The Greywing Challenge

One’s personal preferences for any particular colour or variety are always just that, personal.

Greywing grey green cockI think we all have personal preferences, even when we protest that all we want is a good budgie – preferably one that will win the Club Show.

But despite our wildest pipe dreams, we don’t usually get that far. So I would suggest that it would be a good idea for most fanciers to focus on one or two particular colours or varieties, where, with care and persistence, a degree of success can be achieved.

I have made the mistake of liking Greywings.

The original source of this preference was that my first pair, purchased in 1951, was a Greywing Skyblue cock and a Yellow hen.

I bought them from a local fancier, Wilf Hacker, whose family fruit farm, and veritable menagerie of birds and small animals, was situated next to the Cambridge Crematorium. This was an easy, and in those days safe, two mile bike ride from my home. These days no-one in their right senses would attempt to ride a push bike on that stretch of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon!

They were put into a breeding cage in June and, by the time of my return to school, in September there were five chicks in the nest.

None, to my intense disappointment, was a Greywing, nor was there one in the next round. All were either Yellows or Albinos.

What is more, the four Albinos were all hens and only one of the five Yellows a cock bird. This was a minor disaster for a young lad hoping to be able to supply the Christmas market for pets and recoup a bit of seed money.

Introduction to the Complexities

I tried pairing the Yellow cock bird with a Skyblue, with the resultant expected mix of Skyblues and Albinos, but not another Greywing in sight.

The experience was, however, a good introduction to the complexities of breeding recessive and sex-linked colour varieties, and I enthusiastically studied basic Mendelian genetics, buying a copy of the then current edition of “Budgerigar Matings and Colour Expectations”.

However, I never did breed a Greywing in my first period as a fancier up to 1960.

Then in 2007, having restarted in budgies in 2001, without even trying, I bred three from two separate and seemingly unrelated pairs. Since then I have been trying once more to breed them, with almost no success to date.

Why should it be so difficult?

Years ago Greywings were relatively commonplace. You have only to look at the prominence they are given in the pairings in “Budgerigar Matings and Colour Expectations” and in “Genetics for Budgerigar Breeders” – two Budgerigar Society publications.

Firstly, there are very few birds available and when breeders produce them, usually by chance but from good stock, they seem very loath to part with them, but retain them for showing but not breeding.

Their rarity is, I believe, also a result of them being superseded by the Clearwings, which have a more intense body colour, but which, in the European version, have wing markings which are not dissimilar to the Greywing.

In my view, the Greywing is an honest colour and has the colour of markings which its name implies.

I understand that they are also used by Clearwing breeders, resulting in birds called full bodied Greywings. These are too intense in the body colour for the BS standard for Greywings and too grey in the wing markings to be good Clearwings, with ensuing confusion in both Clearwing and AOC classes, sometimes giving rise to their being wrong classed in either category.

Shown in the Same Class

English white-wingSecondly, there is the complication of the Cinnamon factor.

In an article prepared by Steve Amos some twenty years ago, he mentions that in the past the two colours were often shown in the same class. Indeed, it was not until 1958 that a separate class for Greywings was introduced at the Club Show.

Despite the common appeal of the muted subtlety of the body colour of the two varieties, the cinnamon, having a sex linked dominance and also seeming to impart a desirable quality of feather, seems to have squeezed out the Greywing.

A two pronged attack on the position of the Greywing.

A breeder of Greywings has also to contend with another hidden genetic gremlin, the dilute factor.

Greywing being dominant to Dilutes, Dilutes can be and are used to produce Greywings.

Recounting my personal experience since 2007 may help to illustrate the problem.

In one nest I bred a visual Greywing Skyblue cock from a Dark Green / Blue / Opaline type 2 cock and a Cinnamon Skyblue hen.

The chances of doing this were remote.

To start with a Skyblue would be one of the exceptions from a type 2 Dark Green / Blue whose sire was a Light Green and mother an Opaline Cobalt. From where did the Greywing come in as there was no evidence of Greywings in the studs where I had purchased my initial birds?

In the other nest I bred two Greywing Grey cocks.

The sire was a Cinnamon Grey Green / Opaline and the dam a normal Skyblue.

