PAS Newsletter Vol. 11 No. 2
April 2004

A Judge's Thoughts on the Quad
by Laura Schwanof

I thoroughly enjoy coming out west to hear your birds and meet the folks in the PAS club. I find all of you to be extremely interesting and congenial people! I have judged there 3 times before and each time has been a wonderful new experience for me. The first time I judged PAS (year 2000 I believe), I stayed afterwards with Gary Tom, who shared his binder of canary articles from the old Cage Bird Magazines and we talked well into the evening about the differences in canary song across the US. He also gave me a whirlwind tour of San Francisco - I fell in love with the area (and the redwoods) in that first trip out! I also had the opportunity to talk at length with Bryan Chin and learn how you organized the Quad show. When I returned home, I talked up the idea of having a double show on the East Coast. At first the Chapter 25 folks were skeptical, but they put up with my crazy idea since I am in charge of the registration and organization of our show each year. Well, here we are 4 years later and still hosting a very successful double show! Many thanks to Bryan for that!

One of the most exciting things about your quad show is the fact that as a judge I can compare my picks with those of other judges over the course of one weekend! It's amazing how many similar birds are picked between some judges and yet so many different ones with others. Last year when I judged with Danny Iacovone, we picked about half of the same birds, but in a very different order! And just think, I trained with him about 8 years ago!

I also think it was a great idea of PAS to ask judges to donate a pair or trio of birds for auction to offset show costs. What a wonderful way to hear new sounds and to bring in new bloodlines for outcrossing! I always feel it is an honor to bring in something new and exciting for the club to use in their breeding program and to listen to, and I try to select something early in the season to set aside for the trip. I also look forward to bringing home a gem of my own each year.

By far the most rewarding thing about judging the PAS show is enjoying the camaraderie and tales from all of your members! Each one of you has a story to tell, which you share very willingly. That is not true with all other clubs in the US. Many folks can be very tight-lipped and guarded with their past experiences and successes. I relish the opportunity to talk candidly with people, to share what I have found works for me or the disasters I have encountered, so that others won't have to go through the same learning curve yielding poor results. I love to see new members raise their first clutch of young; and find that when they've trained their birds for show they return home with a big win! There's nothing more exciting than a novice bringing home a 1st, 2nd or 3rd in show for the first time!

I guess I am rambling a bit here. But I just want to leave you with this sincere message. Each time I have come out to judge the PAS show, it's a unique opportunity to connect with someone new and learn something from them, and it's simply enjoyable to see old friends again. Whatever tidbits I can leave behind in terms of passing on my knowledge about raising birds, I am happy to do so. Thanks for letting me join you in this great celebration of bird song! I look forward to seeing you all again soon!

Birdkeeping by the Seasons
by Gary Tom
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

The seasons of birdkeeping begin in January and February with your preparations for the breeding season. Buying of supplies and cleaning of your equipment etc. Working out final breeding plans in theory, and setting the birds up. Watching and working throughout the breeding season, which will last until April or May at the latest if you must. It's an especially busy time where the utmost attention must be given to the behaviors of the parents, development and banding of the young, and record keeping. The weaning process is also very important and no chicks should be counted upon until after the moult.

The glorious summer comes and with it the 'summer snow' or moult. Which is quite a relief and welcome after all the activity of the breeding season. Old cocks and hens can be flighted as well as the babies. The males won't be fighting as this is a very strenuous period for them and survival is at hand. All that is required of us at this point is to feed well and water. A daily bath and a good air filter and/or fan is also welcome as you won't believe the dander and dust at this time. Sit back and watch the babies' beautiful colors develop with each feather that drops. Those dull olives turn lush green, the yellows intensify, those browns turn to blue, and if you're lucky enough to have any red factor, that too will intensify in color. By the end of the summer you'll hear song develop and you will separate the cocks from the little hens.

By September you will have isolated the young cocks and let them develop their song, free from fights with the other boys. In October you will let go of the lesser singers and keep only your best. November comes and with it the competition season and training. At the shows you will have the opportunity to hear and compare your singers to what others have produced this year. Only then will you have the chance to really evaluate song, yours and others.

When the show season ends, you will have just enough time to sell off your surplus, bring in new birds and breeding supplies, and celebrate the holidays before beginning your next breeding season. All the while dreaming of the endless pairing possibilities and the promise of another generation.

These are the seasons of birdkeeping and they are a beautiful way to mark the seasons and the years. I can still remember the year I produced my blue and white best in show and what was happening in my life at that time as well as the first year I started and the birds I produced that year. I hope you enjoy this hobby as much as I do.

