Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Text by Simon Degenhard, photos by Simon Degenhard, the late Stan Sindel and Athol Shelton.
This article was first published in Australian Aviary Life magazine in 2008.
In light of the unwavering popularity of Australian grass parrots, I have compiled a list of the Bourke’s Parrot mutations that exist in Australian aviaries. Most of them have been around for some time now, though in recent years some have started to become rather scarce, which should not be the case, as not only are normal and mutation Bourke’s beautiful little birds, but they have a wonderful, friendly nature and are so easy to cater for. As you can see from the accompanying photos there are some truly magnificent colours available and I feel that they are only going to get more popular in the future.
The mutations that I am aware of are as follows:
Cream: Also occasionally referred to as Yellow here and known as a Pale Fallow in Europe. It is a recessive mutation that first appeared in Australia around 50 years ago in the aviaries of Mr. Phillip Irwin of Speers Point, New South Wales, when in 1968 a cream chick was produced out of a pair of Bourke’s that was carrying excessive blue markings, though they were normal in all other respects. Unfortunately this chick did not survive to fledging. Over the next 10-12 years Mr. Irwin produced 6 more cream birds, with the sixth bird, that was bred in 1981 being the first hen.
Over the years many breeders have experienced what would be best described as unpredictable breeding results from this mutation that are not typical of mutations of recessive inheritance, leading to the belief that there could have originally been two distinct mutations that have been unknowingly combined.
One of the best strains of cream Bourke’s, in terms of colour and success rate is a line developed by Mr. Daryl Grey from the Hunter region of NSW, this line was produced by outcrossing a single cream bird with two unrelated normal birds.
They are a beautiful red-eyed pastel mutation that can vary in colour a great deal from bird to bird, with some birds showing considerably more cream colouration than others and some birds appearing almost yellow. They are easily sexed, as cocks tend to be much darker than hens. They are well established and have proven to combine well with other colours and in particular with the rosa.
Rosa: Also referred to as rose in Australia and opaline overseas. This mutation is sex-linked in its mode of inheritance and carries all the characteristics of a classic opaline mutation, hence why that is the name given to it overseas.
They have been present here for some 36-37 years and were first bred in Australia by the late Mr. Ben Quist, from Dapto, New South Wales around 1983-84. When Mr. Quist released the first rosa and split birds for sale in the mid 1980s they commanded very high prices, with coloured cock birds originally going for $3000 each! This was a very princely sum back then, especially considering we are talking about little old Bourke’s.
Some of the first birds to be released by Mr. Quist were purchased by 3 Victorian breeders, including Tod Osborne; these experienced aviculturalists then further developed the rosa mutation and through some intensive outcrossing were able to produce a strong, quality line of rosa Bourke’s. It was from here that this mutation really took off and birds were subsequently shipped from Victoria to every state in Australia.
In the late 1990s to early 2000s an Australian breeder, Mr. Dick Campbell developed a yellow-backed variety of the rosa Bourke, of which the best examples showed an almost completely yellow back in place of the normal pink back of the rosa mutation.
A blue-rumped variation of the rosa mutation was bred in Adelaide, SA in 1990. It was bred in the aviaries of Mr. Reg Collyer, who at the time was working with a strain of Bourke’s that carried excessive blue colouration.
The extent of the salmon pink colouration of rosa Bourke’s varies from bird to bird, as is the case with the colour variations in opaline mutations in other species.
The rosa mutation is well established and combines well with other colours, as is typical with opaline mutations.
Cinnamon: Sometimes referred to as isabel overseas. This is a true cinnamon mutation and as such it is sex-linked in its mode inheritance. They have been confused with cream and dilute mutations over the years and have unfortunately been interbred with them as a result.
They have been present in Australia since the 1960s, though have never been common and they remain quite scarce to this day. The first recorded breeding of such a bird is listed in the book, Australian Grass Parrakeets by the late Stan Sindel and James (Jim) Gill, as having been bred by Mr. Herbert (Stud) Baker of Sydney, NSW in 1962. Though it was not established from this source, and this mutation has popped up in a number of other collections since then.
They have plum coloured eyes when they are in the nest, that turn black as the birds mature. They are only subtly different to the normal bird in colour, being only a few shades lighter overall.
Recessive Cinnamon (normal eye): Stan Sindel also listed the breeding of a recessive cinnamon mutation in the previously mentioned book, Australian Grass Parrakeets. It was bred by Mr. Tony Pine of the Hunter Valley, in 1989.
Its colouration was typical of Cinnamon mutations, though it differed from the sex-linked Cinnamon in that it hatched with normal coloured eyes. It is unclear wether this mutation was developed any further.
Recessive Cinnamon (red eye): Another recessive cinnamon mutation is also recorded in the same book; this mutation also hails from the Hunter Valley region of NSW and first appeared in the late 1970’s. This mutation is red-eyed.
Dilute: Referred to as faded overseas. A recessive mutation that has been recorded on a number of occasions here and overseas. The most recent and comprehensive record in Australia comes from Mr. David White and Mr. Chris Hunt, when they recorded the breeding of dilute birds in 1995-96 from a pair of normal looking Bourke’s that were purchased at the beginning of 1995.
They are basically a lighter version of the normal bird, and they are distinctly different from the cinnamon in that they do retain some grey colouration in their plumage. They could not be considered as well established, at least not in this country.
