The Lizard canary show scene has taken me to ten different countries, all of them with their own character, and all of them enjoyable, yet I have never experienced anything quite like the Club Amigos del Canario Lizard show. I call it a ‘show’, but that does not do the event justice; it is more of a weekend-long celebration. There is food and drink aplenty; breeders come from all parts of Spain and their enthusiasm is infectious; wives and children join in too; the entire weekend is a cacophony of sound, very loud and very cheerful. The show may be the centrepiece, but around it revolves a series of social gatherings like planets circling the sun.
It’s wonderful, and it is all thanks to the passion that the Spanish breeders have for the Lizard canary. Twice over the weekend, a breeder told me of his love for the Lizard while holding his hand against his heart, an emotional gesture usually reserved for something special like the national anthem. I had no doubt that they meant it. Some demonstrated their commitment in a more quantifiable way: José Manuel Lopez Souto, for example, had travelled 1200 Kms with his son to attend the show, and would drive another 1200 Kms back to their home in Galicia.
The Amigos hold their show at different venues each year, mostly in the south of Spain, where the local members book the hall, set up the staging and generally sort out the arrangements for the weekend. This year’s event was organised by Pedro Rios Campoy and his team from the Asociación Ornitológica La Paira, and held at the Centro Cívico La Viña in Villanueva del Río Segura, about an hour’s drive from Alicante. They did an excellent job, aided by Molino de Simon who sponsored all the seed and show cages, as well as the impressive array of special prizes for group winners and Best in Show.
I had been invited along with Joe Coakley and Ernest Gracia to judge the Lizards in four colours: gold, silver, ‘red’ (meaning colour-fed) and white (better known to British readers as ‘blue’). José Escarabajal Martínez (known to all as Pepe) judged the Ocelados, more of which later. I had read Joe’s account of the 2017 event, but the Amigos del Canario Lizard show is something you have to experience before you really appreciate it. Joe’s first piece of advice when I met him was that the Amigos do things in a typically latin way: the timetable is ‘flexible’, particularly when people are enjoying themselves, yet there is a rhythm and a logic to the way things unfold; you just have to relax and go with the flow. He was right.
My first impressions of the show hall were favourable: very light and airy, and the presentation of the show birds was exceptional: a hollow rectangle lined with show cages entered via a garlanded portal. Beyond them was an area for the judging tables and right at the back was a tiered viewing area where the breeders could watch the judges in action. Some of them took the opportunity to watch the judges in magnified detail, and why not? Hopefully they learned a few things as they watched the judges scrutinising their birds.
Another novelty that Joe had described were the celebrations from the viewing area as breeders realised they had won a class. To their credit, the breeders celebrated discreetly so that they didn’t disturb the judges, but my wife, who enjoys watching people more than birds, assured me there was plenty of hugging, waving and back slapping going on in the background. Wish I’d seen it too.
The Lizard judges had an average of a 100 birds each; a comfortable workload. We liaised with each other and often sought out a second or third opinion on a particular bird. The result was consistent judging. You could see that the class winners had similar qualities regardless of who had judged them.
The final line up consisted of the four birds that had been selected as the best of their respective colour categories: a clear cap gold hen from Francisco José Cuesta Garcia (better known as Kiko); a non cap silver hen from José Manuel Lopez Souto; a clear cap white-ground (blue) hen from José Maria Figal Quesada; and a ‘red’ (i.e. colour-fed) broken cap gold hen, again from José Maria. Let me make it clear that we did not know the names of the exhibitors at the time!
It was here that the harmony between the judges proved invaluable, with the strengths and weaknesses of each bird being compared and assessed in an enlightened discussion. Two birds stood out: the clear cap gold hen for her brilliant colour and dark markings, and the colour-fed broken cap for the rich display of spangles and rowings on a broad frame. It was a split decision, and the broken cap emerged victorious. Congratulations to them both.
