The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Robert Burns ‘To a Mouse’, 1785 (1)
It is commonly believed that breeding show canaries is a numbers game: you have more chance of producing winners if you breed 200 youngsters than if you produce only 20. It seems obvious, but it doesn’t explain why top breeders like David Newton can be successful, year in and year out, using just six pairs. Restricting the number of birds has its advantages: there is a greater concentration on quality, only the very best birds are retained for breeding and the proportion of good quality youngsters rises accordingly. Reducing numbers also reduces the workload so that each bird gets more time and attention, and given the best chance to shine. That’s the theory, but it seems to work.
A small stud does have its limitations though. You need to be aware that inbreeding poses risks as well as benefits and has to be controlled. A small stud is also more vulnerable to setbacks; fate can throw the best laid plans into turmoil. It’s been that sort of year with my Lizard canaries, so let me get the Bad out of the way.
In recent years my aim has been to produce 20-30 young Lizards each year. This year I bred 25 youngsters, so everything was going to plan until disaster struck. My bird house faces north, so I take my young birds outside in wire training cages for 30 to 40 minutes whenever the sun is shining (2). It’s obvious that they enjoy it and I’ve never experienced any problems – until this year when five young Lizards were killed by a thieving magpie. I won’t go into detail; it still haunts me.
The tragedy prompted me to make a wire enclosure that accommodates six training cages when hung on the wall. It proved its worth when it thwarted an unwelcome visitor in the first week of use. I chased the sparrowhawk away and was relieved to find that the casualties were limited to a couple of lost flight feathers. This time, fate had been kinder to me.
That reduced my 2022 crop to just 20 birds. In previous years I have made a selection of the Lizards that I thought worthy of being photographed for this blog, but inevitably it doesn’t give my readers the full picture. With just 20 youngsters I have space to show you every one: the Good and the Ugly (3). So here they are. Just click on any image in the gallery to view it at a larger size and then scroll through the photographs.
A happy, healthy and successful new year to you all.
- For readers whose first language is not English, the poem is written in a Scots dialect. This stanza describes the futility of planning for the future when those plans can so easily be ruined by the twists of fate.
- Welfare note: the average maximum temperature in central England at the height of summer is only 21˚C. The cages always have a water drinker, and shade is provided over one of the perches if the sun is strong. The birds are kept indoors during a rare heatwave.
- Keen eyed observers will notice that only 18 young birds are shown here. Alas one youngster died of an apparent heart attack, and the other was collected before I could photograph her. You will also notice that I colour fed six birds; the first time in 12 years. That is a topic for another day.