Your E-mail:
Will your bird get a holiday gift this year?

Printer Friendly

Bird Terms Explained

Learn the difference between a species, subspecies, mutation, breeds and more.

By Karl Lieberman

Timneh African grey
By Gina Cioli/BowTie/Courtesy Omar's Exotic Birds
The timneh African grey is a subspecies of the grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) that lives in parts of West Africa. The timneh African grey's body is darker, and it has a maroon-colored tail feathers versus the Congo African grey parrot, which is lighter in appearance, and its tail feathers are red.            

The terms associated with birds and animals is quite confusing, so this list might help clarify some misconceptions. The following definitions are taken from a number of sources to clear the distinction of various classifications of birds (and animals).

“Species” is defined as a single distinct class sharing specific DNA and physical features that differentiate them from other species. Species are uniform in appearance (unless other factors, described later, apply) and produce offspring with the same characteristics, appearance and DNA structure. An example of a species would be a Gouldian finch.

A subspecies is a population within a population (usually) sharing most of the same physical characteristics and DNA structure. It can also be defined as a division within a species usually created by geographic isolation from the main (nominate) species, or as a physically distinct sub-unit within an otherwise identical group of birds or animals. Most subspecies distinctions are visible.

A mutation is a visible effect of a change in the DNA structure of an animal, which results in offspring that display one or more characteristic that is different than that of the parent’s. Mutations occur in the wild, though the phenomenon is fairly rare, except for certain isolated groups). A mutation is a permanent change in DNA coding, and it can be consistently reproduced through selective breeding. It is a DNA alteration that can be transmitted and therefore inherited in subsequent generations.

A “sport” is a very archaic term that refers to a one-time visible change in an animal or bird, which differs from a hybrid because it cannot be reproduced in subsequent breeding. It can be thought of as a genetic glitch, and there seems to be no real explanation for it. An example of a “sport” is the so called “half-sider” zebra finch, where one half of the bird’s coloring appears to be  that of a male and the other appears to be that of a female. (Male zebra finches have bright orange circles on their cheeks, while females do not). The gender of the bird can be either male or female, but the trait cannot be reproduced. 

“Breed” is a term that can only be properly used to fully domesticated animals. Breed means a genetically pure line of animal with consistent and predictable traits with little or no variation between individuals. Dogs, chickens, cattle and sheep occur in various breeds by selective breeding over a period of many centuries. An example would be a Great Dane versus a Beagle. Both are dogs but are distinct breeds that were developed over an extremely long period of time. They share over 99-percent of the same DNA, but their physical appearances are extremely distinct. In birds, there are no breeds. Canaries are probably an exception, because they have been domesticated for many centuries.

Albino (Albinism)
Albinism in an inherited DNA defect where an animal cannot produce melanin (or color pigment), making it white. Albinos are characterized by red eyes. I’ve included this definition because not all pure-white animals or birds are albino, although many people assume they are. If a white animal of any species has dark eyes it is not an albino, but rather a mutation, such as the albino mutation cockatiel.

I hope that these definitions are helpful to you. Having a basic command of the different terms helps reduce confusion when “talking birds” with our friends!

 Give us your opinion on
Bird Terms Explained

Submit a Comment or
Join Club
Earn 1,000 points! What's this?
Reader Comments
Great info. B.C.!
Traci, Glendale, OR
Posted: 6/11/2013 4:32:54 PM
View Current Comments
Top Products
BirdChannel Home | Bird Breeders | Bird Species | Related Links | BirdChannel Editors and Contributors
                       | Birds USA |  
Disclaimer: The posts and threads recorded in our message boards do not reflect the opinions of nor are endorsed by I-5 Publishing, LLC nor any of its employees. We are not responsible for the content of these posts and threads.
Copyright ©  I-5 Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
Our Privacy Policy has changed. Your California Privacy Right/Privacy Policy
Advertise With Us  |  SiteMap  |  Contact Us  |  Terms of Use  |  Community Guidelines | Bird eClub Terms
BirdChannel Newsletter Signup | Link to Us | About Us | More Great I-5 Sites
Gold Standard

*Content generated by our loyal visitors, which includes comments and club postings, is free of constraints from our editors’ red pens, and therefore not governed by I-5 Publishing, LLC’s Gold Standard Quality Content, but instead allowed to follow the free form expression necessary for quick, inspired and spontaneous communication.

Become a fan of BirdChannel on Facebook Follow BirdChannel on Twitter
Get social and connect with BirdChannel.

Hi my name's RaneBeau ('> Thank You, Friends!!

Visit the Photo Gallery to
cast your vote!
Information on over 200 critter species