I can remember a time when every budgie I looked at seemed to be a unique and totally random mix of colours. However, as I learnt more I realised there was a pattern to those beautiful mixes. With a little bit of effort you too can identify the lovely budgie colours and varieties that make each of them so special. From there you are just a hop, skip and a jump away from being able to breed the specific ones you want! But that’s another story… for another page…
Let us start with the ancestor of all our lovely budgies, that wild budgie out on the Australian Outback.
Wild budgies usually only come in one type, but all our pet budgies colours have developed from there. They live in flocks that can reach hundreds of thousands in good years, breeding clutches up to 6-8 chicks in size and creating flocks that are a marvel to behold. They are all what we would call a light green normal and are truly a beautiful sight. There is new information indicating that for some parrot species the variety we call opaline (a gene mutation present in many species not just in budgies) was once the standard wild type colour form, and for budgies this seems likely. At some point the zebra markings of a normal became more useful to survival and that is now the standard wild type. Before looking at the colours our captive budgies have developed it may be useful to learn more about the wild type, so read about them here.
If there is only one type of budgie in the wild, how did we end up with so many different budgie colors in captivity? Well, in all living things the process of mutation occurs. If a mutation occurs in the sex cell of a budgie (the egg or sperm cell that is passed on during breeding) it can have an effect on the new chick. Now, this is most likely to cause death, as most genes are vital exactly as they are, but occasionally you get a mutation that alters something not life threatening, like the colour of the feathers. In the wild a budgie that stood out in the flock would be more easily picked off by predators, or may be undesirable as a mate so never produce offspring and the mutation would be lost. In captivity though we are able to protect these birds and breed more of them, leading to much more variation than you could ever get in the wild.
The place I like to start is the body colour of your budgie. By this I
mean the colour from its chest down to its vent, around under the
wings and on the back. This colour is unrelated to the variety of the budgie and controlled by independant genes so I am addressing it separately.
We have seen that the wild type budgie has a bright green body colour with a yellow face. These colours are caused by a combination of pigments and physical structures in the feathers. The pigments are melanin and psittacin - melanin is responsible for the brown, blacks and greys, while psittacin gives yellow pigments. There are actually no blue or green pigments in budgie feathers. The blue is created by the feather structure interacting with light and then the yellow pigment creates green when added. To learn about feather structure and how colour is produced, there is more specific info here.
However, I am sure you have noticed that there are many shades of green,
blue and grey available. These are created by genes that alter the production of the pigments and feather structure. I have a page descibing these many colours so you can work out how they differ and what your budiges are. You can read about all the many different body colours here.
Once you have explored the body colours you may want to learn more about the many different varieties that budgies come in. The variety of a budgie effects the colour and position of the markings , and can alter the shade or presence of the basic body colour. This is where the truly amazing diversity of colours and patterns are produced.
Take a look at the links above and see if you can identify your birds colour and variety.