Canaries, Shows and Stress
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Canary caretakers are united by one common aim – providing the best possible conditions for our feathered friends. Regardless of our knowledge, this remains uppermost in our minds. So it is not surprising that the one recurring topic for newcomers to the Fancy is whether exhibiting our birds is stressful to them in any way.
I have kept canaries for over 40 years, starting as a school-boy. Local clubs provide a support infrastructure for all varieties of bird keepers. It did not take me long to join my local society, meeting local enthusiasts who taught me how best to care for my birds.
Using this knowledge, it became a natural extension of my hobby to exhibit my canaries both locally, and later nationally, as my interest progressed.
In all that time, I have NEVER lost a bird through the stress of an exhibition. Nor can I say that exhibiting has reduced the birds’ capabilities to breed, as the results I have obtained from the show and non-show birds have been remarkably similar.
Modern canaries are of course a domesticated species and are far removed from the Serin Finch, from which they evolved. Selective breeding has meant the development of distinctly different sub-varieties, which all enjoy the presence of human company.
Expanding your interest from caring for your own birds to exhibiting them in friendly competition with others is a natural progression, enabling you to see other fanciers’ stock in comparison with your own birds, and share each other’s successes or failures.
The birds thrive in the additional attention they receive, most notably those that have been properly prepared and seem to enjoy the experience as much as we do.
Each canary ‘type’ variety has been developed towards an ideal standard – an agreed vision of the perfect bird, promoted by the specialist society responsible for furthering that particular ‘breed.’ Over the last hundred years or more, show standards have been issued and special ‘show cages’ devised, designed to promote each individual canary variety.
These ‘show cages’ generally follow two distinct types, known as ‘box cages,’ which are oblong boxes, painted to a specific color to display the bird to advantage, and fitted with wire fronts. Birds using these cages include Norwich, Gloster, Crested and Colored canaries, while the second type of show cage, known as a ‘wire cage’ is used for birds where position or movement is of paramount importance.
Birds using different wire cages include Border and Fife Canaries, and the Yorkshire Canary, which requires a taller cage due to its tall, fearless position.
Enter any breeder’s birdroom, and you will find a number of show cages which the breeder will attach to his stock cages, encouraging the young birds to ‘run out’ into the show cage, to enable show training to take place. It is a measure of the pleasure they gain that the birds will often hop into this cage as soon as it is offered, and enjoy their small trips around the birdroom, in their ‘mobile home.’
Show training differs little for each type of bird, though perhaps more attention needs to be paid to those varieties housed in wire cages, because of the open nature of this cage. Borders and Fife canaries are required to display a jaunty movement while in the show cage, while the majestic Yorkshire needs to display fearlessly while ‘stood to attention’ on the top perch of its show cage.
Fanciers generally begin to show training when the birds are only a few weeks old, initially gaining the young bird’s confidence by simply attaching the show training cage to the stock cage for the young birds to explore. After several visits, the training cage is gently removed and placed on a ‘training bench’ – designed to emulate the show bench upon which they will be placed at an exhibition.
Using a series of slow hand movements, the young birds are coaxed to move across the perches if Border or Fifes, or display proudly on the top perch, if they are Yorkshires. Similar routines are followed with birds that are to be exhibited in box type cages, although the nature of the cage makes this a much easier task – providing comfort to the bird, which sees the cage simply as an extension of its normal living quarters.
Preparation Is Key
Preparing birds for exhibition this way reduces any possible stress, by ensuring the birds are as familiar as possible with their show cages. They will have learned where the feed and water are positioned and will become accustomed to constant handling, which is a pre-requisite of the judging process.
Failing to prepare for a show is simply preparation for failure, and this is particularly true when applied to exhibition canaries. As a judge, I have seen many birds which would have gone further, if only they had been better prepared. An unruly or ‘flighty’ bird may damage itself, become stressed and cause stress to others, with only its owner to blame – which will be very obvious to other exhibition attendees.
Exhibitors should consider several other secondary, but important issues. Birds traveling to exhibitions in show cages are much quieter if these cages are themselves contained within a ‘ traveling case’ – a wooden or canvas bag specifically designed for the purpose. A very good supplier of purpose-built canvas bags can be found at http://www.avibags.instant-net.co.uk offering products for very many different types of bird, supported by a worldwide delivery service.
Practice boxing your birds and taking them on short car journeys – packing, lifting, moving, driving, unloading and unpacking are all potential causes of stress, but none will affect your birds if they have been trained to undergo these operations with confidence – before the exhibition taking place.
A quick word about water. Even bird keepers travel and take vacations, sometimes flying around the world, other times traveling only locally. Each new destination has a different water supply – and each can potentially upset us. Canary constitutions are much more delicate than our own – imagine how they feel, and next time, take along some bottled water from their existing supply, rather than risk upsetting the delicate balance of their internal systems.
Finally, what can you do if things do go wrong, and your birds become stressed even after the best preparation you can do? There are numerous companies offering stress-relieving tonics, any of which may help. I use products from ‘The Birdcare Company,’ which are available through the Web at http://www.birdcareco.com and marketed throughout Europe and America, in particular, ‘Spark’ which is a water-soluble slow release energy product that is beneficial if fed both before and after an exhibition.
I know my birds love exhibitions, as do I. This year, like every other for the last 40 years, I shall be traveling the country attending shows, accompanied by many of my birds. I will get far more stressed than they do, and more often than not it is they, with their cheerful and courageous approach to life, and their sweet, uplifting songs, who give me the ability to carry on.