The Longfeather is one of the more interesting lovebirds to come out of Europe in the last 10 to 15 years: of that, there can be little doubt. There is nothing like a good mystery in the bird world, and this one has all of the hallmarks of being that mystery. Why ?
For the answer, one has to look at the history of the bird and the current understanding of genetic inheritance and how far it can be pushed. Can it be manipulated to such an extent that a bird's shape, form and behavior becomes radically different ? I believe the answer is a qualified yes,
This page attempts to look at the Longfeather and see where and how it differs from the Standard. It will also express an opinion regarding the Longfeather's background, as many have done. Please remember that this is simply one opinion among many, and that there remain many unknowns in selective breeding (one of the few things that make the old timers stay in the game).
Having read about the Longfeather on the Internet, I am not at all surprised by the intense reaction it appears to have elicited from "pet", and perhaps exhibition breeders. The Longfeather is obviously a bird that stands (literally) head and shoulders above the competition. It exhibits good conformation and deportment, for a "larger" bird. Unfortunately, it also appears to suffer from the same "weakness" in feathering as do larger budgerigars, where coarse feathers interrupt the front and back-line and give the bird a somewhat unkempt or "shaggy" appearance. This is appearance is undoubtedly caused by the density of the down, which also makes it difficult to condition the bird.
The controversy that so often surrounds a bird of questionable inheritance is not unusual (i.e.; The Canary-Bullfinch cross is a good example), however, what is surprising is how long the Longfeather interest and debate has continued without resolution. To all appearances, the Longfeather's history continues to remain shrouded in fog, except in the few instances where someone states categorically that the bird is the result of aggressive selection. The excitement, of course, arises from our natural proclivity to question anything that looks too good or is, perhaps, substantially better than the birds in one's own stud. The questioning is exacerbated by the apparent secrecy and sudden appearance of the Longfeather as an exhibition strain (team), although some would suggest that the Longfeather has been around for quite some time.
The "lack" of documentation surrounding the Longfeather's pedigree or development is also highly unusual, in a world where breeders tend to be meticulous in keeping documentation on their bird's phenotypes and heritable influence. When no documentation exists, an experienced and successful breeder is usually able to quote his / her bird's lineage and inheritance value from memory. No information on the Longfeather, of this sort, has been shared with the Lovebird Community to allay concerns or fears.
Given the paucity of information, questions continue to be raised as to whether the Longfeather was aggressively selected for over a period of years, or whether it was in fact hybridized and required additional, extensive and aggressive selection. If it is a hybrid, it took some truly astounding skill to develop a bird with the characteristics of the Longfeather. If it was selectively bred, it also took a master's hand, as the number of "mutational aspects" associated with this lovebird are impressive, particularly when increased size appears to have been the primary objective.
The silence surrounding the Longfeather and what appear to be new "mutational" factors is at odds with the speed at which other, new peachfaced mutations are identified and reported to the rest of the world (e.g..; Whiteface, Danish Violet and Rose-head or Opaline). In fact, the Whiteface was still being bred to remove the apricot tinge in its forehead, when it started arriving in the Americas. How is it that a bird like the Longfeather was kept so quiet for so long ? Surely one would expect changes in color, iridescence and size to be discussed and explained after the bird was accepted by the rest of the world ? However, the silence continues.
Impact on the Fancy
People can not help commenting about the Longfeather's appearance, its skeletal structure, thick legs and color. It generates tremendous discussion and a variety of opinions and jealousies. It raises questions about how one goes about purchasing a bird of similar type, and re-awakens a general interest in shows. How do you measure / quantify those impacts ? Has it been good for the fancy ? I think we would be fooling ourselves if we said it had not. However, beyond the anticipated emotional response meted out when viewing the bird for the first time, there is a question of the practical impact of the Longfeather's introduction on the entire lovebird population. If it is a hybrid what are the consequences of mixing it with your pure stud ? Is purity a question of genetics or phenotype to you?
How can we raise questions about a bird that has brought new interest to breeding and raising birds. To question its origin would seem to be counter-productive or counter-intuitive wouldn't it ? Despite these feelings, we still need to know the origin of this variety.
