Origins of the Lizard Canary

Gold Spangled Lizard Canary – First Prize Crystal Palace Show 1875 from
‘The Canary Book’ by R. L. Wallace

The wild Canary was first introduced into Europe some 500 years ago, but it was not until the Eighteenth Century that serious attempts were made to develop distinct varieties. It is commonly believed that the Lizard was brought to Britain by Huguenot refugees fleeing religious persecution in France and the Low Countries, although there is only circumstantial evidence to support this theory. Nevertheless English texts in the first half of the century confirm that the most highly esteemed canaries were the “fine spangled sort – or French, so called from the breed brought over from France, but since much improved in the colour by our breeders at home”. The activities of these early fanciers are not well documented, but by 1742 spangled canaries with dark wings and tail and “a spot on the head called by fanciers a cap”, had been described in detail. These are the principal features of the variety we now know as the Lizard canary.Silver Clear Cap

Whether the characteristics which give rise to the Lizard’s unique feather pattern came about as a result of one or more mutations in the original wild stock, or from the offspring of a fertile hybrid , is not known. What is certain, however, is that by the early part of the Nineteenth Century, the Lizard and its close relation the London Fancy (now extinct) had been perfected, and societies to foster the breeding and exhibition of these varieties had been formed.

The oldest known publication to refer to the Lizard by name is The British Aviary and Bird Breeders Companion (1825) : “There is a class of canaries known by the name of Lizards ….having a clean yellow cap, their back and breasts bespangled all over with green and black , resembling the colour of that small creeping creature from which they derive their name”. The first illustration of a Lizard canary appears to be in the issue of the London Illustrated News of 12 December 1846, and the bird there depicted has remained unchanged up to the present day.

Accordingly the Lizard can claim to be the oldest distinct variety of exhibition canary, and the Lizard Canary Association of Great Britain as successor to an earlier body -The Lancashire and Lizard Canary Fanciers Association – has the responsibility of safeguarding and promoting its interests. The last fifty years has witnessed a considerable increase in the Lizard’s popularity and more are now being kept and exhibited than at any other time in the breed’s long history. Area societies have been formed, and with a body of fanciers committed to retaining the Lizard canary’s traditional characteristics, the future of this unique breed seems assured.