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Hybrids & Inbreeding

Hypocrisy In the Avian World
Inbreeding and its Consequences
 Are Inbreeding and Hybridization ETHICAL. ?


Before one enters into any discussion around ethical breeding, it is vital that the individual fully understand why they support a certain position, and that their position is based on their own experiences and understanding.  This will result in a discussion which will be more valid than simply saying "he said" / "she said" or  "X" is an expert and believes: " Inbreeding and hybridism detracts from the real aviculturalist's pursuit and threatens our caged bird populations".

You are welcome to formulate and share your opinion on this site, and to question any statements, located on this page, that you believe are troubling or just plain wrong.  What follows is a personal view,  but I would be pleased to consider a different position on inbreeding and hybridism, if an opposing, rational point of view or stance clearly identifies that the thoughts and statements made below are false or cannot be legitimately extrapolated or interpolated from existing information and data.

Some of you may wonder where I stand with regard to inbreeding and hybridizing, given this web site.  The unequivocal response is that I believe that inbreeding and hybridizing are essential elements in well rounded breeding programs, where the objective is more than simply pairing birds for color mutation production or pet production.  I also believe that people should be educated about the practical realities of inbreeding and hybridizing so that they will always attempt to clearly identify their hybrids, and thus do everything in their power to ensure that the birds are not unknowingly introduced into someone's "pure" line or population.

For hybridizers: if the birds you are developing fail to express the qualities you seek, rogue them out and dispose of them.  Those who do not like this approach are welcome to offer alternative suggestions.  However, please remember that if a large number of hybrids suddenly enter the pet market, the possibility of your own stock being negatively impacted, increases exponentially.  The alternative to not disposing of intermediate hybrids is unpalatable.  However, the perceptions that appear to be most prevalent among aviculturalists, are that hybridizers and inbreeders sell their stock into the pet trade without due regard for the impact.  This is one of the reasons hybridizers, ethical and unethical, work in anonymity and shun the derision and sometimes, mis-directed outrage of their contemporaries.

In any event, one rarely sees many hybrids in the pet trade (dependent on where you are and the level of activity), so obviously some individuals are conducting their work properly.  The inadvertent crossing of species by novices, and the consequential sale of young hybrids to the pet market, probably accounts for a large percentage of hybrid identifications (although there is no evidence to substantiate this statement).

However hybrids are disposed of, it is still vital for people to face reality, a reality that not all breeders have the same dedication or approach to preservation of "pure" species and hybridization as others.  Some will want to recover expenses for food and shelter from the pet trade, and will, unfortunately, sell hybrid stock as a new color or new mutation.  In my opinion this is unethical behavior and it should be stopped, as it does increase the danger of "polluting" the larger lovebird population.  Conversely, it may be the only way to achieve a "hybrid" objective, given food requirements and time (is it ethical or unethical if no alternative presents itself.. is selling diseased birds or potentially diseased birds to wholesalers ethical? ).

The ethical questions that apply to hybridism, are not the same as those for inbreeding and the development of varietal strains or color mutants, where birds originate from within the same species.  These returns to the pet trade would only serve to combine the varietal genome with the proverbial, heterozygous, "primordial" species genome: where the varietal genome exists in a less concentrated (random) form.

This page exists to provide the right of "freedom of speech" for those individuals who have dedicated their lives to the creation of new variants or hybrids, that we all enjoy, despite the highly questionable and hypocritical position that some take with respect to hybridization and inbreeding.  The Longfeather is an excellent example of hypocrisy in the bird world, as many believe the bird to be a hybrid (primarily because of its questionable origin and unusual appearance), but they still purchase and breed it

There can be little doubt that inbreeding and hybridization are some of the most controversial topics in the bird world.  The majority of people tend to shrink away from talking about these subjects for fear of being perceived as a "supporter" of a generally despised activity.  Some, at least, are "indifferent" to the practices that others undertake, and are unwilling to pass judgment if these practices lead to a new and desirable phenotype.  Hopefully, we can generate some discussion around these subjects and improve everyone's understanding of hybridism and the application of inbreeding.

On another note, I personally, do not like individuals who profess to love birds, work with volunteer  organizations, and undertake to prevent certain web sites from being represented on "their organization's" web pages.  This could be perceived, by many, as a form of electronic censorship in a medium (Internet) that is used to support free speech.  I also happen to believe that this type of activity is a gross disservice to the lovebird and other avian communities, and to the organizations and members that these people work for.  If you are one of those that refuse to recognize this site or sites like it on your organization's web page, perhaps you should reconsider why you are volunteering to look after link submissions.

