Competitive Canaries

What’s going on in your bird room?

David Benites: “I favor, coming from Lima, Peru, the Color Canary.”
  • David Benites: “I favor, coming from Lima, Peru, the Color Canary.”

One sentence buried inside the morning paper: San Diego County Canary Club meets the third Saturday of every month. Contact: David Benites, 619-426-8276.

So, I contacted.

David Benites, 55, was born in Lima, Peru. His father earned a master’s in architecture at Columbia University, returned to Peru with his degree and a wife. Children are born. Time passes. David moves to the States in 1975, attends Indiana Institute of Technology and IU Purdue. Makes his way to San Diego in 1981. He’s married, raising two kids, and has a day job as a career counselor for a nonprofit in San Diego.

Benites is a canary judge for the National Colorbred Association. According to his bio, he has raised Colorbred, Gloster, Yorkshire, Border, Scot Fancy, Fife Fancy, Stafford, Northern Dutch, Parisian Frills, Colorbred (lipochrome, melanin, and new color), Gloster, Lizard, Stafford, Spanish Timbrado, Roller, American Singer, Russian, Fife Fancy, and Columbus Fancy canaries. Reading this, I feel like the first man on the moon.

Moon-man called Benites and asked, “How long has the canary club been in business?”

“Thirty-plus years. I’ve been the president, off and on, for that many years. We’re going to have a show this October. It’s like a dog show, a beauty pageant. There are very competitive shows throughout the United States. Ours is more educational. How to prepare the birds. What does the judge look for? Whether the bird is a bird for a pet shop or a bird that has a pedigree.... It’s a very friendly club. At any given meeting we average 15 to 20 people.

“A few members are very competitive, but for the most part we have pet owners. Even a pet owner or a small breeder likes to know that his bird is up to standard and is competitive. We discuss, on a monthly basis, the care that the bird requires according to the season. For example, right now we’re ending the breeding season; [canaries] are coming into molting. How to manage the stress — how to minimize the stress for the canary? What diet should they have? What foods are more favorable than others? Which foods, if they are not given in moderation, will have adverse effects? We have speakers, but mainly what we address is, ‘Tell me what’s going on in your bird room. Tell me what your problems are. How can we help?’”

Besides being a National Colorbred Association judge, Benites reports he’s an international judge as well. “I just finished judging, last year, the national, which was in Kansas City.”

“How many canaries were there?”

“About 2000. And that’s small compared to European standards, which have 15,000, 30,000, 35,000. We’re talking canaries alone — not parrots or the finches or the budgies or the cockatoos or birds that are considered hookbills.”

Like trying to imagine a universe encompassing 400 billion galaxies, I cannot imagine a canary show with 30,000 canaries. The mind freezes up.

“Canaries are,” Benites says, “a whole different subculture. You have people who are doctors, people who own a 7-Eleven, Middle Eastern people who want a particular type of bird because their parents or grandparents raised one, usually the frill canaries, Parisian Frills.

“Certain women favor certain breeds, men from certain ethnic backgrounds want others. If you have Spanish heritage, you want the songbird. People from England favor the Type Canary [bred for shape and conformation]. I favor, coming from Lima, Peru, the Color Canary.

“Usually, it’s people over 50 who are into canaries. The young public, it’s hard to inculcate this passion due to technology. The iPads and the internet. So, there is a nationwide decline in membership.

“My wife and I raise 200, 300 canaries a year. I’m a breeder, exhibitor, judge, enthusiast, all of the above. I used to manage a show in Del Mar. I’d get the presidents of all the associations, from the Cockatoo Society, the Parrot Society, the Lovebird Society, the canaries, the finches, the budgies, even pigeon people. We’d rent a building in Del Mar, put on a show and split the proceeds. Most bird clubs are just a group of friends.”

“When you’re at the club, what do the experienced canary people talk about?”

“If the bird is molting, maybe we’d talk about foods that would develop shiny feathering. How often do you bathe the bird? If you don’t want to bathe the bird because they’re in breeding season, what is the advantage, what is the disadvantage? ‘Try this.’ ‘Try that.’ Our club truly wants to adopt an educational mode. Everybody can bring their canaries. Some people like to sell a few canaries and that’s fine with us, but it’s mainly, ‘How are you doing? How are your kids doing? How are your grandkids doing?’”

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Wow, Patrick, you do seem a little desperate for real sports, but we learned a lot here.

The only canaries I've known belonged to my late maiden Irish aunt and two others who belonged to other relatives who named them "Pedro Infante" after a famous Mexican singer and "Kevin" because he was green. Kevin was dispatched by hawk who watchfully waited and then invaded the birdcage on an outdoor porch.

Probably we can contact Mr. Benites for replacements.

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