20 years of international names for Psittaciformes

20 years of international names for Psittaciformes

By Dirk Van den Abeele
Ornitho-Genetics VZW
MUTAVI, Research & Advice Group

Published BVA-International magazine december 2018

In July 2018 I had a meeting / lecture with a group of students in the Netherlands. Afterwards I had a talk with a few people. One of them mentioned that the international names, and I quote literally: “were actually the egg of Columbus and that they definitely helped the hobby and made it more creditable”. A comment which I did not expect from such a young person and which pleased me, I must admit. It becomes more and more obvious that most young people do appreciate this. But this has not always been the case.

When I told them the story of how we came to this point I realized suddenly that on March 21st 2018, exactly 20 years ago, we started on the international names. Therefore it seemed a good idea to pay attention to this in the BVA international magazine.

Once upon a time…
Most young amateurs can hardly imagine but it was not always so easy to obtain information about colour mutations in lovebirds and the other parakeet species as it is now. For a colour mutation there used to be multiple names because each organization had its own terminology. No one realized that certain phenotypes were not base mutations, but combinations of crossing-overs or alleles of the same gene and they kept on using different names for these mutation combinations. Amateurs linked their own theories to these names and they tended to mainly use the names of their local club / union.

Most organizations had their own method of looking at and naming mutations. When they had a new mutation, the person who bred it tended to use his own discretion. It was then up to the ‘big chiefs’ within a judges organization to decide whether they wanted to use this name or come up with their own. Most Dutch-sounding names were based on personal preferences, there was hardly any deliberation. The scientific background and foundation were usually missing for most names. Most were based on assumptions (which is sadly still the order of the day for some species). The person making the most noise was usually the one heard. They actually always tried to be slightly different from the other organizations. That way they were hoping to make a name for themselves (this was even the case within BVA back then).

Within BVA we were fed up with these antics and I proposed to have a meeting with the (at that time largest) organizations in the Netherlands and Belgium. I can assure you that this initiative did stir up a fuss. I did not only get several faxes / phone calls from people who thought everything should remain the same and we, as a specialist club, should not involve ourselves in other organizations. A reasoning I could follow. Keep in mind that back then the specialist clubs were treated poorly by these organizations. A lot of lovebird enthusiasts strongly felt that there was not a lot of attention and knowledge of lovebirds within these organizations. Therefore it was a result of these frustrations that the more specialized lovebird enthusiasts founded the BVA. I can understand that people feared that BVA would again be dominated or absorbed by these organizations. I never took offence. Their fear was definitely not unfounded.

There were also several breeders who made fun of me and who already predicted that no one would attend the meeting. “You will not even be able to get these people in one room”, I was told several times. Yet within BVA we strongly believed in this idea. For us it did not matter which names came out on top, as long as there was uniformity. The trick was to make people realize that, in addition to their tunnel vision whereby their own organization was considered all mighty and the centre of the world, there were a lot of other people involved in this hobby and that it was very confusing to handle these different names.

Invitations were sent to KBOF, AOB, ANBVV and NBVV. After a few months we received confirmation from all organizations that they would be present, but also from most a lengthy explanation why their names were ‘perfect’ and clearly founded. Of course they all had the ideal system. In other words, they did not feel like making any adjustments. On Saturday March 21st 1998 the day was finally there and we met the representatives from the various organizations in Serskamp.

I can assure you that the tension was palpable. On arrival most participants had already indicated that they did not feel like ‘being lectured’ by a small organization from the Flanders. I tried to reassure them with the statement that we would deliberate on everything. Yet I heard someone still mumble: “We shall see”.
To break the tension I explained that in Flanders no meeting could start without a Trappist beer, so we all had one. After the first one was drunk we ordered another one and then we finally got to work. The participants were clearly more relaxed (LOL).

We soon faced our first obstacle: most organizations used ‘sea green’ for what is now aqua, but within BVA we used sea blue. All heads turned towards our delegation with the remark: “See, this is where you deviate”. My answer was simple: “’No problem, from now on we will also use sea green in BVA”. This was clearly not what they were expecting. A person present sighed and said: “Oh boy”.

We kept on going and by the end of the afternoon we had a list of proposed uniform names. Of course each organization had to still discuss this back home with their bosses, that much was clear. It took nearly two years before each organization reached an agreement. Within BVA it was much simpler, and we started immediately and applied all agreements and … trust me when I say that no enthusiast ever complained, on the contrary.
Whereas it was only our intention to use uniform names in the Dutch speaking countries, it suddenly became more complex. In 1999 I was approached by Inte Onsman of MUTAVI, Research & Advice Group with the question to collaborate with MUTAVI. I had my doubts but Inte put them to bed: “I will send you some research material to ease your mind”.

And indeed, within the same week a large box was delivered with kilogrammes of publications and books. It was clear that this would be a long haul study. But I was interested so I went for it. I even started to study genetics, evolution and taxonomy again.

Then came the veterinarian Terry Martin from Australia with the idea to launch an international, English, terminology. What appeared to be simple turned out to be a difficult, even fierce assignment. A lot of opinions and suggestions needed to be taken into account. It was clear that if we wanted to have a solid base, we definitely had to keep in mind:

• Already assigned names, in both aviculture and science
• The opinion of certain study groups
• The genetic background of each mutation
• The diverse pigment formation
• Existing scientific rules

The Genetics Psittacine Group on the internet was one of the media used to discuss certain ideas with aviculturists. In the meantime it meant a lot of study and especially research for us.

