The Color White
Discussion on Whites in Wests

By: Bob Christman
A couple of months ago someone asked for information on whites. So I am posting the following info:

The Color White

White in Pigeons. A white pigeon is usually the result of one of the following factors or combination of factors: recessive white, piebald whites, grizzle whites or grizzle combined with piebald.

1) Recessive White. Recessive white is a simple recessive that masks all color resulting in a pure white pigeon. Recessive whites do not have colored feathers anywhere in their plumage, as youngsters or adults. All recessive white pigeons also have BULL EYES, they never have colored eyes or split or cracked eyes. Bull eyes is an automatic disqualification per the West standard and as a result recessive whites are not bred in the Wests.

2) Piebald Whites. With a couple of exceptions, how most of the different forms of piebald are inherited is not well known. Some piebald factors effect the extremities turning the head, flights, muffs or tail white (i.e. like markings found in Whitetails, Baldhead Wests, Pigmy Pouters, etc). Other piebald factors effect primarily the body (i.e. like the markings found in Gazzi Modenas, Helmets, Nuns, Fairy Swallows, Saddle Fantails etc). In some combinations of these piebald markings an all white bird can be produced. However, when piebald factors affect the color so extensively that the bird is white or nearly all white the eye color is usually also affected resulting in bull and/or cracked eyes. Whites produced by a combination of different piebald markings are not normally found in Wests.

3) Grizzle Whites. Grizzle, especially when there are two genes for the grizzle factor, when combined with other lightening factors can turn a bird all white. Two genes for grizzle when combined with blue will produce the stork marked coloration with maybe some color splashed through the rest of the bird. When you combine two genes for grizzle with ash red bar the bird will often be pure white or almost all white with a few stray colored feathers. One of the effects of ash red is that it washes out the color of the flights, tail, muffs and the head to a light ash color. When combined with grizzle those areas more easily wash out to all white. If you add to the mix other lightening factors such as dilution and spread the birds will all white with even less difficulty. Dilution will lighten the ash red bar to a cream bar. Spread in combination with ash red bar will produce a light silvery ash (lavender) colored bird usually showing a little red in the area where the bars should be. Spread combined with cream bar will produce a very even and very pale cream colored bird. If you add grizzle to this pale cream colored bird it can easily turn the bird all white. Grizzle does not affect eye color, and for that reason all whites found in Wests are grizzle whites.

4) Grizzle/Piebald Whites. In grizzles the last area to usually wash out to white is the head (including the beak), flights, muffs and tail. These also happen to be the same areas that are already white in the baldhead Wests. By combining grizzle and the baldhead marking it becomes much easier to produce an all white bird then combining grizzle with a pattern self. In fact it becomes so much easier that just one gene for grizzle, when combined with a cream bar baldhead for instance, can turn a bird all white. (My original stud of whites was based on white self to cream bar baldhead crosses). Two genes for grizzle can even turn a blue or black baldhead bird all white. One minor drawback to using baldheads to produce whites is that you will raise that occasional white with a bull eye the same as when raising baldhead Wests.

Basis of the White in Wests. Most whites in Wests are grizzle combined with the baldhead marking. In addition most of the whites in West are also ash red or yellow though an occasional white will be raised showing silver/dun or blue/black feathers. Over the years most studs of whites have raised an occasional ash red or cream baldhead. In the late seventies or early eighties I remember a West breeder showing me a well marked cream bar baldhead which had been bred from his family of white selfs.

Breeding Whites in Wests. Common method for breeding whites in Wests, naturally, is to breed white to white. Whites with bull eyes, stained beaks or large quantities of colored feathers are normally eliminated from the breeding program.

A bird with a stained beak is usually an indication that the bird is a grizzled pattern self or grizzled badge marked bird where the grizzle factor has not affected beak color sufficiently to turn it all white or clear. Stained beak birds can be bred from successfully but should only be used if the bird can advance your family of whites. Retaining too many stained beak birds in your stud will only increase the occurrence of more stained beaks. I presently have one slightly stained beak white in my breeding program and he is the result of a cross to another color to improve the back cover in my stud of whites.

For breeding purposes, a bull eyed white should be treated the same as a bull eyed baldhead. Unless the bull eyed bird has some special quality you want to keep in your stud it should be eliminated from your breeding program. In practice few bull eyed whites are ever bred from. In my loft bull eyed whites are never used in the breeding program and I rarely ever raise one.

Whites with a few colored feathers can be used successfully in breeding whites and it is fairly common to breed from them. Birds with a large number of colored feathers can also be used to breed whites but in general, unless they have a special quality to improve your stud, they should be not be used because they increase the chances of raising more of the same. Whites that show silver/dun or blue/black feathers are also occasionally raised. Grizzle is not as effective in turning the blue based birds white as it is in turning the ash red base birds white. General practice should be not to use them for breeding unless they have a special quality to improve your stud. Using blue based whites in the breeding program increases the chances of raising birds showing too much color.

White Youngsters. Most youngsters from a well established family of whites will usually be pure white. But it is also usual to raise a significant number of white youngsters that will show some grizzled feathers in the secondaries and body and sometimes also in the head, flights or tail. Usually these feathers will molt in white with the adult plumage. Even where there is a large quantity of colored feathers sometimes the bird will still molt in white. If there are any remaining colored feathers they can be plucked before showing. As in mottles it is common for colored feathers to turn white with subsequent molts or plucking.

Youngster Examples (see photo):
All three birds in the examples are siblings from the same pair of whites. The father is raised from a white cock mated to a light dilute tortoiseshell (sulfur tortoiseshell). He is all white except for 3 or 4 colored feathers in the wingshield and body and a slightly stained beak. The mother is pure white bred from my basic white family.

Bird 1 shows some grizzled ash red feathers in the secondaries and wingshield. This is common in a significant number of white youngsters. I expect these grizzled feathers to molt in white and the bird should be pure white when he finishes his adult molt. The eyes are pearl and the beak is clear with no discoloration.

Bird 2 is a pure white self. It has no colored feathers, the eyes are pearl and the beak is clear.

Bird 3 is a grizzled ash red check or T-pattern baldhead with a couple of colored feathers on the head. His flight count is 10 and 10, all his primaries are white and all his secondaries are grizzled ash red. His muffs are all white. His tail is all white except one tail feather has slight ash red grizzling on the tip. The eyes are pearl and his beak is clear. This bird is an example of the baldhead marking that is usually found behind the whites. His grandmother was a tortoiseshell bred into the whites and two generations later the baldhead marking behind the whites has become apparent. I expect this bird to turn mostly white with the adult molt but will probably still have a significant amount of colored feathers remaining. Because of the excessive amount of color he will not be used in my white breeding program.

General observation: Well established families of whites will breed very true with only occasional mismarks. This has to make the whites the easiest color to breed in Wests. As easy as whites are to raise compared to other colors you would expect them to dominate the shows, but they only have a moderate show record. They have won a couple of nationals and had a handful of other wins but they have not dominated. I am sure if more breeders raised whites they would have a more significant impact in the shows.

 Bob Christman
The Color White
Discussion on Whites in Wests

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