A RICHLY COLOURED, CLEAR yellow canary with evenly velvet-black wings and tail. Nothing much wrong with that, is there? It is probably the most easily recognised of domestic canary breeds (with overtones, indeed, of more than one wild finch species) and as handsome as any... in the mind’s eye, at any rate. And that’s the issue, since the bird described does not exist in the flesh and possibly never did. I won’t summarise the history of the London fancy canary here, because others with far greater authority have done so on these pages.
However, it does seem as though specimens that closely resembled the “ideal” sketched above were only rarely achieved in the breed’s far-off popular heyday. In the 21st century, specialist breeders are trying to recreate it, in the sense of producing birds that correspond to that phenotype, and their hit-rate is erratic in the extreme, too.
In fact, the leading exponent of the new London fancy in this country, Bernard Howlett, states bluntly that: “The most difficult problem... is to convince people that the ideal specimen is an idle dream.”
In his article on page 11, Bernard argues that it shouldn’t matter and that the breed deserves official recognition by the authorities in any case. Is he right? Editors rush in where angels fear to tread, so here goes.
This bird, concedes Bernard, does not breed true, so it fails the first key test for official recognition by the Canary Council (CC). Unless, that is, the CC treats it as a special case. Should it? Surely it could, on the grounds of its unique historical interest and the fact that the original birds themselves appear to have bred so inconsistently.
And this isn’t a trivial enterprise – it’s not as though a load of rank amateurs are trying to breed a canary that looks like, I don’t know, a blue tit.
The London fancy “project” fires the imagination of serious people: responsible, expert breeders who know and care about our canary heritage.
If officialdom (I’m not just talking about the CC) can’t find room for their interests, then it is not representing the full canary fancy. It’s a bit like newspapers: if there’s something you ought to do and want to do that won’t quite fit your template, you tweak the template.
Phew! That’s the world set to rights. As always, better-informed views are welcome!