fall of 2004, I began showing birds at bird shows. It was
something I had not considered early on-it wasn't until I
started contemplating breeding finches that I began to think
about what I could learn from a show. I wish I would have
considered it earlier - there is so much to be gained from
participating in one.
I decided that I would like to breed birds, I needed to know
what to look for in a breeder bird. I could recognize a healthy
bird without obvious defects, but could I select a bird with
good conformation, proper color markings, proper size, and
proper proportions? I learned that I could not. The NFSS standards
are helpful for some species, but even better is the opportunity
to compare like birds side by side while an avian expert comments
on their differences, strengths, and weaknesses.
bird show is an excellent tool for breeders, providing the
opportunity to have your birds judged against each other and
against other birds. Those that do well consistently under
different judges will be the birds to breed in the upcoming
breeding season. Does this exclude those of us with just a
handful of pet birds from participating in shows? Absolutely
can enter finches and softbills in a show, even if the bird
was not bred by the exhibitor. The NFSS does not even require
that your birds be banded. Why would anyone want to enter
a bird they did not breed? A bird needs more than good genes
to win a bird show. Part of the judging is based on condition,
an aspect totally in the keeper's control. Proper training
can influence behavior in the show cage. The experience you
get will prepare you for the time when you can show your own
bred-and-banded birds. You will also meet others with similar
interests. The expert judges are extremely approachable and
will discuss the birds and share information garnered from
their vast experience. Entering your birds in shows also helps
keep the shows alive. Most importantly, however, it is a whole
lot of fun!
to Show Birds
was very fortunate to have met Darla Dandre at my local bird
club. Darla achieved NFSS Exhibitor of Excellence (a lifetime
award) from the NFSS in 2000, and has been an NFSS Champion
Exhibitor (a yearly award) several times over. Despite having
many things going on in her life, she offered to make time
to teach me how to show my birds. I want to share that information
with others. Note that while I credit Darla as the source
of most of the information herein, any errors introduced are
How to Find a Show
bird clubs sometimes host an annual show, possibly two, and
they frequently distribute information about shows in the
surrounding states. The NFSS keeps a list of some NFSS-sponsored
shows on their website.
Darla runs a Yahoo! Group called BirdShowClub
with a calendar of upcoming shows throughout the country.
There are also two national shows that are held in different
parts of the country each year: The Great American Bird Show
(GABS) and The National Cage Bird Show (NCBS).
are commonly shown in Type I or Type
II standard show cages. Plans for these show cages
are available from the NFSS Finch Shop. However, you can use
any small cage that
you own. Better to enter your bird in a regular cage than
not to enter at all. As a general rule, a better bird should
not be penalized because of lack of a show cage. However,
a show cage offers better visibility and the bird is likely
to stay in better feather in a show cage.
exterior of most standard
show cages is painted black
with glossy black paint. The interior
is usually painted white or eggshell
blue. It is best not to show an all white bird
in a cage with a white interior. However, some exhibitors
have expressed a preference for a white interior for other
most finches, two perches
should be provided, running from the back of the cage to the
front, placed a few inches apart. The width of the perch should
be appropriate to the species. If the perch is too wide, the
bird will have difficulty staying on the perch, and this will
affect its score. When seated on a perch, the bird's tail
should not reach the sides of the cage.
cage should be cleaned thoroughly before the show. Do not
submerge a standard show cage in water or the wood may rot
and mold may develop. A black Sharpie
marker can touch up nicks and scratches on a standard
black show cage and can hide the places where the powder coating
has worn off the cage bars.
source of food and water must be
provided or your bird will be disqualified. Seed
is usually used to line the bottom
of the cage, eliminating the need for a seed cup.
Use only as much seed as is needed to cover the bottom. Placing
a folded piece of paper towel or a cut piece of wax paper
on the bottom of the show cage before adding the seed will
make cleanup easier after the show. If seed is not used to
line the bottom of the cage, corncob bedding should be used
instead and seed must be offered elsewhere. Never use artificially
dyed seed mixes. Seed dye can bleed onto the bird's feathers
and can stain the interior of the show cage, hurting the bird's
is usually offered with a small L-shaped
tube-style drinker, placed as low and off to the
side as possible, so as not to obscure the judge's view of
the bird. I was concerned at first that with no nearby perch,
the birds may not reach the drinker. Darla assured me they
would be fine, and she was right. They learned quickly where
to find the water and how to reach it.
toys or identifying marks
should be in or on the cage. Nothing indicating who the bird
owner is should appear on the cage. No advertising on the
cage is allowed.
using a standard show cage, after placing the bird inside,
tape the door shut with
black electrical tape or black masking tape to prevent the
door from swinging open accidentally during handling at the
sure your birds bathe
regularly every day for a few weeks before the show to ensure
good feather condition. If your birds do not bathe, mist
them daily with water in a spray bottle.
is often helpful in making the bird feel calm and comfortable
in the show cage. This involves putting the bird in the show
cage for periods of time in the days before a show. Picking
up and moving the cage suddenly from behind will help prepare
them for the unexpected cage movement that occurs at a show.
