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ACAU: Malinois Waterslager
Translated from the Italian by Sebastian Vallelunga
It is surely the most widespread and most commonly raised of the canary song breeds. To be realistic one must say that a decade or so ago this would have been a title to be hotly contested by the harz roller, but surely this breed has overtaken the harz in popularity. Its exact origins are somewhat nebulous as is the case with any race of canary. The use of the computer and printed pedigree are, after all, a recent thing!
In any case, it seems that malinois origins must be searched for in Flanders among largish yellow birds raised for their song from the start. Naturally, it was a canary breed born of the fruit of crossbreeding with other birds of the general appearance of the great holland canary (what the English canary writers call the old dutch canary variety, blood stock that may figure in the development of both the waterslager and the humpback among others--trans.) as well as German birds from the Tyrol. These, however, are theories passed on by word of mouth long after the fact. It is certain that the first club established for this breed was founded in Anvers in 1872. And, at the same time, a breed called the great yellow canary, a direct descendent of the great holland was very common. The fact that this bird is later crossed with German birds causes one to think that there is harz or common canary blood being bred into birds of the area at the time, something which cannot be denied. At any rate, that particular line ended up in quite a different state than that in which it had begun. The breeders of the malinois, in fact, mainly oriented themselves toward perfecting the famous water song typical of the nightingale, leaving the harz to its own rolled song. Naturally, even within the context of song selection alone, there arose "currents" that were dictated by the geographical location of the breeders.
As is normal, each breeder sought to forge the song of the canary according to his own personal tastes. The water sounds, however, have always been a peculiar characteristic of these canaries and, in fact, they had come to be called nachtegaalslager (nightingale singers), in that the water sounds were characteristic of the nightingale as has been already mentioned. Only later did the name become transformed into waterslager (water singers). Today this singer goes by the name of malinois waterslager and also of belgian waterslager. The term malinois comes from the city of Malines (Mechelen) near Brussels and the term waterslager points to the sounds of murmuring water. We Italians generally shorten the name to malinois. In 1926 there was a first tentative step in unifying the various tastes in order to create one single malinois type, but it wasn't accomplished until the Paris Congress of 1956 with its constitution of a unique international organization for all the breeds: the C.O.M.
The malinois arrived in Italy in the 60's thanks to the efforts of breeders of the city of Pescara (about 70 miles north east of Rome on the Adriatic coast--trans.). Although one doesn't put great importance on the form or color of the birds, the standard foresees a smallish head, rich and brilliant plumage, a slightly curved stance, a color of yellow or yellow ticked, and a slender body. At any rate, one must say that the only factors that merit much attention are length and color. In fact, the malinois must be longer than the common canary due to the probable presence of great yellow bloodlines. This is also the cause of the color, which in the beginning was acceptable only in intense yellow, especially in the case of males. Only later, and with great effort did first the slightly ticked and then more greatly ticked birds gain acceptance. Beyond all of these discussions is the fact that the basis of this canary breed is nothing other than the song, and in the end the colors and other parameters of appearance mean very little. One should mention, however that the major portion of the canaries of this breed commonly show a uniform, more or less rich, yellow color and a small dark spot on the head. As far as the rustic good health of this bird is concerned, one must say that it is one of the most prolific and robust of breeds. And, it is not at all rare to see female malinois used to foster more difficult breeds.
In the breeding of this race, as with all of the song canary races, there pervades the use of particular special practices and equipment. On the other hand, the young males of the malinois breed are treated differently than the males of other breeds. It is important to note that beyond the innate and inherited propensity to sing, these subjects must learn their adult song and for this reason must attend "song school"!
In short, they are lodged in small individual song cages and kept in the darkness for a good part of the day. Without prolonging this writing, let's just say that in the beginning they had been placed in groups in flights according to their singing ability and similarity of song style and only later are they placed in the smaller cages. These cages are covered with a piece of cloth or curtain, and the birds are fed on Spartan fare, only canary and rape seed. At this important phase the pupils can listen to the song of their maestro in a context which encourages them to imitate him. One can hear their bravado at the moment when the curtain rises and the lights come up, and they begin to perform their own repertoire. It goes without saying that the singers must live in an area which is as isolated as possible from the acoustic point of view, so that they do not pollute their song with strange noises. At the contests, teams of four birds are presented which must have, more or less, the same repertoires. This fact is very important because the uniformity of the song is an indicator of the purity of the breeder's song line (i.e.: that which distinguishes between a strain and a mere collection of waterslagers--trans.). It is not impossible to participate with a single bird, but the contest is really an opportunity to demonstrate that one is in possession of a well-defined line of birds more than a single star bird which may well be an isolated case. Hand in hand with the lengthening of training, comes a modification of the diet with the reduction of the canary seed and the augmenting of the sweet rape which betters and facilitates the song.
To describe the song with letters is a truly complicated thing; therefore, the table of melodies which is included in the judge's card follows (it is reproduced here in list form--trans.).
