David Newton, the best kept secret in the Lizard canary fancy?

I am often asked about British Lizards and their breeders.  The questioner may be a novice seeking stock, or a continental breeder curious about the British scene.  The most common question I am asked is “who has the best Lizards in England?” (1).  Generally, I prefer to give a diplomatic answer, starting with the disclaimer that no single person is the best.  If pushed, I will give a shortlist of names comprising people (both champion and novice) that I acknowledge as having good quality birds, together with those who have been successful at major shows.

This policy usually works, but not always.  That was the case when I was chatting with Jules Etienne, Fernand Moes and Ronald Wauters at the Lizarddag about five years ago.  The same topic, but the question was a little more subtle: “whose birds do you admire the most?”.  I gave my standard disclaimer, but they persisted.   Jules, Fernand and Ronald are knowledgeable breeders; they didn’t want a diplomatic reply, they wanted the real answer.

I gave them the real answer: David Newton.

Jules had a puzzled look on his face.  He had never heard of David Newton.   Neither had Fernand.  Only Ronald had met him, many years before on a rare visit to England.  I sometimes wonder if David and his birds are the best kept secret in the Lizard canary fancy.  How is this possible?

Perhaps the answer lies in David’s modesty.  He is not a publicity seeker; he doesn’t broadcast his achievements on social media; he is not one of those breeders who wants to win at all costs; he simply wants to enjoy his hobby.  He breeds Lizard canaries on a small scale, but they are very, very good.   I can sum up his stud in one word: quality.

David has been involved with livestock for most of his life, and took up birds when he was just eight years old (2).  He enjoyed success with Borders (3); too much success in fact, and found that the top breeders were unwilling to sell him the birds that would enable him to progress. He switched to Lizards in the early 1990s.

His stud is founded on Norman Reeve’s bloodline.  That is to say, the very best.  Norman was undoubtedly the top Lizard breeder in Great Britain from the mid nineties to the early years of this century (4).  Breeders were queueing up to obtain his stock, but few could emulate him.  David’s skill lies in not just maintaining that quality, but improving it over the last 25 years.  His Lizards are characterised by extensive rowings and beautiful spangles on bold birds with broad-shoulders.

David’s achievement is all the more impressive because he keeps a small stud of Lizard canaries; usually no more than six pairs of birds. Unlike some breeders who produce over 300 Lizards each year, David stops when he reaches 25 youngsters because of limited cage space.  He rarely introduces an outcross, and as a result, the birds are closely related and the quality is very consistent.  In most studs, there is a significant difference between the best birds and the worst.  In David’s birdroom, that difference is minor; the best birds are excellent, but even the ‘worst’ are still good.

Surprisingly, David has won the LCA Classic only once, in 2012, but his birds have come tantalisingly close on other occasions.  Last year, for example, he won Best Champion with a beautiful broken cap gold hen, and another of his birds, an outstanding non cap gold cock, was fifth Best Lizard.  I also know of two Classic winners that were descended from his birds; clearly, those breeders share my opinion of his bloodline.

That bloodline is more than just a stud of good birds; it is a pool of unadulterated Lizard genes.  David was one of a minority of Lizard breeders who kept the faith during the blues craze in Britain.  While others introduced alien genes into their studs (some of them intentionally, others accidentally), David kept his bloodline untainted.  Those genes are now helping breeders, many of them enthusiastic newcomers, to re-establish the classic Lizard canary.

Here are more of his birds, all from 2017:

No secrets here.  Surely David Newton deserves to be better known.

Footnotes:

  1. Before I receive complaints from readers in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, I am rarely asked “who has the best Lizards in Great Britain”, and even less, the best in any of the Celtic nations.
  2. David’s father bred Border canaries.  David started helping him when he was a boy.
  3. David won Best Border at the Annesley (Notts) BFCC show in 1990, beating over 800 birds at one of the strongholds of the Border canary.
  4. Norman’s stud was based on the Knighton bloodline.  He won Best Lizard at the Classic in 1994, 1997, 1998 and 2004.  His birds were also in the top three on another 5 occasions.  The Classic of that period was a much bigger show than nowadays, with entries exceeding 300 birds in some years.

