Cockatiels and the Silver Standard

By Peggy Newbury

Silver cockatiels, how do I love thee, let me count your names !



The reduction or dilution of grey melanin in the normal grey Cockatiel has always inspired a generic description of "Silver". As Cockatiel mutations have increased in variation and quality many shades of dilute grey have been referred to as Silver. The Dutch Cockatiel mutation chart, "Valkparkieten" displays a dilute grey bird named pastel that does not appear to be as pale as any of the Australian silvers.

Silver, platinum, pastel, pastel silver, dilute, dominant silver, spangle, silver spangle, red eyed silver, silver fallow and silver lutino are some of the names currently in use in Australia to designate a Cockatiel of one of at least 6 different mutations in varying degrees of dilute grey. Just a little more imagination could give us Sterling silver, Mexican silver Oust a little less silver content), pewter, white gold, silver plate or nickel plated, perhaps tin! Silver cinnamon, silver whiteface, silver pearl, and silver pied are already in use. Only the use of silver may be questionable, as the two feather patterns and the two colour changes of cinnamon and whiteface are firmly defined. These last four names may be a bit more boring but they are genetically identifiable.

While beauty is always the domain of the beholder, the sex linked platinum variety seems to be marginally the lightest of the dilute mutations and the best examples may be the most beautiful. Platinum is vastly underrated and misunderstood as a mutation. Since its appearance it was first named as cinnamon and has since been referred to as dilute, silver, cafe au lait, black eyed white, dirty white and, I'm sure, a few other names as well.

Platinum birds should be an even, pale dilute grey. The cocks have bright yellow faces and the effect of the dilution on hens gives them a brighter tone around their faces also. They have pale grey-beige beaks, beak cere, feet and toenails, and hatch with red eyes, varying from bright red to plum. The eye colouration changes by about 10 days of age to dark brown. Some adults develop two-toned eyes with a distinctive light coloured eyeing. These birds have proved to be robust and fertile, with no innate problems. This mutation combines very attractively with the pattern variation of pearl and has been effectively combined with pied. A deep yellow suffusion detracts from the cool silvery colour and can cause the effect of a blue or green tinge. Pied brings yellow to the Cockatiel families that I breed so I prefer not to use this pattern change with platinum.

At least part of the confusion in describing its appearance has stemmed from breeders combining this variety with other sex linked colour mutations such as lutino and cinnamon. Without going into detail about the appearance of the resulting chicks in the 2nd and subsequent generations these combined mutations have contributed to an enormous number of visual variations in so called platinum birds. Birds bred from mixed marriages, such as lutino x platinum, do not attain the desired solid platinum colour.

The theory that platinum and lutino are allele's, occurring on the same gene with one mutation asserting dominance over the other in certain combinations, has a great deal of merit. Mike Anderson, of Queensland, recently advanced this idea in some detail. A similar theory surfaced a few years ago to suggest that the platinum was a Iutino gone wrong, but breeders were unable to confirm or deny this premise by appropriate test breeding at that time either.

The theory is, briefly, when platinum cocks are bred to lutino hens the resulting offspring are all platinum. Lutino cocks bred to platinum hens would produce platinum cocks and lutino hens. In such sex linked pairings grey cocks double split to lutino and platinum would normally be expected.

The platinum stock obtained for me by Mike Anderson several years ago has been carefully bred with pure normal birds to isolate the dilution factor and has not been combined with any other colour mutation. The platinum birds now bred from this line certainly deserve the fanciful title of sterling silver, being a lovely smooth silvery colour. I have never had breeding results other than that expected from a typical sex linked mutation and would prefer not to get any more genes in a twist.

Platinum Cockatiels are reasonably available, and now that some breeders have specialised in this mutation extremely attractive birds can be found. The price for this mutation has remained around $80 -$100 for a few years. Quality and colour vary widely. Good examples of platinum are well worth searching out.

