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.
- 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.
- David’s father bred Border canaries. David started helping him when he was a boy.
- 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.
- 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.