When one considers the Longfeather as a purely pragmatic result of aggressive breeding practices, one quickly comes to realize that it must have been confined or isolated for a significant period of time. Given this, there is a strong probability that its genome might differ substantively from the wild and perhaps even "cage bird" population. That confinement and aggressive selective breeding would have had a significant impact on the Longfeather's overall conformation and genotype is unquestionable. We know that the Longfeather was bred foremost for size. If a breeder was selecting for size only, a very skillful breeder might experience significant improvement over a relatively short time period (5 years). However, the breeder would require a "solid / fixed" exhibition line if he / she was going to focus only on size enhancements for exhibition purposes. Many of us are aware of the length of time it takes a good transmutation to be considered "serviceable or marketable", let alone fixed or "solid". The Longfeather has been touted as a specimen generated under selective pressures, so one must assume that a polygenic trait such as size (depending on the standard deviation of that size from the norm) would take much longer than five years to attain, let alone fix in a show team or line of birds.
When we are asked to accept that several new mutations may have spontaneously presented themselves in a single variety, within a relatively narrow developmental time line, and without new characteristics or mutations being documented or recorded, it is very difficult to digest. Given the host of changes exhibited in this bird, the likelihood of the Longfeather being the result of a simple aggressive breeding method diminishes rapidly. Not disappears, just diminishes.
While we know that significant size improvements have been obtained in other avian species, such as the chicken, much of that increase has been attributed to the heterosis or hybrid vigor associated with crossing large specimens of different breeds or strains to the second or third generation (I will refrain from using too many genetic terms and will refer to offspring as 1st and 2nd generation versus the filial generation, which implies a much closer and sequential relationship) and selecting those offspring with desirable traits to establish a new "variety".
In order to generate a significant heterosis effect in a "closed flock" of lovebirds, a breeder would require several families or "strains" in order to:
Hybridization in the general population
A well established variety, strain or breed, kept from the normal population for an extended period of time, can become quite distinct from birds within the same species, as stated previously. What we are discussing is the ability of a parental generation to perpetuate or replicate its physical traits and form in such a way that they duplicate themselves in the offspring. This means generating homozygous individuals for desired traits: not one trait, but many, which results in an animal that is immediately distinctive by its significant difference in color, form and size from the "normal" population. A strain or line must be homozygous in order to produce similar offspring. Homozygosity does not imply dominance, only that genes for a desirable trait are paired and consequently, repeatedly express the traits selected for: sans modifiers or masking genes. Homozygotes may be be either dominant or recessive, and stated simply, this means genes are paired on the chromosome, although dominance also occurs with only one allele. The impact of alleles and crossover are another question, for another day.
The greater the number of paired genes, brought about by selective pressure, the greater the change from the "normal or nominal population", which is popularly held to be heterogeneous. Remember, when we work with a color mutants, we are "generally" only trying to replicate, selectively, one set of genes in the offspring. The more genes involved, the greater the complication in acquiring the desired type (prepotency [pedigree]). The prepotent animal will pass on traits that it exhibits in excelsis. Another animal, which may appear phenotypically superior, may not be able to pass on any desirable genes or traits to its offspring, despite being bred to the "best" (prepotent animal) of the opposite sex, in its own line. If you are having difficulty with these concepts, think about the wild roseicollis that evolved as a consequence of natural selection for size, form, color, speed and numerous other factors that keep it alive and well in the wild. On the other hand, people have kept that same species in managed caged populations for decades. Caged birds, kept in relative isolation from the wild population, are immediately (starting with the first offspring) subjected to a variety of artificially imposed selective pressures, whether intentional or unintentional, for numerous aesthetic traits. These traits are clearly the antithesis of survival traits. We can postulate with some degree of certainty, that the cage bird would disappear rapidly, if exposed to the same environment and predators as the wild population.
Despite the years in captivity, the overall form of the lovebird has not significantly departed from the wild type. In essence we, as breeders, have only "played" with a very few genes in the continual pursuit of fixing existing or new color mutant genes, and generating small alterations in size. Indeed the majority of these "changes" have been brought about through serendipity or what some would refer to as questionable or uncontrolled breeding techniques or matings. Breeders seek and recognize the value of the prepotent individual, knowing that they can come in many guises. However, one often hears of "good" birds, "pedigree" birds (champions) that do not reproduce their likeness, while birds that are visually inferior to these "pedigree" can generate tremendous change within a flock by passing on their traits "in excelsis".
The breeder who is truthful with himself, will often recognize that he or she has probably discarded many birds that might have been invaluable to their breeding program. Neither visual appearance or pedigree is a sure indicator of prepotency. The breeding game is one of luck, commitment, dedication and a willingness to progeny test and backcross your stock. Testing is best performed under tightly controlled situations and with excellent start up stock. The continuing efforts to develop birds that mirror the human "Standards " established for the lovebird and other species, speaks eloquently to the difficulty and complexity in generating what we "want" from an existing species, versus combining and selecting for traits that are already apparent in the population or have been brought about through natural or artificial selection processes: varieties (line, breed, strain) species or sub-species. Where have the traits or physical characteristics for the Longfeather come from ?
