Early Identification of Gouldian Mutations

A guide to identifying Gouldian Mutations in the nest

 

 

The following information was recently published in the Sept/Oct 2011 Journal Issue of the National Finch & Softbill Society


I got my first pair of Gouldian finches in 2006 – I was hooked on the vibrant colors and the silly courtship dance. At the time, I had no inclination to breed the birds. Little did I know this would all change within a year! I joined NFSS and a few of the Yahoo! Forums to learn more about my purchase and when I discovered Gouldians came in multiple mutations I was hooked. I was fascinated with the genetics behind the mutations and this is what pushed me in the direction of breeding and thus expanding my collection past just two birds. With the first mutation pairing, the most puzzling question for me was, “How can I determine the mutations of the babies I have when they hatch? Is it even possible?”

At the time, and this was approximately 2007, I had a very difficult time locating information that would help me to identify at or shortly after hatching, the phenotypes of the babies my pairs produced. I found very few photos online of mutations, and even fewer that went into detail regarding the phenotypic color of the babies. I can't say whether this is simply because most breeders don't photograph their clutches or if I was simply not looking in the right place. From then on, it became my mission (or obsession, really) to photograph virtually every single clutch from the day the babies hatched up until they fledged. By doing so, I began to discover and document some unique identifying features that I realized may help others who may be interested in identifying mutations at various stages of development.

As Gouldian chicks mature, much like other altricial birds, they begin to develop feathers (a shocking revelation, I’m sure!). This is going to be the first step to learning how to distinguish the mutations. Suffice it to say it's not always that easy; but you will get a good idea of the adult colors simply by looking at the babies as they begin to feather. It should be noted that, for the most part, head and breast color is not determinable until molting begins unless you have a pair that can only produce a particular head or breast color (e.g., two black headed birds will produce all visually black headed offspring, and similarly, two white breasted birds will only produce white breasted offspring).
Sometimes, subtle differences in the breast feathers can help indicate the difference between a purple breasted and white or a lilac breasted bird, but this can be tricky especially when you are dealing with different sexes.

Identifying Normal Gouldians

Since most people start off breeding wild color birds, identifying normal chicks is a pretty basic starting point. Normal babies at hatch will be a fleshy color with dark grey eyes under the skin. They have dark black inner mouth markings (gape markings) and the outer nodules are a pearly blue color outlined by black. The center nodules are yellow. When they begin to feather, they will have an all-over olive green appearance. Generally speaking, mutations are best compared against normal hatchlings as this is your point of reference.
The following photo album shows pictures of normal gouldian hatchlings, nestlings, and fledglings
Normal Gouldian Babies

 

Identifying Dilute (SF Pastel Green) Gouldians

Dilute babies are sometimes the most difficult to identify unless there are normal babies in the clutch for comparison purposes. The inner mouth markings would be slightly (you guessed it) diluted, and the black around the outer nodules is not as pronounced. The easiest way to identify dilute babies is when the feathers begin breaking from the quills. Dilutes will usually have primary flight feathers that are light grey tipped, whereas the primary feathers on a normal look more dark grey. The color of the feathers between the mantle is usually a key give-away as well because it is a very pale grey/green and easily distinguished from the dark olive green of a normal nestling.

Many breeders of mutation Gouldians are likely aware of the variation of body feather color among Dilutes - it can range anywhere from lemon-lime to lime-green. It should be noted here that not all hatchlings are immediately identifiable as dilutes, and birds that turn out to be darker bodied dilutes tend to look very similar to normal birds at hatching. This is where being able to identify subtle differences in the feather color becomes helpful. It is also important to note that genetically speaking, a Dilute is defined as a cock bird that is single-factor yellow and purple breasted. What this means in a nutshell for those attempting to identify these birds in the nest is that for the most part, all babies that are genetically single-factor for yellow (i.e., regardless of being purple breast) will look similar. White or lilac-breasted single-factor yellows will be nearly indistinguishable from their purple-breasted counterparts at first. Where you will see the difference is at around 5 days, when the skin on the wings begins to darken in a purple-breasted “Dilute.” The skin of a white or lilac-breasted single-factor yellow will remain pink, because these birds will be visually yellow at maturation.
The following photo album shows pictures of normal gouldian hatchlings, nestlings, and fledglings
Dilute Gouldian Babies

 

Identifying Yellow Gouldians

Yellow babies are when things start to get a little bit tricky. The good news is yellow females and males that are double-factor (DF) yellow are easy to spot. If your pair can produce yellow offspring of either sex (yellow hens or DF yellow males), you might be able to identify sex males that are purple breasted because they have a much “dirtier” yellow color to them. However, if you have white breasted birds, it will be much more difficult to distinguish the sexes, and you might not know what sex you have until your birds begin to sing (or not). In the previous photo of the clutch of 7 getting ready to fledge, the two center yellow babies were males, the top being a lilac breasted bird, the bottom being purple breasted. The yellow on the far right under the dilute was a hen (a bit difficult to see, but she is much paler in color, this is not always the case, however).

Yellow babies that are female or DF Yellow will look pink in comparison to a normal hatchling. This is likely exacerbated because the eyes tend to look a bit red under the eye lids, as well. Although the eyes may appear red or pink in color at first, mature yellow Gouldians do not have pink/red eyes and are not to be confused with albinistic or lutino Gouldians. The eyes will turn dark as the chick ages.

The mouth markings differ significantly in a yellow hatchling compared to a normal.The black that usually exists around the outer nodules will be reduced or even almost completely gone, and the blue will be diluted to a pale light blue color. The middle nodules will still be yellow, and the markings inside of the mouth are very pale. As the babies get older, the skin takes on a noticeable yellow hue. If you look at the skin color of the wings on young normals, you will see it start to turn dark before the pins start breaking through. On all visual yellows, this skin will remain pink.
All yellows are pretty easy to spot once they begin feathering, because they are yellow/white in color when they begin to feather out.

