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Selective Breeding
Theoretical Comment on In-breeding
Selective Breeding Objective
Inheritance Factors
 Role of the Egg
Breeding Points



People seem to enter into selective breeding for a host of reasons:

However it happens, you are suddenly a breeder of birds... but are you breeding selectively and doing what is necessary (sometimes construed as harsh) to develop a championship bloodline.  If you are doing what is necessary, how long do you think that your winner will remain on top if you don't move on and replace it with its "improved offspring".

Can one still selectively breed birds in small numbers or is successful breeding confined to the large conglomerates with: access to a substantial volume of bird stock; the ability to report and gather information (data) from a host of sources; the resources to pay for scientists and geneticists; the incentive to improve certain economic attributes or traits ?  However it may appear, I think there is still a role for the individual breeder and dedicated hobbyist.  Hopefully this page will come to contain information that will assist the hobbyist in selecting birds and identifying some of the pitfalls, decision making trees, and genetic and environmental influences on lovebirds.

It is hoped that this page will eventually house aberration  and mutation information, that has been identified in other avian species, and that a lovebird breeder may run into.  I hope that you will be willing and able to identify and share any irregular or aberrant forms of inheritance that you may have run into in your aviaries.

Selective Breeding

The following information reflects my opinion and understanding of selective breeding, based on my experience and research.  It is no substitute for contact with, and first hand knowledge from those that have been breeding for 20 or more years.  I am looking to correct any mis-representation or arguable points that I make on this page, and any page at this site.  If I have erred, please e-mail me and I will correct erroneous information or post an opposing view.

If you have further information on breeding, tips or suggestions, please send these as well.

Let's be up front with selective breeding   It is not for the faint of heart, the procrastinator or the dis-organized.  Unfortunately, many people start breeding birds for the pet trade, and fall into the trap of inbreeding with only a few animals.  The first few generations of fledglings may look very similar to the parents, so why go out and waste another $50 or $75 when one has so adroitly turned their initial investment into such a potentially lucrative business.  Here they are, just a few dollars down, and they have the beginnings for their "bird breeding farm".  After a few generations their "flock" must surely be inbred, right ?  Isn't inbreeding the term people use to define or speak disparagingly about selective breeding ? The obvious conclusion is that they are selectively breeding... right ?  WRONG !

I have been deliberately facetious in order to make a point.  The table below identifies some of the fundamental differences, as I understand them, between indiscriminate breeders and successful selective breeders. To be fair, it probably represents the two extremes in breeding ideology and approach, and most of us fit somewhere in the middle

