Winning on the Showbench

Dominant-pied GG - Freakley & AinleySome experienced fanciers can win on the showbench as they have a knack of preparing their show teams really well and they can be basically still be novices in the game.

Others, and that includes champions, cannot achieve that level for a variety of reasons, so that their “super” birds have obviously not had the attention so necessary – and even occasionally, such fanciers have taken their entries straight from the breeding cage, de-spotted and that is that!

That is no way to proceed – and the chances of being rejected by the judges on the day is heightened greatly, if for no other excuse, for appearing in poor condition.

So, how does the professional approach the task of preparing the team, often for many consecutive weeks?

Should hens be shown and how many times should they be benched – for instance, on an annual basis?

These and other suggestions are discussed below….

Catching The Team

This is not the time to discuss the “Ideal Budgerigar”, which is anyway different in all countries by and large.

The breeder knows which are his/her best birds and it is up to him/her to make decisions reading which cocks and hens he/she selects will be included in the possibles and probables that could, for the show season, be hooked out of the flights, including current year birds.

You will ask “How many days before the first show should the team be re-sited in the stock cages?” The answer is three weeks and they should be fed additionally on lots of soaked oats to put on weight in that time. “A big one will always beat a little one” is a common saying.

Hens should be very carefully considered for show – in a typical season we do not advise that they are shown more than three times each for reasons of their importance for breeding.

The Hallams

In UK in the 1980’s, a Lancashire couple, Sylvia and Gordon Hallam and their son Peter Hallam, had the “knack” in bucket loads. Their show teams were prepared so well, that their birds, which even if slightly inferior to better birds, were still placed ahead of such superior exhibits. Not necessarily winning the class, but you take the point being made. So what exactly were their techniques? We will itemise them.

The Hallams owned a printing works. So both with their adults and especially their young possibles, they were taken in show cages, by car, on a regular basis to their firm, where they were left for a few hours before another car journey home. Obviously, this process accustomed them swiftly to avoiding travel nerves – often seen as a green discharge from the vent which is not enteritis, but plain nerves on a first outing. It tells you that before, say, a national show, this should be the practice to follow and perhaps common sense if your potential “Best in Show” is to have a great chance.

Young birds are often highly fractious and scatty. They need special attention. “With what?”, you ask?

The answer is hot water and glycerine!

A sign of success can be yours, given good presentationFill your sprayer with very hot water and add 5mls of plain glycerine to it. Adjust the nozzle to a fine spray and test it is not too hot on your hand — we are not responsible if you scald yourself ! Better you than your birds! Then, fully armed, spray the birds really heavily the first time in a morning to the point they look like drowned rats. They have the day to recover their normal look as well as having their underdown feathers dry by the evening.

By then you will see the first results. Calmer birds, better feathers on their bodies – any tails still ragged and spots need attention later. Nevertheless a big change — but a few will still be scatty. This process is then continued, but a bit less dense each day until you see a sheen appearing on them. As the days progress, the birds become calm and you can always add a clip on show cage for them to receive extra steadiness, if not placed there permanently.

Other ideas include a lot of handling with the young birds. Place them in a “dummy” show cage – two per cage — overnight. That helps, and when it comes to the big day they are accustomed to change and familiar with the show cage restrictions and perches.

Two Weeks Later

Now come the tricky parts.

Some will not be fully feathered for this first event of the season. Examine the flights and tails and see their growth situation. Short primaries or missing ones and only one tail fully down, and he /she is left for a later event. Broken shafts should have been pulled earlier, bearing in mind that a primary flight takes four weeks to re-grow and a tail eight weeks. Spots also take four weeks to re-appear, but can be quicker if you spray the spot shafts regularly and keep them soft.

Cracked Shafts and De-spotting

Suddenly you spot a cracked tail feather on a top bird.

Catch it up and examine the shaft carefully. Is it actually bent, chewed a bit or cracked right through?

If it’s the last item — pull out the stump, but if the other tail feather is intact – still show the bird.

Many judges miss spotting there is only one tail!

If both are cracked only, get a lighted cigarette and hold it very close to the damage. You will see the tail straighten fast and all is back to normal. The same happens if you dip the shaft(s) in boiling water.

