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Exhibition Budgerigars

Excerpts from An Interview with Jim Bertrand

Budgie Image 1Jim's first introduction into the world of Exhibition Budgerigars came by chance when he decided to visit the local library to read up on aviary construction. One of his fellow employees at the time had an aviary with a variety of birds in it, and he thought it would be a great idea for the backyard. He stumbled upon a book called "Best In Show" by Gerald Binks and was immediately hooked. This was the early eighties and it was a great time to enter the hobby because within the same year of his new-found hobby, a local specialty club called The Western Canada Budgerigar Association (WCBA) formed. He sent his subscription to this new magazine that would quickly establish itself as the leader in the Budgerigar global community.

Of course Jim is referring to Budgerigar World. He steadily progressed from Novice to Intermediate to Champion facing some fierce (but friendly) competition. Besides the necessary wins on the show bench for advancement, the main measure for success was that by the end of each breeding season, the overall quality of the stud was at least slightly better than the year before. Currently, Jim is Secretary and Vice President for the WCBA. He is also the Bulletin editor and assists Colin Knecht with the club's website. Upon reaching Champion status he began furthering his qualifications to become a judge. Jim has since judged shows throughout Western Canada plus a few young bird shows in the US. His future goals include helping establish a unity in his hobby across Canada so, as a country, we can be well represented in our rapidly shrinking world. Locally he would like to see WCBA work at ways to attract new members to keep the fancy (and the club) a vital entity. And, personally, he always wants to improve his own birds and would like to show at some of the larger US shows plus some of the shows in Eastern Canada (Ontario).

Jim and his family (wife Susan and 17 year old son Kris) live on a five acre hobby farm one hour east of Vancouver, British Columbia. 

Q. Tell us where you learned the basics of birdkeeping.

Jim: From books at first. I'm a firm believer in investigating something before venturing into it. Then I visited some aviaries and took notes. I joined the WCBA where the experienced breeders shared their knowledge at meetings. I was also part of a group of very enthusiastic novices who wanted to do well in the hobby and we shared mutual "growing pains".

Q. Tell us how you have your aviary laid out and the number and type of breeding cages you use in your breeding room.

Jim: The aviary was initially an open carport under the upper balcony of our home. I had a small separate garden shed-type aviary at our previous home. When we moved, one of my first priorities was to close in the carport for an aviary. The floor area is 12' x 24' which houses 24 breeding cages, a 4' x 8' suspended flight and three portable( on wheels) flights. All cages are made of 1" x 1" welded wire. The breeding cages are on one side of the room and the flights are on the other (although I move around the portables quite often). I don't have outside flights at this point. The lighting is on timers and the aviary is thermostatically controlled for heat (55F in the winter). I have a large extractor fan that comes on twice a day during the warmer months and two small fans that are on all year long. I don't consider this my permanent aviary and intend to construct one as an integral part of a garden design (shhh...don't tell my wife).

Budgie Image 2Q. How many Budgies do you generally keep at any one time and what varieties?

Jim: I will have culled down to approximately 85-90 birds by late fall. These will mostly consist of my breeding stock plus a few extra insurance birds and some late bred youngsters. By the end of breeding season that number is at least doubled (if all goes well). The varieties I keep are mostly Green and Blue series normals and cinnamons. I have a "cobalt line" that has been doing very well at the shows for a few years and my "gray green line "is showing signs of coming back to the quality they had been a few years ago. I have had many of the other varieties in the past but try to only work with a few at a time. Currently I have some suffused yellows, spangles, dominant pieds and the odd lutino and clearbody

Q. Do you inbreed, linebreed or outcross your birds, which do you do and why?

Jim: All of the above. Linebreeding mostly to maintain the quality of related stock. Inbreeding is used when I have an exceptional pair of closely related birds having no obvious common faults. The objective is to "lock in" these good qualities for future generations. I'll bring in an outcross when I feel there is a need improving certain features or if the line can use some vigor or fertility. My idea of an outcross is any bird beyond three generations from a line. Arguably, all Exhibition Budgerigars are related coming originally from a small amount of imports many years ago but we have to draw the outcross line somewhere and mine is at three generations.

