Thursday, April 21, 2011

Super rare mutation: the Feather Duster budgie

We all know Whipper, but is he the only one of his kind? What actually causes this mutation and what are the consequences for these birds?

Some breeders feel they are going to have a really good show budgie... for it's the English show budgies that produce the feather dusters. The baby comes and after 4 weeks, the feather growing speeds up. Suddenly the number of feathers has doubled again, and they just continue to grow. Image © Space Station Nathan

Some things you may not know about feather duster budgies:
  • It's not a species, but a super rare mutation among budgerigars. It should not be confused with the crested budgie, where the curled feathers are on the crest or the top of the head. 
  • Whipper is definitely not the only one out there - he is known to be the fourth feather duster budgie where the mutation happened by accident.
  • The first case of this mutation was reported in 1966, the budgie in question was a baby of two English show budgies. Apparently they are the only kind of budgies that are able to produce a feather duster bird.
  • The funny appearance of the birds is said to be the result of a mutation in a recessive gene. That means, if both parents carry the "mutation gene" but don't pass it on, they will produce normal-looking babies. It's only when both parents pass it on, that the "mutation gene" will actually be visible in the baby bird.
  • The mutation is sometimes referred to as the " Budgie Down Syndrome", because of the impairment in physical growth and short life span. Most budgies succumb to complementary illnesses before they are even 12 months old.
  • It appears that breeders don't wish to breed for a feather duster - they would rather avoid it since the budgies don't live long enough. If a feather duster occurs, most do not not breed that particular pair again. They actually separate the mother and the father from each other to avoid this from happening!

Whipper is not alone! Meet Munchkin, another Feather Duster budgie:

      •  Feather dusters start out as a normal-looking baby, but this changes as the feathers start to grow. The feathers will continue to grow in curls, without stopping as a normal budgie's feathers stop to grow.
      • Feather duster budgies don't live as long as normal budgies (they only live 2 - 12 months): the reason for the short life seems to be that the bird cannot get enough nourishment to support the constant feather growth as well as to keep the rest of his body alive. Most feather dusters have trouble perching, climbing, preening and flying and can suffer severe muscle wasting (hence the reference to the Down Syndrome). It is said their eyes have a different shape and that they produce a different sound as a normal budgie.
      • Providing a more nourishing diet may extend the life of the budgies*, but unfortunately, they will still be unable to fly or even perch normally. Most feather dusters just sit in their food plate all day long. They have to eat constantly to keep up with their rapid-changing body.
      • The feathers also cover the budgies' face and eyes, which make it impossible for them to see normally and also interferes with eating. That is why some people decide to clip the feathers, especially around the head, so that their budgie can see and eat. This can be a very dangerous job; one of the breeders reports that one of his feather duster budgies died shortly afterwards he had clipped the feathers in the facial area. They also clip the feathers around the vent, so the budgies don't constantly dirty themselves when eliminating (remember, they poop every 15 minutes).
      • Even after they molt, the new feathers grow back the same way as they did before: very long and curly.
      • If it was not for the fact that these birds live extremely short lives, they would probably be quite popular as pets because of their unusual appearance.

      * If you want, you can also read the article on Feather Duster budgies by author and budgerigar breeder Stephen Fowler. You can find it here.


        1. Very interesting post! It's a reminder that we should be careful when breeding animals. Maybe one day we will have feather duster budgies with normal life spans, but it doesn't seem likely.

          Great job, as always ;) <3

          1. Well the bird is suffering with all those feathers so even with a normal life span the bird is just suffering more and more with all those feathers because the bird can't see and its just pure cruel. The bird wouldn't survive and is just suffering so instead of giving the bird more time to suffer we should just do what we humans do to end an animal's suffering and just put the poor bird down and plus we humans need to stop with all this mutation so we won't have another bird like this feather duster die because we humans were messing around. Even if this feather duster bird was an accident, we still shouldn't mess around with that type of stuff.

        2. I hope so too... in any case the feather dusters deserve just as much attention and care as other budgies :) <3

        3. It's so sad, I think it would be nice if they could end up having a normal lifespan.

          It may even be possible, if they got the right care that is!

        4. Feather Duster is NOT a mutation.. it is however, a GENETIC DEFECT. Most don't live past 1 year old. This is not something to promote because then more people want to "create" them, you can't recreate them and you should NOT recreate them, they are not happy birds, Would you be happy if you just kept growing hair, and it would never stop? legs , arms, under arms, head, and had hair to your feet and walked on it, couldn't see because it was so thick it wouldn't stay out of your face. Wouldn't be so much fun would it? Wouldn't be a very good quality of life for you would it? - People have tried giving them a longer life span by trimming their feathers regularly, it doesn't work, its not just the feathers, its the genetic defect,

          People really need to get educated on the topic better before posting stuff online about it. Again this is NOT a mutation it is a genetic defect just like a half sider (that is not a mutation either). a MUTATION is a COLOR, and no one should be promoting them to be "pets" People need to be promoting, the proper breeding of birds, knowing the genetics of their pairs,as far back as they possibly can before breeding them, the proper care of the birds, and things like that. NOT the HYPE of attempting to create genetic defected birds!

          1. mutation does not mean a good thing. any change in the genes is a genetic mutation. why do you think people with deformities are often called mutants? you should try educating yourself on genetics and the English language.

          2. If I were you, I would educate myself on how certain terms are used in aviculture, before criticizing someone else Katie ("aviculture" is the practice of breeding and raising birds by the way). In aviculture, mutation is generally known to describe something in a bird that has been achieved through artificial selection. This is often associated with unnatural colors that can be found in birds, hence the name "color mutation" (example: budgies in the wild are only green. Any other color has been created by humans, through selective breeding). So when they say that "feather duster" is not a mutation, what they're saying is that it's not a mutation that was purposely achieved through selective breeding.

        5. Seriously?? Look at the bird. There is a difference between a genetic variance like the color of the feathers and a degenerative defect like this. The fact that the birds dont live long tells that the bird is suffering. Birds never show they are weak and hurting (probably so they wont get singled out) so of course the bird will seem cheerful until it keels over and dies (simplification). A horribly disfiguring defect like this should never be considered as a possible development. Its just too cruel. - My 2cents

        6. Some of this post is a bit incorrect..... Feather duster budgies are not all that rare. They can be born to all breeds of budgies. The feather formation is a generic condition that is not curable. It is caused from inbreeding, once a budgie has the gene for this deformity it will produce feather duster budgies from time to time.... Since no wild budgies have been exported from Australia since 1894 it is critical that budgies are NOT inbred..... These birds ... with special care... can live only about 1 year... They are mules.. meaning they are not able to make cute little fluffy budgies themselves.....

        7. Your comparison to Down syndrome is very ignorant and you should be embarrassed and delete this whole thing and start over.