Once satisfied with the condition of the cage, I then line them with paper & seed. I like to use waxed paper because it is almost the perfect length and can be cut easily with my paper cutter. It lines the cage bottom nicely and keep wet droppings from staining the cage. The seed will be thick enough to cover the bottom and hide the paper. The seed acts as BOTH a means of unlimited food for the birds, but also to keep them on the perch. Show birds don't usually like to sit in the seed unless they are super hungry. They'll poop in it, but there will be enough clean seed in the bottom for them to get a clean feed when hungry.
As I pull them for inspection, I also line them up by size and shape, placing "same type" cages near each other. This allows me to physically "see" how many of each type and size I have, and visualize which birds should go into each cage. Because I have a wide variety of cages, I need to make sure I match the species to the cage. Some smaller birds, like most African species, can squeeze through wider cage bars or drinker spaces on the cage fronts. For these birds, I want to use cages with narrower cage bars and NO openings for food or water cups. If I must use one of the cages with openings in the bars for these smaller birds, I need to cover the openings so the birds cannot escape. How I cover the opening will all depend on the size of the opening. Some are small enough to merely use clear Scotch tape, while others are larger and need screening.
Because I've removed the cage fronts at the end of last season, I can easily make any adjustments to the fronts while they are off the cage. But I also want to match the SIZE of the bird to the SIZE of the cage. Smaller birds go into smaller cages, larger birds go into larger cages. African finches and some smaller species can easily escape through cage bars that are too wide, so I reserve cages with closer wires for any African species I intend to show. I also want to move perches if necessary. For instance, at the suggestion of one of the judges, my Shafttails will have only a single perch placed in the CENTER of their show cages. This will keep them from butting up to the ends of the cage and damaging their wonderfully long tails. They'll still have the rest of the cage to move around in, but once on the perch, their tails will be shown off without being crammed against the walls of the cage. I also want to be sure that all perches are even with the crossbar on the cage front and the center of each perch is level with the center of the crossbar. Note in the photo above, the cage on the left needs the perches to be lowered. The perch on the right has the perches too close together, though they are level with the crossbar.
Once I am satisfied that the cages are complete, I move on to choosing my final selection of birds for show ~
While I spend the entire year gathering information and closely watching each bird in my aviary for signs of show quality, I have also formed an idea of which birds I'd like to show - assuming they will still be in good feather by the time the show rolls around. I've also spent the last several weeks training young or skittish birds in their show cages, and have handled them ALL daily. I never know from one day to the next who may be in better condition for show, so simply prepare them ALL.
Most years, my birds are just beginning to come into condition or have just started breeding (early), so I must be very careful who I decide to take to show. I don't want to throw them out of condition by taking them to show, and if I have breeding birds on chicks or eggs, I must make a decision as to which of the two birds in each breeding cage to pull. For those birds not breeding yet, I don't worry as much because they are well accustomed to any stresses I may put them through. But for those on chicks or eggs, I watch to see which parent does the bulk of the feeding or brooding, and which is in best condition. I am very lucky that my breeders rarely damage their feathers while nesting, and in fact, preserve their feathers more completely while in the nest!
Pulling birds off nests to show is not something I like to do unless I have nothing better to show. For instance, in the 2014-2015 breeding season, every bird in every species I owned was breeding - sitting on eggs or chicks - so timing was crucial, and my decision about which bird to pull made the difference between fed chicks or hungry chicks. The age of the chicks will also be a deciding factor. If the chicks are very new, I will not pull either parent. But if they are older and feathered, I have no qualms about pulling one of the parents. This is where my very detailed breeding records come in handy! I've kept track of which parent feeds most, broods most, spends the most time in the box with the chicks, or spends the bulk of their time outside of the nest. I will leave the bird that spends the most time with the chicks IN the cage, and only take the bird that spends less time out of the nest to show.
Once I've gotten a fairly decent idea of which birds I will show and have written down the birds and their band numbers, I sort them by species (for Section) and then by age, color, or mutation (for Class). As the show draws closer, I keep a close eye on the birds I've chosen, and add or remove birds from my selection as I see issues that would result in the bird being placed at the back of the pack.
