How do you breed show-stopping light greens? RAY STEELE’s answer might surprise you...
TODAY there is a wonderful range of budgerigar colours available to breeders, but for many the original budgerigar colour – light green – is very special. For 30 or 40 years after their introduction into Europe in 1840 there was no choice. You either bred light greens or nothing, because no new colour mutation had yet appeared.
Most of the new colours that mutated were less robust than the wild-type and so they were cross bred with light greens to strengthen them. Even in the 1930s “dipping into the green” was being advocated to preserve the original wild-type vitality. But the light green itself paid a large price. Colour faults were introduced into light green strains – such as unwanted opalescent wing markings.
I believe that the best and soundest coloured light greens are those that are most free of a mixture of other colour forms. By careful stock selection it is possible to achieve deep, bright, even colouration. I have produced light greens that were mistaken by some people for dark greens. When such a bird has been crossed with a skyblue, the light greens produced have been excellent.
Purity of colour
Without doubt, the frequent use of grey greens when breeding light greens has an adverse effect on purity of colour. The resulting youngsters lack the solidity of colour that is so desirable in light greens. Grey greens should be used in light green breeding only when the objective is to improve size, head and substance. You only have to study a class of exhibition grey greens to see what a wide variation there is in their colouration. With some specimens the colour green seems to dominate while others are much greyer.
So it is not so much a case of do or don’t use grey greens. It is a matter of some grey greens being more suitable for crossing with light greens than others. Although for show purposes grey greens are all lumped together in one class, in the same way that there are three shades of normal greens – light, dark and olive – there are also three shades of grey green. But it is not so easy to differentiate between them. The biggest clue is in the colour of the cheek patches. The darker the cheek patch the darker is the shade of body colour. But whatever the shade, body colour should always be even throughout.
Size vs colour
As far as colour is concerned, dark greens make excellent crosses for light greens, but a loss of overall quality is a likely outcome because there are so few dark greens of the required quality. It is a constant battle to balance size and colour.
When breeding skyblues, skyblue to skyblue is best for maintaining colour, but if there is a need to improve substance there is a case for occasionally crossing with light green. An occasional cross with a cobalt can help with depth of colour, particularly if the cobalt has good exhibition features. The violet factor brings a unique darkening effect, which is particularly apparent on grey budgerigars. The shade created is incorrect for grey show specimens so it is best to avoid combining grey and violet on the same bird. In any case, few violets have exhibition qualities that can be passed with advantage to greys. It surprises me that compared with more colourful varieties, how little attention some breeders pay to the precise colour of their normal budgerigars. Yet reference to the Budgerigar Society’s colour standards makes its importance quite clear.
Very few of today’s opalines display the brilliance of colour that gave them their name – another result of crossing colours indiscriminately. For the same reason most opalines do not have a clear mantle (the V between their wing butts) – and those that do usually lack other exhibition qualities.
Budgerigar breeders are not stupid and once they realise that it is virtually impossible to combine stature and markings on the same bird they give up breeding opalines and take up an easier variety. The evidence can be seen in the decline in entries in opaline classes in recent years. At otherwise well-supported shows opaline classes have fallen to single figures and even zero.
Though I have bred opalines for many years I still find that birds with the necessary high, quality buff feathering are darker than desirable on the their wings and have, at best, mottled mantles. A correctly-marked opaline is a bird of beauty – but the most likely place you will see one is in a pet shop.
The last thing I want to see is heavilymarked opalines winning on the show bench but the Budgerigar Society could make the variety more popular if judges were instructed to be more lenient when assessing opalines’ markings.
Ray Steele is a champion budgerigar breeder, exhibitor and international judge. He has bred budgerigars since 1956.