Pitfalls in the Genetic Classification of Colors: Maser and Pencil

Similarities in the phenotype are often misinterpreted as being genetically identical. When asked what the dark ‘maser’ of the Danzig Highflyer (fig. 1) shown in a photo was, around 40% of the answers in a genetics group plead for 'pencil', when the direct answers and the 'likes' were added. A third of the answers were 'grizzle and smoky', which pointed in the right direction. Behind it, the reference to the dark variant of the ‘maser’ (veined or grained), a traditional color class of the Danzig highflyers, with 15%. However, the own contribution and approvals are omitted in calculating the percentages.

Fig. 1: Danzig Highflyers at Schachtzabel 1910, dark ‘maser’ third bird from the left.

The reason for the predominantly incorrect and imprecise classification are probably descriptions in the literature. In 1965 Levi shows a light ‘maser’ as a 'mottle' (fig. 2), in another genetic work a light ‘maser’ is assigned to the group of the 'pencil'. The white or white grizzle head of the maser variants, deviating from the Briver Color Heads with the pencil trait, was misinterpreted as ‘baldhead’, a misleading term that would be worth a discussion of its own.

Fig. 2: Light ‘maser’ Danzig Highflyer at Levi 1965, there named ‘mottled’

The assignment to the Pencil group by the authors at that time was probably only a conjecture that readers understood and understand as a fact. It was not tested, otherwise it would have been noticed that besides some details in the coloring also the inheritance is different.

Fig. 3:  Brive Colorheads blue and black and Strasser black-laced. Source: Pigeon Genetics 2012

Fig. 4: F1 of a Pomeranian Dominant White cock and a blue bar hen; light and dark maser Danzig Highflyer. Source:  Pigeon Genetics 2012.

‘Maser’, the coloring of ‘red bar grizzles’ and other grizzle variants in several highflyer breeds, are often hidden under dominant whites of the respective breeds. It can be uncovered in case of continued back pairings to colored partners. The here shown uncovered grizzle variants are all dominant, because the individuals are heterozygous due to the colored mothers. The crosses shown at the attached photo sequences were done in a different context, but may still invite you to systematic investigations.

In the first picture sequence (fig. 5) the pairing of a dominant white Stralsund of the flying type with a Spread Ash Pomeranian Eye Crested Highflyer. Most often you get from pairings of dominant white with full colored individuals whites with a few colored flecks (Fig. 4 left), in this mating, however, a red bar grizzle cock (figure 5 in the top row). This cock mated back to a platinum bar hen produced young as shown in the lower row.

Fig. 5: F1 and first backcross of a Stralsund Highflyer (flying type) and Pomeranian Eye Crested Highflyer hens.

In Figure 6 a red bar grizzle cock from the first backcross is shown with his dam, a Pomeranian Spread Platinum hen. At the right their grizzle- and maser-like young of the first round. Both young again heterozygous for the specific grizzle/maser trait.

Fig. 6: Second backcross after an outcross upon a dominant white Flying Stralsund.


Levi, W., Encyclopedia of Pigeon Breeds, Jersey City 1965.

Schachtzabel, E., Illustriertes Prachtwerk sämtlicher Tauben-Rassen, Würzburg o.J. (1910).

Sell, A., Pigeons Genetics. Applied Genetics in the Domestic Pigeon, Achim 2012

Sell, A., Taubenzucht. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen züchterischer Gestaltung, Achim 2019.