Flemish/ French/ Italian Definition/ English Translation
1. KLOKKENDE WATERSLAG/ Coups d'eau tintes/ Suonodi stillicido D'acqua a gocce lente, suoni d'acqua scanditi, sia "metallici" che "curvati"./ Sounds of slowly dripping water; punctuated sounds of water, whether from "sharp" to "rounded"
2. BOLLENDE WATERSLAG/ Coups d'eau bouillonnants/ Idem a gocce rapide, suoni d'acqua accelerate; colpi d'acqua ribollenti./ Rapid drops, accelerated sounds of water; sounds of boiling water
3. ROLLENDE WATERSLAG/ Coups roulants/ Suono d'acqua che scorre; colpi o suoni d'acqua rullati./ Sound of running water; sounds of rolling water
4. CHOR; KNORR/ Chor: Knorr/ Rullata profonda/ Deep roll
5. STAALTONEN/ Sons metalliques/ Suoni metallici/ Metallic sounds
6. FLUITEN/ Flutes/ Suoni di flauto/ Flute sounds
7. WOETEN/ Woutes/ Frasi dell'Usignolo/ Nightingale phrases
8. BELLEN/ Clochettes/ Campanelli scanditi, tintinnanti/ Punctuated bells, tinkling
9. BELROL/ Idem roules/ Idem prolungati, rullati/ Prolonged rolling
10. FLUITROL/ Flutes roules/ Flauti prolungati/ Prolonged flutes
11. TJOKKEN; TJOKKENROL/ Tjoks; Tjoks roules/ Frasi dell'Usignolo; idem prolungate/ Nightingale phrases; same prolonged
12. SCHOKKEL; WATER-SCHOKKEL/ Berceuse; idem mouille/ Suoni bilanciati di ninnananna; idem con eco di suoni d'acqua/ Balancing lullaby sounds; same with watery echo
13. ONVOORZIENE TOER/ Tours non prevus/ Frasi impreviste/ Improvised phrases
These melodies may be divided into groups.
Group 1 (liquid sounds) contains three melodies which must always bring to mind a fluidity of sound representing dripping water. The Klokkende, called Klok, and the Bollende, called Bol, are differentiated by the duration of the interval from syllable to syllable. The problem is that the canary's tendency is toward merging the syllables and shortening the vowels. The Klok must have a deep tone which is extremely dependent on the vowels used. The Bol has a less deep tone and its sound is simpler with regard to its syllables. The Bol is exemplified by the sound of large drips falling into a full container of water. It is important that they lack a resounding quality which instead is the prerogative of the Klok. The Rollende can be defined as a Bollende without intervals. The effect must be that of water running continuously over stone in a brook. The tone should be sufficiently deep.
Group 2 contains simple sounds of a single vowel and lacking, therefore, any hint of water sound. The explanations are in the table reproduced above.
Group 3 contains, by the same token, simple sounds as are explained in the table (Unfortunately, the author doesn't specify which simple sounds he means to place in group 2 and which in group 3--trans.).
Group 4 is comprised of the Woeten and the Schokkel. It is these two melodies which have virtually vanished in the malinois, and judges normally indicate they are lacking without actually expecting them to manifest themselves.
Improvised melodies, by the same token as those in group 4, are now almost completely diminished to the point that they are virtually ignored by the judge or in this case expunged. And, ultimately, these can come to be considered negative melodies which in general can be said to offend the ear of the listener. Even an optimal singer is not always exempt from such faults. These sounds are those which pollute the song and have their source in the songs of other races of canaries or from sparrows and so on.
The information above was translated from the website of the ACAU: Associazione Ciociara Allevatori Uccelli di Frosinone--Association of Ciociori Bird Breeders of Frosinone: http://www.acau.it/index.html
The Ciociori are the people native to the region around the city of Rome who trace their lineage back to the ancient empire. The province of Frosinone begins about 20 miles to the south east of Rome and is most noted for being the place where St. Benedict founded his monastery at Monte Cassino in around 530 AD.
Italian breeders have been having great luck over the past number of years with their waterslagers, and I thought it would be fun to see what they had to say about this breed.
N.B.: I decided not to simply translate the author's table, here in list form, but to reproduce it and add a fourth column of English translation in order to show the truly international flavor which the culture of waterslagers has gained. The Flemish to French to Italian to English can also serve as a sort of implied history lesson as well.
From Le Canari de Chant Malinois-Waterslager Website
Translated from French by Sebastian Vallelunga
This is an attempt to write a summary of the events which marked the origin of our modern malinois.
The first verifiable trace of evidence seems to reach back to the 15th century, after the introduction of the wild canary by the Spaniards to the northern part of the continent. The domestication of this song bird and its breeding developed rapidly in the adjoining countries and in spite of its early reticence, the Spanish government came to see this as an irresistible source of profit. Later efforts realized the introduction of notes emitted by the nightingale into a line of yellow canaries. Our canary has, therefore, a very early origin and is considered, with the harz, as one of the first results of crossing wild males and domestic females.
At the outset, the Belgian and Dutch breeders attempted to introduce into the song of canaries that of the European nightingale—or, at least, tried to be associated with it by having a high number of good tours—and at the same time to introduce the sounds of deep water. According to those aims, they had recourse to out crossings in order to implant and later to transmit to future generations these two types of tours. Evidently, it took them some centuries to succeed. I will attempt to explain the difficulty.
The two fashions in raising a canary with a particular song tour are: to attempt it by heredity and to attempt it by the influence of the environment. The first is less costly and is almost automatic. The tour is in the genes and the bird will sing without much effort. However, you can improve and encourage the singing of it by means of training. The second demands much travail and doesn’t guarantee success. Obviously, the results won’t be transmitted genetically.
