Photo: Austin Middlemiss. The satinette song thrush hen in question: unringed, just after fledging 

Official paperwork can be such a minefield that it puts British bird fanciers off. Yet this year AUSTIN MIDDLEMISS went through a long rigmarole to obtain a licence to show a bought mutation song thrush. He has two messages: it can be done; and the more fanciers who follow suit, the better for us all.

IN A previous article (see August 30 issue), I described the breeding of some mutation coloured song thrushes. I said that I intended to look into the possibility of obtaining a special licence to exhibit the satinette song thrush hen that I couldn’t closed-ring.

On the British Bird Council (BBC) website they have a General Licences link that, in turn, provides a link to Natural England (NE) for other licences or queries. On the NE website I found the document Application for a licence to exhibit birds competitively without the correct close ring (A21). When I looked at Section Five of this form – “Application Details” – it allowed for three licensable actions in three separate columns (see below).

It appeared to me that although the “Identification Mark” option allowed for unringed birds, it would be preferable if I could supply some marker numbers. I sent off for 10 year- coloured split rings, size K for song thrush, although nine obviously would be wasted. When the hen was split-ringed, I then completed the form and applied for three birds: my Belgian closed-ringed adult pair and the young satinette hen.

Perhaps in my naivety I couldn’t really see that there would be a problem in obtaining a licence for such colour variant birds. There is a “Supplementary Information” section where you are asked to provide any additional information you feel will support your claim. I emphasised that these were not wild coloured individuals and that the adult birds were correctly closed-ringed, in terms of European legislation, with a ring that could not be removed from an adult bird. In this section of the form I offered to forward a photograph of the actual bird, if required.

The instructions said to allow up to 30 working days for the application, but time went by and I was not sure it had been received by post because I’d had no acknowledgement. Eventually I telephoned to query whether the application had indeed been received. It turned out they had sent an acknowledgement, with apologies for delay, but had made one small error in the email address, which meant that I had not received it.

After a further wait I received an email. This advised that the technical team assessor had asked that I send a clear picture of the young hen showing the colour mutation and leg ring in place before he could finalise his assessment of the application. The email went on to explain that the concern was that a split ring could be removed and placed on another bird, so a record of the ring on that colour bird was required.

I replied immediately and got an automated receipt response, but after a further two weeks I again phoned to see if a decision had been made. I was informed it had and the following day I received the licence by email. I have provided a copy of this (see below) and at any time when any of these birds is shown, a copy of this licence will be attached to the entry form.

Interesting points to note in the terms and conditions are:

  • It states that the bird may not be sold (T&C2). That would be the subject of a separate application if I had wanted it, and the relevant form would be an A20, I believe.
  • It emphasises that the bird can be exhibited without any additional proof of captive breeding (T&C3).
  • The licence is time-limited (I understand it can be renewed) and applies in England only (T&C5). (Scotland and Wales have separate offices.)

So, I have shown that this process can be successful and if a proper application is made a bird can be exhibited outside the normal requirements for Schedule Three species, i.e. closed-ringed with the correct size ring issued by the two authorised suppliers: the British Bird Council and the International Ornithological Association. Of course,  people may ask: “Why bother?” and others who frown upon exhibiting bought birds not bred by the exhibitor may be equally unimpressed.

Let me explain: I certainly am under no illusions that these are the best examples of mutation softbills that the world has ever seen. However, I do believe that colour variants are extremely important to the British bird fancy and validate our efforts when there are many objectors who simply refuse to accept that native species are aviary-bred.

What can demonstrate their ignorance better than a full class of colour variants, when the chances of winning the lottery jackpot are higher than seeing even one such example in the wild? The more colour variant greenfinches, redpolls, blackbirds and song thrushes seen at our shows, the greater the evidence for native species breeders’ achievements.

The same can be said for mules and hybrids, I believe. Many years ago, at a Morpeth CBS show, an individual introduced himself as a top local representative of the RSPB or RSPCA (I cannot remember which) and asked to speak to someone about the British bird section. He was introduced to the show manager, the late and sadly missed John Caffrey. John was a very intelligent man, a superb wildlife artist and an excellent show manager.

The man took John to the goldfinches and bullfinches on display and stated they were clearly wild-caught, because: “You could not possibly breed these birds.” John took him to another exhibit and asked him to identify it. The “expert” could not. It was a goldfinch/bullfinch hybrid cock. John politely (I’m kidding) told him if we (the fancy) could breed that difficult cross, we could certainly breed the “real thing” and then, once more politely (I’m still kidding), told him to leave.

That story is still valid to this day. The legislation and authorities accept that mules and hybrids are not listed species and do not have to be closed-ringed, although most are. Perhaps one day colour variants will also be removed from the requirements to closed-ring. In the meantime, I feel that both colour variants and mules and hybrids are important in validating this branch of the hobby.

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