When the chicks started to feather up I assumed that they were Cinnamon hens and was more than a little pleased to have bred two hens with what seemed to me very promising head qualities.

They turned out to be cocks.

In this case the stud where I had bought the sire said that occasionally they had bred Greywings in the past. All three birds were split Cinnamon and proved also to be split Opaline.

I started the season late next year having shown the better Grey at the Club Show coming second in the Any Age AOC line-up. I gave the other Grey to Steve Amos.

Neither of the birds did much for me in the breeding shed other than producing a small number of Opaline Cinnamon hens and poor ones at that.

The Cinnamon Factor Interfered

The Skyblue was placed fifth in the Novice Any Age line-up at the Club Show the following year, beating the Grey which has subsequently won a couple of CCs.

I had hoped to at least breed from each Greywing some normal split Greywing hens that I could pair back to the other Greywing, but the Cinnamon factor interfered.

Steve Amos was not able to help as the bird I had given him had either passed on or been passed on.

I did eventually breed a Light Green hen, a “WYSIWYG”*, free of Opaline or Cinnamon factors from the Skyblue at the end of 2010.

Full of hope, I paired her up to the Grey only to find that they were to put it mildly “not compatible”.

In the meantime, I had done some research on the background of my birds and came to a common factor on the dam’s side of each of them.

They came from a common line which has since then once more produced in the original stud a Greywing.

Accordingly I let Ghalib Al-Nasser have a cousin of the Skyblue in the hope that it might be split Greywing.

Ghalib paired this to a Greywing Light Green. They produced two Light Green cocks and the perhaps inevitable Cinnamon hen. Ghalib let me have a Light Green cock back which, once again full of hope, I paired to the Light Green hen in the expectation that two normals with a Greywing parent each would be split Greywing and produce at least some Greywing chicks.

They produced six chicks, none a Greywing but one was a Grey Yellow.

Time for more research. I started looking into the dilute background, the genetic gremlin.

The problem lies in the fact that a normal coloured bird cannot be split for both Greywing and Dilute.

I came to the conclusion that both my Greywing Skyblue and Ghalib’s Greywing Light Green were split for dilute. My bird’s dilute factor would have originated on the side of his sire, part of which came from the stud of Alec and David Woan who have produced some good dilutes in the past.

The Added Twist

English yellow-wingFor the genetic colour background of my bird there is a 6.25% chance of a cock bird, which is reduced massively with the added twist that the bird should have been a Cobalt – the normal colour that I had set out to breed with that particular pairing.

When my Skyblue Greywing was paired with a Light Green, half of the visuals would be split Dilute and half split Greywing – and the one that I had bred was split dilute.

Ghalib’s bird with the parents’ colours reversed must be the same. That is a visual Light Green masking a dilute factor and not the Greywing factor.

Whether this is a correct analysis may be shown in the Skyblue’s current pairing, to his daughter the Light Green hen referred to above. This assumes that he breeds successfully and that the picture will not be overwhelmed by the Opaline and Cinnamon factors lurking in his background.

The Light Green cock is now paired to a Grey Yellow dilute.

The picture as regards the Grey is still obscure because of his reluctance to breed, but I have a number of birds related to his dam which may mean that the Greywing factor carries on in its subterranean manner and pops out in the future.

The effect of this dilute factor goes some way to explain my original experience in 1951, though then I was unlucky not to produce any Greywings even allowing for interference by the Albino factor.

I am now having to work with birds that are all probably split Dilute which will make the process that much slower.

We bring trouble on ourselves because of our personal preferences but at the same time indulging those preferences, is what makes our lives worthwhile.

Note: * WYSIWYG – “What You See Is What You Get”

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About the Author: David Turner started breeding budgies in 1951. He gave up in 1960 when he went abroad to work. On retirement in 2001 he returned to the hobby and through his mentor, Bob Crisp from Bishops Stortford, got to know Gerald Binks. In 2010, David became an applicant to the Budgerigar Society Council.

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  1. Andy Hind says:

    The biggest challenge for me is getting any Greywings!

    If any one has a couple spare please send me an email at andyhind@msn.com

    Andy Hind, UK

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