For me, it is the lack of education and discussion around inbreeding and hybridization that has generated the secrecy and misinformation which surrounds them.  The fear is so ingrained, that people feel they need to dissemble or lie in order to respond to questions about their successful breeding practices.  Instead of saying success is based on inbreeding (where it may be), they will say that their success is based on line or family breeding.  Perhaps, recognition of the efforts and personal trials that people face, in undertaking avian challenges (creating new phenotypes or colors) should be rewarded and recognized instead of being despised ?

Do avian web sites really want to educate their membership, or do they merely want to serve as a marketing medium for other breeder's birds, and leave the controversial issues to fester in the dark or be smothered by misguided attempts to shelter people from something some view as inappropriate  ?   Shouldn't an ethical or equitable approach to avian education require a balanced presentation of facts (pros and cons), for those opposed to, and those supportive of, certain avian breeding practices ?  Even before we begin an ethical discussion surrounding inbreeding and hybridization, there is a serious question about ethical practices involved in web site hosting (links) for avian clubs, organizations and societies.

Do you have the courage to open up and question the role and value of inbreeding and hybridizing in your avian community or LIST or will you be one of those opposed to education ?  Would you rather support ongoing efforts to hide the perceived "seedier side" of our hobby ?

Hypocrisy In the Avian World

If we look at the historical development and domestication of birds, we can readily perceive of early humans obtaining wild birds in the following manner:

Many bird species would have, eventually, been domesticated and kept, sold or bred for food.  Over time a color mutation may have occurred and perhaps an individual or individuals began to think of altering the color themselves.  Perhaps it was a physical mutation that awoke the human desire to "engineer" a new form or color.  However it began, once the concept was established and success achieved, it was only a matter of time until the ability to engineer an unusual bird led to "practical" breeding and exhibition standards. Over time isolated flocks would have become select lines or varieties, as settlers or farmers began to more carefully select their chickens for egg production, and perhaps certain physical attributes that were intriguing or aesthetically appealing to them.

At the same time, people in towns and cities, with spare time on their hands (usually the higher echelon of society), were actively pursuing hybridization, crossing or inbreeding of stock to generate or engineer a new bird color or type, much as history shows us in canaries, finches, pigeons and chickens.  Tremendous strides were achieved, through practical breeding efforts, and a number of new varieties and hybrids were engineered in various species.  These early days could be defined as the hey-day for new mutations, crosses and hybrids, and where the imagination and creativity of people was left to run unchecked.

Many of the amazing bird varieties that we see today, in the domestic market or pet trade, are the result of hybridization or inbreeding.  Over time, however, some have come to see these varieties as pure, and not the result of what they might now consider questionable crosses or inbreeding.  Instead they see these "pure" birds as something that must be maintained, in all their splendor and specialty characteristics.  This is not to say that varieties or mutations have not been lost, for most assuredly they have.  In most instances it would seem that prettier, brighter or more economically viable avian variety will emerge to replace an existing variety.  The clamor for new birds with higher aesthetic or economic value saw the loss or replacement (not in all instances, but certainly many) of earlier varieties or specifically, the progenitor varieties.

Today we "Oohhh", "Awwww" and "Ahhhhh"  at the variety of chicken, canary, budgie, finch and pigeon color and form, anywhere that an avian specialty or open show is held.  The vast array of color, size, feather, sound and form that momentarily overwhelms the senses of the novice, should be incomprehensible to someone opposed to inbreeding or hybridization (transmutation). Without the role of the practical breeder and the support of their admirers and an awe-struck public, little of the variation could have been achieved.  In many ways, if only "pure" species (and I have yet to see a definition which encompasses, definitively and quantifiably, what a "pure" species is) existed for these shows, we would be looking at only a few colors, instead of the 256, 1,000 or 1,000,000 color palette we have so fortuitously been provided with today.  Is the artist satisfied with a 256 color palette or does the artist always seek another combination or hue to offset or hi-light something and evoke an emotional response ?  The charcoal or black and white photographer does not utilize just black and white, but a myriad of tones, shades and hues between black and white.  People react viscerally and intuitively to color or its lack, and we all wonder aloud at the the presence of sun dogs or a rainbow following a rainfall.  How then, can we truly say that we would be happy with only a few ("pure") wild colors in our birds, when we know so much is possible.  Can you imagine a world with only "pure" or primary colors (white; red; blue; black  etc...) ?  No blending, suffusion, dilution, flush  or glow on any color ?  I cannot.  For this reason alone, I am thankful for those that have pursued the "art" of hybridization and inbreeding.