East Coast Silver    Extremely similar in colour to the platinum is the dilute grey bird called Queensland silver, Sydney silver, pastel silver, East Coast silver and even "blue". It appears likely that this mutation will have a geographical name to differentiate it from other autosomal recessive dilutes. Their eyes, beak cere, feet and toenails are similar to normal grey birds. Cocks are a pale to medium tone of solid dilute grey and acquire slightly darker grey melanin when sexually mature. Hens are a lovely pale dilute grey colour and remain lighter silvery grey than cocks. They are not readily available yet in large numbers, pending development of a larger gene pool. With an underlying yellow suffusion a bluish tone can be easily imagined in their silvery effect.

West Coast Silver    This dilute grey mutation is inherited in an autosomal recessive mode. When it was first available I named it platinum, in an attempt to avoid confusion with silver, which I had hoped would be reserved for a red eyed bird. This variation of dilute has been called silver, pastel, pastel silver and cinnamon, W.A. silver and Peggy Cross silver. I once described newly fledged chicks as similar to galvanised steel. It now seems to be attracting the name 'West coast' silver to help differentiate it from the East Coast silver.

Newly hatched chicks have eyes slightly lighter than normal grey birds that darken to normal colour by two weeks. Their beak, cere, feet and toenails are a dilute grey similar in depth of colour dilution to their individual body colour. Early birds exhibited both the desired silvery colour and a darker colour version. Birds in my aviaries that I have considered 'dark' have been traceable back to a dark cock bird that was used as an outcross in the second generation of their development. Recent generations have been close to identical in the expression of a clear medium silvery colour of their body, with cocks developing darker grey melanin over their backs at maturity. Hens fledge marginally darker than cock birds and are virtually identical to each other.

This dilute variation has always carried a heavy yellow suffusion, due to my consistent choice of youngsters with vivid yellow down for future breeding. The underlying yellow detracts from the silver effect and can cause a believable olive colour tone through the chest and belly. Now, in the eternal quest for improving every mutation, I must choose youngsters in this silver mutation with less yellow for future breeding.

These silver birds have been bred with cinnamon, lutino, pearl, pied, whiteface, and spangle, at least. If Cockatiel families carry much underlying natural suffusion of cinnamon it will be exposed by the dilution factor and will detract from the desired colour effect. Selective breeding and the judicious choice of multi-mutation mates will continue to refine this strong, robust bird. They have proved to be fertile and easy to breed.

Prices for this dilute mutation have remained around $100 per bird. Good examples may not be commonly available, but it is worth the effort to seek out breeders who have continued to develop this mutation.

Red eyed silver - the Heartbreak Kids    The dilute grey mutation known as red eyed silver is very rare in Australian aviaries. It has been known as fallow, silver phase fallow, cinnamon and probably some other names not suitable for print. It has not yet been developed into a strong bird and specimens are usually smaller than the normal grey. I consider this variety to be one of the 'UFO' (Undefined Flying Object) mutations.

The birds appear a very pale silvery cream on their chests and their backs are darker uniform silvery grey. Chicks hatch with brilliant red eyes and always retain a bright red eye, although they do become slightly darker red when adult. Beak and cere are pale grey, while feet and toenails are pale with a slight plum look. I believe that part of this mutation may include internal mutations involving blood or organs such as liver and kidneys which filter blood. When young their entire body is plum coloured as opposed to the healthy pink tones of normal Cockatiels chicks. This mutation is inherited in an autosomal recessive mode.

Breeding and development has been difficult. Red eyed birds seldom reach fledging age while nestmates will mature normally. Few red eyed chicks hatch, fewer still are parent raised, and they have proved to be impossible to foster and difficult to hand raise. Other than that, they have a sweet personality.

A noticeable bald spot behind their crests is frequently a characteristic. The birds that do achieve sexual maturity, do not attract the attention from non-red eyed birds that would be expected from Cockatiels of the opposite sex. So, why bother with its development?

I have always hoped that a red eyed silver Cockatiel would be established in Australia. Part of that hope is the desire that it not be an imported bird, but one which appeared and was developed here. I believe that serious Cockatiel breeders have a responsibility to develop new colour forms and maintain the best examples of pure normal birds. It doesn't seem fair to the hobby to reap the benefits of strong mutations without absorbing the disappointments of mutations still in R and D.