When the first international agreements were developed, I again had to work with the people in Belgium and the Netherlands to convince them that we should immediately adopt this system. This definitely was not an easy feat. First we already had adjusted the names in Dutch, now we wanted to switch to English names. A lot of judges were not in favour of this. The first modification on the list was pallid, instead of the famous ‘isabel’ or Australian cinnamon. For some this was clearly a step too far. At a certain moment I was in the Netherlands for a meeting and I was urgently summoned by one of the ‘big chiefs’ of this organization. He explained to me that they only wanted to use Dutch names, not English names, because they had never done that before and that could not be the goal. So the proposal to use pallid was a no go for him. When he was finished I told him that I understood his view and explanation but I did question what we were going to do with for instance cinnamon, fallow, etc? As far as I know these were English names and we had been using them for decades? The man looked at me bewildered and started to laugh: “darn, you are right, I never thought about this”. Or how an idée fixe can block your logical reasoning.

Then we started to apply step by step, the international names for which a consensus had been reached, to lovebirds. Through the internet there was already a group with a number of judges from each participating organization where all adjustments were clearly listed. Within BVA these modifications were immediately applied. An agreement is an agreement.

One of the ‘think tanks’ of this project was still the Genetics-Psittacine Group. Of course we also worked from within MUTAVI and the in the meantime founded Ornitho-Genetics VZW with scientists and other work groups. Unfortunately it became increasingly clear that the Genetics-Psittacine Group was a victim of its own success. In the early days everything was still fairly decent but unfortunately there were now some, what I call, ego’s who tried to sabotage things using aliases. This really stopped our progress. Some even went so far as to bother Inte and myself, even at home. Yes, certain people fought tooth and nail to protect their own limited ideas / visions. Even if because of this they became the laughing stock of the more educated aviculturist. One even went to far as to write to the organizations in Belgium and Europe with the statement that MUTAVI did not exist and that they had to exclude us from everything. Event today these people are still trying to sabotage our research (in vain). Talk about real fans (LOL).

It was clear that if the project of the “international names and agreements” wanted to succeed, we would have to continue in a different manner. The number of people involved in the group from then on was kept more limited and they searched more for a scientific basis. This way the work could continue. A short time later Dr Terry Martin discontinued the GP group and his participation in this project. The good man had had enough. And we could not blame him.

From within Ornitho-Genetics VZW and MUTAVI, Research & Advice Group we continued the work. This was not an easy task. To get to the bottom of certain colour mutations research had to be done and when this had to be paid for there was no one available (as is still the case). So most of the money came (and still comes) from us.

In the meantime enthusiasts of other species also came knocking. For instance for goulds [Chloebia gouldiae] international names were also composed. Unfortunately these names were only applied within one Belgian specialist club. Definitely a missed opportunity.

With the introduction of the smaller ‘colour parakeets’ [Melopsittacus undulatus] a lot of enthusiasts also came knocking to apply the names within this branch. Unfortunately the breeders of the posture parakeets put the brakes on. It is a pity that they do not realize that they are torpedoing their own hobby this way, while still complaining that there are no young hobbyists.

In Belgium and the Netherlands these international names for lovebirds were applied nearly fully, albeit sometimes with some delay. The main problem in the Netherlands was that most decisions needed to be ratified by, mainly, judges involved in zebra finches and other exotic species. These people are never present during meetings but they still want the final say. Strange but true, this is probably unique in the world and unfortunately no one realizes that this is no longer of this day and age. But, that is their problem.

Other countries followed suit gradually. What is remarkable is that where the international agreements were introduced, the breeders did not question them, but a lot of ‘dignitaries’ always came up with the same remark: “They should not tell us what to do” or “Van den Abeele should not impose his names”. This always makes me smile, since I never named any mutation except for euwing and recently yellam (for Forpus coelestis) and this only happened because no one else came up with a name (and then they still criticize it).

In the end the majority of aviculturists are satisfied with these developments and international names. We hear this on a weekly basis. It is a system which makes worldwide communication between aviculturists possible. This benefits everyone. Look at BVA-International. Worldwide there are already various sister organizations who can easily exchange information about lovebirds.

If someone wants to use the local names when he discusses birds with his neighbour, then he can definitely do this but he knows that if he is talking to a Spanish person he can use the international names. It is up to him to decide whether to do this or not. And believe me, common sense will prevail. The young people do get it and they are cooperating. They are after all the future of our hobby. A number of scientific publications [1] also use these names, as do most books and articles. At lease once per year the new colour mutations are discussed by us and a number of other people and adjusted if need be. If necessary specialized aviculturists / organizations are consulted. In other words: the job is never finished.

Most of us however do realize that we must move forward and that we should definitely not be slowed down by outmoded goals / organizations, or as the great Eddy Wally put it: “Standing still is going backwards”.
If that is not ‘amazing’?

PS: If you want an overview of the international agreements you can download these from www.ogvzw.org.


H. van der Zwan, C. Visser, en R. van der Sluis, “Plumage colour variations in the Agapornis genus: a review”, Ostrich, vol. 90, nr. 1, pp. 1–10, jan. 2019.