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Selecting Fife Canaries to Keep 


Which Fifes Should You Keep?

Towards the end of August and early September it should be possible to start the process of sorting out the first round of youngsters that you intent keeping for showing and, more importantly, retaining for breeding next year. Also bearing in mind the best cocks for showing may not necessarily be the best ones to retain for breeding.

The same process can be repeated in a few weeks to look at the second round youngsters. Again to decide which can be retained at the expense of flighted birds already identified for retaining, as well any possible first round young identified.

I have found over the years the best thing to do is to decide which of your flighted cocks you are going to retain.  In my case I look at my two lines of clear/lightly variegated and green/heavily variegated, which I never mix for reasons I have given on my videos.

I keep four yellow cocks and four buff cocks from each line for breeding, giving a total of sixteen cock birds plus the odd cinnamon and blue cinnamon carrier for use in my small cinnamon line.  Always start with clear yellow cocks. 

If I decide that the clear yellow cock, which was second in it’s class at the National Exhibition and best clear at specialist Fife shows, is to be retained for a further year based on quality of young he produced (and especially his son which was my best clear yellow cock this year), then I'm looking for two clear (or lightly variegated) cocks from this year’s youngsters.  That's my starting point – I want two clear yellow cocks from the dozen or so I have bred this year.

Rule Number One 

When sorting out canaries to retain: keep the flighted birds which have produced the best youngsters. Although with good line breeding management these should be your best birds anyway.

Having done that, I place all my clear yellow cocks in training cages and choose the best two or three for retaining, remembering always to check on their parentage. If in doubt choose ones from the flighted birds you are to retain because they will probably produce the best youngsters, just as their parents have already done so.

Having sorted these cocks out and got into my head what I'm looking for, it makes sense to move on to the clear buff hens as they will be paired up to these yellow cocks. I apply the same techniques to the clear buff hens, although I will probably be looking for around four young hens if I'm keeping four flighted hens. The only difference when I select the hens to keep is identifying the young hens produced from an outcross. The best of these will be retained even though they may not be in the best four birds, as far as showing is concerned. It may be the second year when the outcross produces what I'm looking for, and those youngsters will be three quarters my own blood.  In any event, top quality outcrosses are needed to develop a line breeding programme as against an in-breeding programme as I'll explain later.

Continue with clear buff cocks and clear yellow hens on the same basis, as they're clearly going to be paired together. Follow the same routine with the green yellow cocks downwards, culminating in my favourite Fifes, the self green yellow hens.  Again, with these hens I want four flighted birds. This year the decision was made for me – the two hens who were first and second at last year’s North West FFCC show plus the two who were first and second at last year’s Bird Show UK. As they all produced top quality youngsters they will be kept for a further year. This year there's no need to consider any others beyond these four.

Selection Process For The Youngsters

When I line up the dozen or so clear yellow cocks I've bred, or my dozen or so dark buff hens, for example, I apply my own personal strict criteria to this selection process.

As they're in my slightly larger training cages I will invariably judge them as I would a class in a show, but with a few slight modifications. I'll consider:


By this we mean the man-made pointers that make up the ideal bird. If I visit the Crufts dog show and look at, for example, the twenty top red setters on view, I have no idea which is the best dog, as I don't know the criteria man has set. Similarly with breeds of canaries, man has decided what the ideal Fife or Norwich should look  like - it's certainly nothing like the wild canaries I see each winter in Madeira!

With the Fife the starting point for its “type” is the small overall round shape which is required. Wherever you look at a Fife from any angle think in circles. Think round footballs and not rugby balls (soccer balls, not footballs for our transatlantic fanciers!). Rugby ball shaped canaries were fine years ago, but not today.

The first thing I do is place all the training cages on the floor. This is the easiest way of picking out the overall round birds. Discard any flat sided ones – they're of no use to you in the breeding room or on the show bench. Although, from sideways on in a show cage this fault is not as easily identified. Fifes are exhibited in all wire cages so judges can (or should!) look at the bird front-ways on, instead of putting them on the floor to see this roundness, which at a show is rather unrealistic. If judges don’t look at the Fifes from this angle  then why aren't  they exhibited in box show cages? Like the ones used for British birds and Gloster canaries for example?

Rule Number Two

Pick out for further scrutiny the Fifes whose width across the shoulder is two fifths their overall length. 

This is easier to achieve in the hens, particularly the yellows, but it's something to aim for in order to achieve that lovely round shape we desire in all our birds.

Once the training cages have been placed back on the training bench look for the Fifes who have a lovely round back. Look for an excess of back if necessary, because on the show bench a lack of back will disappear when “worked” by a judge. Conversely, you don't want too much curve on the front, and the line from the beak to the under-carriage should be a continuous line downwards – not a boat shape! That grand old fancier, the late Jim Feather, used to say to me “look for as much on the back as you have on the front”. Today you want more emphasis.

The head too should be as round as possible although in such a small bird this is easier to achieve in the buffs.  The final area and possibly most important in this overall assessment of roundness is that positive break between the back of the head and the start of the curve on the back. 


A lot has been written and spoken about regarding the size of the Fife. Much of which would have been better unsaid. In theory, the aim of the Fife breeder is to have show birds no longer than four and a quarter inches long. Can someone show me a quality buff cock this size?  If they could, and it wasn’t a fluke, I'd love to see what the progeny would be like. Also what were the yellow hens like in the same nest as this minute buff cock?

Going back to my all-wire show cage debate. As there's such an emotional obsession with size from some quarters, why don't we have a stipulated size for width across the shoulders as well as length?

Many of the top fanciers prefer larger cocks (particularly buffs) when it comes to breeding provided they have the type and quality.

Some of them even double-buff now and again to retain type and produce excellent yellow hens the following year. These breeders clearly know what they're doing, particularly with feather.

When I'm selecting my Fifes to retain I'm conscious of some of the inflexible attitudes to size, especially in Fifes. We all want small birds, as no-one will go far with big birds, but type must be the top criteria when choosing for showing and/or breeding. Occasionally they can be mutually exclusive.

Big typey buff cock birds produce quality small yellow hens. So if in doubt, choose a slightly larger cock bird for breeding providing it excels in all other areas.

Next time I'll continue with the selection process using wings and tail, colour, steadiness and quality. We'll also consider serious show training, once the selection has been made.


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(c) Terry Kelly & SL