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Cockatiel Mutations

Written by Amy, flyingduster

So you hear about these different colors and patterns, but how do you tell them apart, and more importantly, what type is YOUR bird!?

Firstly there are three different types of mutations. One that changes the color of the bird, one that changes the color of the face markings, and one that changes the pattern.

Color Variations

We'll start with the colors. There are 6 different recognized color variations. There are occasional claims of other colors, and many of the colors have other names, but these are the colors and names that are recognized by all the cockatiel and bird societies.

Normal Grey is the natural color that cockatiels are in the wild. A mature male will have a dark grey body everywhere except for the white stripe on each wing, the bright yellow face and crest, and the orange cheek spot. The tail may be lighter than the body, but it is still a clear grey color.

A mature female as well as all immature birds (immature males will look this way too, it is only as they mature that the become like the above description!) all have the same grey body and white wing stripes, but they will have a dull yellow face and orange cheek spots. Often it looks like it's a yellow ‘wash' over their heads, which can look almost greenish. They also have yellow ‘barring' on their tail and lower bodies. The under-most pair of tail feathers has the most obvious barring, with the rest of the tail feathers having less, but still obvious, stripes and dashes.

All colors may or may not have spots on the long flight feathers on their wings. Some have only a few feathers with spots, some have none, and some have a lot.

Cinnamon is one of the most common colors apart from normal grey. It is exactly the same for the above descriptions, but instead of a grey color over the body, it is a pale ‘dusty' silver/brownish color. It can be mistaken for a light grey, but has a browner overtone, and a paler, softer appearance. Some are a very obvious brown color too. The bright face and clear tail feathers of the male, as well as the immature and the females' dull face and barred tails is the same as for the normal grey. Note though that a cinnamon's immature and females ‘dull' face is often a lot brighter than the same dull face of a normal grey.

Fallow is very similar to the cinnamon, and they are hard to tell apart unless you have them side-by-side. Fallow is the same dusty brown color, though fallow tends more to the yellowish side than the cinnamon's brownish color. The main difference between them is that the fallow colored birds have deep red eyes. At first glance, and even on close inspection, it often looks like the normal dark eyes. But get them in the right light (often a camera flash will bring them out, but look for a red IRIS, not the red pupil that happens in any colored eye hit with a camera flash!) and you will find they are actually a dark red color.

Fallow is probably a lot more common than it is made out to be, as most fallow cockatiels are labeled as cinnamon, until someone notices their eye color (which often is never noticed!) the colors and markings are the same as for the cinnamon.

Lutino is the other very common color. It is the solid white/yellow cockatiel. The lutinos can vary a lot from a buttercup yellow, to a clear snowy white. The male and female, as well as the immature tiel all have the same coloration and markings. Though the barred tail of the immature tiel and the mature hen can sometimes be seen, the fact that the occasional male can retain the barred tails doesn't make it an easy way to tell them apart! All lutinos have the solid yellow/white body all over, including the wings and tail and belly/chest.

The head of the lutino is always a bright yellow with bright orange cheek spots. Many people assume that because of that they must have a male, but it is unlike the other colors, and both males and females can have the same brightness, therefore making the sexes look the same. All lutino cockatiels have red eyes (though it can vary from a deep red that looks dark to a bright, obvious red).

Silver is rather complicated. There are actually two different versions of ‘silver' in cockatiels, and then you can get single and double factors one of the versions! Let me try to explain. There is the dominant silver, and the recessive silver. The recessive silver is a light silvery color, much like a pale normal grey, except they have the same red eyes that fallow and lutinos have.

Now the dominant silver can come in both double factor and single factor, depending on how many genes were inherited from the parents. The main difference though is that the double factors are lighter than the single factor ones.

The dominant silver is the same light silver color as the recessive silver, but the dominant silvers have a dark grey ‘skull cap,' an area around the top of their heads/behind the crest that is a distinctly darker shade of grey.

Dominant silver cockatiels (both double factor and single factor) have dark eyes. Both dominant and recessive silver have the same face/sex-linked colors as the normal grey. The mature male will have a bright face and plain tail, the immature bird and the mature female will have the dull faces and barred tails. They all have the white wing stripe and spots on the flight feathers.

Olive is a relatively rare mutation, and hardly seen outside of a breeders aviary or a show. It is a bird that is a pale grey color, with a heavy yellow ‘wash' giving a distinct green-ish tone. There is a wide variation in the shades of the olive mutation, some being very pale and others quite a dark olive color. The olive cockatiels have a scalloped pattern in their feathers, with the outer edges of each feather being darker than the centers, making each feather seem outlined in a faint scalloped design.

Ok, so that's the colors covered, by now you might have an idea of what color your tiel is. If you are still unsure, have a look in the pet image gallery for some of the different colors, and try searching online for pictures of the color you think yours is. You will find photos and you can compare to see if you are right. Remember, we were only talking about the main color of the body; there are other mutations to talk about yet!


Let's talk about the two mutations that cause patterns on the feathers.

