We are both notional bird fanciers, R especially since his earliest years as a little r breeding budgies and canaries, so when our friend Tenoch informed us that she was covering the regional bird show as part of her journalism course we were enthusiastic accomplices. Bird shows are like catnip and indeed crack cocaine to the aspiring fowl enthusiast.
It's an old-school scene undergoing something of a renaissance with the increasing popularity of domestic poultry in general and fancy breeds in particular. We're pleased to witness any trend that might reconnect urban people with their fellow creatures and remind them of our relation to, and reliance upon other species.
Perhaps you don't care for the thought of birds in small cages; neither do we, but the ones you see here are just judging units designed to keep stress to a minimum on these two days a year when the birds are assembled for the purposes of highly particular comparison.
Chickens come in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes with Bantams representing the smaller end of the spectrum and heavy breeds being the largest. Confusingly, some breeds come in two size versions so a trip round the various cage lanes can make you question your relationship with the physical universe as identical birds appear to shrink and expand every time you look away.
How big is a chicken anyway? A small Game-type bantam may be scarcely two hands high on tiptoes and so closely-feathered and elegant that it looks more like a tiny bipedal dinosaur than a bird, while the largest breeds are huge pillowy beasts with spangled bouffant manes and massive day-glow headgear. We'll try to name the breeds depicted here but will undoubtedly get some of this shit wrong, so apologies in advance for our ignorance. ABOVE a fine Chinese Silkie Bantam rooster with his alluringly gelatinous lilac wattles.
ABOVE LEFT another Silkie mister. The smaller breeds seemed to be the freest with their remarks and walking around a hall packed with competitive roosters of every description is not a sound one soon forgets. The heavy birds tend to be baritones, producing rich, almost laconic crows while some of the little guys have shrill, gurgling and peculiarly disorganized outbursts that once again recall their saurian forerunners.
ABOVE RIGHT a splendid Rhode Island Red rooster. They might be the archetypal chicken but there is nothing basic about this breed; the lustre of their mahogany and peacock-green plumage is difficult to capture in this crap light.
LEFT a stoic Barred Plymouth Rock rooster. The difference in temperament between breeds and individual birds was very apparent; we didn't photograph the ones that seemed to object to our proximity.
On to the ducks.
ABOVE We were confronted by a wall of white Penkins who had a lot to say about their confinement, all the other ducks they were going to beat down, the inferior status of chickens and the inadequacy of their human servitors. Walking past these ducks made us feel like hapless junior defence lawyers negotiating the Aryan Nation section of the death row gauntlet. There were extremely serious threat displays and a shitload of rage-quacking.
RIGHT the exquisite American Wood Duck, Anas sponsa. There was a lovely pair on show, the first we had ever seen in the flesh; this is the cock bird. Their colouration is vividly and almost arbitrarily ornamental and yet this is a wild-type animal with very little human intervention in its appearance. It's great to be able to say this species is doing well after a concerted conservation effort across the US mainland that brought it back from serious decline.
BELOW the highly glamorous Cayuga. Their plumage is like opalescent moiré satin.
Muscovy Ducks, Cairina moschata. I could have sworn these strange fowl were cooked up by some mad duck-altering wattle fanatic but they are actually a species native to South America. They are enormous and pretty phlegmatic in comparison with the angry, entitled Pekins.
ABOVE RIGHT an impressive Dorking rooster. This is an ancient, possibly Roman breed ideally possessing five toes. His comb speaks his truth. BELOW not sure about this guy... some sort of bantam; a Silkie variant?
BELOW THEM a ginger Buff Orpington rooster. We were hugely impressed by this breed; so buxom and bouffant.
The Cage Bird category, home of the budgie, canary and finches etc. There were some seriously dope high-end budgies in the house but this pied guy to the right was the shit if you're asking me. BELOW AND BOTTOM RIGHT the undeniably spectacular Ringneck Parrot, who, like many people, are ideal companions until they open their mouths. Despite their metal-scraping shriek, they're a charming and extremely intelligent bird and the sweet moves in this male Ringneck's courting display should be an inspiration to us all.
It was nice to see so many contented and highly appreciated animals. The decline in fowl-keeping was generally attributed to people abandoning rural lifestyles and to industrial egg and meat production, but I'd like to add that the hostile demeanour of certain factions of the bird-fancying establishment has been a problem too. We've gotten attitude from overly-proprietary stalwarts at shows in the past despite our enthusiasm; possibly not an ideal approach to recruiting interested newcomers. So while we were too busy taking fifty thousand chicken pictures to talk to many people, it was encouraging to hear from Tenoch that the NZ Bird Association members were very friendly and helpful and represent a great resource for anyone thinking about keeping birds. You only need to watch a few Youtube posts by chicken enthusiasts to understand how the habit takes hold.
New Zealand NZPPCB page HERE South Island NZPPCB page HERE Dunedin Association page HERE
The show definitely renewed our chicken intentions.