Crossbreeding Follies
by Edith Vermeij
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

My first bird was a male roller with a pretty voice and a nervous personality. Other males intimidated him into silence and his breeder had thought him a hen until November, when he burst into song in the hen flight. Now I would be suspicious of such a bird, because about half of his male chicks have displayed a retiring habit which is not ideal in the song canary world. I got into crossbreeding when I was given an American Singer hen who promised to compliment Mr. Roller in both song and temperament - she had loud, long singers among her male relatives and turned out to be what we call an alpha bird. Mrs. hen automatically fought for dominance with her grown chicks and later with other hens. She never gave up, had endless energy, and stuffed her chicks into sleeping beauties. However, I discovered over three generations of playing with these birds and their offspring what anyone experienced could have told me (and did!) - in outbreeding, the chicks will likely be healthy but everything that can go wrong in terms of the breeds probably will.

I'm not usually such an optimist and a gambler. I thought I would get birds with lovely AS voices but toned down by the roller heritage. I was like that actress who joked about having a child with George Bernard Shaw, so that it would have her body and his brain. "But", he is said to have replied, "what if it had my body and your brain?" That, predictably, is what happened to some of the chicks, who either didn't sing much, sang too softly, or had a voice like a rock band. I did not have a real outlet for even these few individuals, although the next generation did improve and produced two free-singing male chicks with low-volume but basically uninteresting songs. I no longer think I'm going to be the one who gets a magic chick from crossbreeding, but it still interests me as the only way to do new things.

I enjoyed reading the book "A Brand New Bird" for its history of adding red factor genes to canaries, who don't have them naturally and had never mutated in that direction during 300 years of domestication. Even if we could genetically engineer a particular song trait into a bird (which won't happen in my lifetime), it would still be expressed in a new genetic background and would likely require generations of selective breeding to become attractive to us humans. What happens to the more unattractive productions of a crossbreeding exercise is a problem which I can't really solve, and I'm still thinking about it.

Rambling Notes From One Bird Breeder
by Ron Moy
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

I reflect with continuous self-analysis at times and question the logic behind the catering to these birds; this "Captive Hold", this unexplained attraction, the need, and it must be this "hobby" affliction. Sometimes I wonder if it's actually myself, who is 'caged and captive' and not these birds. No overnights or distant traveling during the breeding season, the daily ritual of the preparations of fresh egg foods for the new families, shopping for fresh greens, planning, vitaminizing, and alternating their daily menus, and providing the daily necessary housekeeping, as well as, the diligent record keeping and tracking of their family genealogy. Then there are the sad real Life everyday dramas and heartbreak of lost lives, but this article is focusing on the lighter side of the hobby.

This is my third year of the "bread and breakfast" adventure with the Spanish Timbrados clients and my second year of catering to the American Singers tourist. This "hobby" is purely motivated from the love of these songbirds, their beautiful intense carefree singing, and varied songs, from each Spanish Timbrado or American Singer, their distinct voices and song can be identified individually from upstairs of my home. Waking up in the morning, with the greeting and serenade from the chorus sounds of pure joy. The background operatic chorus of the Luciano Pavarotti's (Spanish Timbrados), accompanied with the mellow voices of the Mel Torme's (American Singers) performing lead solo. I need a Life...

While caring for these birds, I am under the belief that providing for the environment and the opportunity of a wholesome family dynamic and upbringing (no single Mom families) will lead an increase chance of a successful breeding year. Teamwork and shared responsibilities is the key. The important role of the father, within the parental unit, is an obligation to the harmony and success of the family dynamics. The young males, (future fathers), will know what to do, when their procreating obligation and role is expected, learning from their fathers.

I have a beautiful Ethnic Imperial green hen with the childhood and upbringing of an unplanned single Mom household. I have witnessed on several occasions, this young hen, from her sitting position on the nest full of eggs, after the wine and dine phase of the relationship from her arranged marriage, with the blink of an eye, jumping out of the nest, to confront, fight, and attack her spouse head on, because he had attitude and looked at her that way. Needless to say, she expressed herself, with the preference of being a single Mom, and seems happy and peaceful with this contemporary social acceptable arrangement. Her Ex- is now performing Blueblood solo acts in an upscale affluent neighborhood in San Francisco.

Through the care and experiences with these birds, for the past three years, I have concluded and compared the bird's everyday Life's dramas in the bird room community to the parallels of human interactions and relationships. I have observed compatible bird couples, from the start, having non-existent family melodramas and raising successful broods, where the male is supportive of the female, and when the female takes a holiday (leaves the nest), the male is observe pulling his share of the parental responsibilities (sitting on the nest, guarding the eggs or babies). Truly Teamwork. He would dutifully feed his offspring, whereas, the mom is seen taking a "coffee break" (off to the side with the appearance of the "zoning out" and the sigh of temporary relief). With the incompatible couples from the start, the challenge for success is an uphill battle. The family melodramas and tribulations, spiced with dysfunctional behavior, and the witness of spousal and child abuse have been observed. If the mother stays out too late carousing (unwillingness to go back to the nest), the male has been observed to chase her back to the nest.