If the caged population is selected for color, size and docile behavior, and the population is cut off by import restrictions, how long does it take for that segregated or isolated population's genotype to differ significantly from that of the "wild roseicollis" ? If you were to cross a "wild roseicollis" with a bird from a select caged line, like the Lutino (following many generations of intense selection), would you consider the offspring hybrids ? Infertile ? Or are they simply lovebirds and fertile? What is your baseline for identifying or differentiating normal offspring from "hybrids" ?
We hear a lot of reference to crossing mutations back to "wild type stock" for vigor or hardiness ? Are we discussing wild roseicollis or caged stock that visually mimics the wild roseicollis ? Usually, people are referring to caged birds that look like the wild type. What does this cross really do in terms of heterosis ? In case you are wondering about the frequent reference in some literature to crossing back to the wild type or wild type stud, I will attempt to explain it (as I understand it), although some people will undoubtedly find this a little off-the-wall, to be polite:
We use the term "wild type" to represent the
dominant colors in the wild
lovebird. However, stock that remains in-country today should, by now,
be quite different genotypically from the wild roseicollis.
As stated earlier the initial selection process is sometimes an unconscious selection for animals that are not as flighty, aggressive or as alert as they are in the wild. This slowly shifts to improvement in color or form, while retaining the base coloration of the wild roseicollis (Wild type). A certain level of inbreeding probably occurs among unknowing pet owners and knowledgeable breeders. The significance of that change is unknown, as far as I am aware. The determination of variability would require a form of molecular phylogeny or DNA analysis to be conducted. We know that true varietal crosses in other species result in hybrids and heterosis. Thus, we can postulate that we will obtain some benefit from crossing a select line with a "wild type stud", and that we would achieve an even greater benefit or change by crossing with a wild "roseicollis". The challenge is bringing the genome of the wild roseicollis under control again, as this would be the stronger (dominant) genetic influence, and would impact much more than simply color and fertility.
The easiest method for assessing the degree of difference between a strain and the wild roseicollis would be to conduct reciprocal crosses between a "domesticated" lovebird, (that has not been subject to a wild bloodline infusion for 20 years or more) and a wild roseicollis, to determine the level of heterosis and phenotypic expression in the offspring. The offspring should, I would think, reveal how loosely we sometimes use and think of the term "hybrid" to describe something undesirable in our caged populations, and the fact that crosses between lines or varieties can indeed be beneficial. The following paragraph expands a little on this theme.
As we all know, when you cross one breed with another breed you obtain hybrids If we use dogs as an example, and cross a St. Bernard and an Irish Wolfhound they will produce "unusual" puppies, because both dog breeds are purebred in their own right. Are we concerned about the offspring "polluting" the purebred population ? No. Dog breeders are familiar with the purebred Type, and most people can recognize something slightly or substantively different about a cross (hybrid), whether it is the muzzle; tail position; eyes; ears; coat; feet or behavior. Thus there is little danger of a hybrid dog being bred back, unknowingly, into a purebred line and thus impacting the main population in a detrimental fashion. Some will say that crossing dogs does not generate a hybrid because they are from the same species: the pups are merely variants within the species. If you achieve heterosis with these pups is it hybridism ? At one time there was a belief that heterozygous animals were hybrids (color mutations) because of the departure from the norm.
Are bird crosses any more challenging to identify ? Not if it is a one time cross, but yes if the bird has been deliberately backcrossed with a particular species population to make it resemble that population to the nth degree. Think about transmutations and the difficulty people have in recognizing whether transmutations express natural coloring or coloring that has been transmitted. Most unwary buyers will take a liking to the color of the bird and buy it. That is as it should be, but I think they should know that it is a transmutation or hybrid. What do you think ??
The Longfeather appears to have been selected in phases of its development (Size in the first phase, and beneficial traits, other than size, in a second phase) for: head size; form; larger bones; dense down, intense coloring and other factors, to generate a truly outstanding "piece of sculpture". However, if it was initially selected for only one trait or maybe two, there is a strong possibility that we are talking about a degree of "hybridization" that could be related to, but distinct from crossing two clearly different species.
If the Longfeather is a hybrid, it should be sold as such, so that people know what to do to maintain the bird. If it is a hybrid and not being represented as such, could it be bred back into the general caged population and negatively impact a breeder's lines (where one might expect to see some "interesting chicks") ? What are the consequences of introducing a bird like this to the general population. The response you might give is why this site has a page dedicated to excess stock and how breeder deal with them.
