|The Budgerigar Council of Victoria Inc (A10055P)|
The following article has been compiled from a lecture given by Robert Manvell to the members of the Newcastle Budgerigar Club of Australia.
What is Feather?
If you were to give a chemical analysis of feathers it would be very complicated and confusing to most fanciers. Nonetheless, we should consider feather is almost totally made up of crude protein, together with other components such as minerals, amino acids and vitamins etc. The latter constituents being in very small proportions and not an overly important consideration when breeding quality Budgerigars. We can see from a feathers protein content, the need to feed your birds, especially exhibition type, the best feed money can buy. It is definitely a false economy using sub-standard seed. We should also deduce from this information, the need for an additional high protein feed because of the larger feathers our birds now carry.
Feather as the theory goes is a modified scale with a very long history. It is put forward by Paleontologists, the budgerigar of today has prehistoric ancestors, meaning it has evolved from some Dinosaur like creature. The reason for their conclusion is; both scales on reptilian type creatures and feathers on birds are formed subcutaneously (under the skin). Moreover when feathers and scales fully emerge they are dead and cease to grow any further, both are held in follicles which lie beneath the skin.
Supposedly the common ancestor linking Birds and Reptiles is a prehistoric creature which existed some 140 million years ago, called Archaeopteryx.
Australia, Africa, South America, India and Antarctica were joined together making up one very big land mass, which has been referred to as Gondwanaland. Approximately 100 Million years ago Gondwanaland broke up, the countries separated and started drifting toward their current positions on the globe. Roughly 15 Million years ago Australia was covered by Forests and the centre of the Continent had massive inland lakes. Somewhere around this time the climate began to slowly change, the Forest areas died leaving Deserts and large depressions where this inland sea as it was called previously existed.
I mentioned the above because I had the notion our little friend the Budgerigar could have been very different to the one that exists in the wild today. My thoughts were sort of legitimised when it was pointed out by the Museum, the Budgerigar ,Rosella and Night Parrot all have common ancestors. DNA testing has apparently validated this. The Wild Budgerigar could have been much bigger than it is today. It would have had a very constant and rich food supply, it would not have had to fly the long distances it does today, the climate would have been more temperate with a less hostile temperature range and there would have been an abundance of water. Maybe these points substantiate my beliefs. If this theory is correct, then "have we seen the maximum size our Exhibition birds can attain" ? Maybe not, most of the emphases of improving the exhibition bird has been put into feather increase, because this is definitely the simplest route over the short term. However over the long term, probably well past our life times, I think the dimensions of the actual frame of the bird can be increased dramatically as has happened with other forms of livestock. Look, how far we have progressed with the Budgerigar, over the past forty years. I have seen some truly massive individual Budgerigars in my travels, so maybe their past is still in the genes.
According to the Museum, they have recently found a cave at one of their ‘dig’ sites, located in South Australia. This cave was the home of a extremely large carnivorous Bat which consumed large numbers of budgerigars. This Bat evidently took the Budgerigars back to the cave to feed its' young. In the process it dropped a large quantity of bits and pieces on the floor of the cave and these became fossilized. These were the first such fossilized Budgerigars to be uncovered and have been dated at approximately four million years. This would establish the wild bird of today has, remained almost unchanged for the past four million years.
The above was a remarkable find because the bird, being so small and its bones so fragile, it would normally disintegrate long before being frozen in time. Also Budgies were prime fodder for the other inhabitants of the arid areas, which meant they would not last long on the ground if dead, wounded or ill. This could explain why the wild or pet shop type bird survived, being able to fly on leaving the nest. Because if it resembled our exhibition type birds which take a while to get airborne after leaving the nest, they would have been gobbled up long before they had a chance to pass their genes on for prosperity. Again natural selection, survival of the fittest.
What are Feathers for? The overall appearance of our exhibition Budgerigars is the result of a combination of many components. Bone structure, skeletal dimensions, muscle, fat and the all important feather are the basic components which make up our Budgerigars. Whether the bird is of excellent quality or not will depend on the configuration of these components. The way a bird controls its feathers and the direction they are held, will also have a major bearing on our Budgerigars appearance.
Feather is probably the most important and least understood aspect of breeding exhibition quality Budgerigars. Even so, the other components must not be ignored.
Feather has responsibility for the following list of features. This list is only basic, you may be able to add some more features to this list.
The all important Top end.
