The English Cinnamon canary, part 4

2000, a new century, a new millennium.  Will it be a new era for the English Cinnamon? 

If you can remember as far back as Part 1, you will know that the breed is making a comeback.  The English Cinnamon Canary Club (ECCC) is thriving (1).  The breed gets good coverage in Cage & Aviary Birds, and news that separate classes are being provided at the National and other leading all-varieties shows will give the breed a further boost (2).  So far, so good, but what happens after that?

I am thinking here of the long term; what sort of Cinnamon are breeders aiming to produce?  Will they follow the example set by the Crest and develop a breed with a clear identity of its own; or is the Cinnamon destined to be forever tethered to the Norwich canary?

The best place to start is with the Cinnamon show standard.  Here is a pictorial guide; the photo is illustrative, but the text is verbatim:

Cinnamon canary standard
The  Cinnamon canary show standard.   Source: Cage & Aviary Birds, 7 February 2004.

The ECCC also has a scale of points which I’ve set against the scale for the Norwich canary so that we can compare the two:

Cinnamon Norwich show scales
A comparison of the show scales of the English Cinnamon Canary Club and the Scottish Norwich Plainhead Canary Club. The latter has been rearranged to provide a direct comparison

You can see that there is a significant difference in the points awarded for colour and type, and you might expect this divergence to be reflected in the show standard, but surprisingly it is not.  The text of the Cinnamon standard is almost identical to the wording of the Norwich standard.  It fails to mention many of the Cinnamon’s special qualities; only the insertion of ‘cinnamon’ in the description of colour sets it apart.   It implies that the English Cinnamon is nothing more than a cinnamon Norwich with extra points for colour.  No wonder the debate about the nature of the Cinnamon canary refuses to go away and even John Scott disputed that it as a genuine variety (3).

I spoke to Ken Grigg, Secretary of the Southern Norwich Plainhead Canary Club, to obtain a Norwich breeder’s view.  Ken has bred cinnamon Norwich with considerable success for many decades, including winning Third Best Norwich with a cinnamon at the National Exhibition in 1978.

Ken Grigg cinnamon Norwich canary
Ken Grigg at the 1978 National with his winning cinnamon Norwich. Source: ‘Cage Birds’, 14 December 1978.

He believes that a regular infusion of cinnamon-Green Norwich blood (4) is essential in order to gain the benefit of better size and type, and to avoid problems that can arise from excessive in-breeding.  When I asked him about colour, he assured me that it can be achieved provided you use a cinnamon-Green from a line that possesses the genes for good colour (5).

Ken Grigg cinnamon Norwich canary
One of Ken Grigg’s cinnamon Norwich canaries. Source: Ken Grigg.
Ken Grigg yell Cinn Norwich
Another cinnamon Norwich by Ken Grigg, this time a yellow (intensive).

Given that the show standards for the two varieties are almost identical, his approach makes a lot of sense.  Unfortunately, it also undermines the Cinnamon’s claim to be a distinct breed.

There is, of course, another side to the argument. It is time for Derek Dix to have his say.  We met him in Part 3.  He is the greatest living advocate of the Cinnamon canary as a distinct breed, and he has no hesitation in expressing his opinions.  Here are a few.

On the Cinnamon’s special colour: 

“almost luminescent, radiating a golden light . . . that does not occur in other varieties” (6)

On the notion that Cinnamon canaries have weak constitutions: 

“after 60 years of breeding cinnamon to cinnamon my birds are neither small nor weak”. (7)

On the cinnamon Norwich cross for good type, colour and size:

“Of course it can be done, but not often and not consistently.  They are not self generating and paired together will not maintain type” (8)

On the Norwich type:

“When people talk about the need for Cinnamons to adhere to the Norwich type standard, it clearly demonstrates their lack of understanding of the basic characteristic of the Cinnamon, namely its fine, silky feathering.  These fine feathers lie close to the body and, without the density of feather of normal Norwich, how can the Cinnamon present the broad head and fully round body of the Norwich?” (9)

As Mr. Dix reminded us in Part 3: “They are not Norwich.  They are Cinnamons” (10). 

Derek Dix & Ken Grigg cinnamon canaries
Derek Dix (left) with Ken Grigg in Ken’s birdroom. Source: Ken Grigg

It follows that if the Cinnamon canary wants to be regarded as a distinct breed it has to declare its independence from the Norwich, otherwise the polemics of the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s and 1990s are bound to recur.  The Crest (which, let us remember, used to be known as the crested Norwich) has proved that it can be done.

The Cinnamon has many claims to being a distinct breed.  For a start, the Cinnamon has a long heritage. Derek Dix has kept Cinnamons since 1948 and acquired his original stock from people who had been members of the CCC  since 1925.  One of them was Arthur Shearing who had joined the Cinnamon Canary Club in 1931 and had also exhibited at the 1936 ‘Bird Fancy’ show (11).   That is a lineage spanning almost a century.

G Shearing cinnamon canaries
Mr. G. Shearing with mementos of his father Arthur Shearing.  Source: Ken Grigg.

The Cinnamon is also self-sustaining as a breed. Mr. Dix assures us that he has maintained his bloodline by breeding Cinnamon x Cinnamon without recourse to Norwich blood.  Indeed he insists that: 

“Over all the 60 years that I have bred Cinnamons there has been no deviation.  They have always bred true to type.  My birds today are identical to the birds I bred sixty years ago.”  (12)

The final test is whether the Cinnamon looks different from the cinnamon Norwich.  Let’s compare two top quality examples:

Cinnamon Norwich canary C&S Goodall
A winning cinnamon Norwich canary by C&S Goodall. Source: Cage & Aviary Birds, 2 December 2000
Cinnamon canary Derek Dix
A top Cinnamon canary by Derek Dix. Source: Cage & Aviary Birds 6 May 1995.

