American Singer: Mystery Canary
by J. A. Snider

First published in the American Singers Club newsletter, date?

Many breeders sell canaries under the label "American Singer." You've all seen the ads in Cage Bird Magazine. But are these birds really American Singers? Not necessarily. Unfortunately, the name of this remarkable breed of canary has become a catchall term for any canary that sings. Don't be fooled. A real American Singer Canary can sing just about any other bird under the table. He wears a registered (closed) ASC band and has been show-trained to deliver the goods--to sing on command. He is bred to the ASC club standard in conformation and can be any color, including orange, though he may not be color fed.

How did the American Singer evolve? He was first bred in the early thirties by eight Boston women and exhibited in 1934. In 1942, the American Singers Club formally adopted the preferred plan for creating unique strains of singers, resulting in a hybrid of about two-thirds roller blood and one-third border fancy blood. It takes about five years to breed a homogenous strain, and a breeding plan, complete with charts and suggested alternate matings is provided to every novice when he joins the ASC. Annual dues are $4.50 and with it comes the ASC handbook which goes into detail on breeding, training, selection of stock, judging rules and qualifications. In addition, the national secretary registers all ASC bands, and these records are produced at each show to verify ownership of champion birds. Also, members bestow their patronage to local clubs with AS sections and the ASC provides trophies accordingly to the shows.

But what is it that is so vastly different about the American Singer Canary and its fanciers? The American Singer is the only other bird other than its ancestor, the roller, bred for song. It is also the only breed to evolve in the United States. At the song contests, birds receive, out of a possible hundred points, seventy for song; ten for freedom or willingness to sing; and sixty for rendition, which cover song quality, variety, showmanship. A bird should not chop more than six times in a row or points are deducted. Shrillness or lack of variety are also regarded as sins.

So how are these birds judged? It is the manner of judging that separates these birds from the other canaries at the show, which are judged merely on good looks. American Singers must perform. Mere good looks, though they help (thirty points), will not a champion make. And this is where the breeder makes his contribution. He must train his baby males to sing on command. Two months prior to show time, the young hopefuls are put into song cages and are encouraged to listen to bright, sweet, stimulating sounds, such as the song of superior tutors (older males), record tapes, radio music, etc. The training is not as strict as that for the roller canary but every bit as important. Many a bird has sung beautifully in the show hall but kept its beak glued shut in the judging room while the judge scratched his head. Great songs have to be heard before they can be scored.

Some breeders drape the show cages with sheets during the day and whisk them off several times a day. Good show prospects will catch on real fast and after a month or so will be singing within two minutes of removing the sheet. In addition, cages are moved about the house frequently, dogs and children are encouraged to visit with them. At the show hall, this sheet routine is completed. When classes are closed, the entire class is sheeted down and kept this way until its turn in the judging room They are brought in, usually seven to twelve in number, and lined up. After five minutes or so, they settle down and the judge times them for ten minutes or what is known as the freedom period. For each complete song, a male is awarded one point, a maximum of ten. The next ten minutes the judge evaluates the song. All this time breeders may sit in the room, biting their fingernails, totally at the mercy of their birds' whim. Usually well-trained males perform. Breeders may not talk, smoke, or point at birds. Nor may they smile, laugh, cry or beat their breasts in despration. Also, observers may not leave the room until a class is finished. After the formal song period, the judge will approach the birds to award the twenty points for conformation and ten for condition. Every year, there are surprises. Often a so-so male will out sing all the others leaving the breeder pleasantly mystified. When the winning cage numbers have been announced, the birds are actually removed from the cages and their band numbers verified against the lists provided to the judges, giving band numbers for the last ten years. Perhaps one of the factors which sets the American Singer apart is the type of breeder who chooses to breed him. It is a bird bred primarily for invisible qualities (song and showmanship) as opposed to visible qualities. One never knows exactly what he has in his aviary until the moment of truth in the fiery furnace, the judging room.

Perhaps, you are a type breeder or just starting out with canaries. Perhaps, you are a little bored with your trophies or are just ready for a change. If so, next time enter the closed door at the American Singer end of the show hall. Maybe you've wondered just what goes on in there. But be careful! You might get hooked for life!

Webmaster's commentary: Most of the information is accurate, but some is a little dated. In particular, Cage Bird Magazine is no longer published. The ASC dues are now higher, see the membership application page for the current dues. There are now additional breeds of song canaries available in the U.S.: the Waterslager and the Timbrado. Another canary breed which evolved in the U.S. is the Columbus Fancy, which is a type breed. AS class size must now be between 5 and 9, with 7 being the prefered number of birds judged at a time.