Lizard canary basics, part 15: the rise of rowings since 1987

The first part of this short series looked at the rise of rowings (1) in the Lizard canary from a historical perspective.  In the second part, I am going to take up the story from 1987 and look at the progress that rowings have made over the last 30 years.  I have chosen this time scale because it coincides with the growing use of colour photography in canary books and in Cage & Aviary Birds (2).  We can see the birds as they actually looked; we don’t have to rely on grainy black and white photographs or artists’ impressions.  Besides, 30 years is a nice round number.

Take a look at the photograph at the head of this article (3).  It was published in 1987 and is one of the earliest colour photographs of an exhibition quality Lizard canary that I know of.  I believe the bird was bred by Albert Durrell and was probably one of his winners at the 1986 National Exhibition.  In the accompanying text, judges Joel Le Banner and Mario Ascherri noted “this bird exhibits almost the ultimate in presence of rowings, these meeting right across the chest”.  A very attractive bird, but would we call those rowings the ‘ultimate’ today?

Rowings stand out as being the feature that has changed the most over the last thirty years.  Here is another silver hen: Keith & Audrey Knighton’s Best Lizard at the 1989 National Exhibition.

Compare her to any one of David Newton’s silver hens and you will realise just how much progress has been made. Three things stand out: the profusion of rowings, their width, and their definition.

Before you jump to the conclusion that modern silver hens have vastly superior rowings to those of 25-30 years ago, take a look at the bird that won Best Non Cap at the National Exhibition in 1991.  The gap between then and now is narrower than you might expect.

The non cap was bred from a combination of Knighton and Grindey bloodlines, yet her rowings were much more profuse than either of their birds.  How do we explain that?  The answer, as John Scott used to assure me, is that birds with good rowings have always existed, but people appreciate them more now.

The same applies to gold hens.  Here is a photograph of the Best Lizard at the 1997 National Exhibition.  Compare her rowings to those of Nigel Hastead’s 2014 Classic winner.


The difference is significant, but like the non cap silver hen, there were exceptions to the general rule.  Unfortunately I don’t have a photograph to prove it, but John Scott bred a gold hen in the 1980s that had such profuse rowings that she was nicknamed ‘the thrush’ by fellow fanciers (4).  Everyone expected her to win Best Lizard at the National, but John got held up on the journey from Whitley Bay and she arrived as judging was about to start.  She was rushed on to the staging, but had no time to settle and lost her big chance.  It was the talk of the Lizard world; people who had seen ‘the thrush’ were still telling me this story 20 years later.

One of the best male Lizard canaries seen during that early period was another of John’s birds, a clear cap silver cock.  He was Third Best Lizard at the EALCA show, Second Best at the LCA Classic, and finally won Best Lizard at the 1994 National Exhibition.  He was a natural performer, a well-balanced bird, and a popular winner.  His rowings were well up to the mark for that period, but they have since been eclipsed by the advances seen in modern male Lizards, such as this near-clear cap silver cock that won its class at the 2014 LCA Classic for Nigel Hastead.


Finally, we’ll take a look at gold cocks.  Back in 1993 this broken cap gold cock won the award for Best Over-Year Lizard at the National Exhibition.  A good bird, his rowings were virtually non-existent, but that was accepted at the time.

Modern gold cocks still don’t display much rowings; it’s one of the sexually dimorphic features of the breed, but they have advanced over the last 25 years.  David Newton’s outstanding non cap gold cock of 2016 is one of the best recent examples:

The rowings have come a long way in the last 30 years.  Are we near the end of the road?  I doubt it.  In the final part of this series, I’ll take a look at what breeders should be aiming for.


  1. For those who may not be familiar with the traditional Lizard canary terminology, the ‘rowings’ are the dark markings that run from the throat, across the breast, under the belly and through to the tail.
  2. All the photographs of Lizard canaries of 25-30 years ago are of colour-fed birds.  I have used photographs of modern colour-fed specimens in order to compare like with like.
  3. Published in Colour, Type and Song Canaries by G.B.R. Walker with photographs by Dennis Avon, first published in 1987.  It remains one of the best books ever written on exhibition canaries thanks to its wide scope and expert knowledge.  The colour photographs are now acquiring archival status as show standards move on.
  4. John’s bloodline formed the foundation of Alfons Tebroke’s stud; another breeder famed for Lizards with extensive rowings.

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