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Early Colour by Jeff Attwood

The first Naturalists to identity and catalogue the wild budgerigar were “Shaw and Nodder”, in 1805. However, the first European to discover the budgerigar did so in 1794.

The Latin title “Melopsittacus Undutatus” was collectively accepted between the titles derived by Show, Nodder and Gould. However, a further Naturalist “Mathews” suggested that two sub-species existed.

  1. “Melopsittacus Undutatus Intemedius”, with a paler shade of colour particularly in the neck and on the back. This so-called sub-species was confined to the Northern Territories of Australia.
  2. Another sub-species was suggested by Mathews to inhabit the vast ranges of Western Australia which he named “Melopsittacus Undutatus Pallidiceps”. This bird was said to have a head colour much paler than found in most wild budgerigars.

It must be pointed out however, that most other naturalists of the day disagreed with his findings and felt that the slight variation in markings and colour were too little to constitute a true sub-species.

But what if he was right! We know that the wild light green is dominant in its genetic make-up. Could it be possible that there were sub-species that were sex-linked, recessive, or both? This could have made a great difference in time to the imported stock and may have contributed in due course to the development of many of the varieties we now enjoy.

Different Forms Of The Same Species

We do know that in the wild state it is possible for different forms of the same species to exist in different genetical ways. If we take the other Australian bird, the beautiful Gouldian Finch, “Chloebia Gouldiae”, incidentally another species discovered by John Gould, we see it exists in the wild form as a red-head which is dominant, a blackhead which is sex linked and the recessive orange or yellow headed.

So perhaps Mathews was correct. Maybe there were three forms of the budgerigar in the wild and perhaps they were all genetically different. I am sure this will never be known but it is interesting to speculate.

The first recorded importation of budgerigars was by the Naturalist John Gould in 1840, and is highly likely that his brother-in-law, Charles Coxon, was the first breeder of captive budgerigars in Great Britain. However, the first documented evidence of breeding was during 1859. The first captive-bred budgerigars to be offered for sale were in ‘The Field’ magazine, by a Mr. T Moore of Fareham in 1859 priced at £2.00 a pair.

During the 1870’s the first substantiated new colour was produced in Holland, Belgium and Great Britain at approximately the same time. This was the Yellow.

The First Skyblue Appeared

In the 1880’s the first skyblue appeared in Holland, and when established in this country during the early 1900’s caused great excitement to the fanciers of the day. Huge prices were being asked and paid particularly by Japanese buyers. London Zoo also paid highly for a pair of Skyblues in 1913.

With the coming of the blue, interest in exhibiting budgies in separate classes grew. During the early 1900’s to the start of the 1914 – 18 war, interest grew rapidly before progress stopped. Shortly after the war interest once again accelerated until 1925 when the fancy was growing so rapidly that a group of breeders came together at the Crystal Palace Cage Bird Exhibition to form the Budgerigar Club, the first specialist club for the development of budgerigars.

The name of the Budgerigar Club was changed in 1930 to the society’s current name “The Budgerigar Society”. This change occurred when His Majesty, King George V, accepted an invitation to become Patron of the Club and requested that the name be changed. During the mid-1950’s (the Golden Era of the BS) membership stood at 21,000.

The first president was Herbert Whitley (Paignton Zoo), Allen Silver the first chairman and Fred Longlands the first secretary/treasurer. Among the founder members were the late Cyril Rogers and Captain G. E. Rattigan who owned a pet shop in Paignton which eventually passed to Frank Crocker and his son Cliff Crocker who many will remember associated with Western Counties Society and Paignton CBS. Captain Paignton donated a beautiful trophy to Paignton CBS, which was among my early winnings in the 1960’s.

The Next Japanese Boom

Soon after the formation of the Budgerigar Club the next Japanese boom raised fears that the exhibition prices offered by Japanese breeders for the rarer colours which had started to appear, would drive ordinary fanciers from the hobby. At the peak of demand, dealers were offering Skyblues £125, Cobalts £175, Mauves £175 and Whites £200. One particular pair of Whites was supposedly sold to a Japanese breeder for £l,000. All this took place at a time when Greens and Yellows were selling from £4 to £6 per pair.

With the founding of the Budgerigar Club in 1925, the first yearbook contained a scale of points to assist judges and exhibitors. It is interesting to note that the first scale of points listed just four classes, Green, Yellow, Light Blue and Dark Blue. Such was the explosion of mutations over the next few years that by 1939 the colour standard scale of points listed no less than thirty-one classes. What is more interesting to note is that sixteen of these classes have since disappeared to be replaced by newer and popular colours.

By the end of the 1930s all present day shades of blue, with the exception of the Violet had been established, plus all shades of green, the Cinnamon, Greywing, Fallow, together with the Opaline, non-sex linked Albino and Lutino. These varieties had not yet been added to the classification.

Why Did So Many New Varieties Appear

The question must be asked. “Why did so many new varieties appear in such a comparatively short period?” I think we have a comparison in what has happened in the foreign finch and parrot world in recent years. I am sure that it’s more than coincidental that from the formation of the Budgerigar Society to the virtual explosion of mutations, only fifteen years elapsed. I am sure that by setting standards of excellence in the colour varieties, the Budgerigar Society gave their members an incentive to breed birds which contain characteristics, and related birds were brought together for breeding on a regular basis and the gene pool thus concentrated. From those close-knit gene pools, the colour and variety differences emerged.

Since the greater restriction on exportation of foreign birds by increasing numbers of countries in recent decades, foreign bird fanciers have had to rely more and more on successful breeding to increase or maintain their stock levels. In many cases using related pairs, and here again we have seen a multitude of mutations in many varieties of captive-bred parrots and finches.

If one takes for example, the previously mentioned Gouldian Finch and Peach Faced Lovebirds, these have now developed into almost as many colour varieties as the budgerigar, and I am certain that we shall see this trend continue with ever increasing numbers of bird species bred in captivity.

Since the early 1930’s there has been an explosion of mutations and differing markings, some have become established while others have been apparently lost.

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