Training the Spanish Timbrado for a Song Contest and Show

As the moult progresses your thoughts are probably beginning to turn to the question: “How do I train my young Spanish Timbrados to prepare them for entry into the song contest and show?”

What I am providing here is based on the experience of a master breeder and judge of one of the other song canaries, the Roller. Many of you may know Miguel A. Gonzalez, but for those who don’t, one of his major accomplishments with the Roller is that he has taken the sweepstakes prize for the best bird in the annual song contest and show about 15 times in the last 20 years. Mike knows his birds and how to train them. All of the following information is based on his methods; I have made a few modifications to remove references to some of the things that are peculiar to the Roller. I am confident that if you follow these practices you will get your Spanish Timbrados into top condition for the song contest and show. Good luck.

Diet

It must be assumed that you have bred your Timbrados from the best stock you could find and have fed them properly to make them strong and healthy because they will need to be strong and healthy in order to stand the punishment of training and competition.

The young males are now flying together as you have already sorted this year’s youngsters. You must be sure that you have not crowded the young males and that each bird has plenty of room to perch and to fly. They need to have flying room so that their muscles are exercised enough to develop strong bodies. Besides exercise, these males need the best in nutrition with extra protein, vitamins, and minerals, which are all necessary to bring them through the moult and into singing condition.

Alternate greens and/or fruit every other day partly to prevent boredom in their diet but mostly to give the birds a large variety of necessary nutrients. One day provide greens, such as collards, kale, dandelion, or spinach, and the next day provide a fruit such as oranges, apple, cucumber, corn-on-the-cob, watermelon, or cantaloupe. The canaries generally like carrots if they have been grated before serving, and carrots give a good rich color to the birds. Sprinkle a vitamin/mineral powder on the grated carrots and the canaries will eat the mixture with enthusiasm. Feed only enough of these greens and fruit so that they are consumed in about two hours. If they stay in the cages longer than that, you have fed too much.

In the afternoon, after cleaning the cages and giving fresh water, check to insure that the staple seeds (canary and red rape) are in plentiful supply. Every other day give a small portion of a good quality song food. This is a commercial mix of different seeds such as millet, lettuce, poppy, oats, Niger and flax.

During the moult, provide large amounts of these fresh foods, as the birds need them. Moulting is a critical time for the birds.

Selection and Diet Changes

During this period of time and from now until time for the Song Contest and Show, keep a keen ear tuned to your young birds. Listen for any discordant tones (to your ear) and banish that youngster immediately from the flock and put it in with your OLD hens. The OLD hens will keep it quiet. If the young bird tries to sing, the hens will chase it until it stops.

About the first of October the moult is over and you must start cutting down on the fruit and treats in the songsters diet. By the middle of October, the diet should consist of plain seeds (canary and rape, a 50% mixture) and greens in moderation ONLY. The rape must be the smaller sweet red rape, NOT the larger black rape that is found in the cheaper mixes. If the birds eat the rape, you should usually increase the amount of rape in the mix. (Note: This is a controversial point among many breeders; some say that too much rape in the diet, at the expense of the canary seed, is not a balanced enough diet. This increase in the percentage of rape is just one breeder’s recommendation. Since he has been a consistent winner in song contests over the years, I must repeat the motto, “If it works for you, don’t change anything.”)

Training

It is now time to catch the youngsters and put them in clean training cages with seed and water (Note: Until such time as a different standard has been adopted for the Spanish Timbrado in the United States, we intend to use the standard training cages that are used by the Roller breeders. These cages come in two sizes – 10 inches in length, 7 inches in height and 7 inches wide with a removable drawer, two perches and movable seed and water vessels that fit in the front. The other size cage is 8 inches in length, 7 inches in height and 6.25 inches wide They fit into a cabinet which holds four of the cages, and while giving the bird a fair amount of freedom will restrain his bodily exercises.) Stack the cages four high on a suitable shelf or table close to each other in rows. (This of course assumes you have more than four males) The idea of this is so they can see their brothers and this keeps them calm and it also allows you to see a large number of birds in a small area.

Listen to the birds as often as you can. If you hear a bad sound, catch the offending bird and place him with the old hens to keep him quiet. Don’t put it off, don’t wait until tomorrow, take him out NOW. The youngsters are just like human children; they will learn all of the bad habits (sounds) FIRST. This bad sound will spread through your young males like wildfire and ruin the whole lot of them quicker than you could believe possible. Keep the birds in this manner for two weeks, taking out bad ones and keeping notes on those that are singing.

Be sure to change food and water each day and remove the soiled papers on the bottom of the cage. Observe each bird EACH day to be sure he is alert and not puffed out and listless. A puffed bird is probably sick (or getting sick) and needs special care. Get him OUT of the training cage.

Also be sure that the cages are set up in the same manner as they would be when placed in front of the judge, with the food and water cups to the judge’s left.