Inbreeding and its Consequences

"Inbreeding birds is wrong.  I don't care to discuss it!"  This is the typical response from people who have established or formulated their position on inbreeding from a very cursory brush with it.  You may hear people talk about the fact that they let their birds cross (once!).

If indeed such reports are true, the birds were more than likely already highly inbred and mating back to the parental bird only served to identify that both hen and or cock carried deleterious genes.  If this breeder had not given up, and had kept breeding the birds, she / he may well have developed a bird that would have met his / her expectations, and which may not have carried deleterious genes.  The question in this case is more about gene linkage probabilities and compatibilities (much more would have to be known about the background of the hen before one could conclude that breeding results would always be the same).

Selling birds that are known to carry fatal or lethal gene combinations is, to me, unethical.  These bird should be put down or kept and stopped from breeding.  Obviously fertility was not the issue with the inbred birds, above, but rather the interaction of genes and their expressivity.  A few nests would have identified the dominant, recessive or polygenic inheritance of the traits and enabled the breeder to potentially break through the barrier created by the particular gene combination or question the practicality of further breeding.  Quitting at the first sign of a problem is not usually the first response of a breeder.  More often than not, people try to find out what has gone wrong, and whether it can be corrected.  The usual response however is: "Don't inbreed the birds anymore, outcross to unrelated or wild type birds".   There is nothing wrong with this advice, unless, the purchaser bought the birds for a specific characteristic or attribute: their stance, presence, color or form.  In this case the buyer will expect to produce birds with a similar phenotype.  Outcrossing will slowly or rapidly (depending on the extent of inbreeding and gene fixing that has occurred) move the buyer away from the phenotype he purchased.  If both birds have a genetic problem, it may be very difficult to overcome, but it is well known that 1 out of 10 or 11 families is all that is left after a selective breeding program is initiated, due to the concentration (homozygosity) of genes (a very small number indeed, when one thinks of the permutations associated with only a few alleles) in the desired bird type.

Unfortunately, it is usually the inexperienced or frightened individual who lacks the tenacity to see something through to the end, that starts the horror stories one has come to associate with any form of inbreeding.  In some instances it may not be the tenacity of the breeder at all, but rather a very strong emotional or nurturing character that cannot stand to see something done to an animal that results in pain, discomfort or long-term. This is exacerbated by their unwillingness to put the bird down (similar to those who don't believe it ethical to stop birds from having a mate and producing offspring.  These individuals are soon overrun by birds and are at a loss as to know what to do). I don't believe, for a minute, that this empathy, fear or concern for animals is the sole realm or province of bird lovers, anti-vivisectionists, animal rights activists or the humane society.  I would suggest that those who practice the art of inbreeding or hybridizing are not at all the unfeeling monsters that some like to portray them as, but instead quite the opposite, and that for the majority the ethical behavior is of a very high standard.

Those opposed to inbreeding and hybridizing will ask: How can these 'people" be what you portray them to be when they knowingly subject chicks to horrible deformities or diseases that would only occur infrequently if at all in the wild.   It is the inbreeding that causes the disease or mutilation of  chicks !   It isn't ethical!!

The previous statement is the essence or foundation of the argument for those opposed to inbreeding, for any reason what-so-ever.  The simple response is that we agree to disagree and move on with our own activities.  Unfortunately, it never stops there, so lets point out some facts that we can hopefully all agree to.

Are Inbreeding and Hybridization ETHICAL. ?

I believe that the only answer to this question is a resounding YES !

Discussing ethics requires the ability to conceptualize or understand the difference between right and wrong.  In other words moral and amoral actions.  We use these terms to define what is considered acceptable in a civilized society.  Despite definitions, morals have ebbed and flowed with time and are under greater pressure today than ever before.  People are more free then ever before and often leave the overwhelming scrutiny and sanction of a small town for the anonymity of a large urban center.  We continue to cling doggedly to our own perceptions of right and wrong, but see those tenants twisted and altered with the passing of years and increased access to freedom of information.

