Bird’s eye view: maestros and monstrosities

There were two articles in this week’s Cage & Aviary Birds that caught my eye (1).

The first, by Terry Kelly, was entitled Learning from the maestros.  It was probably as succinct an article on developing a quality stud of canaries as I’ve come across. His advice is based on three rules: start with the best stock you can obtain, it will ‘save years of effort’; establish a small family of birds through line breeding and the occasional (highly selective) outcross; finally, keep things simple and ignore ‘magic formulas’.  In condensing his formula into a single sentence I have inevitably over-simplified things and omitted a lot of interesting detail, most of it based on Terry Kelly’s own experience of Fife canaries.  For the full story you need to read the article itself.

Terry Kelly, maestro

There is nothing new here; most top breeders work on similar principles with minor variations.  Few Lizard canary breeders have the resources to play the ‘numbers game’ (as Terry puts it) so a system that concentrates on quality, shuns gimmicks, and has proven to be successful is surely the way forward.  Unfortunately the declining quality at British shows suggests that this message has not been heeded (with a few notable exceptions) in Lizard canary circles.  For anyone wanting to become a maestro of the Lizard canary, this article is a good starting point.

The second article was headed New findings explain beak disorder.  It concerns an ‘epidemic’ of beak deformities in wild birds known as ‘avian keratin disorder’ (AKD) which researchers have linked to a virus.  It was first noted in North America, but a ‘sharp increase’ has also been seen in Great Britain.  I am normally wary of alarmist descriptions like that, but editor Rob Innes has observed it himself, and if he is worried then so am I.  He even wonders if it is affecting cage birds in this country – a disturbing thought.

Canaries with beak deformities have been recorded as far back as the eighteenth century.  The first instance I came across was ‘observed on the thirteenth of December, 1772’ (2).  It was described thus: ‘The lower mandible was impressed into the upper, which was thick and somewhat incurvated’ (3).  A more bizarre example was the subject of a small book entitled Portrait d’un Monstrueux Serin de Canarie (Portrait of a Monstrous Canary).  The original was written by E.C. Schultz, translated from the German into French, and dedicated to Buffon in 1780.  You can see the bird at the head of this article.

Mosnstueux Serin de Canarie title page-FSS

Was it AKD?  I doubt it.  AKD tends to produce an extra-long mandible, not a corkscrew.  It is also infectious and several examples would surely have been recorded.  People were fascinated by ‘curiosities’ in the eighteenth century and no one would have written a book about a canary with a deformed beak unless it was unique, a freak of nature.

That doesn’t mean we can dismiss AKD; it is a serious abnormality with potentially life-threatening consequences for both wild and domesticated birds.  Rob is right to ask if it has occurred in British bird rooms; it could have a devastating impact.  Yet another reason to be very careful where you buy your birds from.


  1. Cage & Aviary Birds, 17 August 2016, p.3 & p.9.
  2. Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux by Buffon, Vol IV (1778).  The chapter on the canary was written in collaboration with Phillipe Gueneau de Montbeillard.
  3. The Natural History of Birds from the French of the Count de Buffon, English translation by William Smellie Vol IV (1793).

2 thoughts on “Bird’s eye view: maestros and monstrosities

  1. Missed the article – local news agent sold out of the C&A by the time I tried to buy a copy. Is this something you may be covering in the future?


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