A Budgerigar “Safari” Visit to Brian Sweeting

Last November, just prior to The Budgerigar Society Show in Doncaster, I decided to visit Brian Sweeting at his home in Bridgwater, Somerset. Arguably it is the best studs of pieds in the UK. I clearly remember seeing two magnificent pieds of his at the South Hampshire Show a few seasons ago; both massive birds either of which could have been Best in Show.

Brian’s quality strength extends to other colours of course and following my visit his adult cinnamon skyblue hen was to win Best Opposite Sex Adult at the Budgerigar Society Show. Also Best Champion Breeder of the Year for the fourth successive time; six Challenge Certificates and several Best Opposite Sex awards. In the previous year a superb skyblue pied cock took the Best Breeder Award at the same event. Quite an achievement!

The Pieds

Some while ago Brian spoke to Jo Mannes about his pieds. Mannes felt, that to improve variegation and general markings, Brian needed to pair the best two marked pieds together to produce double factor pieds, after which he should pair these double factors back to normals. This he did and it has worked really well. One cock produced five chicks – four hens and a cock. The four hens were particularly well marked, fully spotted with an almost complete band.

Instant Success

I asked Brian about the change in the hobby in the past 20 years whereby newcomers seem to want instant success rather than steering a steady learning curve.

BS: “I fully agree. Everyone wants this or that special bird from champions when they have just started. Many beginners seem to be reasonably well off and to be able to buy straight in to birds which are certainly at Intermediate level. Fanciers want to get on the fast track route before they have learned the basics.

In my own case, I have had to take the longer route because I could not find the type of bird that I wanted that was able to be purchased. With hindsight this is the best route for dedicated fanciers. They can last the distance and stay in the hobby for a lifetime having made all the mistakes with modest birds first of all. Work with bloodlines and by careful selection of all the qualities, you achieve a quality stud that others then wish to buy in to.”

Shows In The UK

My next question concerned the number of Budgerigar Exhibitions that currently are held around the country. Did he think there were too many?

BS: “My feelings are that only if a club is strong enough within its own membership to manage and also have sufficient exhibiting members, should they run a show, especially if it’s an open show.

In the south west, we support one another very well between shows. In that way we keep our entries high at almost all shows that are staged.”

Preparation For The Budgerigar Society Show

I wondered, with the Budgerigar Society Show imminent, how he approached the run up to this big event starting with the assumption that his birds were earlier out of condition? When did he select the possibles from the flights and how did he get weight on them?

BS: “Well, with the show being held in mid November, which is such a bad month these days for the most important show in the country, I have to stop showing in September. This gives me two months to prepare.

I concentrate, obviously, on the proven winning birds first and then catch up the best of the late bred birds. Young breeder birds are still growing of course and these can emerge quite easily. All spots are removed in late September as well as any damaged flights. Tails are dealt with in the same way, taking 8-10 weeks to be replaced. They are then left to fly in a small flight.

These actions help the birds to sometimes start a full moult. As soon as I see a show bird starting to moult then it is caught up and stock caged where they are far more relaxed and begin to put on weight as a result. I have never had a problem with spots not re-growing.”

Buying Outcrosses?

The next question concerned the problem of buying in outcrosses. Where did he go to buy the features he felt he needed – in the UK or did he prefer to buy abroad?

BS: “May I first mention the practice of exchanging birds for this purpose. It never seems to work out really well for both parties. For this reason I will not do that today and I certainly prefer to buy abroad and take my chances.

Regarding the UK, of the breeders I have visited in the last five years, all have good birds but none have the depth of quality to be able to release the birds you really need.

So I cross over to Europe nowadays. Of course this is not easy at present with all the restrictions in play as a result of the avian flu scares which possibly may be unfounded in the long term, if it doesn’t mutate and cross into humans.

The Budgerigar Society Show In 2004

In 2004, Daniel Lütolf from Switzerland was in the UK on a buying visit to various fanciers. I met up with him at the Budgerigar Society Show and he asked me to examine every bird in the show methodically to see how many really super birds were on show. The feeling was that there were only about 60 that reached that hard description. What was Brian’s opinion?

BS: “I think that is a bit severe. However, I have to admit I didn’t go round with that objective in mind.

One of our national problems has been the exit of a number of well known names for a variety of reasons including Christine Heale and her husband. Other names are Dave Topliss, Barry Wild, Alf Ormerod, Harry Bryan, Eric Lane and the Hallam’s, plus Jim Moffat from Scotland to name but a few.

These fanciers carried quality birds in depth and exhibited at the Budgerigar Society Show.”

A Winning Streak

I then turned to Brian’s wins in recent years. Which had given him the greatest pleasure?

BS: “I have been Buckton’s Breeder of The Year for the past three seasons – which the hobby is very grateful to receive from their company. It is much appreciated.

I have also won well at the Budgerigar Society Club Show as mentioned earlier but a great pleasure was to win the Peter Sanderson Trophy for the first two years which is awarded for the most Challenge Certificates won with birds bred by the exhibitor. This followed his very sad passing. I was very delighted to win that as he was perhaps the most popular man in the hobby up to that time.”

The Ring Issue Date

I then asked him about the ring issue date. I knew he was an adamant supporter of staying with the current date of January 1st. Did he feel the same today?