Pied is a very common pattern. The pied mutation causes areas of white/yellow to fall where there would normally not be any. Like a piebald horse has patches of colored areas and white areas, a pied tiel is the same that it has patches of normally colored and patterned areas, and other areas are a solid yellow/white. The patches can vary from one or two yellow/white flight or tail feathers, to being almost totally white/yellow with only a few colored feathers, and everywhere in between!! The unique thing about pied cockatiels is that even though it is a recessive trait, (a tiel can carry the gene for being pied, and pass it on to it's offspring, without being pied itself) you can see when a tiel is carrying the pied gene. All those cockatiels with a yellow/white spot on the back of the head… they are all ‘split to pied'. It just means they carry the gene and have the potential to produced pied babies, but they themselves are not actually pied.

The other unique thing about the pied gene is that it overrides the normal face/sex-linked coloration. Where a normal adult male will get the bright head, and the female retain the dull head, in the pied mutation, the way a pied baby is when it is young, is the same as it'll be when it's older. Whether it has a dull head, a bright head, or patches of both on it's head and face, it doesn't make a difference to what gender it is, and it will always stay the same. A bright-faced pied tiel does not make it a male, nor does a dull-faced pied tiel make it a female. In other words, you cannot differentiate the sexes of the pied cockatiels by looking at them!

Pearl is another common pattern. It is the pretty speckled patterning that covers the body of the tiel. It is different to the pied, in that each individual feather is patterned. Each feather has the white/yellow spot/s on it, causing a lacing/spotting/speckling effect. It can vary in its exact pattern on the feather, some being a heavy lacy pattern, others being a light spotting. Some are concentrated over the back and wings, and others cover the whole body evenly.

There is a very unique characteristic about the pearl gene, in that most mature males loose the speckling effect over time, whereas the females retain it. Upon the first moult of a male pearled tiel, it will loose much of its ‘speckles'. Though he will retain some scattered spots, they too will dissipate over several moults. Occasional males will not loose their speckling, but the majority of them do. All females will retain their patterning, making them often the preferred gender of this mutation! Remember that even though a male may loose his patterning, and end up looking like a normal male, he still is a pearl, and still carries the pearl genes.

Facial Variations

Ok, so that's the colors and the markings! Hopefully now you know what color your cockatiel is, and what markings it might have, now there's the facial variations!

White Face is a stunning, fairly common mutation. And fairly self-explanatory! The mutation actually removes all yellow and orange pigmentation from the tiel, so anything that was normally yellow or orange on any other above mutations, is turned white when combined with the whiteface mutation. The face and head becomes a solid white. In all young birds and the adult females, the face is still duller, but it's a dull grey with a fainter grey cheek spot, rather than the dull yellow and orange (remember, there is no yellow or orange in a white face tiel). The adult whiteface male will get a bright solid white head after he has his first moult. Also note that a whiteface pied will have white patches instead of the yellow, as well as the whiteface pearl will have white speckles. Because the whiteface mutation removes all the yellow pigmentation, a whiteface chick hatches out of it's egg with white fuzz, whereas any other mutation is a yellow fuzzy chick… Therefore a whiteface chick is known to be white faced from the day it hatches!

A careful note to make is the albino cockatiel. There is no such thing as an albino cockatiel. The solid white cockatiels, with red eyes, are actually the lutino (the solid yellow/white body) and the white face (the lack of a cheek spot, and the lack of any yellow or orange pigment) mutations combined together, making the bird totally and completely white (with the red eyes of the lutino).

Pastel Face is a less common mutation, and is much like how it sounds. The yellow and orange pigmentation in the cockatiels is diluted to a more ‘pastel' hue. Making the face a pale yellow and the cheek spot a pale pastel orange. Note that it is different to the normal dull of the immature and female face, and is apparent even in the immature/female face as a clearly different, ‘pastel', shade of yellow and orange.

Yellow Face/Yellow Cheek is another uncommon mutation, and again is fairly self-explanatory! It is where the orange cheek spot of the tiel is diluted to a clear dark yellow color, making the whole head yellow. The cheek patch is still visible on the yellow face as a darker yellow, but it is not as vivid as the normal orange cheek spot.

That's it! That is all the variations that are recognized by all the cockatiel societies and associations. Some people give the mutations different names, and some say they have other mutations, but usually they are not proven, or just variations of current mutations.

Before I go, I'll touch briefly on the fact that the mutations can double, triple, and quadruple up! A common, and very pretty, combination is the "white face, cinnamon, pearl, pied."

Quite a mouthful, but think back and we'll go through it as an example. It is a tiel that has no yellow/orange, so has a white head and white markings (the whiteface mutation) where there is color, it is the dusty brown color (cinnamon) and also where there is color it has the speckled pattern (pearl) and it also has solid patches of white (the pied. Remember they're white patches and not yellow patches, because of the white face mutation).

You can get any of the color mutations combined with either, or both, of the markings, and/or also combined with any of the face colors! So tiels can, and do, come in a huge and gorgeous tiel rainbow!

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