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Cockatiel Mutations Common to the United States

It all started with the Normal (wild type) cockatiel. At the time of this writing we currently have fourteen (14) known mutations in the US. Of these mutations, six (6) were established in the US.

All cockatiels, excluding the normal grey, are mutations. A mutation is defined as a spontaneous change in the genetic code. These changes have resulted in the color variations we now have today.

The last cockatiels were exported from Australia was in 1959.

Worldwide there are currently Twenty-Two (22) known mutations. In Europe and the Netherlands is a mutation called an NSL Lutino, which means Non Sex-Linked Lutino. If established this would bring the total worldwide mutations to Twenty-Three (23). Eight (8) mutations of this total are established and exclusive to Australia.

Kerr identified cockatiels (Nymphicus Hollandicus) in 1792 in their native country, Australia. The cockatiels made their way as captive birds to Europe in the early 1800’s. The first captive breeding of cockatiels was in France in the 1850’s. From there cockatiels spread worldwide. It took about 100 years for the first mutation to evolve from the Normal, which was the Pied, in 1949.

Timeline for Cockatiel Mutations in the US

Pied, (USA) was the first mutation to occur in captivity in California, USA in aviaries of Mrs. R. Kersh, and D. Putnam in 1949. Mrs. Kersh continued to work with the pied mutation until 1979.

Lutino, (USA) The first lutino appeared in the aviaries of Mr. Cliff Barringer of Miami Florida in 1958. Mrs. Moon then successfully established the mutation

Pearl was first bred and established in West Germany in 1967.

Cinnamon, Mr. Van Otterdijk in Belgium established the Cinnamon mutation in 1967.

Recessive Silver was first established in New Zealand at the start of the 1950’s. The Recessive Silver in the US is of European origin and imported into the US in the late 1960’s.

Fallow, (USA) originated in Florida in 1971 in the aviary of Mrs. Irma Vowels. Fallows had also been noted in Europe as early as 1973, but it is uncertain if the same mutation occurred on both continents or from imported birds with splits.

Whiteface first appeared in Holland in 1969. By the late 1970s it had been bred in Germany, and reached the UK in 1979, and was imported into the US in 1984 by Dale Thompson.

Dominant Silver was discovered by Terry Cole in a pet shop in the United Kingdom in 1979.

Pastelface originated in the United Kingdom in the aviary of Bob Crossley in the late 1980’s 

Sex-linked Yellow Cheek was established by Bruno Rehm, in Germany, during the early 1990’s. Elsie Burgin, Nancy Rocheleau and Dave Okura legally imported this mutation into the United State in 1992. Breeders soon combined yellowface with other mutations.

Dominant Yellow Cheek, (USA) was reported to appear in an aviary in Florida around 1996. Dominant Yellow Cheek is the first truly dominant mutation established in the US.

Gold Cheek, (USA) first appeared in aviary of Barbara Greene of Virginia in the early 1990’s.

Emerald, (USA) first appeared during the 1980’s in the aviary of Norma and John Ludwig. They contacted Margie Mason in the United States (Texas) to work with the birds.

Creamface first occurred in South Africa to Mr. Lester De Kok. Margie Mason brought Creamface to USA about 2003 or 2004. Jason Patin of Lafayette, Louisiana is currently breeding the South African mutation.

Mutation Abbreviations

Sometimes you may notice that a person will use initials or abbreviations to describe the mutation (color) of the cockatiel they have. If you are not familiar with the mutations, this can get confusing.

In (  ) is other names that might be used for these mutations, or found in older books about mutations.

N =Normal (Wild Type)

P, Prl =Pearl (Opaline, Laced, Lacewing, Gesperlt)

pD, pp, Pd =Pied (Recessive Pied, Harlequin, Variegated, Dominant Pied, ADM Pied)
L, Lut =Lutino, (Ino, Albino, Moonbeam, Primrose, Yellows)

C, Cin =Cinnamon (Fawn, Isabelle)

WF, ww =Whiteface (Blue, Charcoal)

F, ff, Fal =Fallow (Bronze Fallow, Brown fallow)

RS, ss, Sil = Recessive Silver (Ashen Fallow, Ash, Platinum, Silver-Fallow)

DS =Dominant Silver (Dominant Edged, Dominant Dilute, Ashen Dilute, Blackhead)

There is SF (Single Factor) and DF (Double Factor) So many use the terms SFDS or DFDS (for orange cheeked) and WF-SFDS or WF-DFDS if also WF

DYC, YF, Yf =Dominant Yellow Cheek (Tangerine, Yellowface, Dominant Yellowface, pastel face)

SLYC, YC, Yc = Sex-Linked Yellow Cheek (Yellowcheek, Sex-Linked Yellowface)

GC = Gold Cheek (Recessive Yellowcheek)

PF, pa, Pas =Pastelface (Aqua, Paleface, Dominant Pastelface)

EM, O = Emerald (Olive, Suffused Silver, Suffused Yellow, Dilute, Spangled)

CF, CH =Creamface (Creamhead, Creamino)

To  further confuse the issue you may see something like this: N/WFFpD, and wonder what it means.
The (slash) symbol designates the is split (carrying) the to other mutations.
In the example above the Normal is split to (/) Whiteface, Fallow and Pied

The color of a cockatiel is derived from two pigments

Melanin: Provides the grey color in Normal cockatiels. It is also present in the eyes, beak and feet, which can vary between mutations. For example, some cockatiels may have more melanin heavily deposited on the shoulder causing this area to be darker and less melanin to the chest and abdomen causing it to appear lighter. The Lutino mutation is devoid of any visual melanin. This affects the eyes, which will appear red from the blood vessels showing, and the beak and feet will be lighter.

