Photo: Ernesto Gracia. All-wire show cages stretch into the middle distance!

This year, a piece of exhibition history was made at the World Show in Cesena, Italy, which posted a serious claim to be the greatest bird show of all time. The experienced canary judge ERNESTO GRACIA was privileged to be part of it, and here presents the first of three articles that reflect on the Cesena show, the European exhibition fancy, and Britain’s part in it.

When the news broke that the total bird entry at this year’s World Show in Cesena had exceeded the 32,000 mark, expectations ran wild.

Just think of putting together staging and cages for such an inordinate number of birds. With the World Show, the preparation for each starts before the previous one has been staged. Yet this record entry of 32,062 birds caught everyone by surprise, to the point that extra judges had to be drafted in – hence my luck.   

Receiving a last-minute invitation to judge – over the phone and direct from the general secretary of the OMJ Executive Committee – was unbelievable. My affirmative reply still reverberates in my mind. My good friend Ghalib Al-Nasser had likewise been invited to judge the budgerigar section. So, having informed COM-UK about my bit of luck, I arranged to travel to Cesena.

All this was totally out of the ordinary. Judges for any World Show are never contacted directly by COM/OMJ or the show organisers. Instead, COM/OMJ notifies each member country of the number of judges invited, based on the projected entry. Each country then chooses from its own OMJ judges register those who will attend. This time, circumstances were exceptional.

Picture 138 judges, after travelling from distant corners of the continent, driven in two full coaches to the Fiera di Cesena, about to enter the greatest bird show arena of all time. The apprehension was beyond description. To have lived that moment is something to treasure.

So to Section E, the Type/Posture Canaries, where I had the privilege to adjudicate. I judged some of the Lizard canary classes and some Border classes: in total about 250 birds over two days, which was about average for each judge. As usual, the judges had been grouped into pairs, but this year, instead of working jointly, each official would judge independently. The grouping into pairs was to allow consultation. (That normally happens anyway, but it was good to have the official blessing.)

Those Lizards that I had judged, or indeed those that I simply looked over on the stands, included, to my mind, the best around: some true quality birds. When you have selected the best groups among the different classes – the potential winners, from where a World Champion will come – the final decision is never easy, for more than one bird of absolute quality is bound to catch your eye. I felt the enormous responsibility of my decision: to make up my mind when faced with Lizards that excelled in the characteristics of the breed. I could always bring in a second opinion, but it was to be my decision in the end.

If I were to criticise any aspect of the Lizards on show, it wouldn’t relate to anything on the score sheet, or even in the show standard, but to the “type”, “shape” or “form” of certain exhibits. Some lacked the type expected of the breed: cobby appearance, rounded breast, good width across the shoulders and a fairly broad and rounded head. Admittedly, the Lizard is not a bird of type, but if all else is equal (pattern, design, markings), good type can well be the deciding factor.

This was the first World Show where classes for Lizards were provided according to caps – clear caps, broken caps and full caps – and in respect of golds, silvers and blues. This simply had to come about; it was only natural. I am not sure if this meant an increased entry. I am sure about the lack of understanding (or maybe lack of information from COM/OMJ) about the “10 per cent rule” in terms of nearly non cap or nearly full cap.

More than once, I was confronted by birds that probably should have been wrong classed. Consulting my judging partner and the other Lizard judges, we concluded that in the first year of the new rules it was sensible to be “generous”. Next time, though, COM/OMJ must make certain that it provides the exact and correct information in this regard.

I must also mention the new score sheet which was in operation for the first time: basically condensed from 10 concepts to eight concepts. To analyse this change in detail would take a separate article, but suffice to say that I was not at all awed by the new format and quickly adapted to it. More importantly, it did not affect my judging perception. My fellow judges never even commented about this. Still, the debate surrounding this change to the score sheet is bound to continue, and no doubt more so in the UK.     

My judging partner was Salvatore Alaimo, president of the Italian Technical Commission for Type/Posture Canaries (“Smooth Feathered” breeds). In Italy, a judge can only adjudicate the “Smooth Feathered” breeds or the “Frilled” breeds, not both. That is their way of conferring specialism among type/posture canaries. Of course, in the UK the fact that an OMJ judge can be an all-rounder, judging up to 31 breeds, as opposed to a specialist in a few breeds, is a controversial issue. The subject calls for much assessment and evaluation: enough for a separate article!

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