Bird’s eye view: the Breckland Cinnamon Lizard Canary Club

It was only a matter of time.  Once a club for ‘blue lizards’ was formed, the genie was out of the bottle and, despite proclamations to the contrary, it was inevitable that other colours would follow.  

The announcement came in this week’s Cage & Aviary Birds (1).  Bernard Howlett, better known for his colour mutations of British birds and his campaign to recreate the London Fancy, is setting up two clubs: the Breckland London Fancy Canary Club and the Breckland Cinnamon Lizard Canary Club.  Laying the foundations for a new variety called the ‘Breckland Fancy’ perhaps?

According to the article, Mr. Howlett had wanted to set up a club for cinnamon lizards for ‘some time’.  He got an opportunity to realise his ambition when ‘in 2015, another cinnamon Lizard appeared in the stud of an Essex breeder, quite by accident’.  He acquired a bird from the Essex breeder and has ‘bred young from it’.  The article is short on detail, but I’ve since learned that the Essex breeder was Colin Marsh, and the bird’s parents were two ‘normal Lizards’ (2).  Mr Howlett acquired a young cock ‘split for cinnamon’ and paired it to a ‘normal cinnamon hen and has been successful in breeding a few cinnamons this year’.  If my information is correct, Mr. Howlett’s youngsters are 25% lizard x 75% cinnamon cross-breds.  He is a long way from achieving his objective.

Cinnamon ((better known as ‘brown’ amongst colour canary fanciers) is a sex-linked recessive mutation which suppresses black eumelanin; in its absence, the feathers become a grey-brown colour.   The gene can be carried in hidden form by male canaries.  A cinnamon youngster could appear from visually ‘normal’ parents if the father was a cinnamon-carrier.  Any cinnamon/brown coloured offspring would be hens (3).

Where did the cinnamon/brown gene come from?   There are two possible explanations: it was either a spontaneous mutation (I’ve never known it happen in a stud of true-bred Lizard canaries, but in theory it is possible) or it was introduced from tainted stock.  Thanks to the import of continental ‘blue lizards’ in recent years, the latter explanation is the more likely.

Experimental colour breeding is much more widespread in mainland Europe than in Great Britain; the cinnamon/brown gene could easily have been introduced by using a colour canary to produce ‘blue lizards’.  To give you a well-known example, Piet Renders only discovered that his London Fancies carried recessive colour genes when cinnamon/brown and white specimens appeared in his stud.   He realised that these genes must have been introduced by the colour canary he used at the start of his breeding experiments (4).  It may have been a surprise, but the outcome was no accident.

The article includes a photograph of Mr. Marsh’s colour-fed ‘cinnamon lizard’.  From what we can see in the photo, it possesses two recognisable Lizard features: a clear cap and dark wings and tail. There are virtually no rowings or spangles, just narrow stripes down the back of the bird.  The feathers below the eye are worryingly light.  Surprisingly, the bird appears to have black melanins in its wings and tail and in the stripes.  It does not look like a cinnamon.  That may be down to colour distortion in the photograph, but it is an anomaly which needs clarification.

Despite his lack of stock, Mr. Howlett is pressing ahead with a specialist club.  If his aim was to be the first to form a society for ‘cinnamon lizards’, he will be disappointed.  The Canario Ocelado Español , a Spanish version of the same mutation, was formally recognised in 2015 (5).  It even has its own show standard, but as you can see from the specimen in the photo, it is a travesty of the Lizard canary.

canario-ocelado-espanol-fss

The potential danger of yet another Lizard look-alike is worrying, but the damage that has already been done by blues. I’ve heard an argument which runs along the lines that is OK to have ‘blue lizards’ because the white factor is a dominant gene, and you can see if a Lizard is a blue or not.  By contrast, the cinnamon/brown gene is recessive and can be carried in hidden form, and is therefore unacceptable.  At best this is faulty logic, at worst a deliberate attempt to mislead.

The threat to the classic Lizard canary is posed not by the ‘blue lizard’ or the ‘brown lizard’ (because they are easy to recognise) but by blue-breds and brown-breds.  These are the offspring of blues and browns (not just the F1s, but every generation thereafter) which have a yellow ground colour.  They can be mistaken by newcomers as ‘normal Lizards’ yet they carry a host of ruinous faults.  I do mean ruinous.

Established breeders of the classic Lizard canary have long learned to be on their guard, but newcomers and novices will buy these birds in good faith, unaware of the danger.  They will only discover their error when the damage is done. The only way to breed the classic Lizard canary in all its glory is to start with true-bred birds, work hard, and keep them uncontaminated by alien genes.