Whatever you do – do not use glue! That will result in a ban on showing, as bad as painting spots and finally losing permanent credibility. Such actions result in another species of bird involvement. The “albatross around the neck syndrome”! Same with plucking out flecking. It is banned and if spotted you will be in trouble.

De–Spotting

A super Ideal Budgerigar in wood from JapanThis is an art that needs good eyesight and practice – but is dead easy in experienced hands.

In short, you are aiming to reveal the six main spots clearly without the myriad of the, sometimes, masses of minor small spots and underspots which are paler than the majors.

A quality pair of bull-nosed, flat-faced tweezers have to be bought for this purpose. Pointed tweezers, as used by the “fairer sex”, are useless as you often take out the centre of the offending feather instead of taking it out completely in one movement. No harm is done, unless you are too fast and out comes a major spot — then you are dead for the show.

Now a word of warning on this subject. When de-spotting, do not leave it to the last minute and attack the complete job in one go. Close to the skin of each major spot are the empty feather follicles of the surplus spots you have removed. The area directly around that big important spot gets bruised. You then spray the bird and the water makes that big spot heavy – and out it falls within minutes or hours. Spread the process over several days and this will not happen.

Judging Sticks

Obviously all judges use judging sticks, or now becoming popular, a two inch (5cm) broad “paddle” which is placed through the middle bars to allow and encourage a nervous bird to perch for a second or two – so it can be assessed for placing. If not, then a judge risks the bird getting tired after a few hours and it perches and looks “out of this world”, with predictable comments from the exhibition viewers.

The Day of the Show

By this time, you should have stopped the last final fine spraying three days earlier and the final team look fabulous.

Cage up. Add the correct labels as supplied from the show secretary – please note the word “correct”. Do not reverse a young bird light green label entry, with an adult entry of the same colour. It is a trap that happens so often when in a hurry.

Now double check all is correct and then cross check each label corresponds to the entry form copy you have made.

Finally

Tatsuhiro Ozeki, Japan, knows how to prepare birds to winOnce the birds are taken and benched, it is up to the judges.

You have done all you can – your team is in sparkling white cages – or should be – and in a few hours you will nervously see how you have done.

In nearly all cases you do better than you think you would and have, in your early days, pushed out other birds further down the line because you have prepared yours so well.

You might not win the first time, but you may the next week.

Make a note of the judges – some very good, others have not a clue because they have not bred such a quality in their own aviaries and really do not know how to be decisive in their actions.

There are some brilliant judges around of course who know exactly what they are seeing “To the millimetre”.
They are up with the quality being bred and the times. They move fast initially and make swift judgements and then get them in a rough order before dealing with the finer points and minor place adjustments. A last check and it is “job done”.

Others can stand there, faced with, say, fifteen light green cocks and look bemused and start to sweat – especially at national level.

One actually, years ago, reached for the whisky hip flask at the UK Budgerigar Society World Championship.

Such judges are rare, but if, at national level, one of these “amateurs” is appointed from a national list of “qualified judges” – then I find that unforgivable to those exhibitors who have strived all year to win this or that class.

Make a note of those who have no ability.

Lastly, you will lose more than you win but whatever you do, if you have not won, make it your first job to congratulate the winner. Your personal prestige will then soar — even if you are not aware of it. We cannot all win!

Good luck and one day everyone will shake your hand. It’s a great feeling.

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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. Fantastic article Gerald and after reading I would like to quote:

    Try not to become a man of success but rather to became a man of value

    Albert Einstein

    I personally believe in enthusiasm and creative professional skills.

    Thank you very much.
    Habib Ur Rehman, Pakistan

  2. barrie shutt says:

    A super read which brought back some happy moments I shared with Gordon and Sylvia.

    They bred my type of budgerigar.

    Barrie Shutt, UK

  3. Thank you for using Freakley & Ainley’s Dominant pied to enhance your article Gerald, a very good read.

    Mick Freakley, UK

  4. Paul Cunningham says:

    An excellent read Gerald – with many top tips.

    It’s just a shame though that so many top fanciers, who were household names in the 1980’s and 1990’s, for personal reasons are no longer in the hobby.

    It does seem to be the case that once people have achieved their goals on the show bench that the hobby next must lose it’s appeal.

    Perhaps it is an age thing also.

    90% who are presently involved would appear to be beginners and novices.

    Paul Cunningham, Portugal

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