After 2 Weeks

After two weeks, they need a break. Turn them loose in an adequate flight (only the birds you are training, in the flight) giving them baths and some greens to eat. Change the bath water two to three times until every bird has had his fill of it. Two days of this and back into the training cages. This time try to group the birds (using the notes you made earlier) by similar sound, like sound to like sound, and set a partition between the stacks of cages so that the birds cannot see each other. They will now start to sing in earnest. When the bird can’t see his neighbor, but can HEAR him, he will sing to him. You have now made your first selection for the show season.

The birds will now be singing, especially in the early morning.

Now we come to a training tool you need, “The Rattle.” It consists of a small plastic jar or tube filled with BB’s, small steel ball bearings, or anything else that would rattle when you shake it in the jar. You rattle this when you want to stimulate the birds (or team) to sing, and you STOP as soon as they start. This is what some judges do in the judging room. (Note: Some judges use the rattle and some do not. There are some judges who believe that the teams should be trained well enough that when placed before the judge, they will self-start.)

At this stage of the training you want to sit as often as you can in front of the team when they are singing. This gets them used to having a person nearby. If you can, sit approximately six feet from the cages, as this is the distance (give or take a foot) that the judge will be from the team when he judges them. Switch individual birds from place to place in the team so they will get accustomed to different positions in the team.

When you placed the birds in the training cages you wrote their band number in chalk on the side of the cage so you could identify each bird as they sing. Now is the time to start making complete notes on each bird’s song, being careful to note the various tours that each bird sings. This assumes that you know the various tours of the song. If you do not, you may make notes such as “good tone – deep sound,” “deep sound – 1 high note,” “good all around – not deep,” or “nice – doesn’t sing some tours,” and so on – make your own abbreviations, as long as you understand it – who cares? Your best bet is still to LEARN the song. And, we know the song contest and show in San Diego will be a great opportunity to start to do that!

Keep notes every day on each bird’s progress, making notes especially on really good sounding birds or those that have sour (or faulty) notes. You refer to these notes when you set up your final teams – always keeping those birds together that sound alike or have the same tours, not because YOU happen to like a particular bird or two. Your mind can play tricks – go by your records, NOT your memory.

After ten to fourteen days, the birds will probably stop singing, or will not sing as well. They are tired (or bored) of being in the small cages. Turn them loose in the larger flight cages for one or two days of rest and relaxation nd then back into the training cages, just as you did before.

Getting Serious With the Training

Now they are ready for the training cabinets. Place the training cages into the cabinets but leave the doors wide open. In the cabinet, the cages are numbered #1, #2, #3, and #4 and they are positioned as follows: Facing the front of the cabinet, Cage #1 is in the Upper Left Position, Cage #2 is in the Lower Left Position, Cage #3 is in the Upper Right Position and Cage #4 is in the Lower Right Position. In the morning, take out the four training cages and place them as you would in front of a judge. Stack them #4 cage on the table, #3 on top of #4, #2 on top of #3 and #1 on top of #2. Place a cardboard the size of the cage on top of Cage #1. Sit in front of them so that the feed and water cups are to your left with the seed cup on the left and the water cup on the right. Shake your rattle gently until they start to sing, and then stop. Give them 10 minutes to start; if they don’t start to sing, put them away in the cabinet again. Do this morning, noon, and night, if at all possible. Be sure you always put the birds away in the same order unless you purposely change it.

Within a week, all the birds will be singing freely. If not, discard the silent one to a hen’s flight. It is probably a hen.

Consulting your notes constantly, start to make changes in your teams. Put together in teams the birds that sound alike. If you have any doubts, consult your notes. The idea is to get the very best, deep sounding (free of faults) birds in one team. If you only have one team, fine – work with it. Make it the best one you possibly can. In other words, put all your eggs in one basket. You want the very best quality in your team that you can get. Quantity does not mean a thing here, only quality.

You will continue this and work very hard for another two weeks. Then it’s time to rest the birds again. Back to the large flight to bathe, special treats, apple, greens, and other goodies. Two days of Rest and Relaxation and then back to the training cages.

You’ve probably heard of using a tutor bird to train your young birds, but only if you have a tutor that is 100% fault free. If not perfectly sure of this, you had better leave the young birds alone. They will give you all that has been bred into them without a tutor’s help. It is not uncommon for a good male (one you think would be a good tutor) to come out of the moult with a BAD tour, and in a VERY short time all the young males will have picked up the bad tour sound. It is much better to be safe than sorry – don’t use a tutor.

By this time, you have been judging your birds every day, if possible, three times a day. You should try to change the location once in a while to get the birds used to a different place (and time, if possible) to do their singing. Always keep the same approximate relative positions though, with you sitting in front of them. These are the conditions they will encounter in the judging room and must always be ready for them.

