Canaries produced for a garden aviary breed indiscriminately, delighting their owners with their many different colours and markings which make a spectacular display in flight. Canaries produced for exhibition are a different matter entirely.
Leaving aside coloured canaries which are a specialist subject in their own right, type canaries produced in the UK are based around two distinct ground colours – either yellow ground or white ground. The majority of birds are yellow ground.
There are many shades between these two extremes of yellow and buff colouration, which are best seen on canaries which are colour fed, such as Norwich or Yorkshires. During the moult, the colour of the new feathers are enhanced by adding to the birds diet, until birds with bright orange and salmon pink feathering are produced. This colouring lasts twelve months until the next annual moult, even when the birds bathe daily!
On top of ground colour, canaries display a wide range of markings. Smaller marks (such as those which can be covered by a five pence piece) are termed ticks, and may occur anywhere on the body. If these ticks are broken by light feathering, they are termed grizzles, whilst if the markings are larger and more pronounced, then the bird is known as variegated. Terms such as lightly or heavily variegated or three parts dark, refer to the amount of variegation carried, whilst canaries can also carry totally dark plumage (self) or similar plumage broken only by a single are of light feathering, in which case these birds are known as foul marked birds.
The markings are made up of a combination of black and brown pigments, which combine on top of the yellow ground colour to produce a shade of green. The same combination of pigments displayed on a white ground colour produce a form of slate grey, which canary breeders term as ‘blue’ variegation.
A variation is when the black melanin is missing, allowing the bird to display only brown markings on the yellow or white ground colour. These markings are known as cinnamon, (fawn on white ground birds), and are extremely attractive.
At larger exhibitions, special classes or awards are provided for evenly marked birds, which have corresponding markings on either side of their body. The top marked bird is one which carries markings on both eyes, both wings and either side of the tail. These are known as technical marks.