You may also want to keep the bird in the show cage for couple
days before the show so they are comfortable come show day.
your bird will not stay on the perch (a common problem), cage
training will help. Try covering the bottom half of the cage
front with cardboard until the bird becomes accustomed to
the perches. If the bird cannot see out, it will eventually
take to the perch. Alternatively, you can fill the cage with
as much seed as it will hold. When the bird sinks into the
seed, it learns to prefer the perch. Do not try this on show
day before the show, any broken feathers
should be pulled. If a few pin feathers
are present, a toothbrush or the stiff side of a piece of
Velcro can be used to scratch off the sheath, freeing the
new feather. Long nails
should be trimmed, and many exhibitors do so a few weeks early
for a more rounded appearance come show day. An overgrown
beak will count against the bird, so it is best
to trim or file it down to its natural size, being careful
not to trim too much.
bird should be placed in the show cage the day before the
show (if not earlier), so that it will have time to adjust
to the cage. The night before the show, the cages should be
covered so that the birds spend their time sleeping and are
not overly tired when it is time to enter them in the competition.
Only one bird should occupy a cage unless you are showing
birds as a pair.
before entering the bird in the show, mist
it using a spray bottle filled with water. This will get the
bird preening itself so that it looks its best when judged.
Remove any loose feathers
from the bottom of the cage, as the presence of feathers will
hurt your bird's score.
Cage Tags, and the Show Catalog
the show, you will purchase a cage
tag for each cage (they usually cost about a dollar
or two). You may be able to purchase these in advance from
the sponsoring club. When you purchase your tags, you will
also receive an entry form
and a show catalog containing
the classifications of the birds to be judged.
catalog will be organized into Divisions
(in our case, Finches and Softbills), Sections
(eg, Finches of Africa), and Classes
(eg, Cordon Bleu). The Division is assigned a letter or number
NFSS standard breaks down Finches and Softbills into 11 sections
as of 2005: Softbills, Zebra Finches, Gouldian Finches (new
in 2005), Finches of Australia, Finches of Africa, Society
Finches, Indo-Pacific Finches, Finches of Europe, Finches
of the Americas, Doves and Quail, and Pairs. Zebras, Societies,
and Gouldians are given their own sections because of the
large numbers of mutations being bred. Each section is assigned
a number. This number may be that assigned in the NFSS standards
or it may be a different value assigned by the sponsoring
section is divided into classes. For example, Blue-Capped
Waxbill and St Helena's Waxbill are classes under African
finches; Normal Gray and Fawn are classes under the Zebra
finch section. Each class is split into young
(or unflighted) and old
(flighted). The unflighted
class is only for birds with current-year closed bands. All
other birds belong in the old class, regardless of age. If
your bird does not fit into any of the classes listed, it
may be entered under the AOV
(any other variety) class for the appropriate section. Each
class is assigned a unique 3-digit number. The first digit
is the same as the NFSS section number. If you need help determining
how to classify your bird, the division steward will be on
hand to assist you. If you misclassify your bird, the judge
will correct the classification when he/she does the walk-through.
birds are exhibited singly. However, you may also exhibit
your birds as a pair in the Pairs
section. The pair's score will reflect the score of the lesser
bird; thus, to do well, both birds must be in excellent condition.
Birds exhibited as a pair should be a true pair and should
compliment each other. If they are too dissimiliar, they will
be marked down for it. This creates an interpretation problem
when "true" pairs of sexually dimorphic species
are exhibited as a pair - should they be marked down because
of their difference? It is logical to say that they should
not, but it has been known to happen. Also, birds shown as
a pair are not necessarily birds that should be bred as a
pair. If you show an albino society in the Pairs section,
the other bird must be an albino as well. However, in practice,
it is recommended that you not breed one albino society to
class, section, and division numbers from the catalog must
be recorded on the tag.
Also record a description of the bird (eg, normal gray zebra
cock) and the bird's band number if banded. If the bird has
split plastic bands, enter the color of the bands for identification
purposes. Write your name and address in the designated location
on the cage tag (bring address labels if you are entering
many birds). When your bird is turned over to the steward,
he or she will fold over your personal information and staple
the tag so that the judging is anonymous.
you are a novice exhibitor
(have not placed on the top 10 bench for the Division three
times [correction: I formerly reported that the 3 times must
be at three different shows with three different judges, but
this was incorrect - all three times could be at the same
show with the same judge]), write the letter "N"
on the top left corner of the tag. If the bird is bred
and banded by you with a closed dated traceable
band, write "BB"
on the top left corner. Affix the tag to the cage with string.
