The following article was written by John Scott, Late President of the L.C.A.
Each year the membership of the Canary Fancy is maintained and, for some varieties, increased, by people with love for birds who decide to keep and perhaps, breed and exhibit, the descendants of a small finch which was first introduced into Europe towards the end of the fifteenth century. The wild Canary soon became domesticated and, by selective breeding and the occasional mutation, has developed into many different breeds, most of which bear little resemblance, either in form or colour, to their ancestors.
The oldest of these varieties is the Lizard Canary, which with its close but now extinct relation, the London Fancy, first appeared on the show bench in London in the 1790’s. Unlike most varieties of Canary that are bred for their shape or colour, the Lizard is prized for the pattern of its plumage which is made up of a number of unique characteristics that set it apart from all other breeds. These are the cap, spangling, rowing’s and black wing and tail flights, plus a change in the appearance of its body plumage, during the juvenile moult. The result is a Canary of striking beauty, which, to the uninitiated, could well be mistaken for some exotic foreign bird.
From an exhibition point of view, the most important of these features is Spangling, which comprises the markings on the bird’s back and without which a Canary cannot claim to be a Lizard. In their nest feathers, young Lizards are practically indistinguishable from other dark feathered Canaries (their caps apart) and the gradual transformation to their spangled beauty occurs during their first moult. In their perfect form the black crescent shaped spots that form the spangles, are separate and distinct from one another in straight parallel rows down the bird’s back, each succeeding spangle being progressively larger, than the one nearer the neck. The startling clarity which is sometimes displayed, depends on the light edging to the dark back feathers being of the correct width; too narrow an edge and the dark feathers will tend to merge together to give a continuous or “tram-line” effect: too wide and the spangle will have an indistinct, cloudy appearance.It was the fanciful resemblance of Spangling to the scales of the reptile that gave the Lizard its name, but although spangling is the variety’s most important characteristic, it is the patch of light feathers on the head, known as the Cap, which first catches the eye. At one time the cap was of paramount significance and only clear caps were eligible for exhibition. It was realised however that this rule debarred many of the best spangled specimens and, in mid-Victorian times, show classification was increased to include Lizards with imperfect caps. Indeed, the ideal cap with clear cut edges, and oval shape completely free from dark feathers and set off by well defined eyelashes, is rarely seen. The light feathers of the cap must never stray beyond its boundaries, but within the light area, dark feathers give rise to what are known as broken caps and in some cases birds that have no light feathers at all and are known as non-caps.
It is essential to keep the cap within its proper bounds and to ensure this, clear or nearly clear caps are normally mated to broken or non-caps, to give a percentage of each type. These variations in the cap provide, together with colour, sex and age,the show classification namely, classes(1) clear or nearly clear caps; (2) broken caps and (3) non or nearly non-caps. The dark feathers on the heads of broken and non-caps birds should display very small but distinct spangling and the excellence or otherwise of this feature is important when they are competing against clear,caps on the show bench.
The rowing’s or blade markings on a Lizard’s breast should be profuse, clear and distinct. Unlike spangling or the cap, where the best examples may be found in either sex or colour, there is a degree of sexual dimorphism in Lizards which results in silvers (buffs) usually excelling in this feature when compared to golds (yellows) while hens , both silver and gold , normally carry more breast work than cocks.
Lizards are colour fed for exhibition in Britain in order to produce a deep, rich golden bronze in golds and a warm buff in silvers. The colour should be even throughout, with no trace of harshness or patchiness. The terms, gold and silver, or in an earlier age, jonque and mealy, are always used for Lizards in preference to yellow and buff.
All sound unflighted Lizards have black wing and tail flights with a slight edging to each feather of bronze or silver grey, depending on whether the bird is gold or silver. After the first adult moult, or if lost beforehand, these feathers are replaced by others with varying amounts of white at their tips and of a grayish or grizzled colour throughout their web. Such feathers tend to spoil the appearance of a young bird for show and to avoid such losses and the possibility of feather plucking, exhibitors often cage and moult out their best youngsters, separately. Occasionally, a pure white feather will appear in the wings or tail of an otherwise good specimen. Such a feather ranks as a disqualification for show purposes and the bird should not be used for breeding. For perfection, the beak, legs and feet, including the toe nails, should be as black as possible.
Lizards are not judged on their shape, but commonsense dictates that if the spangling and rowing’s are to be seen to advantage, they need a bird of cobby appearance, with deep rounded breast and width between the shoulders. The skull should also be broad and nicely rounded to set off the cap.
As flighted birds, Lizards lose the blackness of their wing and tail flights and, to an extent the crispness of their spangling. This has nothing to do with the innate quality of the birds, which remain valuable in the breeding room. They are however at a disadvantage on the show bench, though classes are provided for them and many excellent specimens are benched.
Throughout its history, the Lizard has always attracted dedicated fanciers who have maintained and improved the breed’s essential characteristics and Lizards depicted in Victorian books look the same in all essentials as present day birds. It had however, always been regarded as a minority variety and in 1945 when its present governing body, the Lizard Canary Association of Great Britain was set up in succession to an earlier organisation, the Lancashire and Lizard Canary Fanciers Association, which had become defunct during the war, there were fears that the Lizard itself might also disappear. A census revealed that stocks appeared to have dropped to danger level and, though the reluctance of Canary fanciers to reply to questionnaires/was probably the cause of this low figure, an optimistic estimate of the world’s Lizard population at that time would almost certainly not exceed between 200 and 250 birds.
Unlike Type Canaries which are basically variations on a common stock, once lost the Lizard’s unique features could not be replaced and to ensure this does not happen, fanciers have always placed great emphasis on keeping their birds pure and resisting all out-crosses.
The result is that the Lizard has never been more popular or of a higher standard and the reasons for this happy state of affairs are not hard to find. Lizards are hardy, inexpensive, free-breeding Canaries and first class stock is invariably available in the autumn from established breeder/exhibitors.
Photograph’s reproduced by kind permission of Cage & Aviary Birds