First published in the American Singers Club newsletter, July 1999.
At the January 1999 Pacific AS chapter meeting, we were wondering whether new show cages must still be painted silver on the sides, now that the national AS membership has voted to not require the trays to be painted. Several AS officers and members were asked via email. Here are the replies. Since we were hoping for a simple yes or no answer, the replies are listed in order of length.
It is not necessary to have the cages painted. However, some judges may consider them to be marked cages. The black tray is not a problem.
I am sure that the answer is yes. Most cages are chrome sides and the bird can see a reflection of himself and whats worse is someone elses bird can be disconcerted next door due to refelections. the only thing we voted on was that the tray did not have to be painted.
The purpose for painting the trays was to avoid a "marked cage". The purpose for painting the cages was to prevent birds from seeing themselves in the reflection from the solid side from within the cage, or from the solid side of the next cage, and singing a hard driving song at the reflection. Now that most shows use dividers between the cages on the show bench, the main reason to paint a shiny cage is to protect one's own birds from their own reflection. I don't know of any judges that deduct points for a shiny cage.
Personally, I don't have any problems with the outside of the cages being left the way they are. We always have partitions when benching the birds. Even if the sides were painted, cages are frequently different sizes which means that the birds can see each other directly - let alone any reflections. Does this mean that the judges are going to deduct points because a cage is slightly larger? Nonsense. We just put the partitions in and be done with it. The same should hold true for the shiny sides. Unless the club can come up with a standard off-the-shelf cage that meets all the requirements, it unreasonable to expect that everybody be required to scrape and paint these cages to make them "uniform". There is so much variation in the construction anyway that in my opinion, it is just a cosmetic alteration. The partitions are simple, quick, and eliminate both problems. And in our experience, stripping the paint causes the metal to rust MORE, because a layer of electostatically applied primer undercoat is also removed. Most people will then buy a can of some siver spray paint, and just spray it. It looks good for the first year, then the rust comes quickly. Just like your car when you buy that tube of touch-up paint - it always rusts because the area doesn't have the special primer and overcoats that the rest of the car has.
If you read the American Singer Constitution, you will not find anything about painting show cages. Since they are already silver (not marked) and we put silver dividers between each cage, there is no reason that we should have to paint the already silver colored cages.
We exhibited at the Mid West show in 1998 and Bill Meyer mentioned that the unpainted cages were "marked cages". I reviewed the AS Constitution and could not find anywhere that silver cages had to be painted silver. When you travel out East and even many Mid West shows you will find a lot of cages that are in the original finish. Most of the cages that are painted are due to wear and tear on the cages over time. The problem with painted these cages is that you must remove the finish to get paint to adhere to the cage. The slightest scrape causes the new paint to scratch off and before long you are looking at rust.
Personally, I like to show our birds in cages that have been painted with the silver (aluminum) paint. Reason is that when they hear strange birds songs and then see a reflection from their own cage, it can ruin a chance at a major win. Some birds are affected, some are not. Why take the chance?
As head of the body of legislation of minutia amendments in the early nineties to our Constitution regarding cage standardization, I polled over forty members in the ASC, chapter heads, all judges at the time plus any fancier who had been around longer than ten years. My goal was to determine just what everyone wanted. The goal they all seemed to agree on was: As much similarity between cages as possible that would not move any brand of cage off the show bench, thereby truly inconveniencing any fancier. This massive poll revealed that fanciers wanted their cages and everyone else's cages to form a sensible blur in the eyes of the Judge. We came up with one-piece drinkers, dull, not shiny partition wall to the cage, all-silver color, etc. Most of these improvements were already with us in practice. Look at the Constitution we have now and compare it with the old one, and you will see what I mean.
Because of this I was somewhat surprised when some members wanted to go back to an unpainted black drawer for some, leaving all those which had been painted silver still silver. I suppose they were thinking they would save some effort with this or would be saving money, whatever. They will, of course, end up having to paint the drawer eventually because of the rust problem, which will occur sooner than if they had painted it in the first place. I knew when I saw this on the ballot that it would pass since almost any new idea passes by a substantial majority. Those who care enough to vote, generally vote yes, no matter how silly the change. This was, in my opinion, a step backwards from standardization, though of little importance, since the trays are mostly covered anyway by the stretchers. Most serious exhibitors paint their old cages every year anyway, especially in a humid climate, so those who are so in love with their unpainted black trays will then have to make the curious decision as to whether to paint the trays black or silver. .