There is undoubtedly a difference between the two: the colour of the Cinnamon is far deeper, while the Norwich displays a fuller type; but is that enough to proclaim the Cinnamon as a separate variety?  This specimen is quite ‘typey’, and you can understand why many people consider it to be nothing more than a high-coloured cinnamon Norwich.  As long as the Cinnamon is tied to the Norwich type it will never be free, so why doesn’t it break that link? 

Derek Dix has already made the case that the Cinnamon has its own type:

“The cold reality is that you cannot have Self Cinnamons of excellent colour and good Norwich type except as a rarity.  I think it would be preferable to accept the bird for what it is . . .” (13)

He’s got a point.  You can see the impact of the cinnamon gene by comparing this pair of Norwich canaries, both bred by Ken Grigg:

Green and cinnamon Norwich canaries, Ken Grigg
A self-green cinnamon Norwich male (left) and a self-cinnamon Norwich female.  Source: Ken Grigg.

The Cinnamon’s silky feathering is evident, her plumage lies closer to the body and the pencilling on her back is much finer and lighter.  She is still a cobby shape, but in comparison to the green cock everything about her is daintier and softer.  These are exactly the characteristics you associate with the cinnamon feather, so why aren’t they celebrated in the standard?  Add the luminescent colour and bloom for which the English Cinnamon is renowned, and you create a bird that is not easily mistaken for the Norwich canary.  

Surely a unique variety deserves a unique standard, preferably backed up by a pictorial model so that breeders and judges can recognise the English Cinnamon ‘for what it is’.

It is for the ECCC to decide what that standard should be, but for the sake of the breed it needs to be distinctive, in the same way that it is easy to distinguish a Crest-bred from a Norwich plainhead.  After a century of uncertainty, it would provide a secure future for the English Cinnamon canary.

__________________

It is 25 years since I saw Cinnamon canaries ‘in the feather’, yet I still have a vivid memory of the encounter.  They seemed more like a Crest-bred canary in type, but with softer feather.  The depth and brilliance of the yellows (intensives) was quite astonishing.  They had been colour-fed, resulting in a colour that reminded me of polished mahogany.  It was far richer than I’d ever seen in a cinnamon Norwich.  Their owner told me they had been bred by Mr. Dix.

Since then I have never doubted that the English Cinnamon is quite distinct from the Norwich canary, and that it would be a tragedy if its special qualities were lost.

Footnotes:

  • Many thanks to Ken Grigg for supplying me with so many photographs and cuttings from Cage & Aviary Birds.  I have space for only a few of them, and was unable to use his famous photo of a Norwich hen feeding an orphaned blackbird chick.
  • Thanks also to Andy Early for finding the articles from Cage & Aviary Birds published in 1978 and 1990.
  1. The ECCC was previously named the East Anglian Cinnamon Canary Club.  An announcement was made in Cage & Aviary Birds, 11 March 2020.  I understand the Club has over 150 paid-up members at the time of writing.
  2. In addition to the National Exhibition, classes for English Cinnamons are being provided at the South Bucks, East Sussex National and the Norwich Alliance shows.
  3. “Cinnamon Canaries: the Norwich debate continues” by John Scott, Cage & Aviary Birds,  6 May 1995.
  4. ‘Cinnamon-Green’ is a term used by Norwich breeders to describe a Green Norwich that carries the cinnamon gene. 
  5. The use of high-coloured cinnamon-greens was also the subject of a comment from Nigel Hastead in Part 2, albeit in connection with Border canaries, but the principle stands.
  6. “English Cinnamon Canary” by Derek Dix (2010).
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Accept the Cinnamon for what it is” by Derek Dix, Cage Birds, 31 August 1978.
  9. “Last hope for the Cinnamon Norwich” by Derek Dix, Cage & Aviary Birds, 14 April 1990.
  10. “Cinnamons need a separate variety” by Derek Dix, Cage Birds, 13 April 1978
  11. “English Cinnamon Canary” by Derek Dix (2010).
  12. Ibid.
  13. “Accept the Cinnamon for what it is” by Derek Dix, Cage Birds, 31 August 1978.

4 thoughts on “The English Cinnamon canary, part 4

  1. “Over all the 60 years that I have bred Cinnamons there has been no deviation. They have always bred true to type. My birds today are identical to the birds I bred sixty years ago.”

    That quote by Derek Dix is largely true – Cinnamon’s do have strong type and resemble something close to a three quarter present day Norwich Plainhead. I would suggest the last (mono) photograph in this article showing a self-cinnamon Norwich female from the 1970’s or early 80’s ( Source: Ken Grigg) is typical of the Cinnamon type that Derek refers to.

    That said, I believe Derek’s Cinnamon’s from the mid 1990’s were superior in type to present day examples (see photo – A top Cinnamon canary by Derek Dix. Source: Cage & Aviary Birds 6 May 1995) which suggests breeding cinnamon to cinnamon religiously with no deviation has already moved the Cinnamon to a separate branch of canary evolution – and a world away from present day Norwich Plainhead’s.

    1. I suggest you contact Brian Gregory, Chairman of the ECCC, whose contact details were published in Part 1.

  2. Huw – would you share more of the “Cinnamon Canaries: the Norwich debate continues” by John Scott, Cage & Aviary Birds, 6 May 1995 article please?

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