Why have the Belgians and Dutch succeeded after long effort? The principle reason that explains it all is that the waterslager canary is capable of transmitting its water tours to its progeny or, better to say, is capable of transmitting a syrinx able to reproduce them. The Belgian pioneers first taught their canaries the use of these valuable tours with the aid of artificial devices like dripping funnels or water pouring from a barrel, etc.
Further added was the fact that the nightingale sings at night and only in the spring and this rendered the apprenticeship of the tours of the nightingale very difficult since the canary is found in its reproduction period at that time (there are not yet young males, and the others are already too old to really learn the song).
In sum, the waterslager sings water drip tours and nightingale tours. Although one cannot say which set of these tours is more desirable in him than the other, it is necessary for him to sing his water tours because a malinois without the sounds of water is no malinois at all! His name itself implies all: waterslager signifies the beat of water drops.
The breeders of the Harz Region oriented themselves toward mellow and smooth sound while the Belgians moved toward nightingale tours (as described above) and the water tours (as have been described by R. Tacsan). The best results were consequently obtained around the village of Malines (Mechelen in Flemish). It should be noted that complex crossings were conducted until at least the end of the 17th century which finally resulted in what may be called the 1st malinois: the yellow Dutch, (also the parent breed of the posture canaries, great Dutch, Border… and races which are very distinct today).
(Note: Malines—Mechelen—is in the Low Countries, a Belgian village in the province of Antwerp, on the River Dyle—trans.)
A first description of the breed appeared in the travel notes of a Frenchman in 1713. He came across refugees in the area of Malines as a consequence of the Spanish occupation. These brought with them, among their possessions, song canaries of an atypical voice which imitated the modulations of water.
By the mid 19th century, the malinois attained the nickname of nachtegaalslager (nightingale singer) for the quality of its metallic and nightingale notes which were almost perfect. Breeders, at the same time, took steps to keep their reputation for water notes. It was at this epoch that the crossing with the harz intervened to break up part of the nightingale voice to add mellowness and to reinforce, in consequence, the water drops. They were also crossbred with the canary of Saxony.
The fixed criteria of the song standards were established at the end of the same century, and still remain as the basis for our own system of evaluation today. The oldest club created exclusively for the malinois dates from 1872, De Koninklijke Verenigde Vrienden (the Royal United Friends—trans.). One of its first presidents, M. B. Peleman, moreover, wrote a work describing and analyzing the song tours as well as their evaluation by judges, which still remains a reference for judges in training and breeders to this day (The Song of the Belgian Waterslager Canary, 1926). But, at about the same time, the malinois came to recognize its first series of reversals.
After this fastidious elaboration, the breed, owing to the developing appearance of problems associated with its limited geographic distribution in Belgium, was found to be quite reduced in its range in comparison to the harz, a veritable handicap which could cause its loss.
The First World War marked a transition because it opened, at its end, an era of notoriety and of geographical expansion for this bird. Malinois-waterslager became, then, its complete name, which became synonymous with quality. The Second World War sent it backwards due to a certain amount of neglect as happened with other breeds. The scarcity of the breed lasted until a few years after the end of the war, and it took that long for the malinois to come back and to extend out beyond the borders of its then diminished range.
Another epoch, another manner of problem: enthusiasm for the breed wasn’t quite the same. There was difficulty in finding trained birds from among the numerous harz crosses that were available from bird sellers and certain breeders. Here the mixture of bloodlines was unfortunate, seeing that it interfered in a context of refinement and of the aspiration toward a fixed qualitative objective and a true alleviation of low quality. The malinois of pure stock were lost, practically speaking, and their place was taken by hybrid malinois. This required, on the part of passionate admirers of this breed, great effort to reconstruct as closely as possible the genotype of the bird as much on the physical level as on the musical.
Already at this time, these breeders applied a common objective and thus pointed the birds back toward the origins and specific qualities of the malinois breed, which resulted in potential and hope in relation to the extent of the crossings. Our modern malinois resulted from this process. Refining, in order to obtain a return to the particulars of the criteria of the breed as written by Peleman, the malinois which had taken four centuries to elaborate: behold a travail that is beyond the task of a summer’s day.
In our day, the expansion of the malinois-waterslager beyond the boundaries of north-western Europe and the friends it has on the entire continent surely represent a better safeguard for the future. In countries like America, they seem very particular in how strictly they maintain the criteria of the breed; although not involved in the past history of the bird, their promotion and maintenance of it become an affair of respect vis a vis the breed and by means of recognition of the traditional countries of the bird’s breeding.
We cannot resent the close links between the malinois and the harz. After all, the methods of rearing and training are identical in their principles; no different than at the date of their divergence. I have not done any special research on the history of the canary of Harz, and I don’t know, consequently, if the harz breeders think the same way.
At present, then, what surprises me most is both the fragility and the strength of the breed I raise; I could not be more attached to and attentive to their song, the veritable fruit of the labor of 500 years.