10 thoughts on “David Newton, the best kept secret in the Lizard canary fancy?

  1. I deeply appreciate this post because it echoes a sentiment very near and dear to my heart: keep our species pure w/o hybridizing (speaking of of finches, softbills or psittacines) and keep our root domestic breeds untainted. As with endangered species, we meddle with genetic loss or dilution at our peril.

    That’s not to say new breeds can’t be created, but looking back at a sad list of lost breeds and varieties, it seems we need to be reminded of the lessons inherent in the demise of the original Lancashire, for instance, sacrificed by hijacking of its genes for other breeds. Can we not be proactive enough to nurture ‘pure stock’ clubs and studs as insurance against future breed loss?

    Not sure what in human nature responds to the siren call of the next shiny new object at the expense of the treasured bird in the hand. But the future of the fancy IMHO lies in serious and humble hobbyists like David Newton.

  2. Mr Newtons birds are stunning Huw, I saw a similar beautiful stud like this in Nottingham recently, much the same quality, everyone I looked at was better than the one previous to it

    Beautiful pics by the way

    Regards

  3. It was 15 years ago when you introduced me and my wife to David Newton. He lived in a small house and his bird room was very small. A man who was also obsessed by dog racing i can remember, and he liked a visit to the local pub, but thats a typical English way of living i suppose. In that time his lizards had more rowings than other fanciers. It was the year the Goachers won their first LCA Classic. His birds have even become better than in those days. Nice memories and nice people.
    The first and the last photo are birds that are rarely seen, impressive, beautiful and nice shape.
    They look a lot like your birds Huw.

    1. I had forgotten that you had met him (it would have been 1999 when you came with Elke to Nottingham). I’ll update the text.

  4. Huw, I find I keep mulling over the idea of maintaining only 6 pairs. Fascinating and worthy of more detailed explanation. The idea of setting up a bird room as most people have, housing dozens of pairs or more, is enough to make beginning such a venture seem pretty intimidating. I would be very keen on an article on how such a limited stud works and how it can create such superb birds, (LOL I know, everyone wishes for the secret to breeding fantastic canaries – but thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask.)

  5. Well, if it was a secret, it isn’t any more!

    I would like to credit Dave with having a major influence on my birds through a wonderful broken cap Gold hen that he let me have back in 2013.

    She was ‘fundamental’ in the development of the line I was building, working with blood from 3 of the most consistent “families” of birds, which were diligently bred from the ‘purest’ lines. Two ‘Classic wins’ in 2014 and 2015 and numerous class winners in two seasons and 1st & 2nd’s speak for the familial influence of that bird.

    Dave is one of the most humble ‘gentlemen’ I have had the pleasure to meet in the Fancy and reminds me of all the ‘Old’ ( if not ‘old’ ) Fanciers who I grew up learning from in the 1970’s, honest, self deprecating, generous, considered, sociable and genuine.

    No immodest tub-thumping, or opinionated over-hyped social media profile for Dave, just quietly producing excellence which others – me included! – seem to have been the principal beneficiaries of.

    If there were more Lizard fanciers like Dave, being happy and satisfied with their ‘lot’ and the Lizard canary ‘as it is & has been’, there would be far less divisiveness and far more Lizard fanciers – well – one more at least……

    Chapeau Dave, one of the very, very best……

  6. Buenas tardes compañeros de afición, me presento a ustedes como es debido . Soy jose escarabajal. Aficionado al lizard de toda la vida , críe mi cepa con la base de un aviario de villena (España ) por los años 70 principios de los 90 . Por aquel entonces no disponía de sangre ni de criadores de lizard en mi zona , con lo cual tuve que empezar a cruzar lizard con canarios de color. Hoy es más fácil existe Internet , las comunicaciones son más rápidas y las carreteras mejores . Yo mantengo mi cepa de lizard desde entonces mejorando año a año y me resulta muy difícil entender como con 6 parejas se puede llegar a sacar esas maravillas que tiene newton .mi máximo respeto !

    1. David has been breeding with six pairs of Lizards for 25 years. The birds you see in the photos are typical of what he produces every year. Respect indeed.

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