An Insight into Budgerigars via Evolution and Selective Breeding

John GouldWe as breeders and exhibitors of budgerigars will always be grateful to the naturalist John Gould who brought the first budgerigars back from Australia in 1840.

In my opinion, Gould has never been given enough acknowledgment for assisting Charles Darwin, and really taking the major roll in cataloging and identifying the birds which Darwin brought back from the Galapagos Islands in 1836.

John Gould (14th September 1804 to 3rd February 1881) was an English ornithologist. The Gould League in Australia was named after him. His identification of the birds now nicknamed “Darwin’s finches”, was pivotal in the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, though they are barely mentioned in Charles Darwin’s book, “The Origin of Species”.

Gould’s Work with Darwin

When Charles Darwin presented his mammal and bird specimens collected during the second voyage of HMS Beagle to the Geological Society of London at their meeting on 4 January 1837, the bird specimens were given to Gould for identification.

He set aside his paying work and at the next meeting on 10th January 1837, reported that birds from the Galapagos Islands which Darwin had thought were blackbirds, gross-bills and finches, were in fact:

A series of Ground Finches which are so peculiar that they now form an entirely new group containing 12 new species.

This story made the newspapers.

In March 1837, Darwin again met Gould. Gould explained to Darwin that what he thought was a wren and had named it the Galapagos “wren”; was in fact another species of finch and that the mockingbirds he had labelled by each island were an amazingly separate species rather than just varieties but with relatives on the South American mainland.

Subsequently, Gould advised that the smaller Southern Rhea specimen that had been rescued from a Christmas dinner, was a separate species which he named Rhea darwinii, whose territory overlapped with the Northern Rheas. Darwin had not bothered initially to label his finches by Island names, but others on the expedition had taken more care.

Gould now sought specimens collected by Captain Robert FitzRoy and his crewmen. From them he was able to establish that the species were unique to the Islands, an important step on the inception of his theory of evolution by natural selection.

John Gould’s work on the birds was published between 1838 and 1842 in five numbers, as Part 3 of the Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, edited by Charles Darwin.

I think it is fair to assume that John Gould played a large role in Darwin’s theory of evolution even though it is scarcely accredited. We as budgerigar breeders have proved that a species of bird can be changed over time through selective breeding, which is carried out in nature by Natural Selection by only leaving the strongest to survive.

However, we as breeders do not allow the strongest to survive as the exhibition budgerigar would revert back through Natural Selection to its wild state. Consequently only the ones we believe are esthetically pleasing to us as breeders of exhibition budgerigars are allowed to be bred with or survive.

Charles DarwinBy doing this we can stretch, widen, change the feather structure and even increase the bone structure and consequently the body size of budgerigars. By this process we prove that a species can be changed in certain respects.

In his final years, Darwin was fascinated by pigeons and the way breeders had developed them through selective breeding from the common ancestor of the Rock Dove. He devoted much of his later life to studying the Racing Pigeon.

So in March 1855 Charles Darwin was to become a pigeon fancier and set up a breeding loft at his home in the village of Downe, Kent. However, we as budgerigar breeders are doing much the same thing by attempting to defeat Natural Selection, which incidentally as I certainly know we can never win!

Nevertheless, we as exhibition budgerigar breeders are having great fun while trying.


Filed Under: BreedingProfiles



About the Author: Ray Fox has bred budgerigars all of his life - his interest in livestock was inherited from his father who bred racing pgeons. Ray has been a member of the Budgerigar Society since 1980 and has qualified as a BS Main Panel Judge. In recent years, Ray has focused his attention on the administration of the hobby - largely due to the diminishing membership numbers. He seeks to restore the right of the grass root membership to become more involved in the operation of the hobby.

RSSComments (3)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Rob Taylor says:

    Very interesting and authoritative.

  2. Chris Oneill says:

    Very interesting and enjoyable article which makes you wonder how far can we go with selective breeding of the budgerigar, before we are breeding monsters.

    I think there is along way to go yet, but we must be aware of this matter.

    Therefore, should we start to concentrate more on the colour and markings of the budgerigar and consequently give more points for these features?

  3. Dear Mr O’Neill,

    My aplogies for the late reply – the site has consumed a lot of my time recently.

    You make a good point.

    On markings, I think the hobby will control matters, but I was critical some years back when breeders were mixing normal spangles with the cinnamon and opaline sex linked factors. The muddy results are very disappointing and the Australian hobby had it right when only normal spangles were allowed on the showbench.

    What does concern me today, is the race to width of face with feather engineering, which I termed a while ago as, “Creating a Buffalo Effect” viewed from head on.

    I have seen a few examples, where it is my opinion that it has reached a point of being over the top and the beauty of a quality budgerigar is in danger of being lost.

    All of us have to tread carefully in this area, as desirable as width of face is to everyone.

Leave a Reply