BS: “Yes, that is correct. I was absolutely rigid about sticking to it. However my views have altered after seeing poor seasons hitting fanciers year-in, year-out, and then leaving the hobby out of sheer disappointment.

I have seen the effects of good seasons arising from the European hobby moving to a 1st November issue date. They breed more birds – as a generalisation. I firmly believe that we should do the same if we want the hobby here to gather pace again.

Currently nothing is being done to address bad seasons and help fanciers and their societies to survive. The Budgerigar Society Council have to consider this very seriously. We all need help. They should remember that with two consecutive bad seasons you are dead in the water as a fancier.

Not all fanciers are able to afford super all-singing-and-dancing aviaries to cope with the changing weather patterns that we know about. A great number of fanciers are supportive of this move but don’t put pen to paper, so the result is no action by anyone.”

Selling Birds

My next question was: “Why did Mr Average have difficulty in selling his surplus stock? Was it lack of advertising after doing well on the bench or simply being inactive and waiting for the phone to ring?”

BS: “You have to be successful at some stage if you want to sell your birds easily. All the publications carry the word ‘success’ in some form or other. The front covers of the major magazines tell you that.

You have to promote yourself after getting good results. Nobody else will, except you. There is always a market for quality and it’s up to you to attack the situation and achieve that goal. Get into quality and all sorts of doors open. You will sell well and then be able to afford to buy in quality without affecting your overall budget, but you must tell people you exist at the same time.

Advertise in Budgerigar World and elsewhere. Over time it will pay dividends. The big error is to sell your surplus and put it in your pocket and do nothing.”

Quality in Europe

Having myself toured European aviaries and elsewhere, what was Brian’s opinion about the choice over there and the depth of quality that existed?

BS: “I cannot speak with any authority since I have not actually been to a show over there and that is the real test.

I have been to Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Belgium so far and seen breeders there, but these tend to be the well known breeders mentioned in the magazines in UK and at the top of the tree in their own countries. Whether they are representative of all the breeders I cannot answer.”

A Breeding Question

To trim the vents of the present longer-feathered birds we have today prior to pairing is a matter often discussed. Do you trim the vents Brian, I asked?

BS: “I always advise breeders today to trim the vents of both sexes before pairing. You need to give them every chance of providing you with fertile results. Everyone who visits here and buys gets that advice.

Occasionally, I find a breeder who is moaning about infertility and when I ask if he has trimmed vents, he admits he has not done so.

You have to trim away the dense flank feathers which curl around over the vent area. These can, in my opinion, interfere with the transfer of sperm into the females.

The “Buffalo Effect”

I raised with him the matter of my published observations when looking at a bird head on to which I had given a new descriptive term – when it was present. I refer to “The Buffalo Effect”. This is where not only does a bird have width but the feathering drops down either side of the cere giving a shape not dissimilar to buffalo horns. Did he agree?

BS: “It’s a good descriptive term. However few birds have it to any great extent. It is the next extension to width of face which we called directional feathering in the past.

I am amused that we are using the word buffalo to describe a budgerigar feature. However it fits and accurately describes the feature in the mind and I can live with that!

Beer or Wine?

I asked Brian for a final tip to fanciers. What came to mind?

BS: “Yes, I have one.

If, when your wife is watching the soaps and you find it difficult, take a glass of beer or wine and sit still in the aviary – and watch!

You will see the birds behaving differently to when you are moving around. It is very illuminating to see their differing behavioural patterns; their attitude towards their chicks and their respective partners. You will learn a great deal providing you do not overdo matters with the glass in your hand!”

Conclusion

I travel thousands of miles in this hobby to see aviaries and their owners and birds. It is a great pleasure and the visit to this south west establishment was no different.

Remember it is no use staying closeted in your own region buying stock from your immediate rivals. You have to travel to get the best from this hobby.

That reminds me – whatever happened to Sunday morning get-togethers? Half the hobby will not have heard about such things today.

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About the Author: Gerald Binks began breeding budgerigars when he was 12 years old and is now arguably the most knowledgeable budgerigar fancier in the world. He has bred his fair share of Best in Show birds, judged in no less than 20 countries, founded the World Budgerigar Association, and has published two of the three classic books on the hobby. His stud in the UK attracts fanciers from near and far and is always high on the list for those wishing to purchase BA23 quality budgerigars.

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  1. Maurice Laker says:

    I enjoyed this article.

    I agree that many of my fellow beginners are only interested in winning. This is a shame as it is very short lived. They come and go in a very few years.

    I have e-mailed Brian a few times and would like to visit him some time.

    M.Laker

  2. Barrie Shutt says:

    A true gentleman of the fancy and you are always guaranteed a huge smile and a warm welcome.

    Well worth a visit.

  3. David Hurford says:

    I have visited Brian and found him to be very informative.

    He has a very good stud of birds, from which I purchased four birds.

    Then, as I was leaving, he gave me a gift bird – which was very nice of him.

    Since the birds have been with me, they have turned out much better than I thought they would, and I certainly would purchase more birds from Brian.

    David Hurford,
    Wales

  4. Roy Powell says:

    Congratulations Gerald on a very good interview with Brian.

    I’m sure even you were impressed with his birds.

    Roy Powell, UK

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