Pity the poor Lizard canary, a victim of the fleeting beauty of youth. From October to July the Lizard is a real dandy, exquisitely patterned, beautifully presented, and then . . . the glory fades and the precision is lost . . . it becomes an over-year! Over the course of a few weeks it exits the limelight and disappears into the twilight. It seems so unfair – but is it?
You will regularly see comments in articles about the Lizard canary on the lines of ‘the Lizard doesn’t have a large following because it is only a one year show bird’. I think that is nonsense. The Lizard’s transient beauty is part of its attraction; like a rose, you have to appreciate it while it is in bloom. It is good for competition too. No matter how good a bird that someone may have bred one year, everybody starts afresh the next. We don’t suffer the stifling effect of a super bird that hogs the prizes for a number of years, as can happen in some branches of the hobby.
Britain is one of the few countries that provides classes for over-year birds. The classes tend to be small and uninspiring, but occasionally you do come across an exceptional bird that can compete with the youngsters. It is a major challenge: not only must they retain the quality of their markings, but also the darkness of their wings and tail. I can think of a couple that went on to win Best Lizard at All-Lizard shows. It says something about the quality of these birds that I can still visualise them now.
The most obvious problem that over-year Lizards encounter is the loss of black in the wing and tail feathers. These are not shed during the first moult, but they make up for it the following year by growing white tips which stand out against the black vanes. The degree of white varies: some may have only the faintest trace, others a large splash. Some birds become grizzled; others develop a pale band across the wings, or lightness at the root of the tail. I am wary of such birds. Most breeders prefer to see a minimal loss of black because it indicates ‘sound’ stock, but we need to remember that the loss of black at the extremities of a Lizard’s feathers is an inherent feature of the breed; it is the factor that creates spangles, lacings and well-defined rowings. White tips may be unattractive, but they are not a fault if kept within limits.
The deterioration in over-year birds is not limited to the flights and tail. There tends to be a general reduction in the clarity of the spangles and a reduction in the intensity of the rowings; feather quality tends to become coarser; the legs get lighter (particularly in hens), but the beaks become darker. In extreme old age, you will find a significant loss of melanin in some feathers; the equivalent of grey or white hair in humans. That has no effect on a bird’s genetic value, and an old bird will still produce good youngsters if it is pre-potent for quality. Keith Knighton produced the Best Lizard at the 1993 National Exhibition from a hen that was six years old.
In order to illustrate the changes in the Lizard’s phenotype, I have selected a series of photographs showing the same individuals as youngsters and as over-years. Click on the images if you want to see the photos at a larger scale.
We’ll start with a clear cap gold male. You can see the white tips to wings and tail; the reduction in the clarity of the spangles; and he’s bulked up, as over-years often do. He’s holding up well for a bird that is now in his fourth year.
Here is a one year old non cap silver male. He has retained a lot of his show quality, with remarkably little deterioration throughout.
Now a one year old clear cap gold female. Her spangles show very little deterioration. She shows typical loss of melanin to the wing tips, but very little to the tail feathers.
We’ll complete the set with a broken cap silver female. She has retained her spangling quite well, and the loss of black in the wings and tail is minor. Above average for a Lizard canary now in her third year.
Finally a reminder that when it comes to over-year Lizards, you should not judge a bird by its appearance, but by its value to your stud: its pedigree; its qualities when it was in its prime; and most important of all, its performance in the breeding cage. If it is capable of breeding good Lizards it should be regarded not as an over-year, but as an every-year bird.