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Selecting Fife Canaries to Keep 


Which Fifes Should You Keep? - Part 2

Last time I emphasised the importance of type and size ( and I also mean breadth when I say size ) in an exhibition Fife fancy canary.  Without these two qualities, particularly type, a Fife will have no chance of doing well on the show bench under good judges. It's these two qualities I look at first when sorting out the Fifes I will retain.

As most top Fifes now do possess these qualities we need to look further during this process. In my last article I said there were six areas I examine when I sort out my Fifes.  The remaining four in addition to type and size are:



Poor wings ruin a good bird whatever the breed.  
Years ago some Fifes had dropped wings and others had raised ones. Today these faults have been bred out and most Fifes have decent wings.  What you want  to see is as little as possible of the wings, because they don't fit in with the overall roundness concept.  They also complement the round arching back – if Fifes only have a round back, which doesn't reach the rump, then the wings will be prominent and show too much; if the rounded back is complete and full then the wings should only show their tips.  We'll then have the overall round shape we're looking for.

Similarly a poor tail ruins a good Fife. 
A broad tail detracts from the width of the shoulders and makes them look narrow. It also makes the fork in the tail far too large.  Like any other fault, birds with this fault should be discarded - although it is possible to work on a bad tail if the bird has other exhibition qualities.

Occasionally a bird will pop up with one bad wing, and I had such a case a couple of years ago.  The wing was dropped but it was otherwise a first class Fife bred from good parents. Its siblings showed no such fault. As a consequence I retained it, as without this fault it would have been a good show bird. All its youngsters had perfect wings. As with all faults, if they are minor they can be bred out. So always look at the breeding potential of any bird before making a decision, particularly if the bird’s siblings don't have the fault.


By this I mean the depth and quality of colour, particularly in the clear line.  
In clears you should be looking for that beautiful deep buttercup yellow, particularly in the yellow cocks but even the buff hens should have a background of buttercup yellow.  Once a line has been established  of clear and lightly variegated Fifes then it should be easy to tell the cocks from the hens in both yellows and buffs. This is because the cocks will have the deeper colour, as well as being slightly longer and not quite as round.  You cannot apply this rule when judging at a show, as different fanciers have different quality of colour. It's not easy to spot the cocks in hen classes, although a poor coloured Fife in a clear cock class will either be a hen, or should be marked down for colour in any case.

One way of spotting a clear yellow hen in a cock class is the ring of light frosting at the back of the neck, just before the back starts to arch.  
At the Bird Show UK, last year, a leading fancier and friend showed me his variegated yellow cock which was in the cards. He was very pleased with it. I agreed it was a lovely bird, but told him it was a hen!! It’s shape and movement looked like hen, but on closer examination I showed him the ring of slightly frosted feathers at the back of the neck. He was hoping it was a cock and I haven’t spoken to him since, but when I do see him I know that the bird will have laid eggs this Spring!

My other main line is my green/heavily variegated stud.  Here, as well as type, I insist on a grass green colour.  
Willie Turnbull used to say that the greens were judged twice, once on type then subjected to further scrutiny if they were not grass green.  I found many years ago the best way to retain that lovely green colour is not to mix the clear buttercup yellow birds with the greens, who have a lemon yellow background colour, as this can be seen on the clear parts of a heavily variegated bird.

I have always maintained that I can tell the difference between  my variegated birds from my clear line and my variegated birds from my dark line at a hundred yards!  Somewhat of an exaggeration, but makes the point that the basic yellow background colour is different in the two lines i.e. it's either buttercup or it's lemon.

I once read in an old canary book, when describing the colour required in a variegated bird, that the green needed to be “grass green” and the yellow part needed to be “buttercup yellow” – impossible!  The author did not understand colour and, like many canary books I have read, was not based on personal experience.

Whilst on the subject of my greens. I can also sex these quite easily, as the cocks are slightly longer and less round. Also the lacings on the flanks of the cock birds aren't well defined, whereas the lacings on my hens are regimented, like the hen of a Siskin.  One of the talking points on my self-green yellow hen, which was best green at the Bird Show UK, was the superb lacings she showed as well as her overall roundness.


This can still be a problem with Fifes. 
They are more active than most other breeds of canaries and are more likely to fluster when worked by a judge.  They also have a large disadvantage when being judged for best canary in show as they're in an all wire show cage when Glosters, New Colours etc. have the security of a box cage when worked by several judges at once.

In my experience the larger breeds of canaries, and the ones with more feather, appear steadier when placed in a show cage.  I found that my Border canaries were far steadier than my Fifes, when placed in my training cages, and took less time to show train. The active nature of the Fife is one reason why a good show bird needs some extra roundness on the back as the back will soon go if worked by a judge.

Some Fifes have a calmer temperament and I find the hens to be that little bit steadier.
I recall one year, in the 1990s, Roy Fox exhibited a lovely clear buff hen which took the top award at the National Exhibition of Cage and Aviary Birds. By the time the exhibition opened the bird had gone to pieces and looked terrible for the next three days! For those people who had not seen the bird at an earlier event, and I was someone who had seen it, they must have wondered what the judges were thinking of! So even a well trained Fife is still liable to let you down on occasions, so never criticise a judge if you weren't present on that particular day at the judging in the morning.

A few Fifes don't take to a show cage, but these are getting fewer, so treat any wildness as a fault when considering which Fifes to retain.


Some Fifes, or other breed of canary, have an overall quality which goes beyond the other strengths I've listed.  It could be the feather quality, the sheen on the plumage, the movement, or more likely the position of the legs when on the perch.  Whatever it is, it's obvious in some canaries and should be considered when making your final selection of birds, particularly if it’s siblings have the same strengths.

Once I've assessed all my young Fifes using this criteria I'm able to decide which ones I will retain.  Some, more likely to be cocks, will have been retained with breeding the following year in mind, others for including in my show team.  The latter are now placed in single cages where I can begin the process of show training. The remainder can be returned to flight cages.



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