How would you choose a winner from two equally matched top-quality exhibition birds? RAY STEELE explains why judging is not as easy as it looks and discusses the characteristics that make a good judge
WHAT does it take to make a good budgerigar judge? I have heard it said that no one can judge properly unless they have been successful at breeding winning budgerigars. While it is true that a successful breeder has an advantage, there is no guarantee that he or she will make a good judge.
Other important qualities are required. For instance, do they have a good eye for a bird – and can they make decisions? I have known a most successful exhibitor go to pieces when faced with a very large class or having to choose between two budgerigars of virtually equal quality. Others have been so indecisive that they have delayed the opening of a show. On the other hand I have seen a good “natural” judge, with less experience as a breeder, pick out the winners without fuss or bother. It is a matter of temperament.
Instinct plus experience
It could be argued that good budgerigar judges are born, not made. They have an instinctive ability to pick out a winner – and explain their reasons – without having to agonise over every decision. That having been said, there is no denying that a judge’s ability is enhanced by having experience of breeding high-quality birds.
No matter how good judges may be, it is inevitable that their decisions will be criticised. Shows would not be the same if no one criticised the judging. Although most exhibitors accept defeat, you will find one or two at every show who are blind to the merits of any bird except their own. This small group just have to accept that a judge must be unbiased.
A judge may take a slightly different view when looking over the classes later in the day, but that does not mean he has made a mistake. Birds can change over a short period of time. Experienced exhibitors understand that what are sometimes called mistakes are, in fact, just differences of opinion. Unless one bird in a class stands out head and shoulders above the rest, different judges will make different judgements.
There are times when a judge will pass over a bird because it is unsteady. The unsteadiness may be due to lack of training – though not always. Some budgerigars do not settle in a show cage no matter how much training they are given. When judging time is limited, if a bird is clambering around the show cage rather than standing correctly on the perch a judge may have no option but to downgrade it. A bird may win one week and lose the next. That does not mean that a judge has made a mistake.
Depending upon the size of the show, the quality of the competition can vary enormously and minor details can make all the difference. Different judges place different levels of importance on certain exhibition features. One judge may tolerate a minor defect that another dislikes. This is how discrepancies in judging can occur. A bird may lose condition in the time between two shows. Some birds will win at several good open shows throughout the show season under different judges. These are outstanding exhibits whose high quality is recognised by virtually all judges. But even these high-quality birds need to be in show condition. It is not easy to assess the good points of any bird if it is hopelessly out of condition.
Although budgerigars are judged to a standard, every judge has his likes and dislikes. One judge may think that an outstanding head compensates for faults in other areas. Another judge wants to see balance, style and good wing carriage. Some will fault a bird’s colour while others give colour very little consideration. As far as they are concerned they are all “judging to standard”. Is it any wonder that different judges make different decisions?
The selection of judges for a show usually rests with the show committee paying regard to names that have been put forward. The fact that some judges charge little or no expenses can influence some committee members. I remember one highly respected judge saying that inexpensive judges charge what they are worth! And he wasn’t paying them a compliment! Selecting an unpopular judge because his expenses are low can be a false economy.
An honourable profession
A judge’s personality and reputation can influence the level of entries. Because he is adjudicating at high-profile shows a judge is bound to attract some criticism from dissatisfied exhibitors – and suspicious gossip is not unknown. But the fact is that the number of black sheep in the judging fraternity is very small indeed. The vast majority of budgerigar judges are honourable men and women who perform a thankless task with honour. Rumours sometimes circulate alleging that there has been collusion between judges and exhibitors. But such collusion is more a figment of unhappy exhibitors’ imagination rather than fact. I cannot imagine any judge indulging in collusion and dishonesty. Just one slip would mean losing a level of honour and respect that has taken many years to achieve.
TO BE fair to exhibitors, there are times when they have grounds for complaint. For example, I have seen a budgerigar awarded best in show at a major event when it was the worst bird I have ever seen given such a prestigious award. Had the judge concerned been a very close friend of mine I would have advised him to quit the judges’ panel. That would be better than having to face regular criticism for making so many debatable decisions. It goes without saying that I would never comment on the ability of any judge other than one or two who are very close to me – and then it would be done in private. When a judge is regularly wide of the mark, exhibitors begin to avoid the shows where he is adjudicating.
Ray Steele is a champion budgerigar breeder, exhibitor and international judge, who started breeding budgerigars in 1956 with a mixed collection.