Saturday, 10 December 2011
Part 6: And finally, the show scene
As well as individual keepers of pets however this another level of keener keepers and breeders of canaries. These people have the aim not just of enjoying the company of an individual bird, but of producing the perfect specimen of the breed in question. As with dog breeders, whose star event in the UK is Crufts, there are specialist shows where these exhibitors, or rather their birds, compete for coveted rosettes. As with all competitive and obsessive activities, men feature much more commonly in this area than women.
Before a bird stands a chance of winning however, a vast amount of care must be taken by the prospective exhibitor. The first step is selection of the correct parents. Exhibition canaries of proven bloodlines can be quite expensive, and exhibitors have to be careful to pair up the correct birds. The general aim is to match the parents in the hope that their offspring will be as close as possible to the breed standard set by whichever national society is concerned with that particular breed.
Once the correct parents have been decided, they have to be brought into peak breeding condition. The correct seeds, supplementary foods, and supplements are provided, and the birds are kept in longer ‘flight cages’ where they can get more exercise. Once they are judges ready to breed, the pairs are placed in separate breeding cages supplied with a nest pan that the birds use to build their nest with materials provided.
When the birds begin to lay, the natural tendency is for the hen to begin incubating after the second or so eggs, whilst continuing to lay until the clutch is complete. In a wild bird this would result in a staggered hatching of the clutch, and if there was a food shortage the older and larger chicks would dominate their nestmates and survive whilst their younger brothers and sisters did not. This is not desirable in a domesticated situation, as the exhibitor wants all the clutch to fledge at the same size to increase the chance of a good bird being produced. To arrange that all the clutch hatches together, the eggs are removed as they are laid and replaced with dummy ceramic eggs until the clutch is complete, when all the eggs are returned to begin incubating.
When the eggs hatch, the young birds must be supplied with the correct food. This takes the form of proprietary or home made ‘egg food’ which is generally a powder or granulated mixture that is mexed with water and supplied separately to the parents food. In the wild canaries, like most seed eating birds, supply their young with unripe seeds or insects, and the egg food substitutes for this.
A few days after hatching, each bird is ringed by the breeder with a band that slips over the foot while the toes are still flexible. This ring has a unique identification number, and unlike the rings used by people who ring wild birds it is a closed metal band. The ring number identifies the individual and the year it was bred – a very important consideration when showing as there are different classes for current year and older birds.
Once the chicks fledge, they are fed by the parents for week or two before learning to feed themselves. Once they are independent, they spend some time in flight cages or aviaries, building up fitness before they are selected for potential showing. Surplus birds are usually sold to pets shops, which is where their stock tends to originate.
It is not enough for a bird to look good, it must also behave properly when at the show. Before the show season starts every bird will have time in the show cages, which are specified for each type of canary, so they do not panic when taken to the show.
The shows themselves are usually held in the autumn after the post-breeding moult and before the next breeding season starts. Judges are usually long-time keepers and exhibitors themselves, and they keenly examine each bird to select the best one. Generally birds are brought to the show bench for judging in the morning, and exhibitors are excluded, usually biting their fingernails, until the judging is complete.
That wraps up this series of posts – I hope people have been interested. If anyone is thinking of keeping a canary or other pet bird I highly recommend people visiting their local bird keepers club (there is usually one in your area) or one of the shows, either a local show or one of the national shows, where they can find a lot of very useful information.
Next week – Flamingos, and then the review of the year at Bristol, which has been an important one for us and has earned the zoo a lot of good coverage.
(images from Kentcages.com, petngarden.com etc)