Along with the above features the bird must hold each individual feather around the beak or facial area in a different direction, giving the impression of the feathers radiating out from the beak. Thus giving the bird a tucked in beak and head width, the hardest feature to obtain and retain.
Feather Descriptions Misleading
I found agreement at the Australian National Museum, when I put forward my supposition; all feathers on birds of the same species were different. Furthermore, each species of bird is different from each other species, a duck has a different feather structure to a sparrow as an example. Most importantly, all Budgerigars have a different feather structure to each other, it could be considered a birds finger print. Therefore, no two Budgerigar’s feather structures are exactly alike. The difference between individuals may be imperceivable, but there will be a difference!
Individual Feather characteristics.
A recent article confirms my belief in this regard, Mr. Jo Mannes from Germany has had his birds feathers measured and compared to UK feathers under an electron microscope, and this was the case. His birds feathers are in fact thinner in the shaft than comparable size feathers in the UK. Maybe this is why his birds show a remarkable tidy finish when compared to the big feathered English style Budgerigar.
If I had the chance, I would question as to which varieties of birds the feathers for these studies were collected. It would certainly give a fuller picture to the findings. Just putting my thoughts forward, it would appear to me, the finish Mannes has achieved, on his birds is not that dissimilar to the finish on Cinnamon Budgerigars. It may be the case and is possible the cinnamon characteristics could have crossed over and aligned themselves with the elementary budgerigar feather genes. Therefore through selection Mannes has fixed this across all varieties in his stud.
Having said that, I hope the fancy is giving Mannes the credit he deserves. I Guess from the statement, "Mannes has a new mutation of feather in his aviary", some are dismissing his success as some sort of luck. I have been fortunate enough to spend considerable time with Mannes on two occasions over the past couple of years. From these visits I would have to say "I have not met anybody as observant as Jo Mannes, with regards to budgerigars". The feathers they are claiming are a new mutation were most probably present in many aviaries at various times and were passed over by breeders who were not observant enough or did not have the vision, forethought or skill Mannes has demonstrated. To claim his birds are anything but a result of his ability would be wrong.
From the above feather features we can see how meaningless the words Yellow and Buff are as an explanation or description of the particular feather any of our birds are carrying.
Some of the above individual feather features are very hard to identify, however if you study your birds overall feather appearance, whilst keeping the above in mind, I am sure you will see your birds in a different light.
The mode of inheritance of feather.
It is also said, "Buff feather is recessive"! How can it be? If you pair two so called buff birds together what do you breed? ( Answer from the floor ) "Anything and everything, no consistency what so ever". Exactly! Blue is recessive, if you pair two Blues together or two Recessive Pieds together you will breed 100% Blues and Recessive Pieds respectively. If this is the case, " how can buff feather be recessive"??
Leaving the above aside, I will endeavor to explain how I believe feather is inherited. Basically we need to understand; features, whether they be on a Budgerigar or any living thing, are passed on to the next generation by many thousands of genes. These genes control the features and everything to do with the offspring. Features are either passed on fixed or in a state of constant change.
The first example where the feature is fixed is called Discontinuous Variation:-this is where there is no variation passed on to the offspring. My belief is this type of inheritance could be controlled by one single gene and therefore easy to predict and control. An example of this would be the Ino. or blue gene in Budgerigars. These features are passed on without change, in either a visual or latent state, they do not change they are either in the genes or they are not.
The second example which is technically called Continuous Variation:- is where the feature is passed on to the next Generation in a modified state, it is Continuously changing from one generation to the next. This inheritance phenomena could be the result of the cumulative effect of many and possibly hundreds of genes, and maybe in the case of overall feather quality and features even thousands of genes. Consequently feather quality is virtually impossible to control or predict. Examples may help to explain, a Human finger print is continually changing, there are no two finger prints on Earth the same. Human height is another good example of continuous variation. This is how feather is inherited, in a constant state of variation. So each bird in the nest is, if you like a mutation of its parents and each offspring will be different.
If we take feather as a two dimensional object i.e. just length and width, you can see we have two factors in a state of continuous variation, within maximum and minimum parameters. Leaving aside all the other dimensions and features of feathers which could also in a state of constant change. I would suggest this is why when we pair two lovely birds together we can, and most of the time do, breed less than desirable youngsters! Could this also be why it is so hard to get any continuity of quality in your nests?
