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Cockatiel Mutation Project

The Mutations

Color In Cockatiels

The color in Cockatiels is derived from two pigments: 

  • Melanin - Provides the Grey color in Normals.  It is also present in the eyes, beak, and feet.  You will notice some cockatiels have darker beaks and feet than others.  The Lutino mutation occurs because of a complete lack of melanin.  This is why the eyes appear red, from the blood vessels showing, and the feet and beak to be lighter.  Melanin is the stronger color and overrides Lipochromes when both are present.
  • Lipochromes - These provide the yellow on the face and tail and orange seen in the cheek patch.  As males mature the melanin pigments in the face become weaker allowing the Lipochromes to be visable while in the tail the melanin increases in the tail make the tail more of a solid color.  The Whiteface Cockatiel lacks Lipochromes, hence the white face with no yellow or orange present which are replaced by white.

Sex-Linked Mutations

Sex linked mutations are carried on the X chromosomes. Cocks have 2 X chromosomes and while Hens have an X and a Y chromosome.  Sex-Linked mutations must be carried on both X for cocks, and the single X on Hens, for a mutation to be visible.  Hens cannot be split to Sex-Linked mutations because if the mutation is on their X chromosome then it is visible. So, what you see is what you get with Sex-Linked mutations on hens.  A male is split when only one X chromosome carries the Sex-Linked mutation.


The Lutino is a white bird with an orange cheek patch, some yellow pigment, pink feet and red eyes. Some individuals vary with a light to heavy yellow wash over part or most of the body. Sometimes baldness occurs behind the crest.  This occured during the development of this mutation. Your ideal Lutino has no bald
spot. It is very hard to distinguish mature cocks from hens. A common combination is the Lutino Pearl Hen where you find Yellow Pearling over the wings and back.


The Cinnamon gets it name from it's Cinnamon color which is has been described as a brownish grey or cocoa color. You should not see any Grey and can notice a yellowish tinge to the feathers. The Grey color in a Normal is produced by the melanin pigment which is reduced in the Cinnamon. Some hens may have more yellow, lipochrome pigment, on the face than their Normal Grey counterparts.

The male Cinnamon Cockatiel develops a bright yellow face (also know as the mask) and bright orange cheek patches after it's first molt. Young and female Cinnamon cockatiels retain their dull orange cheek patches, their faces do not turn yellow, and they have white or yellow barring on the underside of their tails.


The Pearling are lacings or pearl spots of Yellow or White on the backs, nape, and wings. Yellow Pearls are sometimes called Golden Pearls. White pearling is sometimes called Silver Pearl.  Pearling in a Whiteface is always white. The lacings should be extensive and consistent.  Small yellow or white marks may be on the breast of heavier marked pearls.  Typically adult pearl males lose their Pearling after the first molt due to hormonal changes as they mature.  There are some who retain some degree of pearling though. A mature male sometimes has very light colored pearling on the grey or cinnamon background.

Yellow Cheek

Yellow Cheek is one of the newer mutations and is unique in that there are Sex-Linked and Dominant versions of this mutation. Where a Normal Grey has an Orange cheek patch, the cheek patch of the Yellow Cheek is Yellow.  The cheek patch of the Dominant Yellow Cheek seems to be a little more orange than the Sex-Linked version.  When breeding Yellow Cheeks it is important to never breed Dominant with Sex-Linked. It would take years of test breeding to determine what the offspring really are. It is also not recommended to breed Yellow Cheeks with Whiteface.


The Platinum is seen in Australia. In general it is a light, smoky grey back, flights and tail, with flights sometimes almost a grey - brown color with an off white colored chest.  Flights and tails are typically always a darker color to other feathers. The underside of tail feathers in mature cocks is usually a brown or chocolate color with light colored feet and beak.


Recessive Mutations

To obtain a Recessive mutation baby both parents must have the mutation either visually or split.  Hens can be split to a Recessive mutation.  Hens cannot be split to a sex-linked mutation.  For example to produce Whiteface offspring each parent must at a minimum be split to Whiteface.  If one parent contains no Whiteface genes roughly have the offspring will be split to Whiteface but none will visually show it.  


Pieds are basically when the standard body colors are replaced with Yellow or White in varying degrees. When Pieds are judged the degree of symmetry and clarity of markings is important.   Ideally, a desirable pied will carry a clear mask, free from extraneous grey or cinnamon feathers or bleeding from the orange cheek patch, clear tail and wing flights and a perfect balance of markings.  A pied with dark feathers in the face is called a dirty faced pied.  Pieds are also known to have thicker feathering over the body also.  Pied occurs because the levels of melanin are different over the feathers of the bird. It has also been noted that Pieds have a thicker set of feathers which is noticeable in young birds as they feather up.

