The Harlequin Cockatiel

The pied or harlequin cockatiel was the first cockatiel mutation to be recorded. The harlequin cockatiel is also known as the variegated or pied cockatiel.

So What Is A Harlequin Cockatiel?

Visually the harlequin cockatiel is extremely variable in the effect that it produces and there is no means that might be used to select for an increased effect. In other words, parent cockatiels with very well-marked plumage stand no greater chance of producing beautifully patterned youngsters than would the mating of the most ill-marked cockatiels.

Harlequin cockatiels are all so different that an exceptional bird might be almost lacking any normal feathers and therefore may even appear totally white, while another may have only a few white feathers and be otherwise grey.
pied cockatiel

These extremes are very rare, and most pied cockatiels will have some pied patches on the head, usually on the crown and cheeks. The rump is normally also affected as are some of the flight feathers and parts of the tail.

The cockatiel on the right is better characterized as a pearl-pied cockatiel.

The second effect of the pied cockatiel gene is to cause those flight and tail feathers that are whitened to carry a broad spread of yellow pigment rather than the usual barring.

This yellow is not lost when the males mature. Sometimes it is not only the head that is left with sufficient grey with which to determine the sex. In this case, females may still have the orange ear patches obscured by the grey.

Unfortunately, this has happened with practically all the mutations, no one thought to record their early history.

What is certain though is that it was already established by Mr. D Putnam of San Diego, California sometime before 1951.

After the death of Mr. Putnam, his stock was acquired by Mr. Hubbell, who carried on breeding them.

Coincidentally, as Mr. Putnam was working on his strain, Mrs. R Kersh was building up another.

It is not known whether these mutations were entirely disconnected, but it is reasonable to assume that both stemmed from the same mutation of some years previous that has been passed, unnoticed, from parent cockatiel to offspring, although never producing any pieds for lack of the necessary inbreeding.

All we know is that Mrs. Kersh’s foundation bird was bought from a pet store.

It does appear that most of the European pied cockatiels came from `Mrs. Kersh’s stock.

The early history of breeding for harlequin cockatiels suggests an extremely high degree of inefficiency or sterility among the birds, as in the first twenty years extremely few had been bred.

One likely explanation is that there is always a tendency to select for color in autosomal recessives by mating pieds to split pied birds.

In practice, this invariably brings close inbreeding. The mating of close relatives is likely to introduce other genes that may interfere with viability or fertility.

Whatever the reason, the world total of pied cockatiels in 1968, may well not have exceeded one hundred birds, and they sold for a minimum of $100 in the United States and for approximately twice this sum in Europe.

The most perfect harlequin would have complete symmetry to its patches. This could well be almost impossible to achieve.

pied cockatielLikewise, the pale areas are at their most attractive when they are clear-cut with a sharp demarcation between the grey and white. The deeper the yellow background, the more attractive the pied cockatiel is.

Although the Opaline, Lutino, and the Cinnamon cockatiels are sex-linked, the harlequin is not.

Before a harlequin can be produced, both its parents must carry the factor and this mode of inheritance is more common than sex-linkage.


  1. Genetics is so interesting and it’s really easy to see differences in birds. The pearl pied cockatiel you have pictured is quite gorgeous! It’s fascinating to learn about the history of the pied cockatiel and the variations in trying to breed them. Thanks for a great read! Would a pied cockatiel make a good pet?

    1. Well, I love having a cockatiel as a pet and have always had a cockatiel in my life since I was a child. They make awesome pets and are so easy to care for.

  2. This is really interesting.Thanks for sharing an informative and educative post on the pied cockatiel. Cockatiels are not popular pets in my area, you will hardly see someone keeping cockatiel as a pet and this is because many do not know much about cockatiels. I also know little about it not until I read this post.

    1. I am surprised Lok Which, as I was under the impression that cockatiels were popular pets worldwide. Maybe you should start a trend.

  3. Hi! Thank you for this interesting article concerning Pied Cockatiels. Their visual differences are extremely exciting. I love how some of them are beautifully patterned. But I have also noted that parents and children can be so different from each other.

    It’s really unfortunate that before all the mutations that exist today, no one thought to record their early history.

    I also find fascinating the fact that most European pied cockatiels could come from Mrs. Kersh’s stock!

    I have enjoyed very much this post! And I will continue visiting your site, because this subject captivates me!

  4. Interesting .. Pied is recessive and takes both genes . 1 from each parent to produce the mutation..

    Codominate genes produce the mutation if the parent bird is that mutation..

    Dominate – heres my question.. If a bird from a codominate x codominate breeding is produced, can that bird produce a clutch of 100% same mutation as its mutation if outcrossed to any type ? within the clutch a % of them would be Dominate or so called Super form.. these animals when outcrossed still produce their mutation but the clutch is now 100% same mutation ..

    it does work this way in the animal kingdom “reptiles,Boa Constrictor” but im not sure about in birds…

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