Women in the Fancy and Partnership
by Janice Al-Nasser

A lecture delivered at the 2005 Budgerigar Association of America’s Grand National in Las Vegas.

I intend addressing both the role of a woman in the fancy and that of partnerships as, in my case, the two are very closely linked.

Partnerships in the fancy come in many different guises, all of which are equally valuable and some of which may prove challenging!

Firstly, there is the ideal partnership such as I had when I came into the hobby. I was the one who did everything in the birdroom, feeding, pairing, general management and all the decision making. I was also the one who attended club meetings. My first (or previous) husband John was the partner who built the birdroom (ably assisted by my late father), made new nestboxes and did any other repairs and maintenance that was needed. Therefore, although we always showed as a partnership, any trials and tribulations were of my doing!

The next partnership is where a couple (or parent & offspring) embark on the hobby together. Therefore, although they may differ on preferred colours (or in a few cases varieties), generally their birdroom management techniques have been learned together, as have their feeding programmes, varieties kept or specialised in etc. Here both partners are usually like-minded in all aspects of the hobby. It may be that the male partner takes more of a lead and the wife takes on the often thankless job of serving teas, running raffles and tombolas, doing door duty at the shows etc. all equally valuable tasks without which many clubs wouldn’t be financially viable.

In the third case, it may be that two fanciers decide to go into partnership as it would be mutually beneficial to both. Although each has their own stud of birds ~ which may or may not be confined to each partner, they have the added ease for holiday care, transporting birds to shows etc.

The fourth type of partnership is that of an international liaison! With the EU and travel across borders being much easier nowadays, there can be benefits on both sides. Perhaps the most obvious is if both partners are judges in their respective countries, then such a partnership widens international judging opportunities. In countries within the European Union, transporting of birds across borders is seldom a problem any more, thus outcrosses can be more easily obtained or exchanged than previously. I suppose another bonus could be that hitherto only known nationally judges/fanciers could gain international acclaim!

The final reason for partnership is when two established successful fanciers become entangled and set up home and birdroom together! This is where the fun really starts; particularly if they are each quite assertive and have their own ideas on every aspect of the hobby, and those ideas on almost everything are at variance with one another! Perhaps this is the most challenging partnership of all!

By now you will probably have guessed the category into which our partnership comes! No, it’s not the international partnership that you may be thinking of. Ghalib came to England over 40 years ago and currently I don’t believe there are many Budgerigar societies in Iraq, I think there are other priorities at the moment!

It was in October 1987 that our partnership commenced. At that time we were both on our own and living 75miles apart. Ghalib invited me to accompany him to the Budgerigar Society dinner/dance and I accepted!

Following this I began to take an interest in the Specialist Varieties and introduced Recessive Pieds and Crests into my birdroom (from Ghalib's stock of course).

Although we did not go into partnership until 1990, we were often in each other's birdrooms.

It soon became evident that we had our own ideas on almost every aspect of the fancy and that, in several cases, these did not concur! We are both assertive people with definite ideas and ideology. This can be most entertaining to those who know us well, but of course this time the partnership was to be very different.

It was in 1990 that we purchased our current property and became partners in every sense of the word when we were married in 1995. I am still drawn to the type of birds kept by me prior to our partnership, although one variety has "grown on me" and that is the Recessive Pied. I think that, in England, this variety has made tremendous progress in size and type and this is entirely due to the dedication of such fanciers as Ghalib who really worked on the variety, introducing good normals to increase size. Unfortunately we no longer keep that variety.

In our establishment we currently keep most varieties with the exception of Recessive Pieds and Fallows. I have never seen in any other country Fallows approaching the beauty and size of that of Ian Hannington's at the Australian National in Perth in 1994.

