilities.

And it is fair to say that Australian aviculturists have the greatest opportunities to produce new colours, as we are blessed with the largest number of unique mutations to be found anywhere in the world.

Looking at Cockatiels from a worldwide perspective, there are six primary mutations that are found universally—Lutino, Cinnamon, Recessive Pied, Whiteface, Paleface (aka ‘Pastelface’) and Pearl. These colours appeared first in different locations, but through time and trade have reached all corners of aviculture and are well known to all bird keepers.

European breeders have also established three other mutations—Dominant Edged (aka ‘Dominant Silver’), Ashen Fallow (aka ‘Recessive Silver’) and the sex-linked Yellowcheek— which have spread to other regions of the world but not Australia. There are also reports of a recessive Lutino mutation in Europe, which remains rare and is perhaps lost.

American breeders have also established three unique mutations—Bronze Fallow, ‘Emerald’ and the dominant Yellowface (aka ‘Dominant Yellowcheek’)—which are either becoming available in Europe or are already well established there but are not available in Australia. They are also working upon a possible new mutation, coined ‘Goldcheek’.

In Australia, despite our isolation, our aviculturists have been able to establish the greatest number of unique mutations, with seven well established and at least one other under development. Mutations currently found only in Australia are the Faded (aka ‘West Coast Silver’), Platinum, Dilute (aka ‘Pastel Silver’), Edged Dilute (aka ‘Silver Spangle’), Australian Fallow, Suffused (aka ‘Olive’) and Pewter. The latest development, the Australian ‘Yellowface’, should prove most exciting as it effectively creates a new series of colours for virtually all existing mutations in Australia.

All told, Cockatiels have more melanin-altering mutations established than any other species of parrot except Budgerigars, which is not surprising for a predominantly grey species. What is unexpected is that for a species with very little psittacin pigment, it also has four different psittacin-altering mutations. And that one of those, the sex-linked Yellowcheek, is unique to Cockatiels alone. As expected for a species with no green or blue colours, the Cockatiel has no structural mutations.

The revised edition of A Guide to Cockatiels and Their Mutations as Pet and Aviary Birds, which is now available through ABK Publications, covers all of the mutations established worldwide, in significant detail, the aim being to provide information of interest to breeders of all levels from the beginner to the most experienced (see Book Review on page 595).

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