The Malinois Waterslager Canary
By Gustaaf Lelievre and Mariela di Mauro, OMJ/COM malinois judges
Translated from Spanish by Sebastian Vallelunga
In order to better understand and recognize the song quality of the malinois or waterslager, to recognize and clearly see the mutations of the song, position, or color which have occurred successively in the passing years of its existence, to draw attention to this evolution in relation to how it has arrived at where it is today and, above all, to where it may go in the future; we must necessarily begin by returning to its origins. We must remember that that the diverse races of canaries have become quite numerous and quite removed really from the original and primitive type, and , at first glance, the malinois song canary is in no way similar to its earliest past, that is to say the wild canary.
The wild canary, called within the classification of birds: Serinus canarius, belongs to the fringilid family, order passeriformes. The plumage of this wild canary is grey-green with black steaks on its back. The rump and forehead are greenish yellow while the throat and breast are yellow. The belly is pure yellow. The beak is short, conical, and dark colored. Its length is about 11.5 cm (about 4 ½ inches—trans.). The hen is more heavily streaked, with its back more brownish and its belly more gray. The species’ song is composed of trills and rapid metallic sounds which can be a bit watery. It reminds one, more or less, of that of the greenfinch or the corn bunting and it is not at all like the cultivated song, whether Harzer or Malinois. In general, the male sings from an elevated position, well up in the canopy of a tree or well up inside a thicket.
The wild canary lives in complete liberty on the Canary islands—an archipelago with an area of 80-90 km—and in Madeira and the Azores, off the northeast coast of Africa, in lands of volcanic origin with small forests and low thickets. Outside the nesting season, the canaries move about in small family groups traveling the area with an undulating flight and alighting here and there in the countryside in order to search for wild seeds. They nest in the trees, in the shrubs, and occasionally in the vineyards. The nest is solidly constructed and well fastened to those branches which are thicker and lower down, with the result that they are protected from the ocean winds which cross the islands with force. The sides of the nest are high enough to protect the eggs when the nest is rocked in the wind.
Expansion into the European Continent
In connection with the expansion into the European Continent much has been written, but still the facts are unclear. There exist fantastic, romantic, and dramatic stories claiming to uncover how canaries came to spread into Europe by misadventure; in one story, canaries escape during a shipwreck and are later recaptured and carried off by a Dutch “sea wolf” on its return voyage home. And, there are many other versions.
Reviewing the past and widely recognized facts, however, it seems most logical that it was the Spaniards who imported the canary to the European Continent, given that the Canary Islands were occupied by them and that the importation in question happened at the same time, near the end of the 15th century. Certainly, isolated cases of importation may be verified before that time, as in the case of Jean de Bethancour in 1402. But these isolated cases had no consequence with respect to the true and proper domestication and captive breeding of the canary. At any rate, it was in Spain, around the end of the 15th century (around 1475), when the captive breeding of canaries rapidly spread, thanks to its domestication and subsequent ease in nesting in aviaries and cages of modest dimensions.
Very quickly this little bird conquered the world thanks to its sweetness, gentleness and the BEAUTY OF ITS SONG. In effect, one should remember, at the time canaries were considered to be exclusively song birds. Between the years 1500 and 1600, breeding success extended to England, Italy, Germany, Holland, and Belgium. According to the same fonts of information, the canary was already known for its good voice at the time, and it was sold for high prices. At this time, simple color mutations, like yellow, began to appear. In certain European countries canary breeding came to the point that it could be called a true commercial enterprise that, with the systems of communication (these became much more reliable and easy), was developed, constituting for the breeders an important source of income from abroad. In parallel, there appeared and developed a series of cottage industries, like the manufacture of cages accessories, wooden items, crates, shipping containers, seeds and other foods for the birds.
Around 1700, in consequence of strict selection and severe training, the Germans obtained excellent song canaries called Saxons and Harzers. The Saxons, mainly, were from Saxony, Prussia, and the region of Hanover, while the Harzers came from Bavaria, Turingia, and, mainly, Harz, a locality of high altitude. In the hands of the German breeders, the canary was modified without ceasing and these modifications are due to a series of factors like a change of country or region, change of climate, change of foods, change of breeding system, and the limitation of movements due to a captive life (today, the concepts of genetic mutation and intentional selection or unintentional selection, due to a relatively small number of individual birds to choose from, would be added to the list—trans.).
The objectives of the breeders of that epoch were directed toward diverse goals. The Germans intended to obtain canaries with rolled song (of the Saxon or Harzer type), while the Belgians headed in another direction, intending to obtain “water sounds”; from this the name “Waterslager”, a noun which is difficult to translate into romance languages, and which simply signifies “a canary possessing water notes,” notes which we find in our nightingale, as well as birds known as Japanese nightingale, Persian and Turkistan nightingales, etc… In this way, our canary has a varied song, one more modulated, clear, and smooth, which has caused it to be called “nightingale canary”, although this name is held to be somewhat pretentious. In spite of everything, one cannot negate that the song of the Malinois or Waterslager canary isn’t perfect yet, due to changing rules of song evaluation at the contests, which are always more strict, and the joint efforts of breeders to ever move forward toward higher norms. Still, the results obtained thus far are very comforting. And, without over-exaggeration, we can affirm that the song of the Malinois or Waterslager is cleaner and clearer than that of the nightingale itself. To confirm this, one only need listen to recordings of each.
EVOLUTION OF THE SONG CANARIES: THE HARZER AND THE MALINOIS RACES.