Fifteen years on we still have different views on many aspects of the hobby, but the strange thing is that we seldom differ when it comes to pairing up the birds. It is only when I go into the birdroom and see that he has used one of our good normals with a "specialist" variety to improve it that feathers become ruffled! Perhaps I am mellowing with age, as I can fully appreciate the philosophy behind the pairing and the pairing remains (although one, previously prolific hen that I nicknamed the mother of all babies, produced clear rounds for the first time when paired in such a way to a crest, so perhaps that hen was in sympathy with my initial reaction).

Our differences are often noticeable when we are invited by clubs as joint speakers. Members are entertained by our bantering which, although light hearted, demonstrates our individual ideas and commitment in the fancy. Out here I have been impressed by the individuality of many of the female halves of partnerships I have met.

I now intend addressing the role of women in the fancy. I am afraid that here I will be repeating several aspects of my involvement in the hobby that have already been featured in the July/August issue of your BAA Budgerigar Journal.

Perhaps a little about how I came to keep budgerigars in the beginning would be pertinent as this could play a major part in my philosophy.

As a child we had a few budgies in a small cage and flight in the garden, and also bred a few. My childhood was always that of animal involvement. Having ridden horses ever since I was a toddler, and spent all my free time with, and surrounded by, animals; (I have had some very weird pets including a grass snake, slow worms, spiders (kept at primary school, not at home) plus the usual ones of mice, hamsters and dogs.) it was hardly surprising that, when my ex-husband brought home two baby budgies for me, it would mark the start of something greater - perhaps he was hoping that it would keep me away from racehorses! It didn't - I went on to have my own thoroughbred youngster after that.

A cage was duly made and a few more budgies collected. These were then housed in double breeding cages in a small bedroom and multiplied! A small shed was erected in the garden with a flight attached. Breeding cages were installed in the garage and the bug had bitten! This was in about 1975. I think that I bred almost every colour and combination, including Rainbows. For five years this continued until, having purchased Cage & Aviary Birds, my ex-husband and I went along to the North Essex Budgerigar Society meeting.

A friendly face met us at the door and I said "We're total novices, we've come along in the hope of joining and learning about the hobby. "Beginners" I was informed, "novices are for canaries". "There you are" said I, "I told you we knew nothing about it". I should, perhaps, mention here that in the UK we have four adult sections; beginner, novice, intermediate and champion.

This was the start of a long association with this club. Little did I realise that I would go on to be Secretary and a Vice President!

On entering I immediately realised that the birds I had at home bore very little resemblance to those in the hall. I then sold my entire stock and started with two pairs of clearwings bought from a member, Ken Gray. Although these were attractive birds they were not of the size and quality to go on to greater things. The person I had met on my first visit then took me "under his wing". John Smith, and his wife and partner Jean, became close friends. They were a successful novice partnership at this time. They lent me a bird that was to become the foundation stone of my success in the fancy. I say "my" because my ex-husband (although we were a registered partnership) stayed at home and built cages, nest boxes, flights etc. when required, while I managed the birds, attended meetings and became really involved in the fancy.

Now I don't know how it was out here in America, but at that time in England the fancy was very male dominated and still is to some extent. Therefore I was expected to take on the role of tea maker, fund raiser etc. However, I rebelled and refused to spend evenings in the kitchen making tea whilst the men listened to the speaker. This was the first hurdle.

Nevertheless, I still sensed the feeling "give her a short while and she'll go back to her knitting!" This is a generalisation as one or two people did take me seriously from the outset.

The second hurdle came in 1982 when chief stewards were being arranged for the North Essex BS open show. My name was put forward, it was dismissed as, not only was I a beginner (albeit rather successful) but also a woman. It was reluctantly agreed that I should try (though they felt sure I would make a hash of it). My judge was the late Jack Freshney who, at the close of judging thanked me and informed the show officials of my efficiency. Things were looking up!

I think I achieved credibility through a dogged determination to become involved in all aspects of the fancy including showing and administration; also through taking my birds to the BS Club Show as a beginner and doing well in large classes.

