Bird’s eye view: Who’ll crack the enigma?

We all like a good mystery tale, and the London Fancy is the biggest mystery in the canary world.  This week’s Cage & Aviary Birds featured an article by Colin Moore about his mixed collection which includes bantams and six varieties of canary, but it is his ambition to ‘crack the enigma’ of the London Fancy that grabbed the headlines. (1)

This was not so much an article as a ‘mission statement’.  It seems Mr. Moore has unconventional ideas and believes that ‘it could just as easily be a “maverick” as a known breeder who provides us with the London Fancy’.  That struck a chord and I found myself cheering him on.

While he is far from his ultimate goal, he evidently believes he has made progress because there are photographs to prove it.  He has a couple of birds with ‘dark wings on a clear body, as well as one with a dark tail on a clear body, but nothing of real note yet’.  You can see one of these birds in the photos at the head of this article.

Unfortunately, that is where some nagging doubts about Mr. Moore’s enterprise came to the surface.  This bird is an even-marked canary, not a nascent London Fancy.  It is like confusing a piebald pony with a zebra: they are both equids (2) and have black and white markings, but that’s all they have in common.  Genetically they are far apart.

Even-marked canaries were a Victorian obsession. The perfect even-marked canary was a clear bodied bird with dark feathers around the eyes, in both wings and the tail.  Special classes were provided for them in the Norwich, Yorkshire and Belgian canary sections, and Blakston devotes a whole chapter to them in his Canaries and Cage Birds (1877-80).   The variegation factor is notoriously difficult to control and impossible to predict (just think of the Lizard’s cap).  Blakston was adamant that ‘even-marking is exceptionally rare . . . the breeder must not for one moment expect to pair these birds in the belief that like will produce like’.   In all probability, perfect specimens existed only in illustrations (3).

Blakston-evenly marked Yorkshire-fss

Even-marked birds should not be confused with the London Fancy.  They may have superficial similarities but genetically they are very different, and one of the key differences is apparent in these photos: the primary feathers of the wings are white.  I hope Mr. Moore has not fallen into the trap of assuming that these are just a few foul feathers that can be bred out over successive generations.  Evenly-marked birds always had white primaries.  All the illustrations of the period show it.

Players cards-LF & Border-fss

Perhaps Mr. Moore is well aware of the difference, and is simply teasing us because he adds ‘I’ve got my own ideas for this challenge and let’s just say they don’t follow the ‘norm’.   Yet he tell us nothing about those ideas or how they differ from the ‘norm’ (whatever that may be).  Why the secrecy?  Compare that approach with Andy Early’s openness in reporting his own breeding experiments, which benefitted everyone.

I also found myself wondering why Mr. Moore felt it necessary to start from scratch when leading breeders have made so much progress in recent years.  For anyone in doubt, look out for the article by Piet Renders that is due to published in next week’s Cage & Aviary Birds .

The article may lack candour but it certainly doesn’t lack ambition, verging on hubris.  Apart from his London Fancy project, Mr. Moore hopes to ‘lay another myth to rest’, namely that it is necessary to specialise in one breed if you want to be successful.  He plans to ‘show various canaries and win with them all’.  One of those varieties is the Lizard, of which he has ‘very good examples’, so let’s see what happens at the East Anglia shows.

They say that fortune favours the brave, and Mr. Moore is certainly audacious.  Will this ‘maverick’ be vindicated as a visionary?   Let’s give him a chance to prove himself.

Footnote:

  1. “Who’ll crack the enigma?”, Cage and Aviary Birds, 18 May 2016, page 16.
  2. Equids are members of the horse family.
  3. Even today, the ‘ideal’ Border canary (and Fife Fancy) is depicted as a clear bird with dark secondary wing feathers . . . and clear primaries.

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