Around 1600 the song canary began to spread throughout the lands of Europe: Spain, Italy, the Tyrol, Germany, Holland, Flanders, England, France, Portugal, etc. In 1700 Germany began to stand out in the breeding of song canaries. The most notable centers were Brunswick, Harz, Hanover, Saxony, Bavaria, and Prussia. Thus, certain ornithological (note: this word is usually used to mean avicultural in Europe rather than our use for it which is “pertaining to the formal scientific study of birds”—trans.) movements began to take form as did diverse and distinct groups of breeding stock in each of these regions. By about 1800, it is above all the Harzer canary—of the Harz region—that occupies the highest level. Its song had developed into one of the sweetest and most distinctive, this being the direction in which the best singers were encountered. It is precisely in 1860 that a miner, Wilhem Trute of St. Andreasberg, who lived at 146 Danielstrasse (the house still exists), began to breed a type of Harzer canary in possession of a profound roll called the “Holrol”.
Around the year 1900, Henri Seifert, a worker from Loubteau—near Dresden—sent a group of Harzers to contests which caused a sensation. In effect, these canaries possessed a profound depth of tones which until that time had been unknown among song canaries. They sang in total harmony, emitting deep notes and interpreting new phrases with purity, phrases which had never before been emitted by canaries. This group very much surpassed any canaries heard up until that time in perfection and quality. They sang a roll even more profoundly deep—the “Knorr”.
Beginning with this moment, the Harzer canary acquired its golden halo of fame. Between 1600 and 1850, the ornithological movement was extended to all countries and breeding progressed in giant steps. In Flanders—Belgium had yet to be formed—and Holland there arose associations which organized contests and shows for canaries. Among this last group, there was a canary called the “Great Yellow” or “Great Saxon”. This name indicates that it was notably larger than the Harzer. In comparison, let us remember the antique “Yorkshire” (this breed is said to have Great Yellow bloodlines, either directly or indirectly—trans.). This large canary, the Great Yellow, emitted few rolled notes and its song was oriented in the direction of that of the nightingale, with both water sounds and hollow notes, without the sound of water. The Dutch ornithologist, S. Bilj, insists that this song was acquired under the influence of the nightingale. Apart from the water sounds, they also emitted other notes which formed part of the repertoire of the nightingale, such as “Woet”, “Tjok”, and “Soet”, metallic sounds, flutes, “Knorr”, and “Chorr”. Around 1900, on the basis of selection and crossings, breeders obtained examples which, although not comparable to actual modern Malinois, were already in a condition to emit water sounds, and above all, other notes—“woet”, “soet”, and “tjonk”—which have, on the other hand, almost completely disappeared from our modern singers. From the preceding, it is clear that the Waterslager has existed for some time, first under the name of “Great Yellow Canary” and later under the name of “Waterslager”. The exact date at which the official change was made is unknown, but one may suppose it to be shortly before 1912.
(By way of corroborating evidence, the Great Yellow eventually came to be called the Old Dutch by English breeders who used its bloodlines to improve a number of British breeds like the Yorkshire, Lancaster, and Norwich toward the end of the 19th century; this shows that these birds were being bred in Holland and Flanders at the time in question. Finally, it should be noted that a travelogue written in 1713 mentions the watery voices of the local canaries of Maline in Flanders; it could be that the Saxon or Great Yellow had already made its way there by this date or, more likely, that a local breed existed with a watery voice which later figured into the mix which developed into the waterslager through crossbreeding with the Great Yellow which also had watery components in its voice—trans.)
After the creation of local breeders’ associations, there came the dawn of the 20th century and the formation of the larger federations. In this way the Belgian federation called the NBE began, directed by Peleman, Keyenberg, and de Mulder. Contemporaneously, another Belgian federation called the FB saw its birth, under the direction of Thiis. The systems of judgment of these two federations have always maintained some differences. In Holland, the first Waterslager breeders’ association appeared in 1932 and in 1935 the first contests were organized there.
After the war from 1939 to 1945, the breeding of Waterslagers extended also to France and, ten years later, the first contests were held there. In Italy, the breeding of this singer quietly began starting in 1950. By the end of the sixties, thinking that Italy had acquired sufficient maturity to have its own technical experts, there was organized a contest with the aim of training Italian judges. And for the first time in this specialty there appeared the presence of a representative of the “weaker sex”—for Italians the “sexo bello”—who has continuously taken on the mission of preparing and forming judges of this category in Italy. The breeding of the Malinois continued to expand and, a short time later, judges for this variety were trained in Spain and Venezuela where contests were also organized. Finally, many countries became very interested in the breeding of this exceptional singer, who has come to seem so full of promise.
Physical Aspects and Standard
With the erroneous conviction that it would improve the song, numerous breeders have crossbred the Waterslager race with other song races and even with color and posture canaries. In this way, the number of Malinois of pure race has diminished perceptibly and, naturally, the number of crossbred canaries has been augmented. It is pointless to say how lamentable this system is, suffice to say that the Malinois canary is already a typically robust, strong, and sound subject. It is an embarrassment that this pure race was degenerated by absolutely incomprehensible crosses. It is, therefore, desirable that breeders of this race not work to create half-breeds, without holding to pairings within the pure race, in order to always conserve the general physical aspects of the Malinois. All this for a good reason: that, without doubt, there exists a definite relationship between the position, form, and robustness of this canary and the profound and melodious song which one hopes to achieve and always maintain.
