You've been breeding finches for awhile now, and have thought about attending your local clubs bird show but aren't sure what to expect. Granted all clubs do handle shows a little different. Everyone has their own way of doing things but there are also some standards at the shows that are regulated by national organizations like the National Finch & Softbill Society (NFSS). I'm only going to cover the NFSS and finches in this article. For more information on Softbills, and all the various Hookbills you will have to talk to someone who knows more than I do do..

Do you have a show cage? Yes there is a standard show cage used for most all the bird species including our darling finches. A show cage is by no means required to enter your bird in a show but it does help. In keeping with a standard look and size the cages are easy to move around and re-arrange as necessary. You can build you own show cage if you can't find any locally to buy. The plans are available through the NFSS at: http://www.nfss.org/Depts/FincShop/finchshop/FS-05.html

Some terms you will need to know.
Class - Smallest grouping and broken into Young and Old. Example: Fawn Zebra finches
Section - Encompasses the many classes of a species. Example: Zebra Finches
Division - Largest group, all finches and Softbills in show. Example: Finches & Softbills

First all the NFSS has the Finches & Softbills division broken up into ten sections. In order they are:

1) Softbills
2) Zebra Finches
3) Australian Finches
4) Indo-Pacific Finches
5) Society Finches
6) European Finches
7) Finches of Africa
8) Finches of the Americas
9) Doves, Quails and Rails
10) Pairs
http://www.nfss.org/Depts/Jdgs-Exb/Class/98class.html

Young and Old classes don't literally mean the finch is young or old. A young finch can only be a finch that is close banded with an NFSS band of the same year in which you are showing the bird. A finch born in 2002 and banded with a 2002 NFSS closed band can be shown in the young class throughout the 2002 showing season. A finch born in 2002 but not banded with these special bands must be placed in the old class. More information on banding and where to buy these bands can be found on the NFSS site at: http://www.nfss.org/Bands/NFSSbands.html

Before you are allowed to show your bird you will need to know your finch's Division number, Section Number, and Class number. When you enter your finch in the show, you will be given a guide book provided by the club to list out all the numbers you need. You will also be given a show entry form and cage tag for each bird entered. The tag and entry form is where you'll write your birds numbers before attached the tag to your show cage. Most shows are fairly consistent on the placement of the tag; it's tied to the cage bar second from the left side. Do read your clubs show book before attaching your tag just in case they want the tag placement someplace else.

All finches in the show much have food and water available to them at all times. Their cage must be clean and secure.

At this point you will hand your finch and entry form over to the show secretary to be double checked and then checked into the show. From this point on you will have no contact with your finch until the show is over unless the judge sees a need to dismiss the finch from the show.

During the show judges prefer silence until they have finished with each part of the judging. After the judge has made his/her decisions on the placement of the finches many will go on to explain why some birds scored higher than others did. Also many judges will entertain questions from the viewers, but make sure you do not tell the judge which finch is yours. That information is only for the secretary.

Judges look for Conformation, Condition, Color & Markings, Deportment & Presentation when deciding how to place birds in the show.

Conformation is broken up into the 3 main body parts. Head & Body, Wings & Tail, Legs & Feet. All species have different standards because finches do come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. All you really need to look for is that the body parts are correctly proportioned for that species. Eyes should always be clear and even. Claws need to be trim and the legs should be strong and healthy. No physical abnormalities of any kind.

Condition deals with the health of the bird. Full feathering and all feathers in their place. No pin feathers. All feathers and body parts must be clean and healthy. If the bird is sick, or looking stressed it will lose points in this category. Often a judge will remove such birds from the show entirely. If you bird needs to be removed from the show the Stewards will care for the bird, and the secretary will contact you when he/she has a spare moment. If a hen lays an egg and the egg stays intact, she may actually gain points for showing that she is in fact a healthy and fit female.

Color & Markings vary from species to species and mutation to mutation. It's up to you to learn what the standards are for your specific finch. Colors should always be bright, clean, and unbroken. A common flaw we see is feathers out of place which breaks up the natural flow the markings. For mutations such as pieds, which have broken colors, the goal then switches to a nice balance of the pied features. A 50/50 split for normal colors and pied markings evenly displayed throughout the entire body.

Deportment & Presentation refers to for the finch looks and behaves over all while being judged. The finch’s stance is quite important. The finch needs to stand and display itself as if to say 'Yes I am the prettiest bird here, look at me'. A bird that is half asleep and hunched over doesn’t convey that message very well. The finch also needs to also be comfortable in the cage as well as being moved around. This isn't something finches are naturally fond of and it does take time to show train some finches. Granted many species like Waxbills are naturally flighty and tend to flutter around more than a Java will, and the judges know this.

To read more about the NFSS General Show Standards please goto: http://www.nfss.org/Depts/Jdgs-Exb/GenStd92.html

If you'd like to know the standards for you finch species, I recommend that you go to the NFSS and buy the NFSS Judges Handbook and Official Standards. It's available to everyone NFSS website at: http://www.nfss.org/Depts/FincShop/finchshop/FS-26.html

An example of a typical show:

All finches in one class (Normal Grey Zebras) will be judged against all other Normal Grey Zebras. The winners are chosen and moved to the side while the rest are moved back to waiting area. Then all Pieds, then all Fawns, and so on until all the classes have been judged. The winners in each class are then brought back to the judge and judged against one another.

Now the Section will be judged. All Zebras will be looked at and the best of the best will be chosen and again moved off to the side while the rest are moved back to the holding area. The next section and classes are judged and so on until we are down to a few birds in each Section to be judged against one other.

Now the Division is being judged and out of the top birds only a few will win the big ribbons or awards. There are also often judges choice awards given out at this time and awards for the best entries by a Novice in show.

The judge will open the tags on the cages and congratulate the winners. Photos are often taken and the secretary will need your name and any NFSS identification you have for your records.

Bird shows are serious events. They are also a lot of fun and a great learning experience for everyone involved. I learn more each time I attend one. Plus I also enjoy seeing the huge variety of Finches, Softbills and other birds out there.