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Article published in the October 2007 issue of Avizandum

Whilst controlled mutation breeding has long since been perfected amongst Ringnecks, Lovebirds, Cockatiels, Rosella’s, and Gouldians, as well as Zebra finch breeders etc, up until today African Grey colour mutation breeding was still very much in its infancy. One of the challenges that a mutation breeder of African Grey’s faces is that the birds take a long time to reach maturity before they can be paired up for breeding. As opposed to many of the other species mentioned above it will often take up to three or more years before an African Grey can be paired up.

In essence there are two types of mutations; those that are found in the wild and those that have been bred by man in a controlled environment.

In David Vise’s outstanding book on the Google story he explains that the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, believe that the two most important issues confronting man today is firstly managing the world’s energy supply and finding an economically suitable clean and renewable alternative, and secondly having a better understanding of biology and genetics so that man can live a healthier and smarter life. This genetic target may also mean that we need to learn more from the animal world.

red african grey

As early as 1868 African Greys with mottled red spots on them were trapped from the wild and sold in Europe. These birds were often referred to by the dealers as King Birds or King Jokos and needless to say they commanded a very high price. Today some breeders of African Greys believe that certain of these birds with mottled red spots in them in fact suffer from a liver disorder. No conclusive proof of this perception has as yet been made and the belief certainly does not apply to all the red colour mutations.

It is estimated by the experts that only one in every 10,000 African Greys in the wild carries the mutation gene. In addition to the birds with mottled red spots in them, other African Grey’s that have come from the wild are birds that have been referred to by those in the know as Grizzles, Parinos, Blues (a bird with a pure white tail instead of a red tail), Albinos and Incomplete Inos. The Grizzle bird has a soft pinkish scalloped colouring in its feathering whereas the Parino has a very light grey colouring in its feathering which is also beautifully scalloped. In terms of the Blue species it is estimated that only one in 30,000 African Grey’s in the wild will have a completely white tail. Whilst it is a known fact that this mutation is currently being bred in captivity in Europe in limited numbers, very few of these birds can be seen in South African aviaries.

The Incomplete Ino is another mutation that can be found in the wild. It is, in essence, a bird that is not completely white in colouring because it still has a very small percentage of melanin in it and in South Africa there is only one example of such a bird in captivity. It was bred by Mr. Hannes Du Toit in 2004 and its sibling is in fact completely normal. When young the Incomplete Ino was recorded with a red pupil in its eye, while at three years old its pupil had turned to a deep burgundy colour and almost appeared to be black.

Enough about African Grey colour mutations that can be found in the wild. In 1998 the well-respected South African breeder of African Greys, Vonk van Antwerpen, turned his breeding skills to attempting to breed the world’s very first All Red African Grey. In his early days as a birdkeeper and breeder he crafted his understanding of mutation work by breeding many different variations of both the Cockatiel as well as Rosella species. The time had now come for him to test his skill with the African Grey.

Along with his partner Jaco Bosman, who now lives in New Zealand, he looked for birds with the slightest markings of red feathering in them and he paired them up. Some of his birds only had one or two red feathers in them. His initial gene pool consisted of four birds and he slowly started to breed birds that had more and more red in them. The breeding of the F2 Pied Mutation with a broad red band across its abdomen as well as some red in its primary feathers and often with some additional red on its back as well as its head colouring was a phenomenal achievement. His collection of Red Tailed mutation birds was eventually sold to Hennie Diederichs and his partner who fortunately continued to strive towards breeding the world ‘s very first All Red African Grey. Today, only nine years after the controlled mutation work was initiated by Vonk van Antwerpen, Hennie Diederichs has managed to breed the worlds very first All Red African Grey pied mutation. Vonk thought that it would originally take approximately fourteen years to achieve this amazing goal. Both these pioneering breeders are proud supporters of the South African produced Avi-plus product range.

To quote the world’s most respected vet on avian genetics, Dr. Terry Martin from Australia, when seeing the F2 Red pied colour mutations he stated in Rosemary Lows book A Guide to Grey Parrots as Pet and Aviary Birds: “One thing is certain, these Red Pieds are so far unique to Grey Parrots and may one day help us understand the genetic control of colour morphs in a more complex way”.

Let’s hope the recent development of this unique mutation work will contribute towards a better understanding of genetics in general. One could say with the birth of the world’s very first All Red African Grey that African Grey colour mutation work HAS FINALLY ARRIVED!

More about this pioneering mutation work along with examples of every known colour mutation currently available in South Africa can be seen Part 4 of the DVD series Birdkeeping the South African Way, entitled Keeping and Breeding the African Grey. This 92 minute DVD will appeal to both pet owners as well as to professional breeders of this incredible bird. The DVD also includes a list of all the known avian vets in South Africa. It has been filmed on broadcast quality material and it promises to be the worlds most informative DVD on the African Grey.

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