The Lizard’s cap: a tiny patch of feathers that generates acres of newsprint. Almost every article, every show schedule, every result sheet, and every reference to the Lizard canary, will mention the cap. Many times.
The cap is enshrined in the history of the fine spangled sort. The very first description dated 1742, refers to a “Spot on their Heads, called by fanciers, A Cap”. It is also the first feature that people, who may know nothing about canaries, notice. Lizard canary breeders notice it too, and use the cap as a form of shorthand to describe a bird: clear cap, broken cap and non cap are terms that are universally used to categorise Lizards, regardless of colour and sex. Quite an important feature then.
What should the cap look like? The LCA’s official Description of the Ideal Lizard Canary, which is based on the clear cap gold cock, states the following:
“The head is fairly large, round and full at the top. The cap extends from the base of the upper mandible to the base of the skull and is oval in shape with a clearly defined edge. It is clear of the eye, being separated by the eyelash which is a clear and well defined line of dark feathers extending from the base of the upper mandible.
There are no dark feathers between the cap and upper mandible. The cap is of a deep golden orange colour and has no blemish of light or dark feather.”
For the benefit of non-British readers, the reference to a ‘deep golden orange colour’ is only relevant if the birds are colour fed. For natural coloured Lizards, you can replace ‘orange’ with ‘yellow’.
The LCA standard only refers to an oval cap, but historically, the ‘thumbnail’ cap has also had its admirers, not least Blakston in his masterpiece Canaries and Cage Birds (1878-81). Even if we accept both shapes as equals, the perfect cap is exceedingly rare. In practice, we have to accept caps that are as close to perfection as we can achieve.
That leads on to the next question: how ‘close’ does a bird have to be, to still qualify as a clear cap? The LCA classification allows up to 10% dark feathers within the theoretical boundary of the cap. I would advise less than that because a bird with 10% dark feathers in the cap will usually stand a better chance in the broken cap classes.
Let’s move on to the opposite extreme: the non cap. This, as its title suggests, is a Lizard with no cap at all. Hang on, can that be right? Surely the Lizard is a bird with a cap? Indeed it is, but here we delve into the mysterious logic of the Lizard fancy: a Lizard with no cap at all can be just as valuable as one with a perfect clear cap! Indeed, some people consider the total non cap to be the most beautiful iteration of all.
The non cap is undoubtedly a beautiful canary, but there is a proviso: the head should be covered with spangles in miniature. The best non caps display spangling with amazing clarity; admittedly this is more discernible in a silver than a gold, so some allowances have to be made.
The same official tolerance of 10% applies to non caps, but this refers to light feathers in the cap. Again I would advise that a bird with approximately 10% clear feathers would usually stand a better chance in the broken cap classes.
So we have clear caps (within a tolerance of 10%) and non caps (ditto) but what happens to the birds in between? The answer is simple: they are classified as broken caps. That sounds simple enough, but this is the Lizard canary remember, so we have to consider what makes a good broken cap versus a poor one.
First rule: the areas of clear feathers must stay within the zone designated for clear caps. Any light feathers that stray beyond these boundaries are at fault.
Second rule: the dark feathers within the area of the cap should display spangled edges. Sounds simple in theory, but difficult in practice.
Third rule: the bird might comply with rules 1 and 2 but the broken areas still need to look pleasing to the eye. In descending order, broken caps tend to fall into the following categories:
- Patch caps are the most attractive; the dark feathers form an island isolated from the margins of the cap.
- Typical broken caps vary considerably, but can look attractive if the light feathers form neat shapes and stay within the normal confines of the cap.
- Untidy or messy caps display random dark ticks and an irregular shoreline. The fringes of the cap may also extend beyond the normal limits. They look unattractive.
- Run caps have clear feathers that ‘run’ down the neck, usually as an extension of the clear feathers in the cap. The LCA standard describes run caps as a ‘serious fault’. Be aware that there is a variation of the run cap that may look minor, but is just as serious: an isolated spot on the back of the neck. It often appears in non caps, but that is no protection; it is a sure sign that the variegation factor is out of control.
- Bald face occurs when the light feathers of the cap extend below the eye. It might be a large patch, or just a few feathers, but the alarm bells should be ringing. The LCA standard states that these birds should be disqualified from exhibition. I agree.
So there you have the cap of the Lizard canary in all its manifestations. How ironic that one of the breed’s most distinctive features is also its most variable. That leads to differences of opinion, and the 64,000 dollar question: how long should the perfect cap be?
A silly question? Isn’t the answer enshrined in the LCA’s standard? You might think so, but it isn’t quite as simple as that, as I will explain in the next instalment of Lizard Canary Basics.