I’m not sure that Jules Etienne needs any introduction, but for the sake of completeness, I will write one anyway.
Multiple World Champion, multiple winner of Best Lizard at the Lizarddag and the BPC show, Jules is probably the most successful Lizard canary breeder of modern times. His non cap gold hen of the 2012/13 season is one of the best Lizards I’ve ever seen (1). He’s worked hard to promote the Lizard canary at the BPC show in Liege and been responsible for inviting specialist judges (this year Andy Williamson) to ensure that this is one of the best shows for Lizard canaries in Europe. He’s also a charming man. Wouldn’t you want to visit his bird house?
Even though I’ve known him for several years, circumstances (e.g. judging) have prevented me from visiting him. In 2016 I had my chance. I have previously written of my visit to Fernand Moes on the morning of the BPC show; now I’m going to tell you of my visit to Jules in the afternoon.
Unfortunately we were late, there were other things going on, and I wasn’t able to get as involved in Jules’ approach to bird keeping as I would have liked. I could only make some observations and here they are:
The first thing that struck me was that Jules’ garden is devoted to his hobby. Not only does his birdhouse occupy most of one boundary, but the central feature of the garden is a gantry that gives his birds safe access to the sun (more of that later). I’ve never come across such an uncompromising set of priorities before: birds first, garden second. I can’t help thinking that many bird keepers (but perhaps not their wives) would approve . . .
Jules’ management methods are no less unusual. His bird house is a long structure divided into four compartments. From left to right they are: a large flight for his sale birds; the breeding compartment; the training compartment for his show birds; and a series of flights for his over-year birds. The system is designed to produce birds in numbers and then concentrate on those with potential as show specimens. I’ve never seen anything like it.
It is very methodical, and obviously works: Jules has almost halved his numbers in recent years, but still produces around 150 Lizard canaries a year and can send a team of 15-20 top quality birds to the major shows. This year he has bred several excellent clear cap gold hens. At the 2016 BPC show, his birds were first, second and third in this class (the winner was also Best Gold Lizard) and he must be excited about his chances with the stams at the World show.
In the time we had available, two interesting techniques stood out. The first is his training room, where his show birds are trained in wire cages that can be hung on pegs on the wall. It is easy to move birds about and get them steady for the shows. It also enables Jules to study them from all angles; there is no hiding place for any faults.
The second is his external rack for hanging the training cages in the sun, to speed up the darkening of their legs. You can see it in the foreground of the photo of his bird house. That’s a risky method because the birds can attract hawks, with deadly consequences. Jules, as ever, has come up with a simple but effective defence: a wire mash guard that ensures an attacking hawk can never reach the birds.
This attention to detail is typical of Jules. He’s the same with his birds: nothing seems to escape his notice. I’ve noticed it at shows where he has an uncanny knack of focussing on the good and points of a particular bird. I can’t help thinking it’s a Belgian thing; all their top breeders seem to possess this quality. No wonder they are so successful.
Unfortunately time wouldn’t allow for a more critical examination of Jules’ methods. A good excuse to visit him again and learn more.
Thanks to Tomas Hernandez for accompanying us on the visit and translating Jules’ French into excellent English (and vice versa).
- This bird was unbeaten. Best Lizard in Show at the Lizarddag and the BPC show in 2012, and the gold medal winner at the 2013 World Show.