Seraphim: Does Color Matter?

YES, it does.

“Why? How?”

Let’s begin.

Seraphim originated from Satinette patterned Classic Oriental Frills in 1986…

“Yeah, I know that! They’re just white Oriental Frills!”

No – WRONG. They’re neither “just white” nor “Oriental Frills.” As Seraphim they are a white created by a special set of color genes called “The Seraphim Color Gene Complex,”  and though derived from Classic Oriental Frills they are no more “Oriental Frill” than an American Show Racer is a Racing Homer. Selective breeding has carried Seraphim far from their original origins in character, form, and color.

Seraphim, being in the Owl family,  have lots of mutations 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 structure, stance, feather length, and skull shape and size, which are all critical factors that differentiate Seraphim from other breeds, including their breed of origin. These traits are inherited with the influence of multiple genes and modifying factors and are significantly affected by careful (or careless) breeding programs.

The 2017 Seraph Standard of Perfection by Anya Ellis

The 2017 Seraph Standard of Perfection by Anya Ellis. The culmination of thirty one years of breed development.
Over the decades there have been substantial changes made in Seraphim by selective breeding. This is especially evident in the peak, swoop, mane, head shape, skull size, beak, length, and stance. Today’s Seraphim vary considerably from the original two birds first found in Anya’s loft. These feather and structural changes strongly differentiate Seraphim from their breed of origin, the Classic Oriental Frill.

Based on the results of historical test crosses, the color genes present in Seraphim are: Recessive Red (or yellow), Satinette Piebald, White Flight, White-sides, and some unknown genetic factors that turn the tail white – “tail-whitening” genes. Until these genes are precisely located and defined by DNA sequencing, this description is the best we can do.  As for color, Seraphim MUST be visual 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 (it is difficult to breed a perfectly marked Satinette), but the pattern must be obvious. 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.

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The above 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, and the bodies of the feathers are white, evidence of early shutdown of pigment production. This is typical. 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. 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.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, 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. With known Seraph parents, the presence of this Satinette pattern in recessive red confirms the 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. Sometimes a few red feathers will remain after the first molt simply because they weren’t molted. Residual red juvenile feathers will be replaced with white at the second molt.

A particularly beautiful young Seraph cock.

A gorgeous young Seraph cock. This is the baby seen in the photo above, now a young adult seen at the Des Moines ISPA Show. It is an absolutely dazzling pure white after the first molt as expected, not a red feather remains. The white of Seraphim is so bright it is difficult for a camera to adjust to the effect to take a proper photograph. Also notice how different in form this modern day Seraph is from the much earlier Seraph cock in the first photograph. This bird demonstrates the 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 they 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, just pet-quality mutts, pretty though they may be. 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.

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 art, beauty, and spirit, and a gorgeous addition to any loft.

David Coster M.D.

Editor, The Seraphim Club International

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