Plumage Genetics | Southwest Gamebirds

Plumage Genetics

Plumage Variations in Publicly Available Japanese Quail (Coturnix japonica) and their Underlying Genetics

Dedication:

This page is dedicated to our customers, our exceptional network of industry professionals, and enthusiasts across the globe who have contributed to this work and made it possible. At Southwest Gamebirds, we are passionate about understanding the genetics behind what we raise, and making accurate and useful information available to the public. The information here was originally compiled over many months in 2020 and published in March 2021.

How to use this page:

To find a plumage variety, scroll down the page to view a single image of that variety next to its name. Under each named variety, there is a bullet point list of the mutation or mutations responsible and its basic characteristics, followed by a description of its plumage pattern or color. Click the image to open a gallery with additional images for that variety. Plumage images with feathers laid out in a line are arranged from left to right: male dorsal feather, male ventral feather, female dorsal feather, female ventral feather. If two varieties are similar, comparison images have been provided if available.

Helpful Definitions:

Chromosome: A threadlike structure containing genetic material. (Quail have 39 pairs of chromosomes.)

Autosome: Any chromosome other than a sex chromosome. (Quail have 38 pairs of autosomes.)

Sex Chromosome: One of two types of chromosomes involved in determining the sex of an organism. In quail, sex chromosomes are denoted by Z and W. Males are homomorphic (ZZ), and females are heteromorphic (ZW).

Gene: A unit of inheritance comprised of DNA base pairs at a specific location on a chromosome.

Allele: A specific variant of a gene with other variants.

Locus: The location of a gene on a Chromosome.

Genotype: The complete set of genetic material for an organism.

Phenotype: The complete set of observable traits resulting from an organism’s genotype and environment.

Mutation: An altered version of genetic material resulting in a new allele.

Homozygous: The state of having two copies of the same allele for a particular gene.

Heterozygous: The state of having two different alleles for a particular gene.

Inheritance: The manner in which genetic material is passed from parent to offspring.

Recessive Allele: A variation of a gene that does not affect a phenotype when a dominant allele is present.

Dominant Allele: A variation of a gene that can produce a phenotype even in the presence of other alleles.

Incomplete Dominant Allele: A variation of a gene that will produce a phenotype in Homozygous form, and an intermediate phenotype in Heterozygous form.

Co-dominant Allele: A variation of a gene that will produce a dominant effect in part of an organism, while another allele produces a different effect in another part of the organism.

Epistasis: The scenario in which an allele’s function is dependent on another independently inherited allele or alleles.

Hypostasis: The scenario in which an allele’s function is inhibited by an epistatic allele or alleles.

Cryptomere: A dominant allele that is concealed by the function of another independently inherited allele or alleles.

Filial Generations: Named generations in a genomic cross, the original paring being the P0 generation, their offspring being the F1 generation, and each subsequent generation being numbered F2, F3, etc.

Purebred: Homozygous offspring that are the result of breeding parents that are homozygous for a specific allele.

Hybrid: Heterozygous offspring that are the result of breeding dissimilar parents.

A Note on Autosexing and Sex Linked Breeding:
Auto-sexing or sex-linked plumages are useful for differentiating males and females at hatch, especially for those that prefer to raise only female birds for egg-laying purposes. Auto-sexing plumages are plumages that exhibit differently in males and females at hatch, and the offspring will continue to exhibit those differences in male/female plumages generation after generation. Auto-sexing offspring are purebred.

In contrast, sex-linked plumages will exhibit differently in males and females at hatch for one generation based on the parents’ plumage genetics, but the offspring will not continue to exhibit the same male/female plumage differentiation when bred.

We are not aware of any auto-sexing plumages that exist in Japanese quail. Breeding of sex-linked plumages in Japanese Quail is most commonly based on the Roux mutation which is located on the (Z) sex chromosome. Sex linked breeding is accomplished when males that are homozygous for the Roux mutation are bred to females without the mutation, yielding one generation of offspring that can be identified at hatch as hemizygous Roux females and male carriers that present as a non-roux phenotype. 