"If the above is the case, why bother", I hear you say. Well lucky for us, as we know some human parents have a tendency to produce above average height. As it turns out we also have families of budgerigars or individuals for that matter, that tend towards producing excellent quality youngsters, feather in particular. It is our responsibility to identify these families or individuals and concentrate our efforts into them. These good families will still throw out poor babies periodically because you are working against mother nature, remember she has at least four million years of selective breeding on her side.
Continuous Variation is in essence the basis of Darwin’s Law of Evolution. Survival of the fittest. If species were not in a state of constant variation there would not be the genetic diversity within the species in order for it to survive in a continually changing environment.
This was the case during my last overseas Budgerigar visit. I noticed a lack of overall quality in many aviaries. Expecting to see improvement since my previous trip two years earlier, this came as quite a surprise. Some very well known breeders had a few excellent birds, then their quality drops away quickly. Likewise, some breeders are claiming to have prepotent inbred studs, when if the truth be known they are continually buying expensive high quality birds. Ultimately they are not capable of turning out the winners they claim, they need birds from the famous breeders to keep their names in the lime light. At a couple of well-known aviaries I visited, the most outstanding birds in the breeders' possession were produced in other aviaries.
No doubt some are using their imported blood as an advertising gimmick to help sell their birds. How many breeders claim they now have the Mannes blood? Whether they have the blood or not is another question! In the same way remembering what happened in Australia with the Scoble auction and the first English imports, everybody claimed to have them. Unfortunately when it comes to obtaining Budgerigars, it must be caveat emptor (buyer beware).
The Australian scene
Australians, in the majority of cases, have only managed to import birds that were blood-line culls from the English breeders. Therefore, they need a lot of work put into them to get the best out. In spite of this some breeders have disposed of imported birds without giving them a chance to prove their worth. Meanwhile these same ‘breeders’ have the audacity to blame the UK suppliers for their results. In my opinion,these "Cowboys" who are thankfully in the minority, are giving the Australian fancy a credibility problem. Fortunately there are many talented breeders in this country who are prepared to put in the time and effort necessary, without expecting success to be handed to them on a silver platter.
Most importantly the English birds were a tremendous improvement on what we had and we should be grateful for the overall assistance we have received from the UK fancy. Beyond question is the marvelous influence these birds, and not forgetting the UK breeders have had on our hobby.
Notwithstanding the above, having been in the position of an importation syndicate co-ordinator, I feel qualified to make the following assertion. With the current imports we are getting more of the same quality of bird coming into this country. With very few exceptions. With all due respect, the UK quality in general is inconsistent they have their own problems to address. For this reason the UK breeders can not afford to part with the outstanding birds in their possession. If we were realistic we would understand this is the situation and cease bringing more mediocre birds into this country. To continue on our present path is a complete waste of time and money. We need to test our own abilities by doing some work with our present imported stock. Rather than continuously "piggy backing" on the ability of our English friends.
If you analyse all the famous fanciers, the ones who have changed the way we think about and look at Budgerigars. The Alf Ormerods (dec.), the Jo Mannes, the Harry Bryans (dec.), probably the South African, Dr. Robertson and indeed a few others, but a very select few. These are the breeders of, not the buyers of birds. The quality of the birds in their aviaries has not been reliant on the quality of bird they can purchase year in and year out, it’s a result of their own ability. These ‘breeders’ all give the same underlying principle to the fancy when probed on how they breed such superior quality stock. Almost always they will say "you must know your birds". This is fundamental to breeding any form of livestock to excellence, not only Budgies.
The only way to get to know your birds is to work with them. Or in technical terms, progeny test or test mate them.
By ‘World standards’, I have not produced any what you would consider to be ‘Super birds’, although my overall quality is not bad, and I have produced a couple of birds with ‘Grunt’.
After a few seasons if you are on the right track, you should find your better quality birds are producing your best young.
Always try to work with the absolute cream of your birds. Rather than pairing up everything in the aviary and hoping you will fluke a good one.
Always, work with the very best birds you have and give them every opportunity to prove to you what they are capable of.
If you are not producing anything worth while, and you decide new blood is the only option, please consider this. Neither pedigree, nor a birds visual quality is a guarantee it will pass on its good qualities (visual or latent) to its progeny. For this reason buying birds should always be regarded as a bit of a lottery.
Remember you are fighting against 4 million years of evolution, thus the birds readiness to revert to its natural wild state.
Finally you must select for and concentrate on FEATHER QUALITY!