Photo: Dave Brown. Savvy novice: it was a successful first outing to the Northern Ireland Gloster Club show for Adrian – he won best novice cinnamon as well as best novice buff.

Dave Brown meets ADRIAN SHIELS, an exceptionally versatile and enterprising fancier who can breed a winner in an amazing variety of species… now including notably Javas.

NORTHERN Ireland fancier, Adrian Shiels, is just the sort of man we need in the hobby: keen on all varieties of birds, a regular exhibitor, good judge and a first-class club administrator. All this is done with a relaxed attitude and good humour.

Adrian is obviously not a man to rest on his laurels, and appears to enjoy new challenges both personally and for the benefit of the fancy. His most recent moves saw the formation of the Northern Ireland Java Sparrow Society (NIJSS) and two successful shows held in 2017.

He runs studs of various birds including budgerigars, zebra finches, racing pigeons, a couple of softbills, bantams, Java sparrows (of course) and Gloster canaries, which were, along with the Javas, introduced a relatively short time ago in Adrian’s 30 years of birdkeeping.

But this is not just a collection; winners are produced in all varieties. Most recent results include best opposite sex budgerigar at the fiercely competitive 2016 County Antrim BZF&FBS show with a dark green hen. Colour awards were awarded at the two 2017 NIJSS shows and, most recently, best novice cinnamon and best novice buff at his first trip to the Northern Ireland Gloster Club show.

As a  bricklayer by trade Adrian not only built his own house, but possesses a fine selection of sturdy birdrooms and lofts built into the sloping bank of his garden. One contains most of the foreign finches and few Gloster canaries, and another large building houses budgies and breeding Java sparrows.

Adrian grew up in a family where there was always poultry. Later in life, he took on a flock of bantams from someone giving up and that progressed to a collection of ornamental pheasants. Adrian recalls visiting a pheasant collection when, despite more than 30 species of pheasant to admire, it was a small flight of budgies that caught his eye.

He arrived home with the notion that he, too, could keep a few budgerigars and went about acquiring some small, colourful aviary birds. It wasn’t long afterwards that he was directed to the Ballymoney OA show held in the town hall. The budgerigars on show were so much bigger than those Adrian had at home, and Adrian thought to himself: “I’ll have to have some of those.” Stock came from Ronnie McAuley and Norman Anderson.

Adrian ensures the smooth running of several societies in the North of Ireland. Not only is he the general secretary and patronage secretary of the Northern Ireland BZF&FBS but he carries out various official duties for the County Antrim BZF&FBS and the Ulster Zebra & Bengalese Finch Society. And there is his new role as administrator for the NIJSS.

Dave Brown: What’s the appeal of a mixed collection? If you had to keep one variety, what would it be?

Adrian Shiels: If you’re out judging, keeping a mixed collection helps you to make better assessments of the wide range of birds you are likely to see. That is why I have dipped into keeping a couple of pairs of softbills. I’ve not tried my hand at keeping native species yet and I’d never say never: bullfinches are very appealing. I think I’d honestly say it would be Java sparrows that would stay if I were pushed, however.

DB: What do you like about Javas?

AS: As a budgie man as well, the appeal of the Java is that no one is trying to breed big heads on them. Instead, they are trying to keep the look of the wild bird as much as possible. There is a good range of colours and I currently keep a selection of normals, silvers and a few others. Javas are easy managed: a good foreign finch mix and softfood, a roomy breeding cage and a budgerigar nest-box suits them well.

DB: How did your interest in Javas and the Java Sparrow Society come about?

AS: I’d often judge a show and George Peoples of Derry, who has now sadly passed away, would often stage these immaculate pairs of Java sparrows. They were always feather perfect and well matched. So I decided to get a few pairs from George myself.

They started to grow on me and I was enthused by the Java Sparrow Society section at the National Exhibition at Stafford. Coupled with the equal enthusiasm of a small band of other Java sparrow breeders including James McCorriston, Stephen Kelly and Laurence Edgar, the idea of a club and a show or two took off.

The first ever show was a great success with 15 paid-up members and 72 birds benched. There are two specialist shows scheduled a year and a breeders’ points competition.

DB: What is your approach to judging?

AS: I judge across Ireland, and this season I will be at Arklow and Coleraine judging both budgerigars and foreign. Some judges will walk the hall prior to judging but I avoid this. I don’t want to formulate any preferences and rely on making opinions based on what I see in front of me on the bench. That way everything is getting a fair assessment. So I’ll have a cup of tea and wait until I’m told they are ready for me! 

When you are judging you have to get yourself into the zone and focus on the job in hand, not be distracted by what is going on around you.

Dave Brown judged the debut show of the NIJSS this year.

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