Recent breeding results from red eyed silvers paired with normal greys have been encouraging and I am now optimistic that this variety can be established. This family of red eyed silver (dilute grey) has not been bred with any other strain of Cockatiel referred to as fallow.

Silver Spangle    This grey melanin dilution has been referred to as Dominant Silver. The dominant name was used because of the possible similarity in appearance to the U.K. dominant silver dilute grey mutation. A relatively simple definition of autosomal dominant inheritance can be found in The Manual of Colour Breeding, author Jim Hayward.

A bird of a Dominant variety, when paired to a bird of the wild type, will produce young - either some or all of which will show the characteristics of the mutant parent to some degree in their outward appearance. These young will be able to pass on their visual differences to their own young in a greater or less amount. The sex of the parent showing the Dominant variety has no beating on the colours of the resulting young.

During 1991 four silver spangle cocks were paired with four unrelated pure grey normal hens. 45 chicks were produced from these matings. None of the chicks exhibited the dilution of grey melanin nor the interesting feather pattern interruption that characterises this mutation. Breeding results since 1991 continue to indicate that this beautiful mutation inherits its changes from the normal colour in an autosomal recessive mode.

Chicks usually hatch identical to normal grey birds and the silvery colour cannot be detected until feathers are well advanced from their shafts. A few youngsters have hatched which have been noticeably pale in their down and pigmented skin areas but they have been identical to their dilute grey nestmates when fledged.

The silver spangle exhibits a colour variation ranging from darker birds with little definition in feather pattern to very pale birds with shaded, striated spangles. In this mutation the lighter birds are not as attractive as the medium dilution where the pleasing spangles seem to be highlighted. It has been thought that this mutation may occur as single and double factor.

Since that concept is not as simple as one plus one but is more of a cumulative factor this may still be found to be true. However, as Freud once said, 'Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar' and perhaps refining their attractive pattern is simply a matter of sensibly dull selective breeding.

Spangles have been combined with pied, pearl, lutino, 'silver' (probably the West coast variation), and cinnamon. Lutino was part of the original mutation. Apparent whiteface and albino were bred from families carrying spangle and lutino. These birds were not related to other whiteface in Australia. Pied, pearl and silver were bred into the line simply because the hens were available. Now breeders will have the opportunity to determine if other mutation factors enhance this dilute grey variety and, over time, selectively breed to remove the influences of the other mutations if they so wish. This mutation is not widely bred but pairs will be available soon.

Dominant Silver - U.K.    A close encounter with U.K. Dominant Silver Cockatiels was the focus of a brief visit to London in May 1995. Reg and Rosemary Parker of Billericay, very kindly collected me and introduced me to their flock. Rosemary is the immediate past chair of the Cockatiel Society of England. They were more than a bit amused as I followed a dominant silver hen around the floor of her aviary on my knees. The hen studiously avoided my camera, and me, as I snapped away. The U.K. dilute grey dominant silvers that I observed were beautiful birds. Their size, conformation and general condition were a credit to their breeder.

I was most interested in visual comparisons between Dominant Silver and Australian silver spangle (ex--dominant silver name) and comparing breeding results with Rosemary. As the photos clearly show the cock birds do not show distinct spangles. The dilute shadings or striations are not so apparent on the U.K. birds as on the spangles I breed. Their hens were quite different, being much lighter in colour than the Australian mutation and carrying very little feather pattern. The light coloured hen on the floor showed pink - grey feet and dark grey toenails. The normal looking hen in the nestbox glaring indignantly over the back of her mate was considered to be a single factor hen. Rosemary wanted to verify the chicks resulting from the eggs due to hatch to be sure. From this information I concluded that at least some single factor hens are not obviously coloured or patterned as would be expected. Rosemary assured me that breeding results were in accordance with the accepted definition regarding dominant expectations. The U.K. mutation is considered to be single and double factor. The double factor birds are very pale and are not a robust bird. She avoids silver to silver pairings to retain good size in her birds.

