According to Google maps, the road from Nottingham to Cesena is 1,128 miles (1815 km) long. Like many Lizard canary breeders, my road to Cesena was not measured by distance, but by the advances and retreats of a 15 month campaign to get my birds to the World Show.
It was a project that started during the autumn of 2016 when I selected my birds for the 2017 breeding season. It was their progeny that would set out on the journey to Cesena, but there were plenty of disappointments along the way. In Part 1 I am going to show you some of the birds that fell by the wayside; the birds that promised to be worthy of selection, but for one reason or another, never travelled to Italy. Let’s look at some examples.
My first is a clear cap silver hen. I think it’s obvious why I picked her out at an early age: a bold looking bird with a full cap, broad stripes down her back and an abundance of dark melanins. Here she is photographed at the end of July.
A month later she was well into the moult and colouring up well.
By the end of September her spangles were lining up nicely and my hopes were high. The new feathers just needed another fortnight to ‘harden off‘ (1) before the bird was ready to show.
That was when I realised that she would not make the grade. Her spangling lacked the consistency that the best birds display. They would line up one moment but become ragged the next, as you can see by comparing the photo at the head of this article with the one below. A good bird? Yes. A top show bird? No.
Quite why some birds fall short at the final hurdle isn’t obvious. My belief is that it is all to do with the underflue (2) which interlocks with the neighbouring feathers and helps to hold them in place. Feathers start growing from the tip, the underflue is the last to form, so while the bird may appear to have finished the moult, the underflue is still developing below the surface. It is a key part of the ‘hardening off’ process. If the feathers don’t interlock fully then the spangles won’t line up properly.
Here are two more examples, both nice birds, but neither possessed the ability to hold their spangles in line for a prolonged period. You might be lucky and the judge will see the birds at the perfect moment, but that’s a big gamble when you are sending them on a long journey to the World Show.
These silver hens didn’t go to Cesena because they fall into a category I refer to as ‘good, but not good enough’, but that isn’t the only reason why I might not send a bird. Take this clear cap gold cock for example, one of the best birds I bred in 2017. Why didn’t he go? Simply because he was too important for stud purposes. Unfortunately there is always a risk that things can go awry while the bird is away. I keep a small stud and the potential loss of a bird like this would have a disproportionate effect on my breeding programme. I decided to play safe and keep him at home.
Here is another cock, this time a broken cap silver; a bird with well-defined spangles, good colour and profuse rowings. I was confident that his markings would be appreciated in Italy.
Sadly he never got to Cesena. He died in mid November from a heart attack. Very upsetting.
My final example is a near-non cap silver hen whose spangles always line up, just what I want for the World Show, yet she didn’t make the grade. She was a late-bred bird, and as so often happens she is smaller than average. I felt she would stand no chance against the Italian and Belgian birds. She stayed at home.
Unlucky? Over-cautious? Perhaps, but I’m certainly not complaining. Almost everyone who reads this blog will have experienced similar setbacks and faced similar quandaries; it’s all part of the challenge of being a Lizard canary fancier. Some will have encountered much worse problems. I was still able to send four birds to the World Show and even they faced difficulties, but more of that in Part 2.
- ‘Hardening off’ is a term used by canary fanciers to describe the final stages of the moult; the transition from adolescence to maturity. The new feathers may appear complete, but in truth the bird needs a couple more weeks before it is ready to show.
- For a description of the underflue see the updated Lizard canary basics, Part 3: plumage.