Above: Nelson in his immaculate birdroom: ‘So far the Mehringer has proved very free-breeding’ Photo: Nelson Rato


Dave Brown talks to NELSON RATO, an accomplished Portuguese canary fancier who is now living in Scotland – and is championing an exciting and unfamiliar frill breed from Germany


NELSON is a successful fancier, originally breeding canaries in his native Portugal, then relocating to Scotland about five years ago. Having 20 years of canary keeping behind him with a variety of song canaries, Harz roller, Malinois (Waterslager), Timbrado Español and then colour canaries, it was no surprise that before long he sought out some UK stock and a new venture began with type canaries: the Fife. 

“I started with Fifes because they are easy and cheap to find and there is big competition in the UK,” explains Nelson. Recently, however, a new interest in a breed seldom seen in the UK has begun: the Mehringer frill. Nelson is already actively breeding and promoting not just this breed but the frill group as a whole. 

Q: Where does your enthusiasm for canaries come from?

A: The main reason I got into canaries was because of my job. I’m a counsellor in a rehab for people with problems with addiction and it’s a very intense job, so the canaries are a way for me to relax and distract me from all the problems.

Q: Are there differences between the UK and European bird fancies? What could UK fanciers learn from abroad? What are the good points of the UK fancy?

A: When I first came to the UK I found big differences in the fancy: shows being just one day in duration; the way the birds are judged by comparison; no requirements to use closed rings; and the way the birds were kept and bred (different cages, etc).

As an observation, I would say the UK fancy can be a little resistant to the idea of change. Like everything in life, we need to improve, adapt and change. Sometimes, there are new and better ways to do things in the fancy. If you go to Italy, Spain, Portugal and Belgium – amongst others – you see younger generations of people breeding and showing birds. Unfortunately, here, every year we learn of cage bird societies shutting down. I think one big organisation responsible for everything related to the fancy like COM (Confédération Ornithologique Mondiale) could be helpful to gather all the clubs together, working under the same rules and promoting the fancy.

I really appreciate the deep knowledge of the breeders in the UK and the way they work the feathers (feather quality). Something I found interesting was that some breeders have kept the same breed for 20-30 years, always striving to improve. It was also a good surprise to learn that many UK breeders are willing to help and share their knowledge. When I started keeping birds here, it was easy to get good birds and in general everybody was friendly. I believe the UK has the best examples of several different breeds, but for some reason they don’t show them at an international level.

Q: What breeds do you currently keep?

A: I keep Fife fancy and Mehringer frills. I never found myself breeding frills in Portugal. There are good frill breeders, but colour canaries are preferred.

Last year, a good Spanish friend challenged me to start with the Mehringer frill and he offered me six pairs. At that moment I realised there weren’t any Mehringer in the UK, so I started to study the breed and I found it fascinating. I called a few German breeders – they are the fathers of the breed – and Alfred Schindler passed me another few pairs at the World Show in Holland.

A mini Parisian frill, the Mehringer is a beautiful bird with the bonus of being a good breeder. So far, I’m happy with my breeding season, no major problems, but because I brought birds from Spain and Germany, they needed more time to adapt to a new environment in Scotland. When the Spanish birds were ready to breed, my Fifes and German birds were not even thinking of breeding! However, now all the pairs have gone to nest and so far, the Mehringer has proved to be very free-breeding. In fact, I have three hens taking care of their chicks without the father. 

Q: What is your feeding plan?

A: My feeding programme is really simple. I have been using pellets for a while and I don’t believe I’d now change that. It is a complete diet, clean and cheap. I use maintenance pellets for the winter and breeding pellets for the other months. For breeding, I use dry eggfood with sprouted seeds (for me it’s the best way to achieve successful weaning), a fertility and breeding-condition supplement, perilla, broccoli, dandelion and a few different things that are offered during the week. 

In the first week of the chicks’ life I use a commercial starter mix to help the chicks and protect them against salmonella, coccidiosis, etc. During the breeding season, all the birds have moist eggfood all the time.

During the year, once a week I give a liver protector and bee glue, which is very important for the frills. I have never had major problems breeding birds. 

– Concludes next week.

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