COM Lizard classification, part 2: the 10% rule

Ernest Gracia tells me that there was an experiment some years ago to allow up to 10% dark feathers in the classes for clear birds in Section E (type/posture canaries).  It proved so contentious that the experiment was quickly abandoned.  Will the Lizard’s cap suffer the same fate?

The new COM classification for the Lizard canary is welcome, but it assumes that the judges will have a good knowledge of the definition of the cap.  If they don’t, there is a danger that some good birds will be disqualified.  In this article I am going to explain how I assess the three categories: clear cap, broken cap and non cap (1).  I assume that my readers will be familiar with the boundary of the ideal cap; anyone needing a refresher should read Lizard canary basics, part 4: the cap.

At the time of writing, COM has not published a definition of the three caps.  The only official guidance is the LCA definition, which can be summarised as:

Clear cap: ideally 100% clear, but up to 10% dark feathers are permitted within the boundary of the cap.

Non cap*: ideally 100% dark, but up to 10% light feathers are permitted within the boundary of the cap.

Broken cap*: a Lizard that is neither a clear cap nor a non cap.

(* the dark feathers should ideally take the form of miniature spangles)

We will start with the perfect cap. These drawings have their limitations; anyone who wonders about my technique should refer to footnote (2).    You will see a square that represents 10% of the notional area of the cap.  Easy for me to draw, but difficult to assess in practice.

Outlines of the ideal clear cap and non cap

The tricky part is how do you measure 10% of the cap when judging a bird in a show cage?  The short answer is that you can’t.  Firstly you have to gauge where the boundaries of the ideal cap should lie; secondly you must assess what proportion of the cap has been lost; and finally you have to measure these areas on a live bird that is constantly moving!  The best you can do is make an honest, but imperfect, assessment.

Let’s put this to the test.  Have a look at examples A, B, C & D.  They are all based on a particular type of broken cap known as a patch cap, where the dark feathers form an island surrounded by clear feathers.  To make things easier, I have drawn the same shape in each example and simply scaled up or down.  Which would you classify as a clear cap and which as a broken cap?

Which, if any, of these caps have more than 10% dark feathers?

Answer: only B is a broken cap; none of the others exceed 10% dark feathers (3).   Many people would say they are all broken caps, and I can’t blame them.  A good judge will give them the benefit of the doubt.

The above is a hypothetical example; in real life broken caps come in all sizes and shapes.  Most are easy to identify, like the bird in the centre of the photo at the head of this article.  Others are even more difficult than caps A-D.  Have a look at examples E-H.  Rather than a single patch of dark feathers, they are spread around the cap. Would you place them in the clear cap or broken cap class?

Clear cap or broken cap?

Answer:  they are all 10% dark.  I know because I have a computer programme that tells me the total area of dark feathers within the boundary of the cap.  A judge does not have that advantage.  He, or she, has to form a general impression and act accordingly.  Here are the same caps annotated with the outline of the perfect cap:

The same caps annotated with the outline of a perfect cap

These sorts of caps are at a big disadvantage; they are neither good clear caps nor good broken caps.  Technically the birds could still win if they are strong in spangles and all the other features, but in practice a good bird with a neater cap is very likely to beat them.

I hope these illustrations demonstrate how difficult it can be to assess a cap when it is close to the 10% limit.  You have to be realistic about the limitations of the human eye.  My advice is:

1.  Don’t get obsessed about the exact proportions of light and dark in the cap.  Be realistic and allow a fair margin of error.

2.  If you are a judge, try to give the exhibitor the benefit of the doubt.  Better to deduct an extra point than to disqualify a bird.

3.  If you are an exhibitor, play safe.  If in doubt, enter the bird as a broken cap.


  1. You may see other terms such as patch cap, short cap and ticked cap, but as far as the classification is concerned, there are only three types: clear cap, broken cap and non cap.
  2. The original illustrations were drawn in Vectorworks which calculates areas with precision, regardless of the complexity of the shape.  The areas are based on 2D illustrations; they do not account for the curvature of the skull.  For the purposes of the illustrations, I have shown the eyes partly concealed, but in practice I doubt that you would see them unless the bird turns its head.  The same applies to the eyelash.
  3. Cap A has 9% dark feathers in its cap; cap B has 11%; cap C has 10% and cap D has 8%.

4 thoughts on “COM Lizard classification, part 2: the 10% rule

  1. You have made it easy to see just how challenging it could be to make the right call. Your final point ‘If you are an exhibitor, play safe. If in doubt, enter the bird as a broken cap’ would seem to be sound advice.

  2. Another excellent article Huw. offering opinion and sound advice to all. as a judge when confronted with a 50/50 case I will always go with the exhibitors choice, to be honest I don’t think it is such an issue in the UK….99% of the time birds are in correct classes, but it will be very interesting seeing the new classes at the world show…..with COM/OMJ judges…..I fear there will be some strange results.

  3. Below, is an ‘authorised’ translation of the actual COM/OMJ Standard “as it applied” prior to any alteration. Mr Williamson should have access to this by virtue of his OMJ training and be able to confirm ? It is ‘interesting’ in that, as per my comment in the previous Blog entry, whilst the Uk has ( perhaps?) the benefit of the Notes for Guidance which support the LCA Standard and the lengthy full description of the ‘ideal’ clear capped gold cock, COM/OMJ work to a different ‘code’.
    I have put in ‘block capitals’ the most salient points of the old standard. It effectively pre-ordains that a cap with ‘any’ dark feathers or a non cap with the odd light feather will instantly be penalised points. No allowance for ANY % of clear feathers is (was) allowed. I doubt at the moment that has been altered or addressed.

    Given the way in which birds are judged to the points system, any loss of points for any light/dark feathers was almost certain to put a ‘broken’/defective capped bird down the class.

    As per my previous comments again, the Standard, as adopted and promoted in the Uk ‘does not appear’ to have ever been properly addressed with COM / OMJ so they have never – and arguably could not be expected to – train ( and examine) their Border, Fife, Norwich, Bossu, Berner & Huppe !! judges to have any understanding of what Uk fanciers and the parent body seem to think is a fundamental of the breed around the definition of the cap.

    The clear ( excuse the pun) statement is that there is ‘no’ understanding in this of any 10% ‘rule’ or definition, nor ever has been. It’s probably not surprising as it isn’t actually a ‘rule’ here, any more than it is there….?

    “The head is fairly large, round and full on the top. The cap extends from the
    base of the upper mandible to the base of the skull and is oval in shape with
    clearly defined edges.
    A “clear cap” is one whose cap is PERFECTLY CLEAR.
    A broken cap is one where the light area of the cap is MORE or LESS broken by dark feathers in the
    defined oval shape.
    A “non-cap” is one where the light coloured cap of the crown of the head is
    ENTIRELY ABSENT and is replaced by dark feathers of the normal pattern.
    Clear capped or non capped, cocks or hens, may all attain an equal standard.
    ( and ) broken capped birds which are equal to the ideal in all respects other than
    the cap will LOSE only A PROPORTION proportion of the 10 points for the cap.”

    Fancies and Fanciers across all the breeds bemoan Judges not judging “to the standard”. What do you do when the ‘standard’ is not fit for purpose or properly explains the finer points of the breed ?

    A Section EE ‘Feather Pattern Breeds’ ?