Article published in the April 2009 issue of Avizandum
Just when we were getting used to the fact that the Red African grey was alive and well, we received a call from Hennie Diedericks. Three more pure red babies are out of the nest and have been parent reared! With that we made the trip to Hennie’s farm and took photos of the three new all red African greys. Believe it or not, while we were there we were shown that another baby that had just hatched with white down, that will also be pure red!
Clearly this is just the beginning. Can you imagine, five pure red African Greys in eighteen months! In the next four years how many more will be bred? After this we can expect that when the pure reds are mated to partial red birds (those that are showing about one third to one half red) we will begin to get more and more pure red birds. African Greys are the world’s most popular parrot: can you imagine what this is going to do for the popularity of parrot breeding and parrot keeping?
What I find fascinating about the genetics of the red African Grey is that it was so unexpected. Think about it. One would expect the removal of melanins from the grey areas would result in a white bird with a red tail. This certainly is the case with the red-eyed Albino (actually a lutino). Photos of this mutation show a white bird with a red tail. A photo of a partially dilute African Grey (par albino) here in South Africa shows this pattern. The red grey is a totally different mutation. The red greys show a plum-coloured eye, even the eighteen month old bird still has plum-coloured eyes. If the eyes stay this colour then one must wonder if this could be a fallow mutation? But this cannot be so because the intermediate birds are pied red with normal coloured eyes and fallow is a recessive so split birds would not display the mutation.
Let us look at Opaline. In the Golden-mantled Rosella, a bird with a red hood, the red spreads throughout the plumage in the opaline mutation. However, the opaline mutation is a distinct clear change in pigment distribution. A bird does not present as part opaline. It either presents as an opaline or not, even if it is carrying the gene.
In breeding the pied (partial red) African Grey, Vonk van Antwerpen has shown us that the red colour presents in the same way as the dominant pied mutation in Budgerigars and Lovebirds. He predicted that the total red African Grey would be bred when he sold his collection of pied red African Greys to Hennie Diedericks and Mike de Souza. True to his prediction this has now happened and even sooner than Vonk expected. He had told Hennie that it would take at least two more generations to achieve the goal, so you can imagine Hennie’s delight when the red babies started to hatch!
It remains intriguing that the pied feathers are red. If red was being masked by the grey in the plumage then red would be the expected result. The fact that an Albino (Lutino) bird has white feathers where the normal bird is grey but retains the red tail is where we have the anomaly. When the grey (melanin) is removed from the feather one would expect the feather to be white. Louis Bothma has had contact with Dirk van den Abeele in the Netherlands who, with his associates, studies the feather structure of Lovebird mutations under an electron microscope. Louis hopes that if they are willing to study the feathers they might be able to solve the question of the red in the feathers.
But that is for the future; for the moment let us hope that Hennie continues to breed more pure reds out of this family of partial or pied reds that he has. I, for one, can’t wait for the pure red birds to breed. A pure strain of Red African Greys (perhaps we should begin to call them African Red Parrots) will be stunning.
At this stage we should go back in time to the beginning of the quest for the Red African Grey. I had bred several hundred African Greys over a period of twenty years at Shady Streams Bird Farm. In the process I had selected a number of parrots that had a sprinkling of red feathers on their bodies, mostly on their backs. As time went by I mated them together and got babies that developed more and more red with each moult. This was typical of the recessive pied mutation in, for example, lovebirds or Red-faced Parrot finches. At fifteen years of age they were about three quarters red! At that stage I gave up working with the strain. Vonk van Antwerpen, on the other hand, understood the dominant pied mutation well and he selected wild caught African Greys that had red feathers on the stomach. He guessed correctly that the birds with the “red pied” feathers on the stomach were probably dominant pied. By mating these birds together Vonk bred babies that had extensive red on the stomach and between the shoulders on the back. His babies displayed the red markings from the time they feathered and this level of marking stayed with them for life. Some of the babies had much more red than others and he thought that these could be double factor dominant pieds. Whatever the truth of the matter, when these special birds were mated together the first pure red African Grey was bred.
But I am getting ahead of myself with the story. When it came time for the “double factor dominant pieds” to breed, Vonk was forced to give up his African Grey breeding due to ill-health. He had been breeding up to 360 hand reared babies per year for export and the local market. He then negotiated the sale of nineteen of these birds, with various amounts of red, to Hennie Diedericks and Mike de Souza. Hennie had been breeding other mutation hookbills for years so he was quite capable of carrying on with the breeding program. By pairing up these birds with the more extensive red on the stomach and back, he has now bred a total of five pure red babies from three different pairs! There can be no doubt that the future of the Red African Grey is now assured!
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