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The Amazing Pied Mutation Cockatiel

This first color mutation to occur in cockatiels is still in great demand.

By Linda S. Rubin

Pearl Pied Cockatiel
This is a light pearl pied mutation cockatiel.

An unarguably striking and beautiful mosaic of pattern, the pied cockatiel combines a wash of bright color against an opposing background of gray, tan or silver — sometimes including additional mutations into the mix. Pied cockatiels can vary in their appearance as greatly as a fall wardrobe differs from spring outerware.

Developed in America during the late 1940s, the pied mutation is recessive in its mode of reproduction and its genes come packed with a multitude of unexpected surprises.

The pied mutation refers to the “wash,” or the splash of light colored areas on the body, either yellow, white, or the combination of the two, producing a light cream mix. The wash can be very light on some birds, hardly noticeable at all to covering nearly the entire bird.

In cockatiel color pigmentation, the yellow and orange feathers are generated from carotenoid pigments. The gray, cinnamon, and silver colors are from another group of pigments called melanins. White areas lack both carotenoids and melanins, so it is devoid of color pigment. The cream color is a blend of white, tinted with a lower color density of carotenoid pigment, which produces a creamy color appearance.

Because other mutations can visibly combine with pied, a cockatiel’s background color is identifiable, such as gray in normal gray pieds, cinnamon in cinnamon pieds, and so on.  This main background, or ground color, will vary in each bird according to the amount of pied wash present.

Pied markings are like snowflakes, because no two pieds are identical or marked exactly alike. Because of this variance, it can be difficult to breed for exact degrees of pied. Yet, there are some recognized amounts of pied patterns in many show standard cockatiels, and informally, we refer to them as light, medium, and heavily marked pieds.

Degrees of Pied
In light mutation pied cockatiels, there are usually one or more yellow- white- or cream-colored feathers found on the wing flight, along with some degree of light-colored wash on the rump. In better marked light pieds, the primary flight feathers are all “clear,” which means they are all washed with yellow, white or cream. Additional washed areas include the central tail feathers, and perhaps the lower abdomen, a portion of the chest, and patches on the head.

Medium marked pied mutation cockatiels are not necessarily recognized as a distinct form, although many may refer to them informally as “medium pieds.” They carry a more pronounced wash throughout, but not extensive enough to qualify them as a heavily marked pied.

Heavy pied mutation cockatiels are the ideal that most cockatiel enthusiasts aim to breed or buy. The pattern may still vary between individuals, but the carotenoid yellow, white, and/or cream wash is extensive covering between 70 to 97 percent of the cockatiel. Most cockatiel bird breeders also try to achieve a completely clear face, free from extraneous dark feathers, with all clear flight feathers and clear tail feathers, along with the extensive wash.

Heavy pied mutation cockatiels may show a dark, melanistic saddleback marking on their backs, which ideally appears as symmetrical dark markings on each side.  Some heavy pieds may have a dark band that divides the upper and lower chest—although these markings are more commonly found on medium-marked pieds.

The ideal for bird show exhibitors is to produce symmetrical pied mutation cockatiels with markings that are expressed as being the mirror image of the other side. Irregular patterns, a lack of clarity to markings, or uneven depth of color, are usually penalized on the bird show bench.  Heavily pied cockatiels are all expected to display clear flight and tail feathers, a clear face, and a lack of dark melanistic (gray, cinnamon or silver) color in these specific areas, while maintaining an extensive body wash.
 
An extra-heavily marked pied mutation cockatiel, known as clear pied, may at first glance appear to look like the lutino mutation. These black-eyed, super extra-heavily washed pieds approach nearly 100 percent wash and may appear white, yellow or cream in color. They are permitted up to 3-percent dark melanin feathering anywhere on the body, usually with one or more dark feathers—some hidden from view—on the rump, back, flanks or undersides. Because the eyes are dark, a clear pied can be nearly indistinguishable from a lutino cockatiel, however, the latter is recognizable by its reddish-plum eyes, especially when viewed from the front.

All pied varieties have dark eyes, lightly colored horn beaks and pink feet; although the lighter the pied wash, the more likely the beak and feet will be more heavily pigmented.

Cockatiel Gender
The pied is one of the few primary cockatiel mutations that is not sexually dimorphic, which means the sexes outwardly look alike and owners need to observe their cockatiel’s behavior in order to determine gender or have their cockatiel DNA-tested.

Female pied cockatiels are more quiet and less vocal, emitting the typical, two-syllable “eek-eek” call, while male pied cockatiels are much more outgoing, flaunting their hopping, strutting and bowing activities, accompanied by more boisterous whistling ability and increased chatter or song.

Among astute bird breeders, one observation is that pied mutation male cockatiels that show a heavier wash tend to be smaller in size and carry a thinner skull in comparison to the rest of the body. This does not automatically rule out smaller, colorful females, yet most pieds with wider chests often turn out to be females. There are certainly some exceptions, but large-bodied, wide-headed males are usually bred from quality exhibition stock where line breeding is practiced. The goal of aviaries that practice line breeding is to produce larger, wider birds with a heavy wash and symmetrical markings, in both males and females.

Cockatiel Mutation Challenges
Aviculturists continue with the same challenge they have faced over the past six decades; how to produce pieds that are as large as other color mutations, while retaining an increased amount of carotenoid pied wash that most bird fanciers admire.

The challenge for exhibitors of show quality pieds is to maintain the size and symmetrical pattern so that one side of the pied’s markings is the mirror image of the other side. Some show standards require clear faces, flight, and tail feathers, while others weigh the preference of overall size and proportions as more important than slight faults in ideal color markings.

Although some aviculturists have successfully bred large, heavily washed, well-marked pieds, the problem continues when these birds, or their quality offspring, are incorrectly bred and the work is lost when this stock is passed on to others. This will hopefully be remedied by the cockatiel community working together for the continual improvement of the pied mutation variety.

The major challenge facing all cockatiel breeders today is to produce pied cockatiels that can be “bred to order,” so that larger, heavily washed pieds can be supplied on demand.


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Reader Comments
I just adopted a 10 year old male from a rescue. He's a funny little thing with his strutting and whistling. He's not only beautiful but full of personality!
atlantis, salisbury, MA
Posted: 2/17/2011 5:49:35 AM
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