First published in the American Singers Club newsletter, July 1998.
The American Singer Canary is known for its unique song with exceptional freedom. Unfortunately, freedom is not a constant in American Singers. By attending a show you will notice that a percentage of birds that will have "no song". I remember the first time I entered my birds for competition. Well, I thought they would be competing! My birds just jumped back and forth on their perches and wondered why they were put in these tiny little cages in front of all these people. With just a call note or so from my birds, I sat there watching and said to myself, "Oh, oh I must be doing something wrong". I wasn't discouraged even though my score sheet said "no song" and had only points for how nice my bird looked. Being involved in other types of competitions, I knew this was the learning phase and main thing to do is learn.
As I was driving home I started to think back at the process of training my birds for competition. Ok, well I did put my birds in their show cages for training six weeks before the show and this should have been adequate time for them to get comfortable in their cages. They did sing at home, but had to back up 20 feet away and sit very still for 20 minutes or so. Well I guess that wasn't quite show conditions. I wanted to kick myself but I didn't want to run off the road! I took a deep breath and steadied myself and started to think about what the show conditions were like. Let's see, all of the cages were covered the night before the show, then uncovered a few minutes before judging, brought out by people my birds were unfamiliar with, judged by someone who was only eight feet away, bright fluorescent lights above, white background, and a whole bunch of people sitting behind the judge. I guess my birds had a bit of stage fright. As I pulled into my driveway I was determined to make some changes and to get my birds ready for the next show that was a month away.
The next day I did the best I could to reproduce the show conditions. I put fluorescent lights above the show cages and put a white background behind. I moved the cages around like they would be during judging and sometimes changed their location. I realized when I did this my birds would panic and flutter around the cage madly. With time they didnít panic so much, but I still noticed they were nervous. I also brought the birds to a fellow hobbyist to get them used to traveling. A week before the next show I sat eight feet away with my arms crossed and heard silence. I thought, "Well maybe I could put whiskey in their water or get a prescription for Prozac to loosen them up". I decided against it and figured that I would bring the birds to the show anyway to support our fairly new and growing club. As expected, some of my birds sang a little but not much. (Actually as I look back I was glad that this happened since I realized that if they did sing everyone in the room would have put their hands over their ears! Well, that's another story on song improvement.)
After the show, I wasn't disappointed because I had a pretty good idea why my birds had little freedom and was looking forward to next year. My theory had its beginnings when I bought some birds from a breeder who was successful in many shows. After I purchased the trio of birds and brought them home I put the male in a small cage and put him aside. He immediately started singing! It was amazed that he was so free after being put into a strange location and cage. Was he better trained? Maybe, but I did do all things I was told to do for training with poor results. So many articles I have read said training is the key but I say inheritance for freedom, then training is the answer.
Birds and animals, as well as people are born with personality tendencies. Just think if each of your fellow club members were captured and placed in a small confining cage. One would demand his rights and not cooperate. Another would be scared and not say anything for or against what is happening. And of course there would be one that would just complain and complain! Then there would be the hero who would be calm, communicate with the captor and figure a way out. Kidding aside, let us think about when we see human babies and the different ranges of demeanor, some cry a lot, some are quiet, and some are just happy all the time. Another example is when you see a brood of puppies you will notice that each puppy has it own unique personality even though the puppies have the same parents and are born at the same time. As you know dog breeders have also developed dogs breeds to have a certain intelligence level and demeanor. Labradors are great family dogs and German shepherds are intelligent and protective. Yet, even within a dog breed there are variations within its general personality traits. Talents are bred for they are not automatics either. Retrievers are bred for useful hunting companions, but the rest is up to the owner to train the dog well to do this.
So with these observations I had my 1996 breeding plan all laid out. I increased my lights to 14 hrs by the beginning of January to bring my birds into breeding condition to be assured that my next generation of canaries would be born early enough to be mature for the show season. My next generation would be results of the free singing male I obtained crossed to my females. I also breed this male to his related female to produce more females with good "freedom" characteristics. (The other female I bought turn out to be a late male, I used him too.) The results were promising. About 30% of my males had acceptable freedom and half of these were able to get their 10 songs in for competition and could be judged for their song. I still noticed band biting, listening to the other birds, and cutting off was apparent in most of my birds. I feel that many times that these characteristics are signs of nervousness due to some kind of deficiencies in freedom. To me "freedom" consists of confidence, fearlessness, and most of all competitiveness to out do his fellow canaries singing along side him.
For the next generation in 1997 my breeding plan was to breed back my best crosses to the free singing male I obtained or to his daughters (breed to the female I purchase with him) to re-emphasize the genetic characteristics for freedom. The results were positive, about 70% of my 1997 born birds had acceptable freedom and most of these had good song length with no band biting. 90% of the birds I brought to the 4 shows that year sang their 10 songs and placed well. This proved my theory that freedom is first inherited and then with good training you have a performing American Singer who is not just a pretty bird.
Copyright © 1998 Bryan Chin. All rights reserved.
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