Ray began by commenting that many birds lose on the show bench, not because they are poor specimens, but because they have not been properly prepared. The following is a description of the procedure he uses and which has brought him success over many years (he demonstrated the techniques used on a bird beonging to one of the Somerset members as he went along):


Ten weeks before the first show .....

All those which may be shown should be caught up and their flight feathers checked. Any broken ones should be carefully pulled out. The two tail feathers should not be pulled at the same time. If both are broken, the top one should be pulled first so that the new feather has support while it grows. It takes eight weeks for a bird to grow back flight and tail feathers. Once these feathers have been checked the birds can be put back into the flight or breeding cage until two or three weeks before the first show.

Two or three weeks before the first show ....

The birds should be caught up and put into clean stock or training cages. Once they have settled for a day or so, they should be given a heavy soaking. This is done with a hand or pressure spray containing very hot water and Johnson's Baby Shampoo. The water is only just warm by the time it reaches the birds. The shampoo helps remove the general dirt and grime form the feathers without harming them. From there on, until approximately 3 days before the show, the birds should be sprayed every day with cold water to which a small amount of glycerine or Plume Spray has been added. This will bring the birds' feathers into good condition. Special treatment, however, is required for the head and face. A great deal of time is spent removing all surplus feathers from the mask, either by pulling the feathers out or cutting them. He reminded everyone that if feathers are pulled out they will grow back in three to four weeks. On the other hand if the wrong feather is cut, it will not grow back until the bird has a full moult. If blood appears as spots are pulled, a dry cotton bud should be used to stop the bleeding. If blood appears when spots are being cut, it means a new quill has been cut into and the best way to stop the bleeding is to find the quill and pull it out. Dried blood can be removed using cold water.

The day before the show ....

The heads are washed by holding the bird in your hand and using a cotton bud to wash the top of the head with warm water to which a small amount of Johnson's Baby Shampoo had been added, paying particular attention to the feathers immediately above the eyes and the cere. The head is then immediately rinsed with clear water. At this time tail feathers are also straightened by immersing them in very hot water and gently squeezing out the excess between finger and thumb. (If you squeeze too hard you will remove the tail feathers as well as the water!)

Young Birds

These are treated in exactly the same way except that they are brought into the stock or training cages six weeks before the first show date. This gives them the opportunity to settle down and gain that little extra weight that young birds need.

Ray went on to say that his birds receive very little show cage training, that is they are not left in show cages for long periods. He puts three or four birds into one show cage while feeding the rest of the aviary (about fifteen minutes). Once a bird appears happy in the show cage he is not subjected to further stress but is returned to the stock cage. A bird that will not settle in a show cage is best left at home.

Ray went on to say that, having taken the trouble to prepare a show bird, it should not be put into a shabby cage. Birds are often seen in cages that have not even been washed, let alone painted - and that applies to all statuses. Nowadays, he tends to replace show cages every three or four years but does not forget the time when he could not afford to do this. The cages were then washed and painted inside and out using white matt or eggshell on the inside and Finnagens Smoothright black metal paint on the outside. Finnagens dries within an hour and gives a good gloss finish but a second coat must not be applied for at least four weeks, or it will lift the first coat. Cage fronts were sprayed with car paint. It is a good idea to test the paint on a small area first to make sure it does not react with the existing finish. He advised storing cages away from the aviary to prevent them from getting dusty and washing cages out before each and every show.

On the day of the Show ....

Ray always transports his birds on the morning of the show, so makes sure he knows how long it will take to get to the Show Hall and allows plenty of time to prepare and cage the birds. It is best not to rush or mistakes will be made in the early hours. He always prepares the cages the night before the show, ie washes them and puts in seed. However, he does not add the cage labels until the birds are in the cages. He takes the cages, four at a time, into the bird room, catches up four birds and cages them. He then checks the schedule and sticks the labels on the appropriate cage. Covers are then put on the cages and they are taken to the car. He recommends having a black felt tip pen and a bottle of tippex handy to touch up any blemishes on the exterior of the show cage or the front. He said to remember that the show cage is the frame around the bird. The better the frame, the better the bird will look. This procedure continues until all the birds are in the car and ready to go. At this stage he checks the remaining labels against the schedule to make sure no mistakes have been made. He never carries more than four cages at a time, this is to prevent the cages being damaged and the birds from being frightened. He always keeps the covers on until inside the Show Hall. He said that he often sees covers removed in the car park and not put back on until back in the car park after the show. The whole idea of cage covers is to prevent the birds being frightened by different scenery or lights when away from their normal environment.

When arriving at the Show Hall he advises taking birds to a quiet corner and checking them over before they are booked in to make sure that the seed is level on the floor of the cage and that the birds have not damaged themselves during transit. Once the birds have been judged and the show is open to the public Ray gives his birds a small piece of millet, soaked previously in a mild solution of Vanadine. This is to encourage them to eat and to give them a little moisture which can make such a difference on a hot summer=s day. He said to remember, however, that the permission of the Show Manager should be sought before putting anything into the cages. Also to make sure that it is your bird that you are feeding.

When the show closes it is advisable not to rush to get your birds out first, another five minutes won=t make any difference. Just collect your entry form and gather your birds in the order they appear on the form, checking each number carefully. Get the birds checked out by a steward and remember to replace show cage covers before leaving the hall. Only carry four cages at a time - it may be necessary to ask a steward to look after the remaining birds in the meantime.

On arriving home ....

Ray leaves the birds in the car until he has gone into the bird room and made sure there is fresh seed and water in the cages which they are to return to. The birds are then brought from the car, four at a time, and returned to the same cages from which they were taken. The seed in each show cage is then examined and if clean returned to the seed bins. If it is not clean it is thrown away. He then leaves the birds in peace for about an hour after which time he returns to check that all is well and to feed the rest of the aviary.

Ray concluded by reminding everyone to always put the birds first when showing. If they are handled gently they will perform much better at the critical time in front of the judge.