Q.Canada is renowned for it's excellent canary seed, what proportion of it do you use in your food mixture? What other seeds do you feed and how do you store it?

Jim: The WCBA has a club deal with a local feed supplier. We have a basic budgie mix made up of 60% canary, 35% millet and 5% groats. I personally add "Finch Premium Mix" and Pretty Bird feed pellets (these will make up 5% of the mix) if for nothing else than to add a bit of variety to the basic mix. I coat the mix with wheat germ oil and a vitamin powder product. I make up about 12 pounds at a time. The seed is stored in galvanized garbage cans.

Budgie Image 3Q. How do you go about training your young birds for the show cage?

Jim:When I see promising show prospects in the nest box , the first thing I do is to get them familiar with being handled. I try to have them sit on my finger being careful not to have them go crashing to the floor (yes I've done that...luckily with no disastrous results). I'll even try to get them perching in a show cage but just for very brief amounts of time. I'll do this all through the weaning process. As they get older they spend increasing amounts of time in a show cage but I hang millet spray inside the cage so that the birds can associate the experience with something positive. This season I'm going to suspend a fluorescent light over the cage training area. You'll often see the birds becoming restless, when being judged at a show, brought from the darker confines of the holding area to the brighter show bench. Barry Skinner, who came out from Ontario last year to judge the National, confirmed my belief that training them to accept changes in light intensity will correct the problem. I also move and carry the cages around at home so they are accustomed to that motion and they also learn to accept the judge's stick. Many judges will tap on the cage with the stick to get their attention so my birds are trained to know what tapping on the cage means.

Q. What features have to be improved in your birds at the moment, what are they and what will you do to improve them?

Jim: Size and depth of mask. I am a deep mask freak. To me the feature of a deep wide mask with strong spots really indicates a lot. It means the bird has good feather length and width and a broad body structure to support a wide spread across the neck/chest area. When you try to increase the length in your line, there is a natural tendency for the birds to lose substance and have shorter feather. It's a constant battle to establish these features in the same bird. I have a few birds with all of these qualities plus the all important directional feather so I try to spread them around as much as possible. I also work with some of the local breeders. They may have something I could use and vice versa so we'll share a nest or borrow a bird. It's a great situation where everyone benefits.

Q. What do you see for the future of the hobby in Canada?

Jim: First we must establish a National entity but I believe it should be some sort of relaxed association that doesn't become over-regulatory. I have briefly discussed this with Barry Skinner from Ontario and I think we'll try to get something going. We've lost a lot of good people over the last few years but we have also gained some enthusiastic new blood so I guess we are maintaining a certain base number. However we don't do enough to promote the hobby (not specific to this area of the world I'm sure) and I worry that the personal lifestyles of the future may have no patience or attention span for hobbies such as ours. On the other hand , there are lots of "baby boomers" my age that will be looking at what to do for their retirement 10-15 years from now so this is probably good time to begin heavily promoting.

Q. If you were given the opportunity to spend 1 hour in three studs of your choice anywhere in the world, and select a pair of birds, where would you go?

Jim: can only answer this on hearsay and pictures so it's quite a difficult question. Jo Mannes of course is the first name that would pop into most of our minds, also Jorge DePina. But to pick someone in Britain, I would really have to visit some aviaries because there are so many good ones and nobody seems to be dominating the show benches at the moment (although I won't discount Frank Silva's recent rise to fame). On top of my list of British aviaries to visit would be Ray Steele and Gerald Binks.

Budgie Image 4Q. Jim, can you pass on some advice to our younger enthusiasts that would assist them in the future of this hobby, that you now wish you knew when you first started?

Jim: Find a mentor willing to openly share their knowledge but also become a student of the hobby. Discover the mistakes others have made so that you are less likely to make the same mistake in a similar situation. Be patient, don't buy birds on impulse and walk away if you feel the bird you are offered is not what you are looking for. Choose the future of your stud wisely and try to get the best quality for the price you can afford. Find a system that works for you in your aviary and don't attempt to fix what isn't broke. Meaning don't make changes for the sake of change and if you feel you have an improvement, do it gradually. And most of all, don't let your ego interfere with enjoying this hobby.

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Susan, Jim & Kristopher Bertrand
Abbotsford, BC Canada

604 856-6438
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