Meanwhile, Pepe had been judging the Ocelado Español. Pepe is known as the ‘father of the Ocelado’, but he also knows his Lizards. He is also a gentleman. He joined us to select the Best Lizard, but when he suspected he knew the breeders of the top two birds he withdrew in order to avoid any suggestion of partiality. My kind of judge, he earned my respect.
The Ocelado looks like a brown (or ‘cinnamon’ as it is known in Britain) Lizard. I have deliberately chosen the words ‘looks like’ rather than ‘is’ because the breeders (and there are many of them in Spain and abroad) are keen to establish the Ocelado as a distinct breed. That has proved to be a difficult challenge because up to now COM/OMJ have regarded the birds as a colour variant of the Lizard and therefore ineligible for breed status. You can form your own opinion from the photo gallery.
The introduction of the brown allele into the Lizard is a contentious issue. It is a sex-linked recessive gene and can therefore be carried in hidden form in male birds, indeed Pepe told me that he regards cinnamon-carrier cock Lizards as invaluable for breeding good Ocelados. The risk of inadvertently introducing the gene into pure bred stocks is likely to be even higher than with birds descended from white-ground (blue) Lizards.
The Spanish breeders have been breeding blues for many years; they are an established part of the Spanish Lizard scene, and their impact on gold and silver Lizards was all too easy to see. Many (probably the majority) of the birds displayed narrow spangles, scant rowings, greyish melanins, pale vents and narrow shape, but the most obvious defect was the pallid ground colour. Oh that drab colour! It was my biggest disappointment in what was, in all other respects, a great display of Lizards.
Let me demonstrate the difference between good and bad colour. It is easier to see in silvers than in golds, so here are two birds, both entered in the clear cap silver class. Photographs have their limitations, but believe me, the difference was much more vivid when seen in real life. The bird on the left was both brighter and darker.
The bird on the left was bred by Kiko, whose birds stood out because of the quality of their ground colour and the darkness of their melanins. The bird on the right is more typical of the silvers I saw at the show. I lost count of the times I marked the fault on the cage labels. The best advice I can give Spanish Lizard breeders is to take a close look at Kiko’s birds, because that is the colour they will need to achieve if they want to succeed at international level.
I hope my Spanish readers will understand that I am pointing out the flaws in their birds because I would love to see Spain being renowned for world-class Lizards, but to achieve that dream they need to understand their weaknesses and overcome them.
In my opinion, the biggest weakness that Spanish breeders have to address is their love of colour mutations. Colour inheritance seems so simple in theory, but it is much more complicated in practice because those genes do not come alone. They are linked to other genes (inherited from the original colour canary ancestor) that have a detrimental impact on the classic Lizard canary. The true-bred Lizard is the foundation on which quality can be built. It can be used to improve the size, colour and markings of the colour mutations, but those benefits do not work in reverse. The quality of the gold and silver offspring will deteriorate, and the defects will cascade down the generations. It is essential that the bloodlines are segregated; a simple policy that requires strong discipline but if the Spanish breeders want to reach the top, that is what they will have to do.
I came away with a high regard for the Amigos del Canario Lizard, their enthusiasm was a joy to behold, so I was surprised to hear that the Spanish Lizard fancy has problems of its own. There are two Lizard canary societies in Spain and they have often been at odds. A split in the Lizard fancy will always be harmful to the breed, but fortunately there is light on the horizon. I hear that there is the possibility of a rapprochement; the two societies may hold a combined show in 2019. I hope it happens; with the likelihood of 600-800 birds on display it would be by far the biggest Lizard show in the World. ¡¡Viva España y olé!!
- My thanks to the Amigos del Canario Lizard for their generous hospitality and a great weekend.
- My thanks, too, to Ernest Gracia for his patient guidance before and during the event, and his help with all things Spanish in writing this article.
- I have used the the abbreviated title ‘Amigos del Canario Lizard’ in the article, but the full title of the club is Asociacion Nacional Club Amigos Del Canario Lizard de España.