Two weeks ago, TERRY KELLY introduced the concepts of type and the points allocation used by judges. Here he suggests how the points system really ought to be working

WHILE the Fife canary is  judged mainly on type, some points are awarded for the quality of the bird. For example, plumage, 10; colour, 10; health, five. All this adds up to a quarter of the total points.

If you exclude the 25 points allocated to size, which doesn’t really figure hugely in most top judges’ assessment today, then only 50 percent of the points are actually allocated to type: head, 10; body, 10; wings, 10; legs, five; position, 10; tail, five. That is not a true reflection of the birds today, because those six areas make up almost all the top judges’ decisions.


This is the second most important aspect of an exhibition Fife (or Border), after body. It should be as round as possible, rising vertically from the beak with a nice rise well above the eye, and then dropping down vertically to the break in the neck. Buffs do have an advantage these days, because they are not subject to the lack of rise above the beak and flatness on the skull seen in many yellow birds.


The overall very round shape of a Fife is crucial whether viewed from the front, the top or the side. Without this round shape in your Fifes, you need to forget it and start again. It starts with the break at the back of the neck rising from the head. This is the main feature of a top-quality Fife – does this break in the neck make your birds resemble a top-quality Border canary or does it look more like a robin or a Gloster canary?

Also, watch out for the birds with too much on the front, which looks like a woodpigeon’s chest. The late, great Jim Feather used to say of his Borders: “You want as much on the front as on the back, but no more.”

The line from the beak should run downwards all the way to the end of the tail, not be boat shaped on the front. Watch out for the birds with an untidy undercarriage, which can spoil the overall shape. To allocate 10 points to body and its importance today is, in my opinion, out of touch, but I said this in my original book written 15 years ago.


Today, this feature is more crucial than ever, because most modern day Fifes have good roundness of body. Nothing spoils this more than wings that are untidy or drop down a little. You want them to be as neat as possible, held close to the body.


It is nice to see a good leg and stance on a Fife. My good friend Alan Wilson is rather obsessed with this aspect of a Fife or Border, but we all have our own priorities when judging. The yellows have an advantage here in a small breed like the Fife, since more leg is usually on show. The feet should be dainty with the feet and legs ideally matching the colour of the Fife. In other words, dark birds should have dark legs and clear Fifes a paler leg.

When looking at a Fife’s legs, says Terry, these should ideally match the colour of the bird: dark for dark birds and paler for clear birds

When looking at a Fife’s legs, says Terry, these should ideally match the colour of the bird: dark for dark birds and paler for clear birds


This should be smooth, silky and pleasing to the eye. There should be no roughness, holes around the neck or that worst of all Fife faults: a stripe down the chest.

Position and carriage

To see a free-moving Fife or Border is a delight. On the other hand a “wild” bird is useless in a show team or breeding programme. The position should be at 60° from the horizontal, but some good birds do tend to lay across the perch and spoil this shape and movement.


This should be narrow and look in proportion to the body. Too broad a tail makes the bird look narrower across the shoulders when viewed from above.


Depth of colour is important but is somewhat neglected in show halls where the natural lighting is poor. Clears should be a strong buttercup yellow and greens a rich grass green with no bronziness. It is also good to see good “lacings” on the dark birds. Willie Turnbull used to say that the greens had to win twice – once on type and then on colour.


What a waste of five points! Any exhibition canary that appears “soft” should be removed totally from the show hall as soon as possible.


Well, here we go! I have to accept that a slightly bigger bird can look better, because it has more opportunity within the extra length to show off the head, the break in the neck and roundness of back, etc. I recall at the NEC many years ago when my greens were almost unbeatable, I came second in the large self green buff hen class with a brilliant bird. David Lumsden won the class with a gem. I looked long and hard to spot the difference in the two birds and I came to the conclusion that David’s bird had a better rise on the head. Then I realised the real difference – David’s bird was bigger than mine and, as a result, showed off the top features to advantage.

We are talking 11cm (4¼in) here, whether it is a cock or hen. If I bred a buff cock that length it would be straight out of my birdroom; what size (and shape) would its yellow hen siblings be?  And I certainly couldn’t breed from it; my buff cocks retained for breeding are an inch longer than that. OK, some yellow hens are that size but most don’t have the overall roundness. So, which is more important to the Fife fancy and its credibility – a Fife the stipulated size more akin to an Irish fancy, or a bird a little larger looking like a top-quality Border?

Terry Kelly is the author of the bestselling The Fife Canary, available from his website:

My points suggestion

THE scale of points I would recommend and which top judges, perhaps unconsciously, adhere to at this present time is: body, 30; head, 10; wings, 10; legs/position/movement, 10; plumage, 10; colour, 10; tail, 10; size, 10. Total: 100 points.

Having said that, no-one allocates points in the first place and perhaps the concept of allocating points should be reviewed. For top judges it is all about a feel for what is right about a bird, the overall shape, the freedom of shape, the quality and proportions, etc. I have never seen a judge with a clipboard allocating points like an ice-skating competition or even taking notes on an exhibit.

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