One year as a bird breeder, I witnessed a father bird plucking his progeny's pinfeathers. He was forced and granted into early retirement from his procreating obligations and duties. This male is now living in the affluent suburbs, enjoying his care-free bachelor days again, as a Championship Show Daytime Soap Opera performer in the Greater East Bay. This year, I had "an experience" of a bird communicating to me, besides the common episodes of intentionally soiling my clean pressed shirt, saying "not Broccoli again", before my drive to the office. This young hen of European Bluebloods, new to the community, voiced her displeasure of the location of her boudoir (nest), located on the right side of their home (cage). She displayed her displeasure by making the bed on the left side, using the seed cup. Reminding her of the sensual comforts of her bedroom, I removed the seed cup. She proceeds the next day, by laying an egg on the floor food dish of the left side of their home, an expression of the "down to earth" approach. Again, I persuaded her, of the comforts of her boudoir, by removing this floor food dish, and later, she was seen, squatting on the floor (COSTCO soft paper towels) on the left side, with the arrival of another egg. Okay, I get it. I rearranged her bedroom furniture to the left; she was expressing the 'BEKINS' moving effort, and later, was spotted sitting in the nest located on the left side with a grin on her face of satisfaction. I think I pay too much attention to these birds...

The Year of the Canaries
by Edith Vermeij
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Lots of nature programs begin in the early spring, when the snow melts or the rains stop and the creatures begin to think about mating. Since I'm a biologist, canaries make me think about biology. I probably have them around for the pleasure of watching them do things, but also because their behavior forces me to think new thoughts about systems I thought I knew. Most nature films show the play-fighting of carnivores and how it prepares them for the killing bite, I was astonished that my first canary chicks fought like kittens. I shouldn't have been astonished - but that's how it's gone, with canaries forcing interesting thoughts upon me at every step. When the hens fought, I thought about how it is that everyone knows about males defending a territory, but no one thinks about why it is that one hen gets to show up at the best one. I know which hen of mine would earned the right to show up where she chose to mate!

I sometimes sit in the waiting room of the UC Davis Vet School small animal clinic (waiting for fancy bird food), where I notice all the photos and waiting animals; dogs, cats, almost never a hookbill, and never, ever, a canary. I sat next to a lovely woman whose cat had had an eye removed, and she asked me what canaries were like. "Well", I said, thinking of my birds at home, "they like food and sex". The woman's shock brought home to me that even those of us who have pets and gardens live, not only in an artificial world purged of rivalries and enemies, but in a world of neutered animals. They are alive, at least, but with one big part of their nature removed. "You can't fix canaries", I said brightly to the nice lady next to me, trying to repair my conversational lapse, "they wouldn't sing". But it reminded me of how fascinating and frustrating the yearly cycle of a seasonal, territorial breeder is, and how it constantly reminds me of the way things really are in the world. Probably we use the same hormone systems as birds do; the same chemicals that make us think of attachment and babies and fighting. But more on that at some future time.

Sometimes I wonder how we can best use what is known about wild canaries and what remains of their behavior to benefit our domestic birds. Many song canary breeders separate the males as soon as they can be identified, a tradition probably inherited from the roller breeders who wanted to avoid the imitation of faulty notes. Isolated males don't damage themselves fighting and can work on their songs without being intimidated by the cage alpha male. However, as usual, watching birds leads to thoughts. Last year I left a little male in the chick cage; he was the only one, he wasn't causing any trouble, and I was lazy. It became obvious that a bond was forming between Little Son and one of the young hens, but I never predicted that the hen would later refuse to mate with the fine young male I had chosen for her. I did some reading and discovered that some canaries mate for life, or at least for the season, and the chosen mate can therefore be very important for the reproduction of a young hen. Not unlike a Victorian family in which the daughter had to watch her step and move fast in order to secure the substantial husband.

I noticed something else, too, each year watching the chicks grow up in their community cage. They were doing what any biologist would expect, practicing adult behavior. The males were learning how to fight and court females, the hens were learning how to squabble and behave around males. How much social damage, I wonder, might we do when we separate the sexes very early, and isolate the little males? Solo practice may be good for the song but not so good for the social skills? I know of more than one Best in Show singer that failed their first breeding season; apparently they were clueless courters. First we enforce abstinence, then we arrange the marriage. No wonder we wait until the birds are desperate, hoping that their remaining instinct to mate will overpower them and they will do what we want. Perhaps there is an optimal age to separate the young birds, after they have learned enough to mate properly but before they have actually done the deed. Good luck on finding it! It's hard with humans, and I'll bet it isn't easy with birds either.

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