What does this have to do with inbreeding and hybridizing?  Mores change with time and needs.  As stated before, farmers, colonists and settlers undoubtedly inbred their stock because there was no alternative.  People in the cities and towns crossed and hybridized their animals because they wanted to have a variety named after them or because they could, depending on the species and the speed of generational turn over.  Tremendous activity (inbreeding and hybridizing) occurred over a specific period of time, and then some organizations began to place a different emphasis and awareness on the processes used to acquire or develop new varieties or hybrids.

Human morals and ethics began to be applied to the birds we breed.  Pets became humanized, and the length of their lives (15 - 20 years or more) added to our beliefs that our birds are special and intelligent (as they are !).  Civilized human beings have taboos and cultural restrictions against incest or inbreeding, so there was absolutely no reason that these same proscriptions or prohibitions should not apply to our birds - or so the reasoning seemed to go.  Anyone performing, promoting or supporting such an activity (inbreeding) must, consequently, be considered highly questionable (breaking with moral law) in the eyes of the general population.  Unfortunately, we do not ascribe this same humanization to our domestic animals, enabling them to be inbred and hybridized in order to provide us with more economically acceptable food basics.  Somehow and somewhere domesticated animals were left to fend for themselves, while we focussed on "protecting" our pets.  Is that ethical ?

We know that birds hybridize and inbreed in the wild and there is far more of it than we can account for or perhaps would want to believe.  The number of species that do this is remarkable.  Most often, it is where species overlap, but that does not mean it cannot happen anywhere.  There is a relatively common understanding that animals (species) that live in groups and are highly social tend to be fairly closely related, the more social and the smaller the group, the closer the relationship.  Do those who believe inbreeding and hybridizing is immoral and unnatural, see these "natural" relationships between "species" or within family groups as unnatural and unethical ?  Are these animals uncivilized and expressing their base instincts ?  Or are they only wild animals performing those acts dictated by the natural instincts ?  If so, when did our domesticated birds transcend these natural proclivities and become so "civilized" that we must force our own "civilized" thoughts, actions and taboos on them ?  Why, at the first opportunity do they revert to their baser instincts ?

Some will respond that the reproductive activity is irrelevant, and that I am poking fun at a "serious" issue.  Fun or not, is it any more unethical to select which bird mates with which, or even to take these animals from their natural surroundings?  Why do people worry so much about hybridism, if the offspring between two different species, if the species are infertile.  Unfortunately, here in lies the problem.  A problem based on: silence; educational gaps and little desire to question; inflexible moral and ethical positions, and a basic misunderstanding of genetics and Nature's ability to overcome tremendous barriers through selection and survival mechanisms.  While the hybrid may or may not be perceived to be fertile, depending on the species, there is always a potential for one of the sexes if not both, to be potentially or fully fertile.  These hybrid offspring may also appear to be infertile when backcrossed with the adult or parental generation, but that does not exclude the ability of hybrids to be fertile inter se (with each other: after all, these hybrids should share relatively similar chromosomal patterns).

In fact, it is quite easy to see how crosses between the hybrid F1 generation, in a wild or captive species, might lead to a significant change in form or color, that could enable this new and developing hybrid (potential new "speciation" ?) to adapt to changing environments.  This also implies that existing "species" may, over time, be replaced by a developing variety and its much later 'speciation" (if the hybrid mutation is better adapted to the specific changes in a developing niche or niche resulting from a catastrophic event).

If indeed there are a substantive number of avian species that are able to cross and produce viable offspring, the question that must be asked, is not whether hybridization is ethical, but perhaps if an error in classification has been made.  The fertility of hybrids inter se suggests that there are more interesting questions regarding species development and success than a given set of chromosomes at a certain time in history.  There is a question of what possible use a single pair or multiple pairs, of hybrids could have on an existing species.  There are indeed few accounts, if any, of the success of a single pair of animals evolving into a "species".  Certainly none that are fully documented and substantiated. However, one has only to look at the example of the Cheetah to see the possibilities.  Based on some scientific work, there are those who believe, from similarities in the genotype, that the entire population may have evolved from a single surviving pair (was this pair from an existing population or a hybrid with a new and adaptable or survivor characteristic ?).  How did this pair create a population if not from extensive inbreeding and linebreeding?  If this is indeed what happened in the case of the cheetah (and this is mere postulation with absolutely no evidence to support it), are hybrids in fact an integral evolutionary necessity in the development of a species and its ability to adapt to change or are they simply an evolutionary dead end ?   An evolutionary dead end does not seem to fit with the potential, inestimable, value of a single pair of hybrids.  Will genes be lost ? Yes.  Does the gene loss need to be significant in order to enable a substantive change in form, color or behavior, over time?  Not necessarily.

