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’.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.