A huge job for January: TONY EDWARDS has to review every bird in his stud. That’s a lot more than a day’s work!

ON CHRISTMAS Eve, I started the long-overdue sort out of my stock. It was the first time for nearly six months that I spent any significant time looking closely at my birds. First of all, I caught my silverbills from the cages in which they were being held. I don’t breed them seriously and any chicks are reared in my flight, which they share with a large number of Bengalese. I have only 10 of them, a mix of different colours, and usually a small number of new chicks each year replace losses.

Room to roam

I have the number I want to keep so, after a quick health check, they were put back in my flight/aviary, their usual residence. It was interesting to watch their reaction on having all the space to themselves, but it didn’t last long as they would soon have company. I like to start any major assessment of my Bengalese with an easy colour, saving the most difficult to last, so I caught my self fawns as I only have six. They were placed in show cages individually for a quick review. As the number was below my target stock level for this colour, I knew in advance I was going to retain them all. Pleasingly, the only self fawn chick I bred this year is very promising; it was bred from a chocolate split fawn to a fawn pairing. As it was hatched in early March, all being well, it will be paired in a couple of months’ time with either another self fawn or, more likely, a self chocolate split fawn.

Three new hens

Self chestnuts were even easier to inspect, as I now have only three, all hens (I think) that I had acquired in the past 18 months. The older hen (2017 bred) was paired soon after she arrived in my birdroom (November 2018) to one of my best self chocolate cocks. Five outstanding chicks were produced and, as I found out later, a further clutch of three chicks are of equal quality. I used two of the early chicks as swaps for self chestnuts, and of the six remaining none have yet decided to sing (a male characteristic). At the same time, I paired an old self chestnut cock to a self chocolate hen and of the surviving two chicks, one of them has started singing. So I have at least one split cock to use with the self chestnut hens, but I would really like a couple more split cocks.

A major tranche

Self chocolates were a more daunting task with more than 40 birds to review, so I started with the known splits. On close inspection the self chocolates split chestnut (mentioned above), appear to have a slightly lighter chocolate than my best self chocolates, so I am unlikely to use any of them in development of my self chocolate strain. Although I bred a lot of self chocolates split fawn in 2018, many of them did not reach my expectations. To be of use to me they had to be better than any of my self fawns, so most of them I moved on and eventually I only retained one cock and one hen. Among the 10 chocolates split fawn bred in 2019 there are several very nice ones, so I am optimistic that I will have some good self fawn to self chocolate split fawn pairings this year. I will certainly not use any of them for breeding self chocolates as they are a much lighter chocolate with an unwanted distinct reddish shade.

The could-be-splits

After assessing the self chocolate splits, I moved on to my pure self chocolates. I say “pure” with some degree of uncertainty, as it is common for Bengalese to be split for another colour. In the case of self chocolates, the most likely split colour would be grey. From my foundation stock of self chocolates, I am now on my third generation and I have only produced self chocolates other than the splits bred intentionally. I have well beyond my target number of pure self chocolates and I will have some difficult decisions to make on which birds to retain, as there are only a few I dislike.
I will only make the final decision after I have sexed those bred in 2019.

Pale and interesting

I finished the day with my self whites. I have only two dark-eyed whites: two cocks that I acquired in 2017. So, again, after a quick check they were also moved to the flight. The chocolates and whites carrying the genes to produce dark-eyed whites are to be reviewed later, at the same time as my other chocolate and whites. The pink-eyed whites (albinos) are even more of a challenge than the self chocolates as my albinos are often slow to mature. I also have more than 40 of them to consider and because I normally use split albinos with albinos for most of my pairings, I will probably reduce the number significantly.

Something extra up top

A dozen of the albinos are crested birds and, as the crest is a key feature, selection can be difficult when the lower quality birds have the better crests. Unfortunately, many of the tail feathers were broken, so I had to pull them out, an acceptable and not infrequent action. Pigmented feathers are stronger than the unpigmented white feathers, and this was emphasised by comparing the tail feathers of my coloured selfs to those of my albinos. It is difficult to assess Bengalese properly without full tail feathers, so I will look again in February when the tail feathers should have regrown and the 2019 chicks are a little older. With about a third of my birds done, a large number of variegated Bengalese are waiting for me to find time and courage to sort them out, especially my chocolate & whites, where I have about a hundred waiting…

Tony Edwards is vice chairman of the National Bengalese Fanciers’ Association.