This article was written by Walter Barnes who kept Lizard Canaries for 72 years. Walter benched his first birds well before the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and until his retirement from the fancy in 1957 at the age of 89. The year before he had won the Best Lizard award at the Clapham patronage show which had attracted the leading fanciers of the period.

My Life and Experience of the Lizard Canary by WP Barnes

My native place is Gainsborough, Lincolnshire and, although I am one of a family of eight, I was the only one to to take up the Canary Fancy.  I was quite a young man when I started in 1885.  My first Canary was the Lizard and during all these years I have never been without the breed.  At that time there were only two other Lizard breeders in Gainsborough; Mr Croft a builder and a contractor who kept besides Lizards, bred Cinnamons and Norwich and showed them at shows such as Thorne, Snaith, Goole, Pickering and Sheffield.  He did not however, show his Lizards in Manchester and the surrounding districts – the home of the Lancashire and Lizard.  Indeed, in the eighties, there were very few outside that area who bred the two varieties and I can only recall about five other exhibitors besides myself, who did so.  They called me “the lad from Lincolnshire”.

In the year 1887 there was a big show held in Gainsborough at the Morton Terrace.  It was a horticultural and livestock show, which, besides cage birds, included poultry, pigeons, rabbits – and cats.  It was judged by the well known all round livestock judge, Mr Enoch Hutton and I entered a clear cap gold Lizard and, in the British section, a Goldfinch.  The Lizard stood first and medal for best Canary in show and the Goldfinch was first and best British.  You can imagine how delighted I was at my success – especially as it was Queen Victoria’s Jubilee year.  The medal, I prize as being the first I ever won.  In fact it started me seriously on the road as a breeder and exhibitor and, since then, I have won the English National five times at the Crystal Palace, Scottish National, and Welsh National.  The most coveted Diploma was the United Kingdom Cage Bird Championship and best bird at the Palace in 1909. 

In those early days of which I write, the Lizard show cage was somewhat different from the present one.  It was a box cage 12 inches by 12 inches with an open wire front and had a half bow top similar to the present Crest or Gloster show cage.  The cage was painted black on the outside and on the inside was a dull dark blue and the perches used to be half wrapped with red flannel.  A more perfect cage for judging and exhibition of the Lizard could not be obtained and, in my opinion, was far superior to the present pattern.

When I first started canary breeding, our family being eight in number and only a three bedroomed house, I had to put up with a back Kitchen, where the washing was done once a week.  When wash day came around, the birds all had to be lifted down and removed to the living room  until the washing was finished which, as you may imagine, was not too satisfactory during the breeding season.

At the present time, my birds are in the top two rooms of the house, booth facing south, and I have 24 standard double breeding cages and some single cages for moulting single birds.  I never use heat in my birdroom, but I have never found any ice in the drinkers for many years.

Now, as regards breeding, it is important to see that your stock is in perfect health and condition.  If it is not you cannot expect good healthy youngsters.  Perfect health and condition are the entire secret of success.  In pairing you should pair clear cap gold cock to broken cap silver hen and non cap gold cock to clear cap silver hen and, likewise the reverse pairings.  I usually pair my birds on the 17th March – St Patrick’s day – that is my customary date.

As regards the showing of the Lizard, you must, while the bird is young, train it to be steady.  The Lizard is a breed that has to be closely examined by the judge and, if it is not steady, he has not the time to give the bird the attention that is required and therefore, it is shown at a disadvantage.  When showing you must see that your show cages are scrupulously clean and that your drinkers are perfectly sound.  Also, when packing the birds in their travel cases, do not forget to place a piece of paper before the wires of the show cages so that the birds cannot get their tails through the wires and possibly lose some tail feathers.  Upon returning from the show, I give my birds a drink of lukewarm water with a little sherry in it.  In this way they soon recover their usual good spirits.

I wish all our members a very successful season.

Mr Barnes awards for showing date back to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and include 15 Gold and Silver medals, 12 Silver cups and 40 Diploma’s of Merit, the most outstanding of which are the English, Scottish, Welsh, and Southern National titles along with the Crystal Palace awards.

Photograph’s reproduced by kind permission of Joe Coakley and Cage & Aviary Birds