Photo: Donald Skinner-Reid. 2017 yellow feathered piebald, a great grandson of a little yellow hen

DONALD SKINNER-REID introduces his yellow family of Scots fancies, clarifies the difference between yellow and buff, and describes the yellow’s welcome renaissance in that breed.

WRITING in the year 1904, in The Canary Book, R.L. Wallace states: “Even markings are not cultivated among Scotch fanciers, who do not pay much regard to markings, but go on the principle that ‘a good horse is never a bad colour.’ It is form and style that they esteem most.”

What struck me as I read that is how true it remains today. No breeder of the Scots fancy canary is concerned about the colour or markings of the bird, but the style and shape are everything. It would, however, be true to suggest that we all have a favourite colour. Mine is clear yellow. And here’s what the novice needs to understand – the difference between yellow and buff feathers.

I confess it bemused me for a long time. I couldn’t tell which was which. There was a reason for that confusion. Until very recent years, there were scarcely any yellow feathered Scots seen on the show bench. (The Scots Fancy Canary Specialist Club (SFCSC) shield for best current-year yellow was won in the years 1990, 1991,1992, 2006, 2009 and 2016. Note the gaps.)

So what is the difference? It’s all about feather structure. Shorter, tight feathers will give intensity to the yellow colour. Buff feathers are wider, longer and often tinged with white at the end, giving a paler yellow – almost lemon. When you breed that to white, the yellow is a lovely soft hue, but yellow feathers are just stunning in their intensity. They make the bird shine, and in the green colour create an appearance of phosphorescence. 

My original stock came from Mike Purdam, via Alan Rundell. On my second visit to Mike in 2012 (after my first disastrous season), he kindly provided me with a small, clear, unflighted, yellow feathered hen. She had great shape, but was small and intensely yellow feathered.

Things did not start well for her at my set-up. By November she was laying eggs – not ideal. The following year, she did not breed at all.

In 2014, I paired her to a large buff piebald cock and she produced one yellow feathered cock. He is ring number 38/14. This bird has his mother’s shape and intensity of colour. Last year I paired him to a buff piebald hen of excellent posture and he produced one clear yellow feathered cock of great quality, which won at many shows, including best Scots at the SFCSC show. He also fathered three yellow feathered piebalds, two of which are hens. By this season, he is father to four of my stock of 45 Scots and grandfather to 10.

From that one hen, I now have half my stock as yellow feathered birds, and this breeding season – my sixth – was the first in which I was able to pair yellow to buff in all my pairings. The intense yellow amazes me: I just sit in awe when I get the chance to be still and watch the birds. The yellow feathering gives a sharp, neat Scots of appropriate narrowness and is striking on the show bench.

One thing surprised me this year. When I moved the chicks to wean, I was certain that one was a yellow. Now they are moulting, I find that half the young birds are yellow feathered. It’s very striking in the piebalds, as well as the clears. My “holy grail” that I hoped to breed this year, but have not managed, is a yellow feathered green. My friend Ken Laurie bred one a few years back and it took my breath away. There’s always next year!

Donald Skinner-Reid is currently in his debut season as a champion exhibitor.

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