Silver Lutino and Beige Wing - UFO     The only new part of this variety is the casual use of an unsubstantiated name. It has also been called fallow, cafe au lait, mushroom, lavender wing and beige wing. The colour form, which appears to be a lutino with brown tones over various feathers on the wings, has appeared occasionally since the extreme dilute birds have been bred. All of the birds that I have researched (and bred) have had a combination of dilute mutations and lutino in their genealogy.

To produce a guaranteed lutino silver one must have two visual silver parents (of the same silver variety) with the cock bird also split lutino. This equation would be required regardless of which dilute grey silver is used in the pairing. Several pairs of my Cockatiels have these genetics. None of the offspring which are legitimately lutino silver have ever displayed melanin based colours on their bodies.

I also have an excellent cock that appears to be lutino with beige wings. Several years of test breeding have now proved that he does father cinnamon lutino hens, and some hens show pearling also. Our current understanding of mutation colour expression indicates cinnamon would not be visible on the cock as a split cinnamon bird. He has proved not to have inherited recessive silver from either of his split silver parents. Another, perhaps final, test breeding will be to mate him with a lutino hen. Expectations to consider will be male chicks that resemble their dad and hens appearing normal lutino. Rosemary Parker told me of cock birds that appeared to be visual lutino with beige wings that were once relatively common in U.K. aviaries. These cocks produced beigewing lutino male chicks and lutino hens when mated with lutino hens. These breeding results could be similar to those theorised about the combination of platinum and lutino. The U.K. beige wing was never firmly established as a mutation but examples are still occasionally seen on the show bench and in aviaries. Rosemary has no specimens of this odd variety today.

The Silver Standard    Regardless of the variety of dilute grey you choose to enjoy the priority must first be on the standard of the bird, not the colour involved. If our hobby does not continue to maintain and improve all mutations to the size, strength and virility of a good example of pure normal grey none of the mutations will enhance future breeding. I offer an amended version of the Australian National Cockatiel Society Show Standard. This standard is currently being revised with the co-operation and input of most active Cockatiel organisations.

The Cockatiel is a sleek bird with straight back and full chest, giving an overall look of a strong bird. It should neither be weedy nor gross by appearance but well balanced. Proportions of wing to body to tail to be equal. The crest should be full and long. The aim is a 350mm bird with a full, proportionate crest, appearing as a smooth continuation from the front of the head outline. No bald spots should appear in any mutation, wings should be held close to the body and wing tips should not cross. Tail to be carried straight to appear as an extension of an imaginary line drawn through the centre of the bird's body.

The following hints could be used by prospective buyers to help determine which of the dilute grey mutations is on offer.

The platinum mutation will be easily identified by its sex-linked mode of inheritance. If this information cannot be confirmed one can take into consideration that it is usually lighter in colour than the other dilute variations. Its beak and feet are a very pale colour. Hens and cocks are similar in colour, and cocks develop a noticeably yellow face and a slightly darker body with maturity.

The East coast silver has normally dark grey coloured beak and feet and is inherited as autosomal recessive. This mutation is very similar in colour to good examples of platinum. Hens are a much lighter bird than cocks.

West coast silver birds are also autosomal recessive in inheritance. Their beaks and feet are pale, but darker than platinum. Hens of this dilute grey mutation are always darker than cocks.

Redeye silver is coloured like the platinum, but can always be readily identified by its bright red eye.

Silver spangle birds have dark eyes, beaks and feet. They can be lighter and darker than platinum birds but will always have the unusual feather pattern.

The addition of pearl to any of the dilute grey mutations will alter the visual colour and can cause very pink feet.

Few of the dilute birds could be reliably purchased from outlets where the birds have not been bred. I don't mean to imply in any way that one cannot buy good birds from a dealer or a pet store. However, the dilute grey melanin mutations are often misidentified and many are so similarly coloured that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a non-breeder to guarantee what type of silver was on offer. Unless your supplier has close contacts with experienced breeders it would be worth the time and effort to find breeders who specialise in the particular type of silver you want. Price and availability should be a guide also.

Otherwise, as in any type of purchase, let the buyer beware or, as I prefer,

Copyright remains with the author