What are, then, the characteristics which represent the “standard type”? By common accord, Dutch and Belgian breeders, for about the last 40 years, have established the following standard:
• Head: small, conical beak, black and brilliant eyes
• Neck: refined and long
• Body: rounded, full back, notable and broad breast
• Wings: well held against the body
• Legs/Feet: of medium length, fine and small
• Tail: well closed
• Plumage: smooth and brilliant, without frills
• Color: yellow or yellow with marks (white and white with marks are also accepted by mainstream waterslager breeders today—trans.)
• Position: slightly curved
• Length: about 16.5 cm (6.5 inches—trans.)
• Condition: in good health, lacking any illness
Editor’s Note: The OMJ/COM actually admit other colors in classes 3 and 4 of section B, called “song/color”.
At the OMJ Congress of 1970, in Lisbon, the COM also accepted this standard. Naturally, the notable and broad breast and the refined and long neck stand in relation to the size and form of the respiratory apparatus, in the function of singing. On the other hand, one must consider the original expressed colors and not only in terms of the plumage but also in terms of eye color.
The original colors are, in one way, a guarantee of the original and pure song of the Malinois. For this reason, the Malinois standard is not adjusted to accommodate canaries which are red factor, white, gray, agate, cinnamon, or Isabel (see notes above—trans.). For the same reason, ruby or red eyes are considered defects. In the same way, the presence of frilled feathers demonstrates a fault in the breed purity of a bird. All aberrations when it comes to a bird straying from the type standard can be supposed to denote the presence of unorthodox crossbreeding, as in the case of crossing with the Harzer, color, posture, or frilled breeds. Finally, it is interesting to note that, on the part of some breeders, there is the intention to launch a new race called the “color Malinois”, a novelty which color aficionados may like, but will provoke, without doubt, a great deal of perplexity among aficionados of the pure song.
In relation to the song and the infirmities of the respiratory apparatus, the digestion and the infirmities of the digestive apparatus, and breeding and the infirmities of the reproductive apparatus, it is essential to have a knowledge of these body parts and their functions.
The respiratory apparatus of songbirds has a double function:
• To bring oxygen to the bloodstream of the bird
• To form an air reserve which facilitates the emission of song
Air passes directly from the nostrils to the trachea, syrinx, and lungs. The lungs are complemented by the air sacs in the hollow bones (called aerofers): the sternum, humerus, femur, and tibia which, beyond the air reserves, have the important missions of reducing the body’s weight in order to facilitate flight and thermoregulation, bringing the internal body temperature down whenever they fill with fresh air.
Food passes from the beak of the canary to the esophagus and the crop, where a process of humidification and mixing takes place. During the breeding period, the epithelial cells of the crop fill with fat and protein reserves, which when secreted constitute that which is known as “pigeon milk”, with which the canary feeds its nestlings (true crop milk is produced by pigeons and parrots and allows these species to eat normal hard seeds and then produce a rich substance which is very similar to mammal milk which is easily digestible and high in fat; the process is different in canaries which are given high protein and easily digestible foods like eggfood to pass on to their young—trans.). The esophagus continues to the glandular stomach (which produces digestive fluids), the stomach proper (a muscular sack for the mixing and breaking up of the food), the intestine (where various digestive enzymes are added from the liver and pancreas), and finally, the cloaca, from which solid and liquid wastes are eliminated.
In the male, the testicles (producers of spermatozoa) empty into the cloaca by means of two small ducts called the vas deferens. In the hen, there is only one ovary situated on the right side which produces ova which are then fecundated by the spermatozoa while moving down the oviduct—the duct which connects the ovary to the cloaca—and comprised of:
• The area of fecundation
• The area where numerous cells secrete the egg white
• An isthmus or narrowing where the egg membrane is secreted
• The uterus proper, which houses the embryo (it is here that it receives its hard outer shell and pigment—trans.)
• The vagina, which opens into the cloaca
To complete this little anatomical study of our canary, we consider it of utility to end with a few words on the egg, which may be considered as the living and transitory apparition of the future chick. Apropos of the egg, there are many particulars to describe, many discoveries to be made, many enigmas to resolve, and many miracles to unfold in order to realize a complete work on the subject, as that written by Dr. Romanoff. In every case, whether speaking of the egg of a canary, of an ostrich (of about 1 kg in mass), or of that of a hummingbird (of about 1 g), all are of the same composition and form. They each develop in the same way, a mysterious process which has not been modified since the first appearance of birds. Let us proceed from this point, in a few lines, to outline some of the details on the formation of the egg and its subsequent development as a result of fecundation and incubation.
At the time of copulation, the yolk of the egg or “vitellus” (the cellular egg) descends by means of the oviduct where it encounters and is fertilized by the spermatozoa of the male. The remainder of the processes which continue from that point are regulated by a precise schedule. The germ, with the yolk, begins to float within the liquid albumin, well situated at the center of the mass by a series of radiating filaments.
Later the fertilized germ is displaced and comes to rest at the surface of the yolk in order to later take advantage of the body temperature of the mother during incubation.
