Penguin Zebra Finches

As far as I am aware, the Penguin mutation originated in Australia, but I am unclear as to exactly when, but probably in the 1940s. A few examples reached Belgium in the late 1940s. They have had various names including “Silverwings”, and in continental Europe they have retained one of their original names, Whitebreasted, but in the English speaking world they are almost universally known as Penguins. I have always presumed this name to arise from the similarity in appearance of Grey Penguin hens to many of the species of real penguin that inhabit the Antarctic.

There are a number of curious characteristics in the appearance of Penguins when compared to the other standard mutations. The first arises from the ability of this mutation to supress black pigmentation on its front parts, from the cheek area (no black tear marks!) to the end of its lower tail. So therefore we should expect none of the familiar zebra lines and chest bar on cocks that is typical for most other mutations. Secondly, the edges of the wing primary feathers should be “frosted” with white which in Normals or Fawns, for example, would be a major show fault. This frosting effect is again a function of this mutations ability to suppress black pigmentation, but the effect is to make the wings, from a distance, appear to be a shade of silver hence the early name “Silverwing”. The frosting is found on both cocks and hens, but is normally absent on young birds straight out of the nest, only developing after the birds moult into adult plumage. The frosting continues to develop with each succeeding moult, generally stabilising at around 12-18 months old. This can make it difficult to match pairs for Breeder classes. Sometimes the frosting continues to increase further, so that in extreme cases an almost white bird is eventually produced. My experience is that this happens more frequently with cocks than hens. Another characteristic is that Penguin hens have clear and distinct white cheek patches, so that it is very easy to see a Penguin hen in a flight with other mutations.

Penguins have been recognised by the ZFS since the mid 1950s, but curiously there was only a written standard for the Normal (Grey) version. Eventually it fell to me to write the Fawn Penguin standard only a few years ago. In fact, Penguin can appear in combination with other mutations for example CWF Penguins, Dilute Penguins, and Lightback Penguins, but these are rarely seen on the showbench. In Continental Europe the combination of CFW and Penguin is one of the recognised forms of “red-flanked”, since in essence the cock would be expected to be essentially a white bird with just the orange flanks and cheek patches being apparent.

So how to breed Penguins? This mutation is autosomal recessive, so pairing Penguin to Penguin should give you all Penguin young. Using Pg to represent the Penguin factor:

Pg x Pg = 100%Pg

So pairing Normal Penguin to Normal Penguin will give Normal Penguins, and a pairing of Fawn Penguins will similarly give all Fawn Penguins. But pairing a Fawn Penguin cock to a Normal Penguin hen, or a Normal Penguin cock to a Fawn Penguin hen will still give 100% Penguins, but some will be Fawn Penguins and some visually Normal Penguins:

F.Pg x N.Pg =(Normal/Fawn) Pg cocks and F.Pg hens

N.Pg x F.Pg = (Normal/Fawn) Pg cocks and N.Pg hens

Sharp-eyed readers will at this point notice that this is very similar to the expectations from standard Normal x Fawn or Fawn x Normal pairings, but with the addition of the Penguin factor.

Pairing Penguin to, say, a Normal will give you all visual Normal chicks, but these chicks will all be carriers (i.e. split for) the Penguin factor.

Normal x N.Pg = Normal/Pg cocks and hens

Of course, in this case it doesnt matter whether the cock of the pair is the Normal or N.Pg. These Penguin splits can then be paired to a visual Penguin to generate more Penguins:

Normal/Pg x N.Pg = Normal/Pg cocks and hens, and N.Pg cocks and hens.

This pairing has frequently been used to “improve” Penguins, particularly in size and type. In my experience the use of a Normal (or Fawn) outcross needs to be used sparingly. Too frequent use always seems (sooner or later) to cause faint chest bars/zebra lines and tear marks.

Some years ago there seemed to be a revival in the number of Penguin breeders, especially in the southern part of England. Not so long ago, there were 50 pairs staged at the Southwest area show, many of them by novices. Alas for a number of reasons many of these have since left the fancy, and we are again down to a handful of breeders. I admit the challenge of breeding good Penguins is not for the faint hearted but why not have a go!!