String is not always provided, so remember to bring string
and a scissors with you. Fasten the tag in the lower left-hand
corner of the cage.
NOTE: Your Exhibitor Number will be provided when you
purchase your cage tags.
the tags are filled out, list all the cage tag numbers on
your entry form and duplicate the
cage tag information for each entry on the form.
on the top of your entry form if you are a novice. Write your
NFSS number on the top
of the form if you are a member.
you cannot get tags in advance, it is helpful to record the
appropriate tag information on a sheet of paper as you are
collecting your birds, or alternatively, mark it on a piece
of masking tape on the show cage (which you must remember
to remove before entering your birds).
to Do After the Paperwork
your cage tags are filled out and attached, the show steward
verifies the tags match the entries on your form, then folds
and staples the tag so that your name and address are hidden.
He or she will then take your birds from you. You will not
have access to your birds again until the judging is over.
the steward takes your birds, it is a considerate thing to
do to ask if you can help. The shows are staffed by volunteers,
and while clubs try to have volunteers lined up ahead of time,
there are frequently some unfilled positions come show date.
The division secretary is responsible for recording the entries
and the results of the judging. As the judging proceeds, the
secretary checks the cage numbers being judged against the
entries in the book to ensure all birds of the class are present
and accounted for. When judging is over, the secretary fills
out the show report.
The steward is responsible for accepting the birds entered
into the show. The steward will check to make sure the paperwork
is filled out correctly and will answer related questions.
The steward will then position the entries on the benches
according to their Division, Section, and Class numbers. Just
before judging, the steward will walk through all the entries
with the judge, while the judge takes a cursory look at all
the birds so he/she knows what to expect. When it is time
for judging, the steward will bring out the birds to be judged
and will rearrange them as directed by the judge. The steward
then proceeds to move the judged birds off the judging table
and bring the next set of birds out, until judging is complete.
tier is an ideal volunteer position for novices. The ribbon
tier works in close proximity to the judge and gets a close-up
view of all the birds. The ribbon tier follows the judge as
he/she makes the final place determination for class, section,
and division. When the judge writes the place on the cage
tag, the ribbon tier attaches the ribbon. The ribbon can be
attached by wrapping the string around the cage tag. Rosettes
for the top bench can be affixed by attaching the clips to
the cage bars. The ribbon tier must also affix ribbons for
best novice, best unflighted, and best bred and banded, if
the Show Works
steward will place all entries on tables
behind the judging benches, ordered by class and section.
The judging bench is set up in front of the tables, with lights
overhead for good viewing. At a 90 degree angle to the judging
bench is a table where the secretary sits and records the
entries and the results. In front of the judging bench is
the gallery - seats where the exhibitors and general public
can watch the judging.
the judging begins, the judge and steward do a walkthrough
of all the entries to become familiar with them and ensure
all birds are classified appropriately. The judge may reclassify
birds entered in the wrong class at this time. When the judge
is satisfied, judging can begin.
any given section, the birds of each
class are judged together first. 1st, 2nd, and
3rd in class are awarded at this time. The judge will write
the bird's place on the tag when he/she has made an official
decision. The ribbon tier attaches the appropriate ribbons/stickers.
Best Novice in Class and Best Unflighted in Class may also
be awarded. While judging is in progress, the judge will discuss
the merits and flaws of the birds being judged. People in
the gallery may ask questions, but one cannot say anything
that identifies a specific bird as being his/her own. This
would disqualify the bird.
all birds in the section have been judged against birds in
their like class, the top birds are
judged against each other for the Best in Section
awards. 1st, 2nd, and
3rd in section are awarded at this time, as well as Best Novice
in Section and Best Unflighted in Section, if available. It
is very possible for a low-placed bird in one class to place
higher than a 1st place bird in another class. However, if
birds A and B are in the same class, and bird A placed higher
than bird B in its class, bird B cannot place higher than
bird A when the section is judged. The same holds true when
the division is judged. After one section is judged, the classes
in the next section are judged.
all classes and sections have been judged, the
top birds in section compete for Best in Division.
Once again, a lower placed bird in one section can do better
than a higher placed bird in another section.
for the division winners are given to the top ten birds. This
is called the Top Bench.
