Photo: From left: Henry Ellis, John McKenna, Laura Gardner, Daniel Shearing, Philip Schofield, Gary Bralsford and Lisa Clingan with their Ezra Awards


To breed an exotic species successfully is always a satisfying achievement. How much does it matter if you are the first to do so? Avicultural Society (AS) chairman Nigel Hewston explains how the society aims both to encourage the establishment of viable stock and celebrate the thrill of a ‘first’


IN RECENT months, Cage & Aviary Birds has published several letters and articles celebrating, or discussing the merits of, first breedings of foreign species in UK aviaries, and also the need for sustained breeding to establish species in the longer term. As the Avicultural Society (AS) and its publications and awards have featured in several of those pieces, I think some clarification of the society’s role and focus in both areas might be helpful.

First, I’d like to consider the purpose, benefits and limitations of First Breeding Records for Birds Reared to Independence under Controlled Conditions in the UK, most recently published as a special issue of the Avicultural Magazine in 2017. The origins of this document are usually traced back to Dave Coles’s list published in 1986. In fact, as Dave acknowledges, the starting point for his work was the records collected and published by Emilius Hopkinson in the Avicultural Magazine in the 1930s.

It has been said that the first breedings list is purely a historical document. In one sense this is true: it aims to record which species have bred for the first time, when and by who. However, from the beginning it has aimed to do more than this. Whenever a published account of the first breeding can be found, the reference to this is given in the list, so that breeders, ornithologists and others can have access to any information provided. This may be sketchy or indeed may not exist at all, but often it is there, is detailed and of great interest and assistance to anyone attempting further breedings.

The AS medal, awarded for first UK breedings by members, is completely separate from the first breedings list. It has been suggested that this award encourages breeders to become “medal hunters”, targeting species that have not been bred and switching species frequently to pursue further glory. I have seen no evidence of this. Consider, for instance, Gary Bralsford and Lisa Clingan, the two most recent medallists. On having achieved their first success, both have then obtained more stock of the same species to set up unrelated pairs in the hope of continued breeding.

It is also worth stressing that from its institution in 1896 to the present, a vital condition for the award of the medal has always been that the breeder “must send a detailed account for publication in the Avicultural Magazine…The account of the breeding must be reasonably full so as to afford instruction to our members. It should describe the plumage of the young, and be of value as a record of the nesting and general habits of the species.”

More recently, the society has found a way to recognise and celebrate sustained breeding with the introduction of the Ezra Award. In this case, the medal is awarded for sustained work with a species or group of species, and again with the important proviso that a detailed article must be submitted for the benefit of other breeders. This award is available to UK or overseas members in recognition of the international nature of the society and of birdkeeping.

The AS awards are designed, therefore, not simply to enhance breeders’ self-esteem and reputation, but to encourage them to share and build on their experience. Having said that, with the various obstacles faced by birdkeepers nowadays, perhaps we should welcome anything that raises their self-esteem! Personally, I see no contradiction at all in celebrating both first breedings and subsequent sustained breeding – after all, without first breedings there would be no second- or third-generation breedings.

  • Next week, Nigel considers the value of breeding registers.


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