Now that it is getting closer to show time, it is once again time to get those cages out for inspection ~
Once the cage fronts are secured, I inspect the actual box portion of the cage for damage or needed updates (paint, disinfection, new hinges or door latches, etc.). It is very important that the hinges and latches work properly. A loose door - whether from hinge or latch - may allow the bird to escape the cage. They MUST be secure!
Hint:Use a small piece of black electrical tape to secure any doors you feel may not stay closed even after replacing hinges or latches. In most cases, the judges will not consider this "marking the cage", but if they do and remove the tape, you want to be certain the bird will not escape.
Recording show bird information and show results for future reference ~
I keep a detailed spreadsheet into which I enter data for each bird - information includes cage number (once I have the tags), class entered, if the bird won its class (or which place in class it took), section (or which place in section it took), or division (or which place in division it took) and any notes the judge may have written on the tag. This will help me in deciding which birds to pair for future generations of breeders, hopefully resulting in more show quality birds!
Once I've entered them into my spreadsheet, I can easily copy them to my show form. I like to put them in order of class to make it easier for the secretaries to enter them into the secretary books (it is actually recommended).
Once I have my show tags, the information is then transferred to the tags. All I need to do is add an "address label" sticker with my information, and we're off to the races! But that is still 3 weeks away! So for now, I'll get those cages ready and keep an eye on the birds I've chosen to show to make sure they stay in the best show condition possible.
I typically totally repaint my cages every third year, but sometimes that isn't even necessary. Paint touch-up won't really need to be done every year if you've been careful with your cages. But I like to look closely at every cage. These cages will be the "picture frame" I use to show off my birds, so it is important they look their best! I touch up the inside of cage BOTTOMS with paint to cover any stains left from seed or droppings. Because currently all of my show cages are painted FLAT WHITE on the inside and HIGH GLOSS BLACK on the outside, I almost always have left over paint from previous years and can easily use that for touch ups. However, for small stains higher up on the walls of the cage, I may use White Out or a "flat" paint pen, depending on severity and size of the stain. The outside of the cage is easily touched up with a black Sharpie marker, as long as the paint isn't peeling or chipped in a large section. For those cages that need it, a full coat of gloss black is added to the outside, and flat white to the inside. At 3 weeks before the show, it is early enough that any fumes from the paint will have dissipated before placing the birds in the cages.
Once I have the cages touched up, I SAND THE PERCHES so the birds can get a good grip when sitting on them. If the perches are too slippery, the bird will not sit up on the perch properly or sit still long enough for the judge to see them well. Once I've got all the parts complete and the cages are dry, I replace the perches & cage fronts on the cage boxes and look at the overall effect. I look to see if the cage bars are even and bend back those that have moved out of place. I look to make sure the perches are level with each other AND the cage crossbar. You do not want your perches above OR below the crossbar. Too high and the bird will want to "hunch down" because his/her head will be too close to the top of the cage forcing the bird to sit low on the perch and not up on its legs. Too low, and the judge won't be able to see the bird because it will be partially hidden behind the crossbar.
It is now 3 weeks before the first show of the season for my birds. Time to really get busy!
THE SHOW CAGES
At the end of every show season I always empty the seed out of my show cages, clean and disinfect them, remove all perches & cage fronts and run them through the bird dishwasher, then store the cages and parts in covered storage to keep them free from dust and debris so there is little work to do the following season. It's always SO nice to pull them out the next season - already mostly clean and ready to go - but I always take a close look at paint and hinges, and decide which cage to put each species into. Cage bars on my show cages vary in width. I place my smaller birds (Africans mostly) into the cages with narrower cage bars. I also want to check that there are no spaces for them to escape, and be sure perch spacing is correct for each species.
SHOW PREPARATION SERIES:
3 WEEKS BEFORE THE SHOW
KRISTEN REEVES, MEADOWLARK FARMS AVIAN SUPPLY, INC.