Fallow: As many as three distinct fallow mutations have been recorded in Australian aviaries, all of which were most likely recessive in their mode of inheritance. In this mutation the normal colouration is only slightly diluted and they have red-eyes, which are retained throughout their life.
Stan Sindel stated in the previously mentioned book that the best example of a fallow Bourke’s that he had seen was a bird that was bred in 1989, in Adelaide. It is unclear as to wether or not any of these mutations have been established.
Recessive Pied: As the name indicates, this true pied mutation is recessive in its mode of inheritance. Birds with varying amounts of pied markings have existed in Australia for many years, though the majority of these birds have turned out to be acquired pieds and not true pieds, in that they did not pass on this colour trait to their progeny and are therefore in effect “one-off” birds.
This all changed when in the late 1980s Mr. Athol Shelton of Victoria, discovered what he thought was a lightly pied Bourke’s hen amongst a group of normal Bourke’s he had purchased from a local breeder. This hen had white patches on the end of two toes.
It was originally thought that this mutation was semi-dominant; this was due to the number of apparently normal birds that were bred from the original hen and her son/grandson, though after a number of breeding seasons it was discovered to be recessive.
In this mutation, as is the case with a number of other recessive pied mutations, such as pied Rainbow Lorikeets, a percentage of the splits bred are in fact visual splits and not light pieds as was first thought.
The original hen was mated to a normal cock; this pair produced two normal cocks, one of which was subsequently paired back to its mother. The mother-son combination produced a number of young including a cock with approximately 60% pied feet. This bird was then paired up with its mother for the next breeding season; a number of breeding seasons ensued with very poor results being achieved, possibly due to the degree of inbreeding within this pair.
Then in 1994 a pair with pied feet hatched a true pied chick, that not only had white feet and legs, but 40% of one of its wings was also white. This bird unfortunately died in the nest and another three years went by before another pied bird was produced. It was from this beginning that this mutation was eventually established and pied birds have now been produced over 20+ generations.
As is the case with pied mutations in other species, the amount of pied markings present varies from bird to bird, with some birds showing extensive pied markings in the wings and tail and others only displaying one or two white feathers.
As a direct result of Athol’s dedication, this mutation is progressing further with every breeding season and birds are being produced with a greater percentage of pied markings every year.
They have been combined with the rosa mutation and subsequently pied rosa Bourke’s have been produced. They should prove valuable when combined with other mutations as well and I can only imagine that some very attractive colours will result.
Lutino: A sex-linked mutation, it is a very beautiful bird that is predominantly soft yellow in colour, but also displays white and pink colouration. As with other sex-linked mutations they have red eyes, and they are a true lutino mutation.
They are present in Australia in small numbers, and I believe that once they become firmly established and available, they will prove to be a very popular addition to the Bourke’s mutation stable. They are common in Europe and America and have proved to combine very well with other colours.
Pink: This is a secondary mutation that is the result of combining the rosa (sex-linked) mutation with the cream (recessive) mutation; it was first developed in Australia around 33-35 years ago.
It is a striking mutation and it caused quite a stir when it first became available in any numbers in the early 1990s. They are as their name suggests, a predominantly bright pink bird, though the flights and tip of the tail are much darker, almost brownish grey. Their face is whitish and they have red eyes. They are well established and have always remained popular.
Blue: There are reports of birds that carried more extensive areas of blue around the crown, wings and rump; these have been recorded both in Australia and in Europe and in fact Stan Sindel wrote in his book, Australian Grass Parrakeets, that the first example of this colour variation was discovered in 1904. It was a wild caught bird and its skin was eventually donated to the Australian Museum.
Birds displaying varying degrees of blue colouration throughout their plumage have also been bred on a number of occasions, though in the past, success with regards to breeding further blue coloured birds from them has been very limited. That is until recently anyway, as I am now led to believe that an Australian breeder has had some very encouraging, albeit early success with a new strain of blue coloured birds in recent years and has now produced a small number of them.
Although far from certainty, this does represent a big step forward with regards to this colour variation becoming established in the future. Exciting times lay ahead, that’s for sure.
NOTE: Since the compilation of this article it has been reported that a true blue mutation has been bred by a NSW aviculturist; if this proves to be the case and the mutation is established this will no doubt mark a new chapter in the Bourke’s mutation story book.
Recommended reading: For further and more in depth information on Bourke’s Parrots and their mutations, Stan Sindel and James (Jim) Gill’s book, Australian Grass Parrakeets is highly recommended reading. It is an absolute wealth of knowledge and a must have for anyone who keeps or is planning to keep these wonderful little birds.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the late Stan Sindel, Paul Henry, Tod Osborne, Athol Shelton and Daryl Grey for their assistance with the compilation of this article.
Sindel, Stan and Gill, James 1992
Australian Grass Parrakeets
SINGIL PRESS PTY LTD
P.O. Box 9, Austral, NSW 2171
Dr. Campagne, Alain 2008
A Guide to…….
Neophema and Neopsephotus
Genera and Their Mutations
English Revised Edition
P.O. Box 6288, South Tweed Heads
NSW 2486 Australia
Australian Birdkeeper Magazine - various issues
Rosa Bourke's pair
Recessive Cinnamon (normal eye)
Recessive Cinnamon (red eye)
Male Pink Bourke's Parrot
Female Pink Bourke's Parrot
Bourke's Chicks - Pink on right, Rosa on left