Does the longfeather breed true ? In other words, when two Longfeather are crossed do they always produce large, intense offspring ? One would tend to think that the greater the "purity" of Longfeather adults (resulting from "selection") the greater the trait transfer and replication of adult physical form and color in the offspring ( "like peas in a pod"). The anticipated impact (heterosis) from a single trait crossover is often thought to be be minimal if birds are closely related through bloodline or selection (If birds differ in a number of genes, the offspring can vary widely in phenotype. The greater the difference in gene composition, the greater the variation in offspring). The Longfeather appears to be an aggregate of several interesting new mutations... at least from how it is described (and I am the first to say I don't know if the Longfeather really exhibits all of the differences that have been described or whether the descriptions exalt one or more traits present in the Longfeather). Have you seen the Longfeather, what do you think ? (please, send some information on the chicks/ offspring of the Longfeather and any observations you have made: color, size etc...)
I would truly appreciate the Longfeather breeder participating on this page and the site in general. I am sure many of us would like to understand the process used to develop the Longfeather. I am requesting your participation because the budgerigar breeder has had many challenges trying to develop color intensity in its bigger birds. Unfortunately, the overwhelming budgerigar experience has been that larger birds tend to be buff, and consequently lack the luster (bloom ? ) that was once associated with earlier exhibition budgerigars (now disparagingly referred to as "pet budgies").
On another note, budgerigar societies and breeder's still retain different opinions regarding the ideal or "standard" budgerigar size, some preferring smaller birds, while others encourage larger birds. How might I ask do the most recent size requirements mesh with earlier standards (Post 1951) ?
If the Longfeather is a select bird, the craftsman is not getting the recognition he deserves among his peers. Why has the bird's history not acquired greater press? If it is a hybrid, one only needs look a the hybrid "red" canary to determine how well it was received by the fancy to know why there would be problems identifying it as a hybrid. If the bird is a hybrid and is being introduced among the normal population in a random fashion, and has the potential to seriously impact the species (as nomenclature would generally identify species), there is a certain owness on the breeder to let that knowledge be disseminated so that the spread of hybrid genes can be averted, and other hybridizers are not vilified by later revelations. If it was simply an aggressive selection process from birds referred to as Agapornis roseicollis roseicollis, knowledge of that process would be equally interesting.
There are a number of people that have worked or are working with
transmutations in lovebirds, and quite frankly, I am surprised by the lack
of input and response the Longfeather has had in regard to its creation.
Where are the transmutation and hybridizing breeders... what are your thoughts
If we take a moment or longer, to look at the longfeather, we can see
that there are some very interesting component parts that require discussion:
In the budgerigar fancy, the selection for large head has proven to
be a continuous challenge. Progression or improvement in the skull
or head shape can be relatively slow, depending on your breeding philosophy
and approach. It still requires incremental selection, as far as I am aware.
The development of head and other factors in the Longfeather might have
been generated through:
So what can we say about the skeleton and leg diameter of the Longfeather ? The skeleton of this bird, when shown in its best light can only be called exceptional. Few of the flaws that one would expect in a bird of this size appear to be present, yet. I expect they will creep in over time as "breeders" try to work with a bird of undefined background. In fact, these faults may creep in very quickly, as breeders attempt to cross championship standard lovebirds with the Longfeather, in an attempt to transfer existing color from this highly desirable bird. However, it needs to be remembered that the lovebird standard calls for a smaller bird (shards of the budgerigar fancy ?) not a larger bird.
It is interesting that there is so little literature surrounding the Longfeather, given the volumes that surround, dare I say , the "common" lovebird ? Here is a bird that excels or at least is relatively good in shape and form, has little if any history of deficiency in bone (except excess) and musculature, and approaches the lovebird standard in everything but size. This is the bird "type" (size, coloring and feather) that the budgerigar enthusiast has sought since time immemorial and here we find a bird has popped up on the lovebird scene in Europe, and we see only one or two documents on the web about it... Why ?
The Longfeather has, purportedly, been in existence for in excess of twenty years. Who can provide more information on this bird and the selective breeding techniques utilized ? Not what is currently on the web, but the process and challenges along the way.. someone should know .
To be quite honest, the explanation of aggressive selection practices hardly begins to address the effort, time and knowledge that the capable practitioner must have put into the development of this bird. It is a life's work and if you read this, I salute you for it !