Also, a Best Novice in Division, a Best Unflighted in Division,
and a Best Bred and Banded in Division may be awarded. The
1st in Division bird is usually referred to as Best
In Show. After the awards are distributed, the
cage tags are opened and the names of the winners are announced.
shows have a Best Overall in Show
award. In this case, the Best in Division (Best in Show) birds
from all divisions (finches/softbills, hookbills, lovebirds,
cockatiels, budgies, canaries, etc) compete against each other
for Best Overall in Show. The judges of the different divisions
get together and discuss the merits of the birds. They then
vote based on a points system to determine a Best Overall
shows have a banquet afterward. Sometimes there is a speaker
at the banquet. The banquet costs extra and is optional. Some
shows also have a raffle table. Proceeds from the raffle table
help pay for the costs of the show.
the Birds Are Judged
birds are judged based on conformation, condition, color and
markings, and deportment or demeanor. The NFSS standards break
down how many points are awarded for each. It also defines
how the bird should look for a number of common species. However,
judges rarely record a point score for the birds being judged.
describes the body shape and posture of the bird. Is the bird
proportionate? Does its back form a straight line at the proper
angle, or is it humped? Is the bird cobby or snaky? Is the
head proportionate? Is it rounded or flat? Do the wings stay
close to the body or droop down? Is it too small or too large
for its species. Conformation is broken down into Head and
Body, Wings and Tail, and Legs and Feet. For the most part,
conformation is a genetic trait of the bird. Only good breeding
can lead to good conformation, although age and injury can
be a factor.
on the other hand, is in the control of the keeper. Are the
feathers torn, shredded, damaged, or missing? Is the bird
overweight? Is the bird in optimal health (as a result of
good diet, proper environment, freedom to exercise)? Are the
nails trim and clean?
of the bird should be appropriate for the species or mutation.
The color is judged based on depth of color, evenness of color,
and lack of irregular blotches or markings. How the markings
are judged varies between species and mutations. Pied birds
should be evenly pied, preferably 50/50, with white breaking
up all major areas of the body, but not obscuring features
that identify sex.
pertains to how the bird acts and carries itself in the show
cage. A bird that clings to the cage bars or sits on the floor
will not do very well. Cage training can help a bird feel
comfortable in a show cage and perfom better in the deportment/demeanor
bird with good deportment sits calmly on the perch and is
unfazed if the judge approaches and runs a baton gently across
the cage. A bird with poor deportment will jump on and off
the perch and startle easily when the judge approaches. Birds
such as zebra finches, java rice finches, society finches,
and many grassfinches should exhibit good deportment.
applies to many of the smaller wilder birds such as the waxbills.
Waxbills are expected to be active and move about. They are
not expected to sit still on the perch. Ideal behavior would
be hopping back and forth from perch to perch and exhibiting
proper head, tail, and body movements for the species.
those serious about showing, the NFSS awards points to members
every time they place a bird. Three awards honor point accumulation:
Champion Exhibitor (an
NFSS member who scores 50 points or more during a calendar
year), Champion Bird (an
NFSS-banded bird that accumulates 50 points or more during
its lifetime), and Exhibitor of Excellence
(an NFSS member who accumulates 200 points or more during
his or her lifetime). You do not have to be an NFSS member
to compete in shows, but you do have to be an NFSS member
if you would like to accumulate points (be sure to include
your NFSS member number on your form).
to Bring to the Show
the birds in their show cages, the following supplies may
come in handy:
File Boxes for Packing Show Cages
NFSS Judges Handbook and Official Standards if you
Pens and Pencils
Black Sharpie Marker (for touching up nicks that may
have appeared in transit)
Black Electrical Tape/Masking Tape (for securing cage
String (for securing cage tags)
Scissors (for cutting string)
Stapler with Extra Staples
Return Address Labels
Spray Bottle with Water from Home (for refilling drinkers
and misting birds)
Towels (for covering cages) or cage covers
Blood Stop Powder
Preparing Birds for Show, by Ron Castaner
Birds, by Michael Marcotrigiano
by Myra Markley
Lakes Avicultural Society
Fawn and White Society cock - 3rd in Division, Best Novice
Blue-Capped Cordon Bleu hen - 5th in Division
Fawn and White Society hen - 7th in Division.
Chicago Cage Bird Club
TOP BENCH RESULTS
Strawberry Finch cock - 2nd in Division and Judge's Special
Institute of Red-Orange Canaries
Arlington Heights, Illinois
TOP BENCH RESULTS
Strawberry Finch cock - 9th in Division.
MY TOP BENCH RESULTS
Owl Finch Cock - 8th in Division
Cage Bird Club/Central Wisconsin Cage and Wild Bird Connection
MY TOP BENCH RESULTS
Orange-cheeked Waxbill hen - 2nd in Division
Fawn and White Society cock - 5th in Division, Judge's Special
Owl Finch Cock - 7th in Division
Star Finch Cock - 9th in Division
Chicago Cage Bird Club
Arlington Heights, IL
MY TOP BENCH RESULTS
Owl Finch Cock - 2nd in Division
Orange-cheeked Waxbill - 7th in Division
Institute of Red Orange Canaries
MY TOP BENCH RESULTS
Star Finch Cock - 5th in Division
Cage Bird Club/Central Wisconsin Cage and Wild Bird Connection
MY TOP BENCH RESULTS
Orange-Cheeked Waxbill - 3rd in Division
Masked Grassfinch - 5th in Division