lunes, 16 de enero de 2012

The education of the spanish timbrado canaries by using electronic means: more questions than answers

In 1921, Karl Reich was widely known in the canary breeders circle in Germany, not only for the perfection of his bird recordings but also for the song quality of his canaries flourished with a peculiar repertoire mostly based in the nightingales' song.
Phonograph similar to the one Reich used
Reich’s work was mainly carried out by altering the molting period of his nightingales, he had to it because the nightingales stopped singing when the canary breeding season started (by May). Reich started modifying the nightingales diet at the same time that gradually altered the amount of light, creating the effect that the season was far ahead than it really was. By using this method, he managed that his nightingales molted in April and were in their best singing condition by September and October which was the ideal time  for his young canaries to learn.
Since 1910, Reich had  been recording and producing disks containing his canaries’s songs at the same time he sent them to his circle of friends in different parts of Europe. Reich was an authentic pioneer of birdsongs recording, having them singing with the perfect timing to be recorded, a real feat in those times were audio editing was not possible. Reich’s merit was not only the use of nightingales' recordings to educate his Roller canaries (becoming this the first official record  that this was done) but also establishing the first evidence that it was possible to educate a canary by only using external audio sources.

The spanish timbrado canary is poised at a historic crossroads with two clear trends related to the need of educating the canaries, namely: the isolation of canaries letting them to develop its song (i.e., innatism) and the formal education by using maestros or alternative means.

There is a lot of polemic with regards this subject; those who favor the “no education” method preach that canaries obtained by means of education lose are monotonous and repetitive and that eventually lose their song while the group that support the education claim that there is no such thing as the song innatism and therefore the education is the foundation for a quality and flawless repertoire. Both positions are opposing sides and it is very unlikely that will reach an agreement shortly.
These canaries were educated with electronic means
                The historic reference in other song canary types such as Malinois or Roller is using formal education by using a maestro with the objective of producing a flawless and extensive repertoire. The exclusive use of maestros does not guarantee flawlessness or assimilation of unwanted tours, although the right use of electronic means to educate canaries allows the objective of a bird with a long/extensive repertoire or capable of executing complex flourishes. The way-forward seems to be obvious for those who favor the education but it’s paved with hundreds of answered questions and of consequences, especially for fanciers of earlier generations.

                The internet has not only changed in many ways the way we live, communicate, relate to each other or work but also has changed forever the hobby of breeding canaries. Nowadays it’s possible for the fanciers to communicate instantly with other fanciers independently of their geographic location by using email, dedicated webpages, blogs, Youtube or social networks such as facebook or tweeter. As such, it’s possible to share, assess and compare our work as canary breeders with thousands of fanciers worldwide.

By the same token, it’s very easy to share song or video files and also carry out virtual song contests ( The possibilities are unlimited and I don’t have any doubt that shortly we will be able to “vote” for the bird of our preference as part of the judgement process. Technology constantly opens new paths, and, nowadays, in countries such as Colombia or Venezuela some contests are celebrated by a closed circuit television systems so everyone is able to listen to the birds with disturbing the judgment or creating noises that could affect the execution of the repertoire by the canary.

The easy access to audio editing software such as Audacity ( has also contributed significantly to the use of electronic recordings to educate our Spanish timbrado canaries.

 And this is one of the causes of the existing digital divide among fanciers; those who have knowledge and IT skills will have an advantage over those who haven’t and, in such way,  dependent of the skilled ones or not having other option that the use of maestros in the old-way(it a good alternative but in the context intended as a handicap).

Advantages of using electronic means

       The education of Spanish timbrado canaries by using electronic means, properly carried out, provides a good set of advantages to the fanciers, namely:

Enables the use of the best individuals for Reproduction:  the use of maestros implies  reserving some individuals (probably the best ones),  avoiding them to reproduce or limiting it. This is done in order to preserve the maestro’s repertoire as long as possible.

34-ATV7-2007 a polemic and interesting canary educated by electronic means
Exposes the young canaries to a customized and flawless repertoire:  the fancier can select the tours the canary will listen to, by eliminating those that he doesn’t like, lack of the minimum diction to be used to educate or emphasizing those that he would like the canary to sing. Also, if we have all tours included in the song code we can easily generate canaries with “complete” songs from the repertoire point of view.