I dare say that advocates of cross-breeding will remind me that people are free to keep whatever birds they like (6), but that does not give them a licence to ruin a historic breed like the Lizard canary (7).  For me, the most disappointing aspect of this whole affair is that Mr. Howlett should know better.  He is a decent man and a dedicated bird breeder, but he must be aware from his research that cross-breeding was one of the factors that led to the downfall of the London Fancy (8), yet he appears unconcerned that the true-bred Lizard canary faces the same threat.  How ironic that a man who is committed to resurrecting an extinct breed is encouraging the demise of its only surviving relative.

Footnotes:

I would like to thank Danielle Sugliani for drawing my attention to the Canario Ocelado Español.

  1. Cage & Aviary Birds, 5 October 2016, p2.
  2. People often use the term ‘normal Lizard’ to describe a bird with yellow ground colour.  Just because it is yellow doesn’t mean it is a true-bred Lizard canary.
  3. For an explanation of the inheritance of sex-linked recessive mutations such as the cinnamon/brown, I recommend Geoff Walker’s Coloured, Type & Song Canaries.
  4. The Revival of the London Fancy by Piet Renders, published in Cage & Aviary Birds, 25 May 2016, p.14.
  5. By the Club Nacional Amigos del Canario Lizard following a presentation to the Spanish technical committee in 2015.  The project started in 2008 and involved around 15 breeders.  The variety was officially named the Canario Ocelado Español in 2016.
  6. Provided, of course, that they comply with the law.
  7. Rampant cross-breeding in the late nineteenth century was also responsible for bringing the Lancashire Coppy, the Scots Fancy and the Belgian canary to their knees.
  8. This will be the topic of a future aricle.

15 thoughts on “Bird’s eye view: the Breckland Cinnamon Lizard Canary Club

  1. I’m surprised thst the Cinny lizards is considered news. I had one a few years ago from a friend, a good bird, lizard in type, fully cinnamon in colour. They’ve been available in the UK for a few years.

  2. Just read point 7 above, about rampant cross breeding. I’m note sure that this was the cause of breeds dying out of itself.

    For example, the London Fancy was widely described as a genetic basket case (my words only) long before it died out. It appears to have been in the hands of relatively few breeders. It could fairly be argued that organised crossing and back crossing was the way to save it. That didn’t happen.

    The Lanc suffered from very localised popularity. Yes, the Lanc was widely used to produce the crested Norwich, but lack real popularity combined with a major war or two didn’t help things.

    The rampant cross breeding of the 19th century was maybe the sign of a vibrant fancy, and it produced many good things. The alternative is stagnation, which is what seems to be happening in the UK fancy at present. Not good to live in a museum.

      1. I suppose there’s a practical and a theoretical answer possible Huw. The theoretical answer is, yes, preserve the lizard.

        The practical answer I would need to consider is how, and under what terms that preservation took place. Because no one can stop people from breeding coloured lizards. It’s not feasible. My comment related to what it actually said, crossing isn’t a bad thing of itself. It’s had positive outcomes, it is a practical solution to overbred strains, it produces new breeds.

        The fancy ( any fancy) standing still isn’t an option, and in my view if it did then that would be a ‘bad thing’.

  3. There have been Cinnamon Lizard Canaries exhibited in Australia for many years. The Best Cinnamon at last years annual Lizard Show was of a much higher quality than the bird in the photograph above. The bird had very distinct spangles and rowings, with excellent feather quality.

    1. My understanding is that the Australian birds are descended from Lizard x Border crosses after imports were banned. You don’t have a heritage to protect.

  4. Bernard Howletts time would be better spent joining the Breckland Society Projects rather than trying to grab the lime-light hoping to create some- thing of no Great significance, one would ask Mr Howlett to use his integrity!

  5. Can’t help but read the above without a great sense of sadness, for over 300 years our forefathers and custodians (of this little national treasure) worked hard at keeping this bloodline pure and developing the supreme beauty and individuality of the lizard canary (gold and silver) as it is today

    A practical solution to an overbred strain wasn’t and still isn’t required now, just look at the drawings available from 100/200 years ago to what you see now, this wasn’t created over a decade, it has evolved over time to the classy little bird it is now, by great Lizard men

    Now, you talk about cross bred birds, cinnamon/blue/red and crested etc and call them Lizards
    These birds are no more than mongrels no matter what way you look at it and I’m pretty sure the great respected breeders of the past would class this as rouge blood

    I’m also sure that these great men and woman from the past would be turning in their graves, as very soon there will be no pure bred original Lizards left, we won’t have to worry about conserving
    This heritage then, it will be too late, the hundreds of years of hard work will have been undone

    Now that’s sad

    (My thoughts only guys)

    1. They are available, but becoming rare. Visit several breeders, look at their birds, and ask lots of questions. As with antiques, quality and provenance are all-important. So is the commitment of the breeder.

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