Part 9: Sweet Bird of Youth

Fans of Paul Newman and Geraldine Page are going to be disappointed.  This article has nothing to do with the film, or with Tennessee Williams, other than the title.  But what a title!  Much better than ‘Juveniles’ which was my original choice.  

Having discussed over-year birds in part 8 of Lizard canary basics, I am now going to look at the early stage of the Lizard’s life cycle: the juvenile.  This is the phase that lasts from weaning at the age of around three weeks to the first moult. Most of the Lizard’s show features are hidden at this stage, but that doesn’t prevent a breeder from searching for signs of greatness.  At the risk of over-stretching the Hollywood connection, will that promising youngster develop into the next big star or just an ‘extra’ playing a minor role?  In this article we’re going to look for those clues.

Here are photographs of eight juvenile birds, all born in 2015.  There was no particular logic to the selection process other than I thought they showed potential.  I must stress ‘potential’; there was no guarantee how well these birds would turn out.  I haven’t sifted the good from the bad with the benefit of hindsight; I only photographed eight youngsters and they are all here.

There are two things you need to be aware of before we look at the birds.  Firstly, most of them were between 6 and 8 weeks old and at an early stage of show training; they had never seen a camera before.  Secondly, with one exception, the photographs were taken indoors under artificial light.  Please make allowances.

Juvenile 1
2015 juvenile 1

Juvenile No 1: I don’t like to take photos of birds through wires, but it was the only way to capture the abundance of melanin that runs all the way from the breast and through the legs; some birds look as though they have bathed in soot.  It’s a good sign, but doesn’t guarantee that the bird will display good rowings after the moult (it could be a gold cock, for example).  The converse is also true: if you don’t see it in a juvenile, you are certainly not going to see it in the adult.  A pale belly at this stage should send alarm bells ringing.

2015 juvenile 2
2015 juvenile 2

Juvenile No 2:  Four features to point out here: firstly the rowings are extensive but finer; secondly the bird has what I call a ‘soft’ eye; thirdly the legs and beak are dark; and finally, the bird was six weeks old when the photo was taken, and is filling out well.

2015 juvenile 3
2015 juvenile 3

Juvenile No 3: The feature I like about this bird is the width and straightness of the black stripes on the back; usually a good portent of broad spangles.  You can’t see them from this angle, but the rowings are not only profuse but very dark.  A neat cap, which is a big plus if you want to show on the continent.

2015 juvenile 4
2015 juvenile 4

Juvenile No 4: Another bird with profuse dark rowings.  The ground colour is brighter than No 3; it might be difficult to detect from the photo, but the difference is more obvious in the cap.  Note how the feathers on the flanks look ruffled; the moult has started.

2015 juvenile 5
2015 juvenile 5

Juvenile No 5:  Yet another bird with good melanins, similar to No 4 but the ground colour is a little paler (look at the cap).  Strong striping on the head; normally a sign that the spangling could be good here.  The orange tint in the tertiary flight feathers is due to the presence of phaeomelanin brown being highlighted under artificial light; it is not due to colour feeding.

2015 juvenile 6
2015 juvenile 6

Juvenile No 6:  The youngest bird here, only five weeks and it shows.  It hasn’t filled out like the others, nor are the legs as dark.  Profuse but fine rowings; you can see the melanin running between the legs from this angle.  Note how the clear feathers of the cap touch the eye; a fault that some judges let go, but they shouldn’t. I photographed this bird on the strength of its pedigree rather than on its apparent qualities.

2015 juvenile 7
2015 juvenile 7

Juvenile No 7:  A much bolder bird, another with broad stripes down its back.  You should be able to identify several of the features I’ve mentioned about previous birds.

2015 juvenile 8
2015 juvenile 8

Juvenile No 8:  At last, a photo taken in natural light, and the colours are more realistic.  Rowings right across the breast, running between the legs.  You can’t see them, but this bird had excellent striping on the back. It is a total non cap, which is rare; the kind of bird that continental judges go for if the spangles and rowings moult out well.

In my next post I will publish photos of the same birds, but after the moult.   It will demonstrate how tricky it can be to predict whether the birds are males or females, golds or silvers, let alone whether they will develop into show birds.  Nevertheless, that is what I am going to invite you to do.  Make a note of your predictions, or better still, send them via the comment box.  Will any of these sweet birds of youth become a Paul Newman or a Geraldine Page?

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