Before you jump to conclusions, this article has nothing to do with drinking toasts (1), yet, when used in connection with the Lizard canary, it involves an action that is very similar. It means to take a bird in your hand and turn it upside-down so that the belly is uppermost. Some canary breeders do it to sex a bird, although that shouldn’t be necessary with the Lizard which is sexually dimorphic. There is however one very good reason why all Lizard breeders should.
Most Lizard breeders and judges look at their birds from above, the side, and the front. All the Lizard’s show features can be seen from these angles, so why bother looking from underneath? Answer: it is one of the best ways I know of checking the integrity of the Lizard canary.
The Lizard canary can trace its history over three centuries. It is a creation of the Georgian period (2) renowned for its elegant proportions, fine detail and exquisite craftsmanship. The Lizard shares the same qualities; it is a living antique. The first question an antique collector will ask is ”is it genuine”? There are plenty of fakes around, so what do the antique experts look for?
It depends on the object of course, and whether its history has been documented, but sometimes they are looking for hidden clues. The best example that springs to my mind is John Bly inspecting a Georgian cabinet on Antiques Roadshow (3). It might look fine from the outside, but he would pull the drawers out to check that the score marks on the inside of the cabinet matched the rubbing on the runners. It is one of those characteristics that comes with old age; it cannot be faked.
John Bly was searching for markings consistent with centuries of use. Lizard canary fanciers who want the genuine article should do the same, but where can they find these markings? In exactly the same place. The parts that are generally hidden from view: the ventral zone from the under-belly, running between the legs, and extending to the root of the tail. In other words, the bird’s ‘bottom’ (4).
The signs are there to see in juveniles. The melanins are often diffused throughout the feathers, as though the bird had bathed in soot from a chimney. In my experience, these birds will almost certainly moult out to produce good rowings.
Things change at the first moult. That ‘sooty’ look disappears and the melanins become better defined, but they remain present throughout this zone.
The lipochrome becomes faint in silvers, fading to a pale buff-grey. The melanins around the vent are not so intense as on the breast and belly, but they will be distinct. The lipochrome remains strong in golds, and the melanins will be fainter, but they will be present.
Now let’s look at the fakes. The first thing you notice is that the melanins become dull and sparse on the underbelly and disappear between the legs. The lipochrome is virtually absent in silvers and very pale in golds. Some birds look three-parts-dark (5).
It’s sad that modern Lizard breeders have to be on their guard, but checking for signs of alien blood (6) should be standard practice for anyone who wants genuine stock. Even breeders of colour mutations should be vigilant if they want the benefit of a classic outcross to improve their birds. The ventral region may be of no value as far as show points are concerned, but the evidence it reveals can be priceless.
Bottoms up? I’ll drink to that!
- General: my thanks to one of my continental friends for the photos of the defective Lizards. He learned from experience and close observation the difference between the fake and the genuine article. His stud is now focussed on the classic Lizard canary.
- For the benefit of non-British readers, “bottoms up” is a toast that means “empty your glass”. Literally, to tilt your glass so that the bottom is higher than the rim and all the contents flow into your mouth.
- The Georgian period refers to the reigns of the first four Georgian kings i.e. 1713 – 1837, if you include the Regency period when George IV was regent.
- Antiques Roadshow is a popular BBC TV series where experts examine antiques brought in by members of the public and give their opinion of its authenticity, quality and value. John Bly has long since retired from the show.
- In this context, “bottom” has a double meaning. It normally refers to the underside, or lowest part, of an object, but it can also refer the arse in colloquial English.
- Three-parts-dark refers to classes for heavily variegated birds in type canaries such as Borders and Glosters. Their bellies appear clear, with no sign of melanins.
- There are several signs that people can look for, but this article is confined to the ventral region because it is probably the most unambiguous visual clue.