Pharaoh (Wild-Type Plumage)

  • Feather sexable: Yes

“Pharaoh” denotes wild type plumage in Japanese quail. Pharaoh birds will look nearly identical to wild Japanese quail, although they may vary dramatically in size and temperament. When we discuss other plumage mutations, they will generally be compared to Pharaoh, and their inheritance will be defined in relation to Pharaoh plumage, which consists of various shades of brown and white, and is sexually dimorphic, with males displaying dramatically different facial and ventral plumage than females.  By around three weeks of age, males develop distinct copper colored ventral plumage, while females maintain cream colored ventral plumage with a central feather vain that appears as disconnected black spots on the majority of the ventral plumage.

Monogenic Phenotypes:

Golden Manchurian

  • Mutation: Fawn
  • Locus: Y
  • Gene: ASIP
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes

Golden Manchurian presents when a bird is homozygous for the Fawn mutation. The plumage pattern and color will both change, yielding a yellow bird with small, unconnected black spots on the ventral plumage. Males will have a distinct red mask and very little black on the ventral plumage, and females will have slightly more black spots on the ventral plumage.

Italian

  • Mutation: Fawn
  • Locus: Y
  • Gene: ASIP
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes

Italian presents when a bird is heterozygous for the Fawn mutation. The plumage pattern and color change, yielding a yellow bird with approximately equal amounts of black and red on the plumage. The pattern is fairly consistent, with chevron-shaped diagonal black bars on either side of the dorsal feathers, preceded by red spots, and a yellow center and base. Males will have a distinct red mask and females will have black spots on the ventral plumage. Males also tend to have less black dorsal plumage than females.

Tibetan

  • Mutation: Extended Brown
  • Locus: E
  • Gene: MC1R
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: No

Tibetan presents when a bird is homozygous for the Extended Brown mutation. Tibetan is a dark brown bird, with no feather striation and dark plumage on the entire body. The skin on the legs of a Tibetan bird will be dark brown and will often extend to parts of the feet. Generally the toes will remain pink, although a much smaller amount of the surface area will remain pink when compared to a Rosetta.

Rosetta

  • Mutation: Extended Brown
  • Locus: E
  • Gene: MC1R
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: No

Rosetta presents when a bird is heterozygous for the Extended Brown mutation. Rosetta is a dark brown bird, with light striation and dark plumage on the entire body. The skin on the legs of a Rosetta bird will be light brown and will often extend to parts of the feet. Generally the toes will remain pink.

Pansy

  • Mutation: Pansy
  • Locus: E
  • Gene: MC1R
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Recessive
  • Feather sexable: Yes

Pansy, also known as Redhead or Rotkopf, is a phenotype caused by a recessive mutation on the Extended Brown Locus. It causes the plumage to lighten on the base of the bird to a yellowish brown, and changes the feather striation to barring. Each feather has a thick black bar, a light brown bar, and a narrow white bar on the outside edge of the feather. This gives the bird a mottled look throughout the body. Males have a red mask making them easy to distinguish from hens.

Pharaoh Sparkly

  • Mutation: Sparkly
  • Locus: E (Suspected)
  • Gene: MC1R (Suspected)
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes

Pharaoh Sparkly presents when a bird is heterozygous for the Sparkly mutation. The striation on the dorsal plumage narrows, while the ventral plumage becomes variegated, even on males. Dark portions of the feathers are exaggerated and the pattern is consistent.

 Sparkly

  • Mutation: Sparkly
  • Locus: E (Suspected)
  • Gene: MC1R (Suspected)
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes

Sparkly presents when a bird is homozygous for the Sparkly mutation. The striation on the dorsal plumage is replaced with dark barring and distinct thin light bars including one on the outside edge of the feathers, while the ventral plumage becomes variegated and dark, even on males. Dark portions of the feathers are exaggerated and the pattern is consistent.