Lipochrome: Provides the yellow on the face and tail, and Psittacin (psittacofulvin) to the orange of the cheek patch. As cocks mature, the melanin pigments in the face become weaker, allowing the Lipochrome to be visible. The melanin increases to cause the tail to be a darker, solid color. The Whiteface mutation lacks Lipochrome/psittacin, thus the white face with no yellow or orange. Areas that would be yellow or orange are replaced with white.

On the side of the wing is a white area, which is known as the wing bar. This will always be white because it lacks the melanin and lipochrome pigments. The wing bar is unchanged/unaltered and present on all mutations.

Below are some significant changes from the normal. When a mutation of a gene occurs, the melanin and lipochrome may also be altered as follows:

Melanin-altering Mutations: Also, called Albinistic genes, which include Dilution and Leucistic genes, will alter the entire color of the mutation.



Recessive silver



Dilution Gene

Dominant Silver


Leucistic Gene


Cockatiels from Melanin altering, and Dilution gene Mutations should not be paired together because this can alter (lighten or darken) the respective mutation. In doing so, the mutation is harder to identify. Breeders may want to selectively breed out undesirable splits and/or mutations to go back to the respective mutation. Many times, cross mutations can make it harder to identify the basic mutation. Therefore working backwards towards a pure visual form of each mutation is a good direction to consider.

Psittacin-altering Mutations act to alter the coloration of the facial mask, specifically the cheek patch, and specific areas of the body that would have lipochrome.



Sex-Linked Yellowcheek

Dominant Yellowface

Gold Cheek


As with the Melanin altering mutations, when two different psittacin-altering mutations are paired together it is hard to determine what the mutation of the offspring are. Many cockatiels are sold as one mutation when in fact they may be another mutation due to inexperienced breeders that do not understand or recognize mutations. To clarify: The DYC and SLYC mutations should never be paired with Whiteface. Pastelface and Creamface should not be paired together. Whiteface can be paired with Gold Cheek, Pastelface, and Creamface.

The above is a simplified explanation. For more in depth information this article is worth reading: http://tinyurl.com/8kdvxlk

 What is a mutation?

A mutation is a result of a spontaneous mutating or change of the original gene during the ovum or sperm formation so that in the first generation the offspring receives a gene that in not part of the parents genetic makeup. This new gene is part of the offspring’s genetic makeup and can be passed to the offspring’s descendants. This results in a change in the genetic DNA profile of the original mutation. Each bird has thousands of genes in its genetic makeup. Many times a bird will carry a gene (split) but it may not be expressed until it is paired with bird with the same genes.

Genotype pertains to the genes involved and their physical identity, commonly referred to as the mutation

Phenotype is the correct term regarding the external or visual appearance, is commonly referred to as the birds Color, Coloration or Variation.

A common question asked from someone new to cockatiel mutations is, ‘What birds should I pair together to get an Emerald, or a Silver?’ The established mutations cannot be produced from simple pairings. In order to breed for a visual (showing the mutation) mutation, the parents must carry the genes to produce the mutation. For example, you want to try and breed for Emeralds. You have a couple birds that have a heavy suffusion of yellow with hopes of producing am Emerald, but don’t get any. Why? In order to produce Emerald you would have to purchase two birds (male and female) that carry the gene. The pairing can be a visual Emerald or split to Emerald, or two visuals. If both birds do not carry the gene then there will not be any visual offspring.

Mutations are inherited in several ways

Dominant: When paired with a different gene, this one will control the bird’s visual appearance over other mutations.

Co-Dominant means that when paired with a different gene/mutation this gene will control a certain percentage of the offspring by being visual in appearance. For instance, when a Dominant Yellow Cheek is paired with a Normal, some offspring will be visual and some normal. Percentages will vary per clutch. Also, please note that the offspring of mutations like Dominant Silver and Dominant Yellow Cheek cannot be split to the mutation. Pastelface, Sex-Linked Yellowcheek, Gold Cheek and Creamface can be paired with normal orange check patch mutations to produce splits.

Dominant and Co-Dominant mutations are

Normal Grey

Dominant Silver

Pastelface (dominant to Whiteface)

Dominant Yellow Cheek (Yellowface)

Gold Cheek (dominant to Whiteface)

Creamface (dominant to Whiteface)

Sex-linked: A gene that is carried on the X chromosome. Inheritance and visual appearance rules are different for cocks and hen. For further reading: http://tinyurl.com/9a5gl5f

Sex-Linked Mutations:

Only cocks can be split to a sex-linked mutation.




Sex-Linked Yellowcheek

Recessive, also referred to as Non Sex-Linked (NSL) Recessive is submissive to a Dominant or a Normal mutation. When paired with a different gene, this one will NOT control the bird’s visual appearance. The bird will only be visual if both birds in the pair carry the gene.

Recessive Mutations are:



Recessive Silver



Pastelface (recessive to normal gray)

Gold Cheek (recessive to normal gray)

Creamface (recessive to normal gray)

Automosal is a gene that is carried on the “regular” chromosomes, not the sex chromosomes (X and Y).  This is a simple video explaining Automosal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv8z7FfPZFw&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Crossover (sometimes also called Recombination) is when a gene is transferred from one X chromosome to the other during sperm formation. This can result in genes that were originally on different X’s ending up on the same X, and vice versa. An example of a crossover mutation is Lutino Cinnamon. This mutation originated with a crossover, when a cock split to lutino and cinnamon on separate X’s, fathered a chick that had both mutation on the same X.

For further reading:  http://tinyurl.com/9b6zxy4This website goes into detail on Genetic Terms:  http://tinyurl.com/d3lcaz4

There are genetic calculators on line that are helpful in determining possible outcomes from pairings:  http://tinyurl.com/9n2f7fa

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