I personally as a Judge have no problem with an unpainted partition wall unless either the inside or the outside is left shiny. As a Judge I simply cannot and will not tolerate the outside of the partition wall being shiny and will deduct points,even if the hosting club has placed additional partitions between the cages because of the future harm this cage can cause in song contests. If the club has placed not partitions, I will actually (with my own hands) remove a cage from the bench then and there if the outside of the cage is so shiny as to possibly cause the rival male in the next cage to sing a mating song or to stare at himself longingly, not singing at all. I have noticed that this is happening more frequently lately where there are many novices. This is also one of the reasons I continue to judge conformation at the start of the judging period to keep it from happening.
How can you tell if a cage is too shiny? Hold the cage under bright fluorescent light and check to see if you can see your hand's reflection. Does your hand look like a hand? Even worse, can you count your fingers? Remember, a bird does not have to see himself well enough to shave, he only has to see the vague outline of a bird to assume he is looking at a hen, the very love of his life. How would you feel if your very best bird that won points last week spent the entire class stretched out, singing mating songs to his own reflection? Fanciers simply do not have the right to do this to other fanciers, and they are pudding heads if they do it to their own.
The last new cage I bought was extremely shiny and I painted it when I painted my old cages. It took me about two minutes to do so with a can of Sear's Best. This included the light sanding I gave it beforehand to make the paint stick.
The first new cage I ever had back in 1983 (a Herbst Cage, no longer available) I thought I would not paint since someone, who was a complete idiot, by the way, told me that cages should be 'sanded dull'. I, along with five other novices who had just gotten new cages, sanded away and sanded and sanded. Finally someone got the brilliant idea of using an attachment on a drill, which cut the time by 90%.. I did not have such an attachment and went through a complete pack of sand paper, recalling some swear words along the way in strange tongues I had not heard since I left the old neighborhood down under the viaduct at the age of eleven. But I did congratulate myself that I had spared my cage from all that 'yucky paint' that would ruin the looks of my brand-new cage. Then came our first song trials. I remember the Judge squinting his eyes when he looked at all the 'new' cages that had not been painted: "Looks like you guys have more elbow grease than you have money," and he chuckled as he walked back to his Judging table.
The next fall when I got my cages out, guess what! My new cage was showing signs of rust! I had to paint it right then and there. The rest of us have painted our new cages every season. Do the layers of paint build up? They don't seem to. The paint washes off whenever your wash your cages.
I have heard that there are chemicals one can apply to shiny paint to make it dull and will look into this myself next time I purchase new cages. The question is, would it result in some weird look that would make the cage noticeable to the Judge? If so, this would not be acceptable. Also, would such a chemical keep paint from sticking later, should you need it? There are Judges out there, you know, who will disqualify a 'marked' cage, though I am very reluctant to do so, since I think it breeds hard feelings and makes fanciers too mad to learn from their mistakes. That is what the score sheet is for, to explain, encourage, and improve matters.. There are other Judges so concerned for their reputations that they might not disqualify the unlucky bird in a cage that is decidedly unique, but they won't place it, either. This, I believe, is dishonest. When a Judge deducts points, the 'crime' should reflect the severity of the offense (two points, no more, per offense) and the reason should be given. Cage points are supposed to be deducted under conformation. Purple two-piece drinkers in my book get a point off, no more, and the reason is listed.
From an aesthetic point of view, I personally believe the partition wall should match the rest of the cage. If the side wall is painted, perhaps the front should be painted lightly to match. Some of the Prevue cages have a bronzy cast to the shiny metal on the front. Oh, so lovely, but rather discordant when you look at a sprayed 'metal color' on the partition wall. Many fanciers are shrewd enough to look around to see what other cages look like where they show their birds. If you exhibit with 'mostly new' cages, shiny fronts are not a problem if all the fronts are shiny.. But if you travel East, where cages are older, a shiny new cage, totally unpainted, jumps out at you. It is kind of like the black tray syndrome: not a problem if the hosting club is using stretchers to carry in the birds, but decidedly inelegant if the cage does not. We all rely on the stretchers to hide cage bottoms, missing knobs, etc., but I've attended shows where even very well organized clubs have 'forgotten' to bring the stretcher, letting all the cage bottoms hang out in plain view. There is always the unexpected..
Cage standardization is kind of a like a tempest in a teapot. No one gets really upset with odd cages until the fancier suddenly begins to win. But if you possess winning birds, rival fanciers will begin to scrutinize the cage. You will begin to hear about the unpainted this or that, the unique design of any drinker or perch. We all know the Judges are honest or we would not hire them. I've never seen a Judge unfairly mark a bird up, but I have seen (or thought I saw---this is all a matter of guesswork) Judges mark birds lower than I thought they deserved, and almost every instance was because of some idiot cage detail.
The next time you watch your birds at a show, ask yourself, "Do my cages blend in"? Have I given them every chance to compete? It is kind of like sending your kids off to school. You want them to stand out only because of their excellence, nothing less and nothing more.