Disorganized  or unaware
Organized / Meticulous/ Persistent
poor to non-existent records of bird size; weight; growth; feather; conformation; positive - negative attributes; characteristic inheritance; feed; reproductive cycle, nesting etc...
everything is recorded / documented, and birds are closed ringed; recorded events and activities are reviewed for changes when something goes amiss
rarely refers to the standard or looks to spend the money necessary to breed a bird towards the standard.  The standard is not the reason for having birds
travels to various bird venues; observes many varieties or mutations of the species being bred; observes slight differences in: stance, eye position, feather, color; general well being and health
may be indifferent to birds or looking for a quick way to make some money; breeds continuously if market present
often, but not always pugnacious / stubborn; keeps secrets or methodology very close to the chest; usually quite reserved; focused on doing their best, to the exclusion of many other things; birds come first and breeding is stopped after 2 or 3 nests; dedicated to a goal or standard and may be slow to change a "winning methodology"; like their own way of doing things;  if they fail they fail on their own, get up and keep going
breeds a number of mutations together to maximize young birds produced without stop; others may lose control over matings and offspring and are simply happy that birds are cared for and healthy
breeds very selectively in colony or cage situations in order to continually improve stock and track parentage ( easier in single cages); logs inheritance (trends) of certain characteristics (dominant / recessive) based on statistical appearance in offspring (family); records behavior and conformation; often has judging experience so has a keen eye for detail; knows the positive and negative (faults) traits and how they reveal themselves; knows the standard of the bird intimately; records eggs per nest, fertile / clear eggs, hatches; fledglings; parenting skills and much more
not interested in spending the money or taking the steps (time, effort and dedication) necessary to develop a winning stud, or new variety /strain.  is usually willing to buy championship stock if necessary, but more often than not is reluctant to outcross to a bird with potentially unknown pedigree.  If required, pedigree traits and history are compared with his own bird; sometimes chances a mating because an outstanding characteristic such as a broad round head is identified: Heterosis, depending on breeder's success, may also occur;  outstanding out-cross offspring (if any result) is / are immediately bred back into the breeder's own developing ( selected) line to minimize unknowns and force troublesome (faults) autosomal recessives to the surface for eradication; out-crossing depends on the number of birds that a breeder has, the trait they are trying to improve, and the depth of personal knowledge and understanding of their own family of birds)
complains about the "noise", mess or smell from the birds  bird song is either pleasant or flows off, like water from a ducks back; is frequently quite knowledgeable about the implications of a variety of bird sounds in different seasons; knowledgeable about "poopology" :-) , and all of the signs and symptoms of common infections and pests that could undermine breeding results. 
indifferent to the bird's health, as long as they are able to produce offspring.  Willing to try many things; bird longevity severely diminished; breeds birds all year round for optimum output. May or may not take steps to intervene and save chicks
very aware of the nests, number of eggs, chicks and potential need for fostering ( infertile pairs may be used to foster any fertile eggs past targeted 3 or 4); maximizes success of rearing and trait selection; candles eggs and hand feeds if necessary;  ensures breeding looks at the comprehensive standard and not just elements ( fertility / fecundity, size, conformation, color, mask, personality, bone structure etc...)
is more interested in finding markets and value for birds rather than producing the best; usually a seed diet and questionable lighting or protection from insects, disease, predators and temperature fluctuations the birds are number one: the best seed and mix, sprouted seed, vegetables, fruits, nuts and vitamin supplements; vet shots and treatment as necessary; controlled environment (housing); electronic monitoring of nests/ flights or quarantine area; show boxes; hospital cages and assorted first aid equipment
all birds, but the most "aesthetically unacceptable", are sold.  very little culling. 
only the best birds of the year are retained; offspring showing outstanding characteristics replace existing adult breeders who fall behind the curve for those characteristics requiring improvement; birds are selected for health and personality for the pet trade, as no breeder wants someone complaining about their birds.  Culling can be heavy, depending on the production levels and where a breeder is in his program. Birds are assessed for faults.  Outstanding cock is mated to best hen that exemplifies the attribute wanting in the cock, and so it goes 
accepting of what comes along; not into the finicky genetics, research, trial and error, crossing, outcross and technical jargon. As long as the birds appear OK and are not dying everything is running smoothly
has a fine eye for detail and sculpture in order to select for those slight differences as birds start to resemble each other on a more frequent basis; notes when size, weight or other trait is slipping and knows the right time, and bird for an outcross; good idea of what is in the nest from the appearance and vigor of the nestling; knows intuitively how the technical and practical side intermingle; familiar with the impact of down on appearance and how it melds with feather form and structure; knows the weaknesses of the mutation (s) one is working with and the necessity of splits; always seeking to achieve the bird that conforms to or exceeds the standard, and ends up with prepotent cocks or hens.


I think most ethical breeders and the general public would be concerned about the health, living conditions and life expectancy of a bird under the questionable care of the indiscriminate breeder at the far end of the spectrum.  Conversely, the selective breeder or aviculturalist, who is focused on developing birds for show or sale, clearly manifests a desire to continually improve their bird management ability, and the health of their animals.  As the stud improves in general condition, form and size, the selective breeder may focus on fewer traits or characteristics, while maintaining an eye on the overall well being of their birds.  Most breeders understand that in order to hatch large, strong chicks, the parents and nestlings require a well balanced intake (vitamins; greens; nuts; corn; peas; oats, etc...); climate control; access to sunlight or special indoor lights; clean water; room to fly and exercise and the opportunity to raise some offspring.  However, some may do very well without all of the "clean" environments that most of us have come to expect and require.

I am not aware of the selective breeder undertaking activities that would knowingly undermine the physical health and vigor of their birds   Select birds are, after all is said and done, show animals that stand out in the winners circle because they are usually significantly different in a least one eye catching characteristic.

Theoretical comment on in-breeding :

We often hear about the downside to the practice of inbreeding (family-breeding; line-breeding; selective breeding; closed flock; closed breeding), the loss of genes that could lead to a smaller gene bank and the potential fragility and susceptibility of new strains to an existing or mutated bacteria or virus.  It is a fair statement and certainly one that gives pause for thought.