Don’t forget to be inflexible on this rule: if they are not singing within ten minutes out of the cabinet, put them back in. Keep good notes on your training. Note the time of day they come out of the boxes, when they go back in the boxes, how each bird sounds, indicate any faults they may have as well as their good and bad tours and anything else you deem important. You will find that by the time you have trained your birds, you will have trained yourself, at least to some extent, on how to recognize some parts of the song and to identify some of the basic tours. This is excellent – learn the song.

Reading your notes and with the power of your observation you can see that the birds have good days and bad days, and once in a while a SUPER day, just like any performer. If you are lucky and your birds have a super day when they are in front of the judge, you win the show.

If you observe by the seventh or eighth day from the last Rest and Recuperation day (or thereabouts) that your birds are restless and don’t pay too much attention to the training, they are probably bored with the little cages and need some additional R&R again. This time give them one day ONLY and then back into the training cages and the same routine.

Then, two weeks before the song contest and show, start closing the doors of the training box so that in a few days the doors are shut except when the birds are taken out and set up to sing. This encourages them to sing when they are taken OUT of the box, with no fooling around. The birds have been singing up to now because they always had light. Now they will be quiet in the darkened box and sing when they are taken out of the box. Remember, no song in 10 minutes, back in the box and close the doors. In short order, they learn to start singing quickly when taken out of the box, like a rooster when the sun comes up.

Up to now, you have been training your birds in your own house. Now it is time to take your birds to strange places and get them used to singing ANYWHERE when they are taken out of the training box. Take them to a friend’s house, to a relative, or to any place where people would like to hear beautiful music. Remember, no song in 10 minutes, back to the box and close the doors. No more playing around.

In the early part of this article you will recall that you were told that the birds needed to be strong and healthy to come through all of this training and the rigors of a song contest. All this training is very demanding on the birds and if they can’t take it and come through it in poor condition, there is no place for them in either the show room or in the breeding room that will follow very soon after the song contest and show.

Conclusion

A breeder has told me that he has had many a bird that the judge gave bad marks for faults, but that he had never had a bird marked “no song.” On the other hand, while working many song contests and shows, he had seen many “Super” birds that the judge could not score because the bird did not sing when placed in front of the judge. This, he says is definitely not the bird’s fault – nor the judge’s fault – it is the breeder’s fault. He (the breeder) does not understand that the birds must perform for the Judge. It really doesn’t matter that they sing at home on the dining room table, they must sing before the judge or all the training is for nothing. If the birds don’t perform, they don’t get a score. It’s great to have your team brought in right after one of those teams has been in front of the judge. That is when the judge will give out some really good scores.

When the steward is bringing in a team of birds to be judged and the birds start to sing even as they are being placed in front of the judge, you can see the judge’s eyes light up. This is what it’s all about, and free singing birds make the judge’s job easy.

This same breeder said that when he first started with his song birds he realized at the first show that there was no book that could teach him how to properly breed or train a show bird, but that he could learn from the song contests and shows. In his first nine years he had worked every position in the show, from steward to show manager, several times. He cared for three or four hundred birds at a show, opened the doors at 6:00 a.m. and closed the doors at 6:00 p.m. In doing this, he had learned more about the canaries and their song than he could have in 20 years of reading books, and working on his own. The reason, of course, is that during the song contest and show, you are talking only about that particular breed. You can talk and ask questions of people who have been involved with birds for many years – master breeders, judges, and all the people who are interested in both the breeding and judging of them. These are the people you really learn from.

If, on the other hand, you do like most people and that is just bring your teams in on the first day and then show up on the last day, hoping for a miracle, you’re not going to learn very much. These people never seem to get their miracle and usually complain that the judge doesn’t give their birds a proper score.

You should be at the song contest and show, all the time, with the old timers, with your mind open and your ears close to the ground, picking up any and all information you can use, always asking questions and learning all the while. Almost without exception these old-time canary breeders will answer all your questions and explain those points about which you may be in doubt. They will usually go out of their way to explain the various tours, good, bad, or the faults, if you just ask them. This kind of help is priceless and is free for the asking. All you have to do is belong to the club and work the show.

We all like to win a trophy, but even if you don’t feel your birds are the best, compete with them! Show your birds. What you’ll learn at the song contest and show will far outweigh what any trophy could do for you. Only the poor sport won’t play if he can’t win.

The friends you make at these song contests and shows will last the rest of your life (or theirs) and will be a treasure to remember long after the trophy is forgotten.

Note: Although this treatise on “conditioning” your birds for song contests and shows was prepared specifically for the Spanish Timbrado, it’s basic premise was based on the experience of an outstanding breeder and judge of the Roller canary. Basically, I believe the methods described here could be applied equally to all of the canaries bred exclusively for their song, i.e., the American Singer, the Roller, the Spanish Timbrado and the Waterslager.

July 15, 1999

Copyright © 1999 Paul R. Scandlyn

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