A newcomer to zebra finches is often attracted by the more colourful or unusual varieties, black cheeked, orange breasted and penguin being just a few examples. It can therefore be quite a shock on a visit to a specialist show for the first time to discover that these and many other varieties are severely under represented on the show bench.
The varieties that dominate the show bench are Normal, Fawn and Chestnut Flanked White. This is a consequence of our birds being bred to a show standard with type (shape) being the most sought after feature. In zebra finches the standard calls for a cobby appearance, which is obviously far removed from the slight, racy wild form. Although it is not specified in the standard, size is also a consideration on the show bench, the logic being a good large pair will always beat a good small pair. Type and size seems to occur more readily in these varieties than many others. Therefore the breeder that wants to try and win major honours at shows reinforces the cycle by keeping, breeding and improving these dominant varieties.
So how do we up the numbers of other varieties on the show bench? One approach is to choose a specific variety and become a specialist breeder, Dennis Websters Penguins and Alan Dunfords Pieds are testament to the improvements that can be made if this approach is carried out. The only disadvantage to this is that if you are a breeder like me the main attraction of zebra finches is the number of different varieties available and the enjoyment of trying something different.
The second approach then would be to keep a specialist variety or two alongside your standard varieties. However the average zebra finch fancier has limited time and limited accommodation for his stock. Introducing a line of one or two specialist varieties means utilising quite a few extra cages and creates more pressure on time and maintenance. Many fanciers dont have the time to service extra cages and dont have space in their birdrooms for extra cages to start with. Although the big advantage is that birds from your normal lines can be used to help improve your chosen specialist varieties.
For some years I managed to breed a wide variety of mutations from a standard 8 x 6 birdroom and two small outside flights. I managed this by having two breeding seasons a year. This is possible as zebra finches due to their Australian origins are willing to breed whenever the environmental conditions seem favourable to raising young successfully, rather than seasonal breeding birds such as canaries.
I therefore conditioned and bred my main varieties in the birdroom during the winter months as is normal with most breeders interested in breeding exhibition birds. My specialist varieties were over wintered altogether in one of the outside flights. As the end of the first breeding program approached in late May I split the specialist varieties into single sex groups amongst the two flights and conditioned them for breeding in the normal way. A few weeks later the specialist varieties were brought into the birdroom and paired up. The main varieties were moved to the flights to rest and in the case of youngsters to grow on. Again the birds were all housed together in one of the flights and as time progressed and the birds were assessed the birds to keep were kept in one flight, while those to go were placed in the other. As with the other methods mentioned there are various pros and cons to the above system, although you are attending to breeding birds for a longer period of time you are obviously dealing with smaller numbers so time is saved on a day-to-day basis. The other advantage is that you are improving specialist varieties and although it maybe difficult to show current year birds there are usually plenty of birds to show the following year in the adult classes. Following a house move I now have a much larger bird room with approximately sixty cages and have returned to one breeding season and tending to around forty pairs of zebras. After a season or two of managing many more cages I am now seriously considering replacing one wall of cages with a flight and returning to my previous method.