Avoid the loss of tours during the molt period: it is no secret that some canaries lose part of their repertoire during the molt period as part of the natural process in which their testoterone level decreases. However, if we expose those individuals to the same repertoire which was used when they were educated, they will keep most of their individual repertoire.

        It is also worth noticing that the use of the electronic means has the following implications:

        It is required a certain level of IT skills to get the best out this method.

It’s of the utmost importance to create acoustic barriers and if possible “physical” to secure the exposition to the “learning material” in an exclusive way.
        It’s very important to constantly enrich our audio library making a habit the recording of those individuals that stand out in our aviary because of their diction, ability to build tours or generating new links between tours from the original song. Not all canaries that are trained (by any method) build an exact copy of the song used to educate them, on the contrary, some will   execute it in a better way by linking tours and notes according to their vocal and learning capabilities.

      The selection process must be systematically and rigorously carried out in accordance to the bird capability to “learn and execute” the original repertoire.

      The audio quality is a cornerstone of this method, an audio with notes or tours that lack of diction, have background noise, hiss, notes not linked properly or distorted will make the process to fail and waste one year effort.


        As mentioned before, it’s necessary to select only those individuals with certain characteristics that are of our interest, namely:

        Learning capacity, in this sense we must take into account:

·         Complexity: the bird capacity to “understand” or imitate a complex note
·         Repertoire extension: number of notes from the original repertoire learned by the individual.
·         Innovation: The originality of the bird to translate or imitate the note or tour.
·        Diction: how the canary “says” the note or tour, sometimes this is also defined as the easiness for the listener to identify and translate as an onomatopoeia as disposed in the song official standard.
·     Composition: quality of the arrangement and linked notes executed by the bird, i.e., the bird contribution to the final product.

It’s also worth noticing that our selection criteria must depend on exclusively of our objective: canaries that are capable of executing an extensive repertoire or those that are capable of executing very complex notes. This is also a polemic subject: judges have a framework the song official standard, in that sense, how would they score an individual with a short repertoire but capable of executing very complex notes or tours. It looks like there is no much space in the song official standard to reward this type of bird and for this reason some of them will fill the canary score with songs that are not executed by the canary.


In the technical aspect there are a lot of variants:

·         Use of electronic means exclusively or a combined method with one or several maestros
·         Speakers location to produce optimal results
·         Playback volume.
·         Audio Repertoire with isolated notes or provide the song
·         Number of repertoires
·         Frequency and daily duration
·         Level of acoustic and /or physical isolation
·         Continuous instruction until the end of the plastic song or focused in certain periods
·         Ideal number of individuals per Cage

Summarizing, all fanciers that use this technique for educating their Spanish timbrado canaries must have their own criteria in relation to the variables above exposed, what is extremely interesting is that there is a lot to learn to master the technique as it opens a lot of possibilities to the fancier and that this technique is here to stay.


A Brand New Bird: How Two Amateur Scientists Created The First Genetically Engineered Animal -  Tim Birkhead
Basic Books; 1st Edition. edition (August 20, 2003)

Notes from the author

This article was firstly published in the “ornitologia Práctica” magazine may 2011 number  47.
It has also been published in other magazines like Club Timbrado de Madrid, ATC magazine and Venezuela National Contest magazine.
The reader can agree or disagree on the concept but respect is required, I have practiced this method with success (not measured only on contests but on the quality of the obtained individuals).
There are lots of myths around the education of canaries, one of those is that you get always canaries with similar songs, I invite you to watch all my videos in youtube from video number 1 to 28, all those canaries were trained with the same audio and if it's obvious that all are different, they might have similar notes or tours but they don't sound alike. Other urban legend is that if you educate them, they will lose their repertoire during the molt period, this definitely not true and if they lose notes due to the molt period it’s  related to the level of testosterone and the neurogenesis process which has nothing to do with the education or lack of it.
Even though this article is referred to the spanish timbrado canary; I am quite sure that applies as well to other song-type canaries.
Thank you for reading and I hope that you enjoyed!.

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