I do have a comment (s) on this that might fit better on the Q & A page, but here it is:

Inbreeding can lead ( when carried out correctly) to a visually, "superior" animal.  This animal / bird is generated as a result of intense selective breeding over many generations.  The bird should represent the species Standard as closely as possible.  However, some rare recessive varieties or developed sports may require their own standard eventually, depending on how far they diverge from the current "standard".  In many ways, the select bird is strengthened as a consequence of the removal of faulty, lethal or debilitating genes.  Achieving this objective often requires production of birds requiring disposal.  The select extraction of lethal or undesirable autosomal recessives  from the "gene pool"  is concentrated over a minute period of time from an evolutionary perspective.  The surviving select birds have a "cleaner" genetic profile than the normal, and while as a group they may all be more susceptible to a mutated virus or bacteria than the "normal", they could also be more resistant than the normal bird depending on what is targeted by the mutated virus or bacteria.

The greater the variety of birds that are selectively bred, the greater the likelihood of separating out smaller gene pools (breeds / varieties).  Could certain strains or varieties disappear in a disease or contagion scenario ? The honest answer is maybe.

Captive breeding has changed the color and size of the normal peachfaced.  However, I understand that we also saw a much larger Fischer lovebird in the show circuit many years ago, but that the bird has now dropped back to its "normal" size.  All that aside, these birds (various species of lovebirds) have spread, literally, from a relatively isolated geographical location to countries around the world, and survive there (either in captivity or free - another question for another day).  If Climate Change is a reality, and significant change in the birds natural ecosystem could occur, then it could potentially have a terminal impact on birds in the wild.  The wild bird evolved to fill a niche in the existing habitat.  If that habitat is lost due to substantive changes in global weather, will the wild peachfaced and other species survive.  I expect that they will not.  I would think that survivors would evolve, mutate or hybridize to survive in a new environment or perish.

If we look at the cheetah, we may have a very good example of an animal that is as susceptible, perhaps more susceptible, than any successful, selectively bred variety. If indeed the cheetahs of today originated from one animal (???), they have been extraordinarily successful in surviving for an extended period of time.  A period of time, I might add, over which many other indigenous species succumbed with or without human intervention.  Although the cheetah may now be starting to exhibit some traits suggestive of inbreeding depression, Why does the "King Cheetah" seem to raise so much hope when it may be based on a mutation that might lead to a new variety ?  After all the gene pool is the same.  Is the King Cheetah real ?

Does selective breeding encourage genetic deterioration ?

    I honestly don't knoow.  I would appreciate some feedback on this.  As far as I can discern, there
    is most certainly a greater preponderance of autosomal recessives that would surface as a result of family
    breeding, and that these would express themselves in a number of ways, including lethal genes and genes
    that impact: bones; vision; internal organs; wings; feet; spine; joints; digestion (inability to absorb) beak and
    feathers in either a positive or negative fashion.  However, what is also happening in selective breeding is the
    rapid removal, by the breeder, of those "genes" that would impact a "normal /wild type" bird in the same
    fashion as the select bird.  The aviculturalist is merely speeding up a process by removing those "currently"
    undesirable or debilitating genes and cleaning out the closet so to speak.

Are there possibly good genes (modifiers) that are allelic to the bad ?

    Possibly, but we don't always know.

Would a significant number of young reveal poor genes in family breeding ?

    Hard to say, it seems to depend on ones stock, the gene in question and how far the mutation you are
    working with has been developed.  Phenotypic expression would depend on the number of lines that
    you are breeding and whether they all have troublesome genes or only one or two lines out of 8 or whether
    more have them.

    I would encourage others to send their thoughts on inbreeding and I will include them here.

Selective Breeding Objective

Selective breeding can be fairly straightforward, or incredibly complicated, depending on what it is that you are trying to accomplish.  Before one even begins to start looking at birds with the idea of breeding them towards the standard, they should have been involved in bird shows, and listened to the judges comments and their identification of faults and problems with a number of varieties.  If you have judged yourself, and are familiar with the standard, so much the better.  The background experience will provide the initiate with a firm knowledge of various mutations, their inheritance, and the common faults or weaknesses associated with each.  An added benefit of attending and participating in bird shows is the chance to meet individuals who have been selecting and breeding birds for years.  Seek out one of these well known individuals and ask them if they have the time and inclination to mentor you in the hobby.