The egg formed to this point is then wrapped within a resistant membrane, produced by a gland within that stretch of the path called the “isthmus”, an operation which lasts approximately an hour and ten minutes. Subsequently, the egg is covered in various layers of calcium—calciferous strata. Only after 19 hours is the egg shell complete. Then, at the propitious moment, usually somewhere from the first morning hours up until noon, the egg is expelled from the cloaca.
During incubation, it is the body heat of the mother canary that allows the formation and development of the new life within. Cellular development begins when the temperature reaches 37.5 C (99.5 F—trans.), thus beginning a series of chain reactions leading to the delicate organs of the future chick being ready to function autonomously.
Hatching, performed by the chick within the shell, with limited help from the mother, permits the newborn to peep out at life.
Now that we have become acquainted with digestion, respiration, reproduction, and the formation and incubation of the egg, we will be better able to comprehend the following problems: song, nutrition, illness, and breeding.
The Song of Birds in General
Many aficionados, ornithophiles, and ornithologists have deepened their knowledge with respect to the song of birds. In their studies, searchings, experiences, and statistics they have produced some interesting results. This study refers to all sorts of birds in general, as well as the Malinois canary. Of course not all issues have been cleared up. Those problems not yet cleared up, in reference to the life and song of birds, stimulate our intention to learn so much more.
In any way, it is indisputable that:
• a) Song should be considered as an expression of virility tied to sex. Practically only male birds sing, although one may also encounter exceptions (European robins, buntings), but these are the exceptions which prove the rule.
• b) Simple calls or alarm cries, proper to each species, are hereditary. According to the investigations undertaken at Harvard University in America, young birds, enclosed separately from their parents and conspecifics from birth, always emit the same calls as their parents.
• c) The same does not occur for the song proper since uniquely it is only partly hereditary and is fully acquired only under the influence of the surroundings (i.e.: ambient adult song). In this respect, it has been demonstrated through investigation that young birds, raised outside of the presence of their parents, only sing an incomplete and often erroneous version of the proper song of their race.
Nevertheless, it has been demonstrated that the following are hereditary:
• a) The possibility of emitting a “water note” typical of the Malinois canary, and that this is dependent on the structure of the syrinx and its vocal cords (Dr. Van der Plank, University of Utrecht).
• b) The possibility of emitting a song which is watery (beyond simply the water notes—Klok, Bol, and Rol, I think the authors mean singing these in an especially watery direction—trans.); this is the preference, desire, or impulse to sing in one direction—i.e.: watery as opposed to hollow (the investigations of the previously cited professor).
It is the song heard in the first period of life, above all, that is best retained by the bird and is repeated during the whole rest of its existence (Dr. W. Thorpe, Cambridge University).
As a consequence of these findings, the breeders of Malinois well know that it is not enough to simply breed pure Malinois in order to obtain the best results without also having, at the same time, an excellent “song tutor” (influence of the surroundings) and young singers in possession of the inherited quality of “genetic predisposition for song.”
In such a case, under the influence of a “master singer”, if one intends to teach any other canary the watery song of the Malinois, all we get is an “imitating bird”; this is due to the fact that its syrinx has nothing in common with that of the Malinois. Likewise, naturally it doesn’t have the genetic capacity to reproduce the learned song, nor can its descendents inherit a syrinx with the apt structure to produce this form of song. Although it may have a good teacher, and even some capacity for learning the watery song, it must also be recognized that a certain predisposition for this song is necessary (i.e.: the bird may imitate the song, but it doesn’t have the inherited aptitude or syrinx structure to perfect it—trans).
Young future singers must be located in an adequate place which is in proximity to a good singer from a very tender age. That is, from the moment it begins to sing. Some biologists even go so far as to assure that the singer’s apprenticeship and song formation begins within the egg.
As a simple definition of song, one may affirm the following:
• Song is the effect obtained by varying and continuous vibrations of the vocal chords and of the muscular system in relation to these chords. The song of birds is considered as the most natural, melodious, and sweet of all musical harmony. It both approximates and is living in contact with nature.
Song is emitted by the SYRINX which is comparable to a tube, an organ in which are inserted certain small muscles—the vocal chords—which in birds, or more concretely in those belonging to the order “Passeriformes”, are eight in number. The structure of the syrinx is hereditary, and this is especially important in the best singers, among which one would find the Malinois.
Recognizing the definition of song and how birds sing, it is logical to ask: why do birds sing? Ornithologists have sought to encounter the exact reason for this phenomenon, but in one respect the most one can say is that their theories are a bit discordant:
• Some assure us that birds sing their own proper song in their nesting territory
• Others assure us that the male sings in order to conquer the affections of his future hen
• A third group assures us that song is merely a demonstration of a male’s sexual virility
This third idea seems to be the closest to the truth, since song is tied to sex. In the first place, if it sings it’s a male. Hens, apart from exceptional cases, and then only in imperfect ways, do not sing. On the other hand, song is produced precisely in the spring, the nesting period which the bird expresses in a living avatar transformed into song.
In our capacity as breeders and song contest patrons, we are very interested in knowing the periods of the year and hours of the day which are most propitious for bird song. It is precisely after the molt when birds re-commence their singing; above all, during the period of incubation is when the male is most conscientious in pleasing his mate by singing with the most ardor and zeal. During the time that the offspring are being cared for, singing is somewhat diminished, and it re-commences again during the second incubation, only to be diminished again when this is completed; it later continues until the molt.
