Yikes! A budgie! What’s that doing on Fine Spangled Sort? Let me introduce you to Stanley, my daughter’s budgerigar. He is here for a good reason: to demonstrate the markings in his plumage.
I have been fortunate in having been a member of the Beeston CBS (sadly now defunct), a genuinely all-variety bird club. There was plenty of banter between the budgie breeders, the foreign bird keepers, the British bird people and the canary fanciers, but also mutual respect; you can learn a lot from breeders of other species if you keep an open mind. Yes, even from budgerigars.
Stanley is a good example; notice how many of his feathers are black with a white fringe (1). Does that remind you of something? The overall arrangement may be different, being aligned visually in lateral rather than longitudinal rows, but they are effectively spangles in all but name. Ironically, the budgerigar variety known as the ‘Spangle’ has the opposite effect: a white feather with a black fringe. I’m sure there must be a logical explanation, but it isn’t obvious to this Lizard canary man.
These markings are a form of variegation, but unlike the variegation we have seen in the first episode, they are not random. They comprise contrasting zones of light and dark pigments within an individual feather; the zoning is predictable according to where on the bird the feathers grow. Furthermore, these feathers combine to form regular and attractive patterns. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
In the Lizard world, we tend to be obsessed about the definition of the spangles and the contrast between light and dark pigments. A pet budgie is a useful reminder that while the Lizard’s spangles may be unique amongst canaries, it is quite a common pattern in the plumage of other species. Indeed, the budgerigar can go one better and produce multiple dark and light stripes in a single feather. Note the ‘barring’ on the neck and head. Here is a close up:
There is one significant difference between the feathers that look like spangles in a budgerigar and the spangles of a Lizard canary. The former are present in nest feather; the latter emerge at the first moult. Only a few feathers in the budgerigar’s plumage change in the moult. The clue lies in the name that budgerigar breeders give to juveniles; they are called ‘barheads’ after the barring on the forehead. Here is an example:
This black barring is present until the first moult, but then disappears. You can see the adult form in the picture of Stanley at the head of this article; his forehead is clear white. These feathers differ from the Lizard’s spangles because all the black is lost.
There is only one variety of canary that shares this characteristic: the London Fancy. It is a form of depigmentation, but I have found no recognised name for the mutation that controls it. I am therefore going to give it a name: the fugitive black gene (2).
I will explain more in Part 4.
Being a blue budgie, the fringe is white. In a normal green budgie, the fringe would be yellow because this is the natural ground colour of the wild budgerigar.
Fugitive is used here as an adjective, meaning: of short duration; difficult to grasp or retain; likely to evaporate, deteriorate, change, fade, or disappear. (Meriam-Webster dictionary).