English White

  • Mutation: Dotted White
  • Locus: S
  • Gene: EDNRB2
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Recessive (recent evidence suggests it can be Codominant)
  • Feather sexable: No

Dotted White is a mutation that removes all pigment from the plumage. Homozygous birds will be completely white except for a small section on the back of the head, which presents as the underlying color. The bird may also be entirely white. Sometimes there are other patches of colored plumage, usually small, on the back of the bird near the tail although this is not preferred. There is never color on the wings, primary feathers, or ventral plumage in homozygous birds. Heterozygous birds will present as a Tuxedo plumage pattern when crossed with certain other plumage mutations. In the Tuxedo plumage, the ventral plumage will be completely white and the rest of the bird will remain the underlying color.

While Dotted White is considered recessive in most peer-reviewed literature, but it is also widely recognized as codominant with certain mutations such as Extended Brown. At Southwest Gamebirds, we have crossed JMF Jumbo Whites with Pharaoh birds and found it to be completely recessive at times, but more often it has resulted in a small patch of white feathers on the upper breast of heterozygous carriers in the F1 cross. This same line, crossed with production brown stock, has resulted in white primary feathers, and some farms have also reported tuxedo variations in Pharaoh carriers similar to the tuxedo pattern it is known to produce when interacting with Extended Brown.

English White quail are often referred to as “Texas A&M quail”, referencing a Japanese quail line developed by Texas A&M University in the 1970’s that carried the Dotted White mutation. We aren’t aware of any farms that have properly maintained the Texas A&M line today, but other production lines that carry Dotted White include the JMF Jumbo Recessive White in the US, Cairo White in Egypt, as well as another production line in Russia.

 

Panda

  • Mutation: Panda
  • Locus: S
  • Gene: EDNRB2
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Recessive
  • Feather sexable: No

Panda presents as a white bird with two large spots showing the underlying plumage. The first spot is on the back of the head, similar to a dotted white, but larger. The second is on the lower back. Dotted White birds can also sometimes have colored plumage on the lower back, albeit not as large and consistent as Panda.

White Wing Pied

  • Mutation: White Wing Pied
  • Locus: S (suspected)
  • Gene: EDNRB2 (suspected)
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Codominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes as heterozygous (based on underlying plumage); No as homozygous

Homozygous White Wing Pied presents as a white bodied bird, with a white head and neck, and underlying colored plumage on the entire back and tail. An ideal specimen will have no color on the head and wings. A bird carrying one copy of White Wing Pied will have white wing tips and primary feathers.

Andalusian

  • Mutation: Andalusian
  • Locus: mi
  • Gene: MITF
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes as heterozygous; No as homozygous

A heterozygous Andalusian bird can have white primaries and a white wing pied pattern or be mostly silver with brown tones. It may have patches of undiluted plumage or solitary feathers randomly distributed on the body. Homozygous Andalusian will appear off-white with dark eyes. Similar to Silver, the Andalusian mutation interacts with almost every other combination of mutations yielding an endless number of phenotypes.

Silver

  • Mutation: Silver
  • Locus: mi
  • Gene: MITF
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes as heterozygous; No as homozygous

A classic Silver bird is heterozygous for the silver mutation and will have white primary feathers, a consistent white wing pied pattern, colored body and tail feathers, and light striation in the dorsal plumage. Homozygous Silver will appear off-white with dark eyes. The Silver mutation interacts with almost every other combination of mutations yielding an endless number of phenotypes.

Lavender

  • Mutation: Lavender
  • Locus: LAV
  • Gene: MLPH
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Recessive
  • Feather sexable: Yes (based on underlying plumage)

Lavender is a mutation that dilutes pigment, but leaves red tones. The underlying plumage patter will remain the same, but will not have the black and dark brown shades, which are replaced with light grey and light brown.

