The general tendency of the whole Canary tribe is to struggle out of darkness into light.
W.A. Blakston (1)
In this short series we have looked at variegation through its manifestations in other species: greenfinches, budgerigars and chickens. When it comes to visual impact however, no canary accomplished the ‘struggle out of darkness into light’ with such panache as the London Fancy. The disappearance of the breed during the last century added mystique to its allure. No wonder that canary fanciers have been so keen to regain what they had lost.
That allure was based on its transformation from a drab green juvenile into a golden adult with dark wings and tail. This effect was achieved by the disappearance of melanins from the new feathers, leaving the yellow ground colour exposed to view. It was this vanishing act that prompted me to suggest that it was controlled by a fugitive black gene (2).
There have been many theories and many crusades to revive the London Fancy over the last hundred years, but none succeeded until 2003 when Piet Renders produced his first ‘London Fancy’. This bird not only looked like the real thing, but also moulted out from dark to light. It was a breakthrough. Here is one of his top specimens bred in 2015:
Piet’s birds are well known, but we tend to see only the finished article. We don’t see the process, a champion emerging from dark obscurity into the bright light. It was not until last year that I had the opportunity to watch this spectacle unfold in my own bird house.
I had been given a bird by Marko Dielen which he had bred from Piet’s strain in 2015. He wasn’t much to look at; almost completely dark in colour, with just a few light marks around the head and on the back. Nevertheless, the appearance of those light patches were sufficient for Marko to assure me that the bird possessed the ‘London Fancy factor’. You can see him here:
During the moult in 2016 I noticed that patches of light feathering were appearing across his body. Here is a photograph taken half way through the moult:
By the end of the moult, the bird was transformed. Most of the dark melanins had melted away; the ground colour shone through and contrasted vividly with the dark wings and tail.
His underflue is mostly dark, which undoubtedly adds depth to the yellow. His legs and beak are reasonably dark, but not as dark as you would see in a Lizard. Note, however, that it took him two years to display these qualities.
It was a classic case of an ‘ugly duckling’ turning into a ‘beautiful swan’. Even though the bird was only about 60-70% clear, the contrast between the yellow and black was striking. It was the first time I had witnessed the fugitive black gene in action and I found it spell-binding. He was the first bird I would check when I entered the bird house in the morning; eager to see if yet more dark feathers had vanished into the night.
I make no claim that he is a London Fancy, or even that he possesses the ‘London Fancy factor’, but he has undoubtedly inherited the fugitive black gene.
- The Illustrated Book of Canaries and Cage Birds by Blackston, Swaysland and Wiener (1878-81) p.175.
- Fugitive is used here as an adjective, meaning: of short duration; difficult to grasp or retain; likely to evaporate, deteriorate, change, fade, or disappear. (Meriam-Webster dictionary).