DTI001 20_12_17 

Bengalese Finches
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Unclear beginnings

The spangle mutation is now a well-established budgerigar, but where did it come from? Some years ago, top Australian champion JOHN SCOBLE offered his theory to Roy Stringer

Intense: a double-factor spangle cockIntense: a double-factor spangle cock

SEVERAL misleading articles have been published about the origins of the spangle. Some writers have even claimed that they could identify the parent birds. I am certain that we will never know what they were. Almost certainly the first breeder did not even realise that it was a new mutation.

According to the late Frank Gardner, a budgerigar breeder of high repute, Mr Jones of Victoria, Australia, was the first to recognise that they were something new and acquired a number of them.

After a period of colony-breeding in 1977, they came to the notice of the Budgerigar Council of Australia. The first examples to be seen in public were exhibited in Melbourne. Mr Jones presented Frank with a pair and Mr Gardner became the first exhibition fancier to breed spangles.

He is absolutely meticulous with his record-keeping and I tend to dismiss many of the word-of-mouth histories that I’ve heard. I prefer to depend on his written records.

It is acknowledged by customs officials that eggs of many varieties of birds are smuggled into Australia every year. It is said that three recessive pieds entered the country for the first time in that way in the early 1970s. That was a couple of years before the first spangle appeared.

The link between radioactivity and mutations is well known and I followed up this line of investigation. Airport luggage passes through X-ray checks and there was a radiation scare over Victoria around that time. I checked with a poultry research centre and was assured that the levels of radiation involved could not have caused a recessive pied to mutate into a spangle. That was the end of that line of thought.

But I still find it strange that, unlike some other mutations, the spangle did not occur in more than one location at around the same time. The fact that A. Brown, of Sydney, bred the first dark-eyed clears in Australia from a recessive pied still makes me wonder whether there could be a link between spangles and recessive pieds.

The spangle mutation appears to be unique in that it possesses a factor that re-arranges the pigment within each feather. In addition, it has a recessive modifier that acts as a diluting agent when inherited from both parents – so creating the almost clear double-factor spangle. This phenomenon exists in no other mutation. The first double-factor spangles bred by Frank Gardner displayed no ghost markings on their wings or body-colour suffusion when in nest feather.

Dark-eyed clear: does this mutation’s origin offer a clue to that of the spangle?Dark-eyed clear: does this mutation’s origin offer a clue to that of the spangle?

I have found that the markings on most single-factor spangles reduce in intensity at every moult. Yet the opposite is true of double-factor spangles whose wing markings and body colour intensify with each successive moult.

I have found it frustrating that you can have markings that approximate to the ideal on nest-feather spangles only to see them fade with time. I feel that successions of single-factor spangle to normal matings have contributed to this problem. This type of mating could also be the reason for the loss of distinctive spangle features such as the target-shaped spots and split-coloured cheek patches.

In a lecture at the Budgerigar Society Convention some years ago, I recommended using double-factor spangles in breeding programmes. Experience has shown that this approach produces better-marked single-factor spangles. I have photographs that show just what has been lost. The early spangles had brighter body coloration and distinctly marbled wings. Their flights had dark edges that accentuated the outline of the whole budgerigar.

What can be achieved was clearly demonstrated by experiments that I carried out with Neville Seage and Gary Hunter of Sydney. Their contribution to the studies of the spangle mutation was absolutely invaluable.

We found that when a wild budgerigar cock was paired with an exhibition spangle hen the progeny displayed all the beauty of the first mutated spangles. Even though the chicks were coarser feathered and carried more down than the wild bird, their spangling was superb – truly encouraging results.”


Roy Stringer has written regularly for Cage & Aviary Birds since 1972 and is a life member of the Budgerigar Society.

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