Blue

  • Mutation: Blue
  • Locus: Unknown
  • Gene: Unknown
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes (based on underlying plumage)

Blue is a mutation that dilutes pigment on the entire bird. It is often referred to as Blau, as this variety is common in German genetics. The underlying plumage patter will remain the same, but it will not have the black and dark brown shades, which are replaced with light grey or dark grey.

Egyptian

  • Mutation: Roux
  • Locus: BR
  • Gene: TYRP1
  • Inheritance: Sex Linked Recessive
  • Feather sexable: No

Egyptian is the result of the Roux mutation diluting a wild-type bird. It dilutes the entire bird without changing the existing plumage pattern. While it is similar to Brown genetically, it is much easier to distinguish from Pharaoh, giving it utility for raising sex-linked birds where males can be differentiated from females at hatch. Any phenotype involving Roux can be organized for sex-linked production.

 Brown

  • Mutation: Sex Linked Brown
  • Locus: BR
  • Gene: TYRP1
  • Inheritance: Sex Linked Recessive
  • Feather sexable: No

Brown is the color almost everyone has, but nobody knows about. Nearly every Jumbo Brown production line has both Brown and Pharaoh plumage. They are distinct from one another but are almost indistinguishable to the untrained eye. Brown dilutes the entire bird, making it slightly lighter and slightly redder, and the effects are most noticeable in the darkest and lightest parts of the plumage. In comparison, Pharaoh shows a sharper contrast. We’ve compiled side-by-side pictures of Brown and Pharaoh plumage here to best show the differences.

Cinnamon

  • Mutation: Cinnamon
  • Locus: AL
  • Gene: SLC45A2
  • Inheritance: Sex Linked Recessive
  • Feather sexable: Yes (based on underlying plumage)

Cinnamon is a pleiotropic mutation that dilutes plumage and eye color. Cinnamon plumage is diluted to a light beige that maintains the underlying pattern. The eyes are red, similar to Imperfect Albino. Cinnamon birds tend to be fragile and sensitive to light, so it is likely that the mutation affects more than pigment alone.

Calico

  • Mutation: Calico
  • Locus: Unknown
  • Gene: Unknown
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes

Calico is a mutation that causes lightened plumage and a change in plumage pattern. The mutation lightens the ventral and facial plumage, making it slightly more difficult to distinguish males from females. Most notably, it exaggerates the striation on the ventral plumage, giving Calico birds a unique elliptical pattern on their back.

Falb Fee

  • Mutation: Fee
  • Locus: Unknown
  • Gene: Unknown
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Incomplete Dominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes

Fee is a color dilution mutation that leaves the black and grey pigment in the plumage but dilutes the brown pigment. The bird presents as a greyscale version of the undiluted bird. In heterozygous form, the bird is partially diluted, and in homozygous form, it will be nearly all diluted. Only males will show a hint of undiluted facial plumage, while the remainder of the bird is black, white, and grey. An ideal hen will have a complete absence of brown plumage.

Sandy

  • Mutation: Sandy
  • Locus: Unknown
  • Gene: Unknown
  • Inheritance: Sex Link Dominant
  • Feather sexable: Yes

Sandy is a black dilution mutation that presents as a medium grey and brown colored bird. Often the wings and primary feathers will be more grey, while the body is slightly more brown. Males tend to be redder than females. The Sandy mutation has unusual interactions with other mutations, yielding an array of grey and red phenotypes.

Oz Dilute

  • Mutation: Oz Dilute
  • Locus: Unknown
  • Gene: Unknown
  • Inheritance: Autosomal Recessive
  • Feather sexable: Yes

Oz Dilute is a recently discovered dilution mutation that presents as a medium grey bird. Males and females present with the underlying plumage pattern and similar medium grey plumage. This mutation also appears to interact with many other mutations.

Polygenic Phenotypes:

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