Don't under-rate the experience and knowledge of a successful breeder.  We all want to believe we can do it on our own, but there are tricks and tips for balancing your stud; increasing color intensity and coverage; hatching chicks at the same time; increasing the size and growth of your nestlings, and quickly increasing the overall size of your birds through the process of observation and selection.

One of the basic tenants for a good selective breeder should be to look at the entire bird and focus on attaining the species standard.  Peachfaced don't have the varieties that one finds in budgerigars and other show species, but as time passes the likelihood of more mutations and aberrant feather formation should emerge.  Shooting for the standard is a long term goal and as a standard is unlikely to be replaced.

For those wondering what I mean by paying attention to the entire bird, I would suggest that one take a comprehensive approach to breeding and record everything they feel noteworthy about every bird in their stud:


As the selective breeder knows, color accounts for a lot in any bird.  It is the brilliant greens, bright reds, dazzling yellows and stunning violets in the peachfaced lovebird that immediately attract the eye and thrill the expert and novice alike.  How much color are you willing to lose when you seek height and length over color ? Do you have to lose color ?  Are you watching your feather shape, length and make up, as well as the physical shape and muscle on your bird ? Are you watching the chicks for color presentation early in their growth phase, and for broad, deep swatches of color on the head, throat and breast ?


Color can have no greater visual impact on someone than when they observe it on a bird that represents the best in the species: broad, full and rounded head merging into broad shoulders; strong wing carriage and no crossing of the wing tips; broad chest; tucked in beak; bright eyes positioned well in the middle of the head; overall muscular appearance from free flight; good solid stance on the perch; solid color and definition on the mask and forehead and finally a deep unbroken mask in proportion to the body length. 

(look to the African Lovebird Society and its "Standard" )


How does the champion behave in the aviary and around the show circuit ? 

A winner should exhibit the characteristics closest to the conformation and color requirements; be responsive to the judges commands to move from one perch to another; remain unruffled by pedestrian traffic and noise and sit strongly on its perch.  If it's a winner the bird will have that certain something that enables it to stand out to the judges and viewers.  What else could you need ?

A number of factors may enter into the " what else" response when assessing the "winner" for future breeding: Is it a promiscuous bird that is sought by and appears compatible with a number of hens ?  does it pursue the hens, or is it a bird that sits quietly on the perch and seems to avoid the hens ?  How many chicks does it father in a season and how good are the offspring.  Is it a heavy bird that doesn't move around much or is it a bird that is very active.  Does the size reflect feather structure, skeletal change or a combination of both.  What are the "brothers" and "sisters" of the champion like ... are they prepotent and can they pass on more homozygous traits than the champion ?

If you breed for, and keep records of all of these characteristics as you move gradually towards the Standard, you will truly have created a champion that you can be proud of.  If you have a great bird, but it is a sport or a bird selected because of a few outstanding characteristics where minimal attention was given to low vigor, poor fertility and little desire to breed, what have you really accomplished ? 

  • How timely and troublesome will it be to breed the characteristics back in?
  • How much further can you take this bird ?
  • Is artificial insemination an option  (is this process practiced or acceptable among lovebird breeders ?)
  • The second place bird is a prepotent cock with offspring who have inherited his and the hens superior qualities.  How long is your sport going to maintain its position on top if it can't produce offspring that are similar / identical or better than the second place bird.
Start properly with: a clear objective; a list of clearly desirable traits; a sound selective breeding program; the best foundation birds you can afford; a knowledgeable mentor; participation in shows and judging; a good food regime; take meticulous notes and persevere, and that winner will appear


How many of you thought that this would be the 1st characteristic on the list ?  After all, "big is beautiful" and "big is better"... right ? 

This particular trait does not appear as clear cut as some would think it should be.  Some breeders may view a large, robust (big boned) bird as the ultimate attainment, others may perceive a tall, slender lovebird as the goal, while others might prefer a well proportioned bird with intense color.  Whatever the objective, or the judge's decision on a given day, one should always breed to the standard.  However, there is no doubting that larger birds, if in full color and accompanied by outstanding conformation, will win hands down, unless they significantly exceed the standard.