Pieds appear in three ways:

The Light Pied is where most of the bird will be Grey or Cinnamon but some areas of the body are yellow, or white for Whiteface Pieds.

The Heavy Pied is mostly a Yellow or White bird with Grey or Cinnamon still seen on some of the chest and back.  The nicest are when the chest and face are clear of the darker colors. Some people also call cockatiels with very little Grey or Cinnamon a Reverse Pied.

The Clear Pied looks much like the Lutino but has dark or normally colored eyes and feet.  You may see one or two dark feathers on the back.  These can be easily confused with Lutinos and are not as common.  They have the advantage of not having the bald spot that has occurs with Lutinos.  


Charcoal grey in color, lacking the orange cheek patch and yellow pigment.  The whiteface is lacks all lipochrome pigments.  Mature adult males will carry a white face as opposed to the yellow mask worn by other varieties.  Some of the nicest combinations are the Whiteface Pearl, Whiteface Cinnamon Pearl, Whiteface Pieds and Whiteface Cinnamon Pieds.


A brownish (or light cinnamon) appearance resembling the cinnamon, but with a more pronounced yellow suffusion and red eyes due to less melanin. The Fallow cockatiel has a very similar coloration to that of the Cinnamon cockatiel, but with a slightly diluted depth of color. The fallow has red eyes, a pink beak, and pink feet.


Pastel is a rather subtle mutation that is rather appropriately named. The pastel mutation can be combined with just about any other mutation with some beautiful results.  Pastel cockatiels look just like their normal counterpart, but the yellows, oranges, browns and grays are softened a bit.  Hence the name, pastel. The most obvious difference is the orange cheek patch becomes a yellow-orange.  


It is also called Olive, Spangled or Suffused Yellow.  This mutation is hard to describe and has to be seen.  The term Emerald or Olive is a bit misleading though.  Cockatiels do not carry any green pigmentation, so they can't really be green.  The combinations of yellow and greys along with the right lighting make these birds sometimes look green.  It can best be described as a mottled or combination of small areas with different colors varying from yellows to greys.

Recessive Silver

The Recessive Silver mutation is a diluted or silvery grey version of the normal grey. The Silver has red eyes, a pink beak, and pink feet. Male Silver cockatiels often have a very deep yellow face and bright orange Cheek Patches at maturity.  Female Silver cockatiels will retain their immature coloration and the barring of the underside of the tail.


Dominant Mutations

Dominant mutations are unique in that it requires only one of the parents to produce the mutation in their offspring.  For example if you have a Dominant Yellow Cheek hen you will get a percentage of either male and/or female Dominant Yellow Cheek babies.  For Sex-linked Yellow Cheek you must have Sex-Linked Yellow Cheek in both the male and female to get male Sex-Linked Yellow Cheek babies.  A bird cannot be split to a dominant mutation.  You either see it or you don't.  A single factor dominant bird has one X chromosome containing the mutation. A double factor dominant has two X chromosomes, hence only males can be double factor.

Dominant Silver

Dominant Silver is a mutation that is dominant to other mutations to produce a silver or light grey. The most obvious difference between the Dominant and the Recessive is the the Dominant has dark eyes verses the red eyes of the recessive.  The birds can carry the dominant gene on one or both chromosomes, with the coloring effect being more pronounced in double-factored birds. When the dominant silver gene is carried on one chromosome, it is single-factored and the single factored is darker.  When Dominant Silver gene carried on both chromosomes, it is double-factored and is a lighter grey.

Dominant Yellow Cheek

The Dominant Yellow Cheek is very similar to the Sex-Linked Yellow Cheek.  Personal observations of the ones I have seen is that the Dominant Yellow Cheeks has a slight orange tinge, possibly due to a double factor, to it but lighter than the yellow-orange of a Pastel's cheek patch.  Single factor cheek patches are yellow.

Normal Grey

The Normal Grey is the what all other mutations are derived from and is the Normal Grey Cockatiel seen in the wilds of Australia.  The male Normal Grey has dark grey feathers over his entire body, excluding the white wing bars, yellow face, and bright orange cheek patches.  Young Normal Grey Cockatiels of both sexes look a lot like female Normal Greys. The face is Grey with dull orange cheek patches along with tail feathers that have a white or yellow barring on the underside. If you see a few white or yellow feathers on the back of your normal grey cockatiel's neck and head, sometimes called ticking, that it means that your cockatiel is split to the recessive mutation Pied.



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