Seraphim: Does Color Matter?

Seraphim are a white color created by a special set of color genes called “The Seraphim Color Gene Complex.”

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The 2017 Seraphim Standard of Perfection as depicted in the NPA Book of Standards. Seraphim are pure white as adults.

Based upon the history of how the breed was developed as well as test crosses, the color genes known to be present in Seraphim are: Recessive Red (or yellow), Satinette Piebald, White Flight, White-Sides, and some unknown genetic factor(s) connected to the White-Sides gene that turn the tail white – “tail-whitening” genes. This combo is “The Seraphim Color Gene Complex.” As for visual color, Seraphim MUST at first be recessive red or yellow as juveniles, and the color distribution MUST be specifically in the Satinette pattern, i.e. colored wing shields and tail. The head, neck and body are piebald (white), along with the 10 primary flight feathers. The Satinette pattern does not have to be perfect in young birds (it is difficult to breed a perfectly marked Satinette), but the pattern must be apparent. If a youngster has markings inconsistent with standard Satinette, one must consider the possibility that the Seraph Color Gene Complex has been corrupted and the parents are not Seraphim. With the first molt, red or yellow feathers are replaced completely with white (on occasion this may take two molts to get every red feather). Typically a Seraph is pure white by 6 months of age.

Being in the Owl family and originating from the Classic Oriental Frill, Seraphim also have lots of structureal mutations unrelated to color that vary from wild-type, including – but not limited to – grouse foot feathering, chest frill, needle-point peak, mane, gullet, and short beak. Other genes influence stance, feather length, and skull shape and size, which are all critical factors that differentiate Seraphim from other breeds. These traits are inherited with the influence of multiple genes and modifying factors and are significantly affected by careful (or careless) breeding programs. Seraphim look substantially different in form than their breed of origin due to highly selective breeding. The breeding program has significantly modified how the structural genes in Seraphim are expressed. Seraphim are today significantly structureally modified from their original breed of origin.

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The above old archival photo shows an early Seraph cock with his juvenile offspring. A couple of things stand out. First, this cock from the early years is noticeably shorter and stockier than the current standard and is not considered ideal by today’s Standard. Second, note the recessive red coloration in the baby, as well as the mismarked primary flights and neck feathers. Notice that the tail feather and wing covert feather tips are emblazoned with red. This six week old baby is mismarked and overmarked, but you get the idea; you can see that the underlying visual color pattern is Satinette Piebald. The discontinuation of pigment production occurs at variable times in juvenile feather formation, and thus youngsters may have feathers tipped only in red, or each entire feather in the tail and wingshields may be pigmented as in the baby above. In addition the juvenile markings may demonstrate the underlying presence of oriental frill and/or toy stencil.

First baby out of NoBand and Snow. 2012. One month old.

The above 2012 photo of a rather petrified little Seraph demonstrates the Satinette pattern of the juvenile: red wing shield and tail, white everyplace else. Note that the pigment distribution is different in this baby, and muted compared to the other (may be dilute, i.e. yellow.) The red may be spread and pure, or it may be faint with just the tips of the feathers affected, or some pattern in-between as in this case, but it MUST be in this Satinette distribution. The Satinette markings are perfect in this baby – there are no mis-marks in the white feathers of the body, neck, and head –  but perfection is not required (only desired) in the phenotype (appearance), as long as the proper genotype (the necessary genes for the basic Satinette pattern) is present. You can see this baby is a “lace-wing, lace-tail” specimen now, but you won’t be able to tell that in five months when it turns white. With known Seraph parents, the presence of the Satinette pattern in recessive red or yellow confirms the color pedigree of the young Seraph.

When the first molt is complete at 5-6 months of age, the young Seraph should be pure white—as demonstrated in the photo below of the baby from the previous photo taken at the Des Moines ISPA Show. The transformation to white in Seraphim is what is different about the white of Seraphim. There is typically no transition period; no gradual or progressive change to white over successive molts—it is immediate with the first molt. Sometimes a few red feathers will remain after the first molt simply because they weren’t dropped. Residual red juvenile feathers will be replaced with white at the second molt or intermittently before the second molt.

A particularly beautiful young Seraph cock.

A gorgeous young Seraph cock. This is the baby seen in the photo above it, now a young adult shown at the Des Moines ISPA Show. It is an absolutely dazzling pure white after the first molt as expected. Not a red feather remains. Also notice how different in form this modern day Seraph is from the much earlier Seraph cock in the first photograph of this article. This bird demonstrates the long line and regal statuesque structure expected of today’s Seraphim.  The feather ornaments are important. The frill is expected to be huge, as in this bird, and the peak must be a fine point, the mane must make a perfect line in the back, the swoop must be deep, and the toes must be finely feathered to the ends.

So….color and pattern matter, as does form. The Seraphim Color Gene Complex must be visually demonstrated in juvenile Seraphim, along with the expected structural attributes demanded in today’s Show Standard as the birds mature. This confirms  the presence of a proper genetic pedigree in the juvenile bird as well as the adults that produced it. Introducing the Seraphim Color Gene Complex into a population of Classic Oriental Frills does NOT create Seraphim. The fine-tuned physical attributes that make a Seraph a Seraph are lost in the process, as is the personality,  and the result is neither quality Classic Oriental Frills nor quality Seraphim – all the work of selective breeding is lost. The only way to assure Show Quality Seraphim is through the purchase of high quality stock with a known pedigree, followed by a dedicated and scrupulous breeding program to maintain the genetic modifiers that affect structure.

For some, Seraphim are the most visually exquisite breed of Fancy Show Pigeon ever created. The decades long process to create their delicate, angelic, and regal appearance while yet maintaining a strong natural constitution was an arduous combined artistic/scientific endeavor requiring the input and help of many experts, including Doc Hollander. As the developer of the breed, Anya Ellis is in real-life an artist. Seraphim are, at the end of the day, not just a complicated genetic enigma. They are really living art designed to be a gorgeous addition to any loft.

David Coster M.D.

Editor, The Seraphim Club International