At this time I felt I had the ideal partnership; my husband constructing the birdrooms whilst I looked after the birds, attended meetings and shows etc. As you can imagine, I became very independent and formed strong ideas on the type of birds I liked, birdroom design and stock management.

Once I started winning on the show bench and the earlier predictions that I would go back to homely pursuits diminished, so I gained respect as I was able to discuss the birds, their breeding, backgrounds, various features etc. I think it was at this point that I really began to be taken seriously as a genuine fancier.

I was asked recently whether I think that attitudes in the fancy have changed with regard to women and to newcomers. I feel that attitudes are changing and that all newcomers (including women) are being accepted more readily. However, this is dependent, not only on the local club, but also on the fancier's personality, genuine interest and attitude towards established members. There will always be those who flit from hobby to hobby whom one instinctively recognises and sure enough, after a year or two they go to koi carp, clay pigeon shooting or some other hobby. Newcomers need to seek advice and help without becoming a nuisance or constantly pestering another member. Similarly, established members need to assist newcomers on the road to success - it is two way process in my opinion.

During my years as a beginner and novice I concentrated on the 'normal/dominant' varieties; i.e. Greens, Blues, Grey Greens, Greys, Normals and Opalines, Cinnamons, Dominant Pieds and Yellow Faces. With the advent of the Spangle I also began to appreciate and yearn for this variety. I was fortunate in obtaining a Spangle bred from the late Alf Ormerod’s stud and one bred from a Doug Sadler bird.

As a novice I won my first colour challenge certificate with an Opaline Grey who went on to win his second the next time out. The week of my Area Society, the London & Southern Counties Budgerigar Society Open Championship Show, he was really fit and in line to qualify as a champion bird when he literally "fell off the perch". Other successes followed, but I think the greatest achievement was in 1985 when I was awarded Best Novice Breeder at the BS Club Show! This was with a Grey Green. Moreover, it was his first show as, being a buff bird, it had been difficult to get him into show condition. He went on to win best novice at the National Exhibition of Cage and Aviary Birds in both 1985 and 1986.

One of his sons became a registered champion Grey Green and also won best novice at the National in 1987. His photo was, in fact, used by Cage & Aviary Birds for their advert on the rear inside cover of the 1989 Budgerigar Society Handbook.

In fact, as a novice I did very well indeed winning CCs also with Dominant Pieds, normal Greys, Opaline Cinnamons and Yellow Faces.

It was early in 1987 that the partnership (and indeed the marriage) was dissolved.

By now, I was accepted as a fancier in my own right and indeed was heavily involved in administration, both within local societies and at several of the local shows.

Now I hold (even as a woman) various high positions at major shows: Patronage Secretary and a founder member of the organising committee of the Specialist and Rare Variety Open Show (your own Dewayne Weldon and the one of the Canadians here at the moment ~ Carl Slavin~ have judged this show); and Committee member of the Budgerigar Society Club Show. I have been President of the Spangled Budgerigar Breeders Association, President of my local club Croydon Budgerigar Society. I was President of London & Southern Counties Budgerigar Society in 1995.

I was general secretary of our area society, London & SCBS from 1989 to 1995. In 1993 I also became Secretary to the Council and Panel of Judges of the same society. I was Show Manager of the London & Southern Counties Specialist & Rare Varieties Open Show and Assistant Show Manager for the Open Championship Show until I retired from the Committee in 2002. In 1994 I was elected onto the General Council of the Budgerigar Society. Recognition indeed! At that time there was only one other elected female councillor, the late Sylvia Bryan. Currently there are still only two other ladies on that council out of twenty two. I was highly honoured by being elected Vice President of the Budgerigar Society in May 2005, which, through natural progress, will make me automatically BS President in May 2007. In its entire history since 1925, the BS has only had 4 lady presidents, I will become the fifth. Next year I will be joint President, together with Ghalib, of our area society, London & Southern Counties. I am also currently Treasurer of the Rare Variety & Colour Budgerigar Society, Publicity Officer for the Spangled Budgerigar Breeders Association and Crested Budgerigar Club (all national clubs) in addition to being Show Secretary for Southend & District B & FBS and Show Manager of Croydon & District BS. As you can see, although I am retired now, I certainly don’t have time to be bored!