Fertility may well be impacted by the size of an animal so be sure to watch this when seeking to produce big beautiful lovebirds


This is one aspect that breeders can watch carefully in their stud.  There is ample opportunity to assess vigor, fertility, egg laying, parenting, survival rates and the average percentage of outstanding birds.  The annual percentage (%) of outstanding birds is often not very high, and breeders may try to push production through fostering eggs, incubation or other means. 

Despite the low average, it may well be worth the agony of passing up a truly outstanding bird in favor of a slightly more vigorous brother that may lack that certain something, but has the vitality to produce superior offspring when paired correctly. As with any breeder, experience will  lead to a more technical and analytical assessment of your bird and how to pair it

Can or has the lovebird community taken a page from the budgerigar breeders in so much as some budgie breeders will try to run one outstanding male with a number of hens in order to see if something clicks in the offspring (prepotent cocks or hens do not require a special mate, they just pass on their traits.  However, some cocks and hens, even winners, require the right balance from the opposite sex to produce better offspring).  We know that lovebird hens are quite aggressive and the dominant one in the relationship.  However, there are also cases where a cock bird has had at least two females during breeding and produced well.  Can more be done and if so has anyone done this or have comment ?

In aviculture there is evidence for some species (chicken) that one male can service numerous hens and fertility rates can be exceptional.  However, as more males participate the fertility rate drops because of competition, interference during mating, damage to eggs and more.... Lovebirds have always been perceived as inseparable, and mated for life.  We know that this is not necessarily true in a captive environment.  Have lovebirds changed enough to be treated like budgies ? Anyone ?


Feathering:  something used by some of the more knowledgeable canary, and budgie breeders to improve their birds.  A few of the feather forms being talked about in the budgie, canary and lovebird world are described generally below.  Every bird appears to have a distinct (signature) feather form, so it will be the very observant breeder who is able to capitalize on these forms by combining structural composition with the feather form to generate a winner.

Yellow feathers:  small feathers differing in length and width.  Sparse down under the feather enables the feather to lie close to the body.  Hooks on the feather lock the feathers tight giving the bird a thin look.  Birds tend to be very active and fertile and buff feathering may be carried recessively by yellow feathered birds.

Buff feathers:  (buff x buff)
feathers are broad, coarse and lifted by a dense down on these birds. The visual appearance of the bird is stocky and wide and the wings may not sit properly because of the down and feather. The bird appears to slouch as a consequence of the feathering. The bird is less active and breeding buff to buff purportedly generates fewer chicks per nest, although some refute this. 

In the Lovebird world, many of us are aware of the Standard Type roseicollis ( a.k.a.: Longfeather) and the challenges associated with combining buff to buff.  In this instance it is not necessarily the feathering that causes problems, but rather the skeletal alterations that have led to larger bones and in some instances difficulty for hens in egg laying.  Consequently, "Buff" to "Buff" mating has not been encouraged, and neither has selection or breeding under two years of age. Opinions ??

Is the Standard Type roseicollis variety an example of the buff feathering ?  What do the chicks of a buff to buff budgie mating look like ?


Inheritance factors in the Peachfaced Lovebird

If one is going to breed birds, it is incumbent upon them to understand the manner of inheritance for different traits.  If you have been breeding for some time and have kept inheritance trends (dominant or recessive), observations or records of your results, please send them and I'll start up a page with information regarding preliminary observations and inheritance theory in lovebirds.  Some of the things you may have been working on might have included extracting autosomal recessives to obtain a new mutation or strain.  If so, what have you encountered ?  If you have any information or theories based on the statistical expression of certain traits that you are working with, please pass them on. Trends and observations are welcome for possible inclusion in a posted spreadsheet.  Some of the more familiar traits that people may have worked on or may be working on might include: the dominant or recessive inheritance of flat (usually male, but not always - in peachfaced) and round heads (usually female, but not always );  mask color, breadth and intensity (dominant or recessive), mask size and overall shape ( how do you select and inheritance); work on developing brighter or darker color hue and not just by dark factor mating, but through mutation combinations and selection.. which ones do you use ?

Does anyone have data on height, girth, longer feathers, wing position and any other traits that you can think of.

Any information that we can start to collect on peachfaced would be great. I note that the budgie world has a tremendous amount of information available and yet there seems to be little on lovebird "breeding and breeding methodology".

The Role of The Egg