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Saddlebacks
A New Mutation in the UK
Ghalib Al-Nasser

(Photos. Saddleback Cocks bred by G & J Al-Nasser)

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Best Rare Variety at the B.S. Club Show and SRVOS 2008

It is common knowledge that I have always been interested in colour mutations and specialist varieties during my 26 plus years of keeping and breeding Budgerigars. However, much to the surprise of many, this does not distract me from wanting to breed and exhibit quality budgerigars of the more normal and dominant varieties.

For many years I have heard of a few mutations in Australia that have never been introduced into this country; one such mutation is the Saddleback. Slides of this mutation were sent to me many years ago, but these were of poor quality. Therefore, when the opportunity presented itself to me to view these varieties when I was invited to lecture and judge in Australia in May and June 1994, I was fortunate enough to see the Saddlebacks as well as the Mottled, Faded, Dilute Greywings (the Australian version of the Clearbody), the Dutch Pied and most of all the Light Yellow (which is now extinct in the UK).

Origin

The Saddleback first appeared in the aviary of Les and Barry Ryan of Sydney during the 1975 breeding season. Barry informed me, when I met him at the Sydney Seminar, that he and his father mated a pair of Normal Skyblues to start a new line of Blues. In the nest of the first round, one chick started showing the Opaline characteristics. As the bird grew and feathered up, the Opaline characteristics became more evident in the head and the saddle area but the wing marking was different to that of an Opaline in so far as the ground colour of the wing was white and not that of the body colour as in the true Opaline.

It was also noticed that the wing marking was bi-colour with the shoulder region being grey and merging into black in the area of the secondary and primary feathers. However, as the bird left the nest and matured it was evident that the bird in question was a cock and could not possibly be a sex-linked Opaline as we know it.

When the Ryans asked for a second opinion, it was confirmed that the bird in question was different. As it was the only bird produced during that breeding season, they decided to pair it back to it's mother to reproduce its kind. Four chicks were produced from that mating; two being normals and the other two (both cocks) were the same as the father. In the following season hens were produced and the Ryans decided to keep the variety as pure as possible, hence very few outcrosses were introduced.

Genetics of the Saddleback

The Ryans soon discovered that this new mutation they had produced was recessive in its genetical make-up. Therefore, when two Saddlebacks were paired together, all the chicks would be Saddlebacks in both cocks and hens. Obviously, to get the variety in the Green series and the Dark factors, the Sky-blue Saddlebacks were mated to Normal Greens, Cobalts and Mauves and all the chicks produced were normals but split for Saddleback. The following season they mated the splits back to Saddlebacks and produced more Saddlebacks of the Green series, and Dark Factor birds in both Green and Blue series. So after a few breeding season the Ryans established this new mutation; the Saddleback.

Description

I was fortunate enough to visit the aviary of Pam and Vic Giles on the outskirts of Sydney and saw some 50 Saddlebacks. I was fascinated by the sight of so many of the variety in one stud I took many pictures of the Saddlebacks and when shown side by side with both Normals and Opalines, one can see the difference straight away. The Saddleback has, without a doubt, Opaline characteristics. The saddle or the V-area is clearly defined, not due to absence of any markings, by virtue of the fact that the markings in the saddle area are dark Grey on an otherwise normal background (black-marked) bird. The bird also resembles an Opaline in that the head markings are minimal but where they do appear they are also dark grey rather than black. I also noticed that the striations (zebra markings) of this Opaline were much more condensed than the proper Opaline. The rest of the bird, in so far as the body and tail colours, legs, beak, cere and eyes are all as any Normal budgerigar.

Further study of the ground colour of the wing led me to the conclusion that the wing is either white in the Blue series or yellow in the Green and not the body colour as expected in the Opaline variety. The colour of the wing markings could also be described as bi-colour. The markings in the shoulder region are greyish and merge into a definite black in the area of the secondary and primary flight feathers.

Obtaining stock

I left Australia interested in this variety as well as the Light Yellow (referred to as Black-Eyed Yellow). But to get them to this country was virtually impossible. By virtue of luck, I was judging the European Championship Show in Germany two months later and in front of me was a Saddleback. I mentioned this to my fellow judge Rienhard Molkentin and he informed me that he had obtained the variety from Australia a few years back and bred with them successfully. When he decided to leave Germany to live in South Africa he sold the entire stock of Saddlebacks to Wilfred Kopp. He further introduced me to Herr Kopp, and I was able to obtain two pairs from him in December of that year. The pairs were a visual Saddleback cock to a split hen and a split cock to a visual hen.

The 1995 breeding season proved quite fruitful. The first pair was very fertile and the norm was eight laid and eight hatched. I had three rounds from that pair and many Saddlebacks were bred. The Saddleback hen from the second pair never laid an egg but I was happy with what I produced. I exhibited examples of the variety at the Specialist and Rare Variety show, BS Club Show and the National that year. The 1996 breeding season gave me the opportunity to put down more pairs by using the split cock from the second pair as well as the first pair again. I also mated one Saddleback hen to a normal cock to produce more splits. Again the fertility was quite good.

Again, birds were exhibited in both the adult and young bird classes at the above shows as well as the new London and Southern Counties BS Rare Show. More interest was shown by those who appreciate new mutations and the lesser varieties.

Although the specimens that I have at the moment are small, there is plenty of room to improve the size by pairing them to quality normals in order to obtain the splits to improve the variety.

I also found the Saddlebacks produced in the medium and dark factor were more striking in appearance than their light factor (Light Green and Sky-blue) counterparts. I intend to keep the variety bred back to Normals only, without introducing any other variety into them such as Yellowface, Opaline, Cinnamon etc.

You may notice that the terminology "I" was used throughout this text. This is because my partner Janice, disowned that part of the partnership, but I am pleased that I have contributed something to this wonderful hobby of ours by introducing a new mutation into the UK called the Saddleback.

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Copyright Ghalib Al-Nasser 2000 all rights reserved.