I would be most interested to discover how this equates with out here.

As a judge I am kept busy, both nationally and internationally. I have judged most of the leading shows in the U.K. including the Budgerigar Society Club Show. Here, as a female judge, I am in the minority as there are only 11 qualified lady judges on the Budgerigar Society Main Judges Panel as opposed to 205 men.

I have also been fortunate in being invited to judge in Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland.

At the risk of being shot down in flames I propose to outline the qualities I believe make a good judge.

* an eye for a bird

* consistency of approach

* an ability to judge all birds, whatever variety of budgerigar they may be, equitably - after all exhibitors all pay the same entry fee and are therefore entitled to equal consideration

* sound knowledge of judging / show procedure

* sound knowledge of the colour standard for all varieties

* a personable character

* a sense of humour (valuable in all walks of life)

Perhaps this is why I have been enjoying more success exhibiting my fancy bantams of late than the budgies!

I have outlined my own experiences of two very different partnerships in the fancy; as the senior partner in the first instance and an equal (although Ghalib would consider it Junior) partner in the second; also my trials and tribulations as a woman. I hasten to add that I am not a suffragette by nature; but by career and character one who cannot take a back seat but becomes fully involved. Many people as they rise through the ranks have a 'mentor', as indeed I had early in my initiation into the hobby. Now, however, that is all changed as I have a 'tormentor' in Ghalib!! Although I tease him unmercifully I do appreciate the extra knowledge I have acquired from him, particularly with regard to the specialist varieties and show/judging administration. Nevertheless when one is happily motoring along, deep in thought to have someone say "What are the five laws regarding the sex linkage, dominant gene and recessive gene?" I'm afraid an accurate or favourable reply is not always forthcoming.

Without bragging too much (I am quite modest normally) I would attribute much of my recognition and acceptance as a fancier in my own right to my dogged determination and assertiveness; something that you have to have as head teacher of a primary school (now enjoying a busy retired life!)

In England there are many husband and wife partnerships. In some, one partner (as in my first experience) wouldn't know an Opaline from a Normal. This generally seems to be the female half of the partnership. These ladies often do far more than their share on the domestic front, with feeding, cleaning, including show cages and supplying excellent meals and light refreshments at the shows and entertaining visitors to their homes.


* However, in my opinion, to be a successful woman partner you should be on an equal basis both in management and knowledge.

* You should be determined to learn as much as you can so that when approached by a beginner, novice, or even another champion, you are equally able to answer knowledgeably.

* You should be assertive in the birdroom when decisions are made regarding pairing etc. putting forward your own viewpoint (although being able to discuss) based on your own expertise.

* You should be equally able to assess and prepare birds for the showbench and complete entry forms, prepare cages etc.

Although these attributes may make you something of a 'pain in the neck' to your partner, they will ensure that you receive recognition and keep the partnership lively!

As a fancier, whatever gender, and certainly as a judge - one is always learning.

I have also been most impressed by the total involvement of the woman in the fancy here, whether as individuals or in partnership with husbands etc. The quest for knowledge, information and genuine interest is most apparent and I have noticed the very high level of involvement in all aspects of the fancy; though I have heard that women generally clean the birdroom!

In conclusion I would like to thank the Budgerigar Association of America for your kind invitation to us. I would also like to thank all the fanciers out here for making us so welcome; for the wonderful hospitality we have received, the weather we've experienced (although it was raining for the first two days here!) and the somewhat fleeting glimpses we have had of a very small part of this wonderful country of yours. The Grand Canyon is the most awesome scenery imaginable and The Strip is something else! What a great time we are having out here. Thank you all for making us so very welcome.

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Copyright Ghalib Al-Nasser 2005 all rights reserved.