Battle scars

You may recognise this bird.  He featured in an article entitled ‘If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all’ exactly a year ago.  His luck hasn’t got much better.

He was never going to be a show bird because he had lost a claw and damaged another in his first year, but I retained him because of his breeding potential. You can see him as an over-year bird in the photograph at the head of this article.   Inevitably there has been some deterioration in his markings, but what you can’t see from that angle is a much more obvious fault: his wing tips are much whiter than normal.

Most over-year Lizards develop a white edge at the tips of these feathers, but in his case the white is extensive. They jar on the eye.  If I didn’t know this bird, his pedigree and his history, I might wonder about his soundness.   You might wonder too.

There is a simple explanation, and it has nothing to do with his genetic traits.  He had moulted out as one of five cock birds in a flight cage; they got on well, with just the occasional squabble.  Then disaster.

I entered the bird house one morning and found dozens of feathers on the floor and yet more inside the flight cage.  A conflict?  A night fright?  I don’t know; it only occurred in this one cage, but the damage was done.  All five birds were hopping around minus several wing and tail feathers.

Fortunately there were no other injuries and the birds recovered well, yet you can tell that they have been in a fight.  Look closely and you can tell which feathers were lost and which moulted naturally.  Here’s a detail; look at his left wing and you will see that the primary flight feathers 1-4 are normal for an over-year Lizard (1); the others are not.

There is a simple explanation why feathers that have been lost through injury grow back with more extensive white tips than normal (2).  It’s one of those details you need to be aware of, especially if you are planning to acquire stock.  Don’t be deterred, the clues are there if you look for them (3).

Let’s spare a thought for the non cap silver cock.  He hasn’t had much luck, has he?  A foot injury in his first year and battle scars in his second, yet I hope you can see why I haven’t lost faith in him.  Perhaps next year will be ‘third time lucky’.


  1. At first glance there appear to be only two ‘normal’ feathers, but they overlap.  Zoom in and count the silver leading edge to the primaries; four of them are intact.
  2. You can find a detailed explanation in Variegation, Part 3, but here’s a summary.  The deposition of melanins (the dark pigments in a bird’s feathers) is a process that starts with melanocyte progenitors in the feather follicle.  Once they are activated, the melanins will be deposited in a genetically determined pattern.  In the Lizard canary, there is a short delay as the new feather emerges so that there is no black at the extreme tips of the feathers.  If the feather follicle has been subject to trauma (such as feather plucking or injury) it takes time to heal, and longer for the melanocyte progenitors to start the process.  Thus the feather grows for a few more days before the melanins are deposited in the vanes of the feather.  The result is a much broader light tip to the feather.
  3. The best way of assessing the genetic quality of a particular bird is to inspect other members of its family, especially its parents and grand parents.  If that is not possible, you either need to have confidence in the breeder or be cautious.

7 thoughts on “Battle scars

  1. yes you would have thought if you were me that mongrel blood had been mixed thankfully you have explained very well. Good luck with him for I am sure he will produce quality for you. John Wrenne

  2. Excellent cock for anyone’s breeding room, specially in regard of rowings. Missing toes and claws can be a result of inbreeding. Such feather tips are not a problem in the breeding room, on the contrary, it is a sign of true lizard blood.

    Maybe their is a problem with his variegated beak in combination with this kind of cap. Is their “newton” blood?

    I have find a match for this unlucky cock on the continent, not russian: a non cap gold hen (jules etienne)

    A “good” year 2018 for you, your family and all your followers,


    1. If you read the 2017 article you will see the loss of claws was due to an accident.
      No Newton blood, but the same ancestors.
      I do not recommend non cap x non cap pairings.
      A happy New Year to you and all my readers.

      1. I knew the bird lost his claws in a cage of five. The first ten years of lizard breeding i lost time inbreeding gold-gold-gold. I crossed the line a few times, getting these missing toes.

        Probably every lizard has common ancestors going back to the LCA founding fathers after the war in 1945. A true bottleneck.

        Not so reluctent on non-cap pairing. Some of the best clear-caps come out of a non-cap. It’s the broken-cap pairing i dislike.

        Thanks again for your blog. A true companion.

  3. Pity we couldn’t stop the delay in feather growth, or can we ?, Incredible insight to this problem, the beauty off bird keeping is you learn something new each day, great article Huw

  4. I do not think the degradation of melanin in ‘moulted’ Lizard feathers is an indication of mixed blood – or in any way synonymous with ‘variegation’. A variegated feather would display lipochrome colour, not a total lack of pigment as occurs in the (true) white edge – and sometimes grizzling of melanin in moulted / re-moulted Lizard feathers. Equally, the de-pigmentation in “over year” feather extremities is no indicator of any association with ‘white ground’ blood, in a ‘normal’ Ground bird.

    Indeed, the assertion that the de-melanisation of the feather indicates some blood from another variety fails to recognise the fact that in most ( if not all ? ) other melanistic canaries this ‘de-melanisation’ does NOT occur. Indeed in many Type varieties ‘in history’ it was common practice to ‘pull’ flight feathers – certainly the tail, to add a few mm of extra length to the bird to give an impression ( or actuality ) of greater size. This occurring with no evidence of the de-pigmentation that Lizard as a breed, peculiarly display. Generally there is a strong / stronger ‘green’ / melanin ‘edge’ to re-grown adult flight feathers in every other canary I have experience of and that is ‘several’.

    The ‘other’ canaries which do commonly display the typical Lizard de-pigmentation feature, after the moult ( and subsequent moults ) of course being the Lizard ‘hybrid’s, ie. the supposedly ‘new’ London Fancy cross breeds and their subsequent generations, in which if anything the effect is heightened.
    I think this tends to indicate it is the Lizard blood promoting the de-pigmenation rather than some ‘alien’ blood interacting adversely with the Lizard.

    Since Lizards were first written about the impact of the moult on the feather has been ‘noted’ to one extent or another, hence their being acknowledged as a ‘one-year’ show bird.

    There may be ‘strains’ of Lizard which display the de-melanisation feature more radically than others…..just as with any other feature but to discredit a bird of exemplary melanin quality in it’s “desired”, once moulted, un-flighted state, because after it’s first ‘full’ flighted moult there is a degradation in the melanins in the flights is ‘rash’ and probably ‘unnecessary’.

    But….I know not everyone will agree ;¬)


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