Roller Canaries are the operatic stars of Canarydom and, after 300 years of human endeavour, their unique song is now, to a great extent, inherent in them. The undeviating work, mainly by German fanciers who realised the song potential of this small grey green singer, emphasised the teaching of a artificial song to the birds, with great success. Many German breeders became famous in their endeavours to establish song strains and their names became household words among the Roller fraternity. The clue to competing with Roller Canaries is the name of the competition itself - Roller contest. Rollers are not shown, they are contested. If you attend a contest as a casual observer, there is little to see except rows of black contest cages with their shuttered fronts closed. To discover the secret of competition Rollers you must seek permission to sit with a judge. Juded purely for their song, Roller Canaries give no prizes for looks or deportment, They are singers, not dancers. Despite this they are remarkably consistent, with good feather quality and jaunty carriage. As only the song is considered by the judge, the contest has special requirements not found in other branches of the Fancy. Each judge needs a quiet room, separate from all others, which also keeps the Roller away from the usual show hall venue.
Most roller contests are held in schools where each judge can have a classroom to himself. But why the need for quiet? Roller canaries are bred to sinf a soft mellow song which can hardly be heard 10ft away, especially in deep notes. Unlike the type canaries, where a judge deals with a number of classes flighted, unflighted, cocks, hens and so on, the Roller judge can only deal with one class. There are no classes for hens, only unflighted cocks divided into amateur and champion, plus a single class for birds of any age. Depending on the number entered, there are normally seven classes in the contest, 3 amateur, 3 champion and the single any age class. Every bird is required to be close-rung, with the young bird classes restricted to breeders only. To succeed in Rollers, you must breed your own winners, and not buy them.
In order to evaluate the song at singing competitions, a system was devised where each song passage was given a certain number of points. As new passages came along, the old ones were discarded and the judging standards were adjusted accordingly. In the early days there were four song strain charts to which fanciers could breed. These charts were Hohl-Knorre, Hohl-Schockel, Glucke-Water and Koller-Water. The judges were instructed to identify the breed to which they were listening. Glucke was a major tour, but only in consort with Water, so Glucke-Water breeders were not at a disadvantage competing with Hohl-Knorre at Hohl-Schockel breeders. These early strain charts were rather complex and not easily understood outside Germany. In 1992 at Rassel, Germany, a much simpler method devised by Dr. Woolf was introduced. The song scale was based on divisibility by three, song passages being valued fair, good, or very good, with a maximum of 3 points for minor Tours, 6 for medium and 9 for majors. At small shows only one judge would often officiate so his score would be multiplied by 3 to bring it in line with the maximum 90 resulting from 3 judges officiating at larger shows. Later, a confederation ornithologique mondiale judges conference upgraded all Tour values by 3, therefore cancelling the multiplication of the single judges score. This song scale operates in continental countries and while still called 3-6-9 by many, the points involved are 9-18-27. Would-be fanciers are likely to miss out on the Roller Canary. Hardly any cage bird society shows feature the Roller Canary. Type Canaries are bred for looks and posture while Roller Canaries are bred purely for song, and their singing contests are held entirely separately. The only exception is the National Roller Canary Society's song contest held just prior to the National in Birmingham and the winners are generally on show there. As well the BRCC's annual open show is invariably held in conjunction with one of the southern Type bird societies. These absences obviously make it difficult for the Roller Fancy to recruit newcomers, but it continues to do so because its completely unique song lures first-time listeners. Join a Roller club near you if possible, but if not, join the BRCC (1901), the oldest Roller club with widespread membership and the ability to put you in touch with near-by fanciers. Patience and dedication are essential in this hobby, some will be satisfied to just train and breed the songsters, but those who intend to compete are embarking on a very difficult, but satisfying branch of Canary culture. At most CBS shows, classes usually consist of seven or eight entries. Twelve or 14 would be fairly large, but with Rollers, classes invariably comprise 50-60 entries and to win a first prize at an open show is no easy matter. To obtain lasting results it is essential to from a family of birds all singing the strain or family song. To achieve this it is necessary to breed to a plan, weeding out anything undesirable. Good health, and fitness is paramount along with good song because you are stamping characteristics into your strain.
These birds are the operatic stars of the Canary Fancy, and the beginner with these is starting a difficult, but most rewarding task. Most Canary enthusiasts are attempting to achieve something visual - the shape, size and markings of the birds are there for them to evaluate - but the Roller is bred for the cocks singing capabilities. The hens do not sing, which makes evaluation of progeny of pairings problematic. Another consideration is that while exponents of other branches of Canary breeds some prolific in writing about their birds, for some incomprehensible reason, experienced Roller fanciers are not. In the Midlands, there is a coterie of clubs doing excellent work in recruiting and instructing newcomers in all phases of the art of raising first class contest singers, but the rest of the country is virtually an untapped wilderness where the odd solitary Roller adherent is to be found anxious to engage fully in the Fancy, but too remote from any Roller club. Breeding Canaries is breeding Canaries; whatever the variety, the method of breeding does not vary much, except that all Rollers must be club rung to be contested. It is only after the youngsters are weaned that the treatment of young Rollers differs from that of other Canaries. For lasting success with Rollers, it is necessary to found a strain (that is, a song family of birds) and this is achieved by breeding within the blood-line. To do this, it is desirable to start preferably with two cocks and five hens, although if this should prove to be too expensive, a trio - i.e., a cock and two hens - will suffice.
On the Continent, where most fanciers adhere to planned breeding programmes, there are many strains. Inbreeding is breeding within the family, and the key to it is selection and elimination. Inbreeding brings all the qualities to the surface sooner or later, the best being retained and the poor qualities eliminated, thus improving the blood-line. Although relationships will be close in the beginning, later keep to more open matings, half brothers and half-sisters, uncles and nieces, grandfather to granddaughter, etc. The youngsters are weaned when they have been on the perches for about three days, and if the hen is down on her second nest, the cock can also be removed with the youngsters to a breeding cage, until they are able to feed themselves. Their diet after being weaned is eggfood, crushed hemp, crushed rape and milk-sop, made by squeezing dry, soaked bread, adding milk then squeezing dry again. Give these in separate vessels, morning and evening, and offer well washed lettuce with each feed. In the seed hoppers is a mixture of three parts rape to one part canary seed. Clean water should always be available. Once the youngsters are feeding, the cock can be removed and the bird you have for tutoring kept in a cage near them, but out of sight. Once the young cocks start singing they should be separated from the hens and kept in a flight, preferably in another room in subdued light. The tutor can be in a covered cage in the flight, or just outside. One would wish to have a perfect bird as a tutor, but this is almost impossible. A very good bird can possibly sing four tours excellently, with the rest good. It should have excellent or very good Hollow Roll and Bass and good Glucke. It should also possess nice, hollow tone. It's usual for the young cocks to practise in the morning and midafternoon. They take it very seriously and do not like to be disturbed, so a good perching arrangement is necessary. Perches are arranged so that a bird on a lower perch cannot touch the one above, while sideways they are not on the same level, also, a board between stops interference on the same perch. When the young from the later nests are ready, they will also come into the young cocks flight under the tutor bird until late September, when the time will have arrived for each youngster to be caged separately in the training cage when training for contesting can begin.
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