We know that the end goal of inbreeding is to generate birds that are essentially clones of the parental generation and that at some point the birds reach a state where continuous inbreeding (brother /sister) no longer results in common lethal recessives or any form of mutation.  These "lines" will not express, as far as I am aware, another lethal trait unless a random, significant, mutation in the chromosome occurs or there is some other physical mutation to the chromosome, over time, that introduces a new challenge to survival.

If the previous paragraph places hybridization in a different light, how is the potential evolutionary and ethical value of hybridization or inbreeding measured ? As always, there will be those who are fundamentally or "scientifically" opposed to such a gross interpretation of hybridism and inbreeding, based on standard genetic and biological education.  Some interesting points follow (Do you believe they are fact or fallacy... comments??)

Many of those beliefs we harbor and hold dear, about our birds, are, with closer scrutiny and research, often proved to be mistaken.  Females and males are not always monogamous, but rather quite polygamous.  Both sexes seem to retain their original mates, while seeking multiple sexual partners after the first nest or two.  This sexual activity certainly has the potential for optimizing gene transfer, in the wild, whether it is perceived as ethical or unethical by us.  Furthermore, hens and cocks do mate with their offspring, even when there are unrelated, unattached females and males available for them.

Our penchance for placing pairs in cages and selecting mates, enforces the belief that our birds are monogamous.  These breeders, however, often the same ones that appear to oppose inbreeding and hybridization, will unceremoniously destroy the loving pair bond, in order to produce specific color mutants.  Some matings are successful, others are not as successful, but we keep doing it because it is considered acceptable practices.  All right, but is it ethical to attack one form of breeding while placing another faux breeding mechanism as the summit of ethical breeding ?  Does no one question the ethics of breaking up a pair in a species considered monogamous, or crossing multiple color mutants to create a new color blend, to satisfy their curiosity or generate further economic gain ?  Why are these actions considered so acceptable, when other activities are not?

How many people are trying to purchase the Opaline lovebird, Australian Cinnamon, Orangeface or Japanese Yellow.  How does this demand compare to requests for the wild colored lovebird and the American Yellow ?  Not surprisingly, everyone wants the latest and newest color (because it is new and because there can be considerable economic benefit from producing it).  The green (wild color) lovebird, American Yellow and Lutino have all bottomed out (some would say stabilized) in economic value.  Something new is needed.  Is it a new mutation ?  Is it a hybrid ?  Is ethics really the issue ?

"Experts", continually identify the need for a stud of wild colored birds for anyone wanting to hybridize or breed properly.  Where are these clear, single mutation wild colored studs.  If they exist, I am not aware of them.  The desire for new color quickly leads to blending these wild color birds with a new mutation in order to strengthen those "weak or sickly mutations" or add form and size to the new mutation.  Once completed, the wild color is usually sold or disposed of due to room requirements.  This is not often carried out by large scale breeders, but by the pet bird owner, who wants something different or is curious as to the result of a certain cross.  Unfortunately, if some of the mutant colors are diluters, the original color may never be recovered, particularly if the original mutation is rare.

It is wonderful to see that some organizations are seeking to mate and keep lines pure in the rare species, but it is also necessary to retain a quantity of past mutations so that they don't disappear.  Some will say that as long as a color is present in some of the mixed mutations it will always be recoverable.  This may or may not be so, depending on what has happened with other genes in the slow evolution of the domesticated bird.

What  is ethical ?  I suppose it depends on what one is talking about and where one wants to go.  Can inbreeding and hybridizing be ethical.. YES.  Can inbreeding and hybridizing be Unethical ? YES.  Like anything we have, it is how the knowledge is utilized, not the practice.  Please consider this point, and if you feel that it is indeed a question of education and discussion of the pros and cons, please inform others of this site and ask them for input and suggestions for topics.