Unfortunately, the opposition to faults, over time, seems to have been softened considerably in the pursuit of a larger budgerigar. By rights many of today's faults should put a bird out of contention for the bench. The occasional development of a fairly good bird with size and head seems to be offset by the coarseness of feather, angle on the perch or those eye-sore faults such as dropped (hinged) tail, humped shoulder, hooping or roachback. Most often, however, a budgerigar breeder is disappointed by a large youngster with plenty of potential that turns into a "feather duster" (these birds often do not live beyond several weeks).
Can body size be increased through selective breeding: aggressive or otherwise? Yes, is the only answer one can provide, but it is the caveats that are telling. History and experience shows that the avian (fowl) body size can be increased quickly and dramatically, given the right stock and varieties. There are a number of ways, that were outlined above and I am sure there are more, but none of them seem to quite fit the development of the Longfeather variety and the number of "interesting" factors associated with it (primarily because it is guess work without a clear background)
People have staked their reputations on the Longfeather peachfaced not having been hybridized. That is fair. But in order to make that type of assertion, it is also necessary to know how and when particular traits came into being, That is usually communicated by a written pedigree or description of how the traits were derived. A good example of the communication necessary was exhibited in the way the "Opaline" or "rose- headed" lovebird was handled. Once identified, the bird was made known to the lovebird community and the question of its origin and hybrid potential were discussed and disseminated. Follow-up to findings were up-loaded to the web and people were informed as inheritance was established. The background of the bird was identified to everyone's satisfaction as was its pedigree as a lovebird. The offspring were identical to the parents in presentation of color and the people involved worked hard to respond and inform when and as issues arose. The Opaline too, has a sheen associated with the feather, but I am under the impression (perhaps incorrectly), that the sparkle in this bird is different than that in the Longfeather. Are there two intensity factors ? Can anyone comment on what causes the sparkle in the Opaline. Is it too, a result of edging on the feather ? Is the Longfeather simply a larger lovebird ?
The Longfeather's body is hidden by a heavier layer of down and coarse feathers, and as time goes on it appears that a distinct change is occurring in the Longfeather, where birds in various pictures appear more "ragged" and the feathers seem to lack the conditioning required for show. This may just be a consequence of when the picture was taken. I don't know what the Longfeather offspring look like in the nest, as I have stated before, but I assume they are larger than normal, as might be the eggs. If anyone can share specific information pertaining to the chicks, it would be helpful. Pictures will also be posted here (eventually) so that we might all take stock
|The bird is larger than the standard (S.L.)||Unusual in itself, when we look at the size of exhibition lovebirds versus the pet|
|The feathers are more coarse (Buff ?) than the S.L.||Was this the first case of buff... is it intermediate... do we know ?|
|The skeleton is larger than the S.L||Australian, English and American Budgerigars are recognized... what about the Longfeather|
|The skull is larger / broader||Broad and Flat. Why when the exhibition type is rounded and would obviously be a major selection point?|
|The legs are thicker and feet larger||Is this a mutation or simply a component of a larger skeleton ( budgerigars are bigger and heavier, sit lower on the perch and tend toward larger foot size as a consequence of increased size)|
|The forehead color stretches further onto the top skull||Is this a varietal trait - other varieties having to do with head color (Fischer) have been identified, why not this one|
|The feathers exhibit a color intensity factor||we are still learning about the dark factors and two violets, why is this one not being reviewed or is it? The "Opaline" or "Rose-headed" has a shimmer to it.. are these factors related? what do we know ? Is anyone writing about it ?|
|The color of the bird is at odds with the S.L||Is this color difference distinctive enough to be called a mutation or is it a result of the bloom on the feathers. To me it is still worth reporting and finding out more about|
|The mask drops further down the body and is broader||This is interesting as I have seen no mention of the size of the mask increasing as a consequence of the Opaline mutation... comments ?|
|Offspring reveal brighter color in the nest, and may have a better metabolism||These points are as important as red eyes or any other identifying characteristic, yet we nothing written about them, why?|
We have looked at a number of factors associated with the Longfeather lovebird that are something to truly wonder at. However, I find that there are a tremendous number of unanswered questions associated with this bird. There has been very little information provided for the lovebird community on the net. There have been refutations and obviously heated discussion surrounding the possibility that the Longfeather is a hybrid, but the process of selection has not been explained to my satisfaction and I dare say many of those in the lovebird community.
So where does this leave us ? It leaves us still guessing as to
the "development" of the Longfeather and what the offspring look like.
The page has identified some odd or questionable factors associated with
the bird that should have elicited significant attention on their own merit
versus simply as a component in the picture of a very distinctive bird.
I invite your comments and corrections, where I may have erred in my descriptions or thoughts