Things get tricky if/when you start producing lilac or white breast single-factor (SF) yellow males. These look very similar to dilute hatchlings and can "trick" you into thinking you have dilutes (or even normals, since dilutes vary greatly in hue and can be such a bugger to identify). If you are an astute picture taker of your babies and you can get a good shot of all babies gaping to compare the mouth markings, you can usually get a sense of birds that may be SF yellow (and visually yellow), but it is really difficult to differentiate them between SF yellow DILUTES (if they will be produced in the clutch) because visually as hatchlings they are very similar, if not identical. The best way to distinguish these is when the babies are old enough and the skin color on the wings begins to change. Again - on a dilute the wings will show darker skin before the primary pins erupt, but if they are SF yellows (visually yellow), the skin on the wings (and the pins that erupt) will stay pink/white. One last tip I recently learned, which can help you identify SF yellow males from DF yellows, is males that are SF yellow will have a dark grey beak in the nest. Yellow hens and DF yellow males will have pink beaks.

The following photo album shows pictures of yellow gouldian hatchlings, nestlings, and fledglings
Yellow Gouldian Babies

 

Identifying Blue Gouldians

Blue babies are a very pale bluish pink color when hatched. In a clutch containing normals, they are automatically noticeable as "different" and can be identified immediately if you have normals for comparison. The eyes are still dark, and the only remarkable difference in the nodules is that genetic blues will always have white middle nodules. This goes for all of the blue mutations: blues, pastels, and silvers.

In a single instance, I had a baby with seemingly white center nodules that turned out normal. But this pair had a history of producing very strange chicks (and only produced three total babies, none of which survived, so I believe there may have been a genetic defect occurring in this pairing).
I have heard others speculate that Normal/Blue (normal-split-for-blue) babies will also have white center nodules, but I have not personally found this to be the case, as I have produced multiple clutches of Normal/Blues that did not have white center nodules. Either way – if there are instances where a normal baby possesses white center nodules, I believe these are anomalies, whereas a genetic blue will never have yellow center nodules.

Once feathered, juvenile blues will have an all-over blue-gray body coloration that is significantly different when compared to a normal-backed bird. You may also notice their legs are pink whereas normal babies will have a darker (sometimes yellowish) leg color. This is more noticeable on pastels and silvers.

The following photo album shows pictures of blue gouldian hatchlings, nestlings, and fledglings.
Blue Gouldian Babies

 

Identifying Pastel (SF Pastel Blue) Gouldians

Pastel babies, when feathered, will differ from blue babies in that their color will be a lighter, pale-blue grey all over. As babies - they will very closely resemble blue hatchlings. The best way to distinguish them, as with dilutes and SF yellows, is to get a picture when the babies are between 1-3 days of age and their mouths are open. With other colors to compare to, you may be able to distinguish them from any blues by looking at the outer two mouth nodules and the inner mouth markings. The pastel (yellow) gene affects the darker bluish-black nodules on the outside so that they are lighter in color (similar to a dilute’s). You’ll be able to distinguish them from normal because of the white center nodules, which indicates the baby is a genetic blue.

When the primary feathers start to pin out, the tips of the primary quills will be a lighter color than on a blue, and when the bird begins to feather out in the mantle, the difference will generally be immediately noticed. Again, however, there is a great deal of variation in hue among pastel birds. Some pastels are powdery blue-gray, others a much darker diluted blue-gray color, so the difference can be extreme or extremely subtle!

The following photo album shows pictures of pastel gouldian hatchlings, nestlings, and fledgling.
Pastel Blue Gouldian Babies

 

Identifying Silver Gouldians

Silver babies (hens and silver cocks that are genetically DF) will be very pink skinned when they hatch. The outer nodules are virtually white, along with having white center nodules, which makes them easy to distinguish from yellows. Further, in a clutch with silvers and yellows you will generally be able to see an obvious difference, because with silvers next to yellows, you can see just how pink the silvers are. Yellows look pinkish on their own, but you can really see the difference if you have a clutch with both.
Some yellows can confuse individuals into thinking they have a silver because the primaries and other feather tips breaking out of the quills look, or maybe are, white. If you have trouble seeing the nodule difference, what you can look for at this time is the mantle feathers coming in between the shoulders. On a yellow, these will always be yellow or have a yellow hue, whereas on silvers they will always only be white or greyish white/silver.

Like dilutes, a “pastel” Gouldian is defined as a purple-breasted blue bird that is also genetically single-factor for yellow. So, similar to SF yellow white or lilac-breast hatchlings, “pastel” males that are genetically single-factor yellow and white or lilac-breasted will be visually silver. These birds are generally referred to as white or lilac-breasted silvers, or white or lilac breasted single-factor pastel blues. If your pair can produce this mutation, the babies may confuse you into thinking they are pastel or blue.

If you don’t notice the difference in the gape markings at first, then you will generally catch these guys either when they begin to develop their primaries, or possibly earlier, when they should start developing dark color on the skin of their wings (remember: in a blue or pastel, the skin will be turning dark; in silvers, as with yellows, it remains pink). With a good photo between 1-3 days of hatch, you might be able to tell based on the mouth markings that you’ve got a silver male that is genetically single-factor for yellow. As with SF yellow babies, SF pastel blues that are white or lilac breast (visually silver) will have a dark beak – distinguishing them from any possible silver sisters or DF brothers.

The following photo album shows pictures of silver gouldian hatchlings, nestlings, and fledglings.
Silver Gouldian Babies

I hope this information will prove to be useful for Gouldian breeders, and wish everyone luck identifying their hatchlings!
 

 

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