During the day, we have two periods in which the birds sing with more intensity: dawn and dusk. One should note that the artificial light, to which Malinois are exposed in song contests, corresponds to that of the dawn since Malinois which are waiting to be judged are kept in dark cabinets.
The Song of the Malinois in Particular
“Malinois-Waterslager” canaries, together with the “Harzer-Rollers”, are some of the best singers that man has obtained from the species “Serinus canarius”. However, these exist as analogous of one another, and, having once heard each of these two races, one realizes that the enunciation and interpretation of the notes differ notably in form. We consider this to be quite positive because it is praiseworthy that each one conserves the fundamental characteristics of its race.
While the song of the Harzer is very sweet, melodious, and full of a sentiment which is more similar to nostalgia and melancholia than to joie de vivre; the song of the Malinois is exuberant, fantastic, varied, and joyful. Its song repertoire is rich in composition:
• Notes with the sound of water
• Notes without the sound of water
• Metallic sounds
• Rolls with the sound of water
• Rolls without the sound of water
• Metallic rolls
All of these notes, rolled or otherwise, may be emitted in varied forms and with strong voice. This variety of notes emitted in a harmonious and suitable order and according to the taste of the singer are in a condition to offer a musical concert of which one can have none but the best impression. The cadence of the tours and the syllables of the song are more rapid in the Malinois than in the Harzer. The various tours are shorter and the passages more distinct. Praising the song of the Malinois is an homage to the song of the nightingale, the king of songsters. In this respect, as was written earlier: “the closer the song of the Malinois approximates that of the nightingale, the higher its value.” However, we are now in a condition to add that the song of the Malinois not only approximates that of the nightingale, but it is also distinctly better. In effect, if we enter by chance into a forest between the months of April and June and hear a nightingale singing, we will determine that in the repertoire there are also shrill and aspirated sounds which, if emitted by our Malinois singers, would be considered as penalizable faults. For this reason, the song of the Malinois is more agreeable.
When the Flemish breeders applied themselves in creating a canary with a song that imitated that of the nightingale, they encountered a notable difficulty. In effect, the nightingale, whether free or in captivity, only sings in the months of April, May, and June, a period which is unsuitable for the teaching of the young male canary singers. It was necessary to develop a system which allowed the optimum period of learning in the canary to coincide with the song period of the nightingale. A solution was encountered by forcing the nightingale kept in captivity into a molt at a desired time since it is precisely after the molt—natural or forced—that the nightingale begins to sing.
Above all, the area around Malines, a city situated some 20 km from Antwerp, seems to be the place that obtained the best results, achieving the best singers; breeders and bird sellers, with the intention of raising the value of their birds, affirmed that their song canaries came from the region of Malines to the point that it became stuck with the name “song canary of Malines” or, simply, “Malinois”. For the aficionados of that era, the name was the equivalent of a recommendation and guarantee, showing the good origins of the bird in question.
The Malinois, while singing, sits on the perch in a typical position and is thus easily distinguished from other canaries. The authentic Malinois curves its back slightly while singing, slightly inclining the head, lowers its wings, and, at the same time, extends more or less the neck. Moreover, while singing it inflates the throat where the feathers are ruffled considerably, but the beak remains closed, although it is opened a bit at times in order to emit a series of notes of metallic resonance, a metallic “belrol”, and certain flutes.
Breeding in General
It is fitting for us to here abstain from entering into details on the actual breeding, avoiding presenting programs or announcing theories, not because these are not themes of the highest importance, but because the breeding and maintaining of Malinois is no different than the diligent practices necessary in raising other canaries; this is material which has been treated in other texts and which we are sure our readers know. Therefore, in relation to the specialized branch with which we are occupying ourselves, we consider it necessary to give some specific indication in respect to caution which must be exercised with regard to reproduction and, at the same time, directed toward the production of quality song.
To begin, it seems of utility to us to prevent the novice breeder of Malinois canaries from having grandiose illusions on the ease of breeding of song canaries. One cannot pretend to obtain the best results and highest show honors from the first year. In order to become a good breeder, one must have lots of patience, perseverance, and a spirit of observation, finally having a better experience each season.
In this respect, please allow us to discourage the idea of beginning breeding only with champion canaries, those which require an investment of large quantities of money. Many novice breeders think—and naturally this is an error—that procuring songsters of high point value, singers of the “award of honor” category, etc. puts them in the best position from the beginning to breed champion offspring and to make their reputations as breeders. But, baring rare exceptions, all of us know what an error this concept is because at the start we must be ready for mediocre results and much disillusionment; above all because the canary which has lately been in competition and obtained a high score has been subjected to a severe training period in a small cage and has endured many dark hours each day, and for this reason his procreative results are unlikely to be brilliant. This leads to disheartening results for many breeders, who abandon breeding because they have not received immediate satisfactory results, which often only come after years of sacrifice and selection.
There are many precautions that one must adopt, many rules to follow, and many are the circumstances that play a fundamental roll in achieving the hoped for results. One cannot negate the fact that the successes of top breeders are the result of a number of years of breeding experience, these breeders having taken advantage of many valuable lessons.
Before preparation and breeding, it is necessary to acquire a minimum of preliminary notions about the song. If we are in a condition to breed according to the rules of the art, we are ready to begin. But we must also prepare, select, and carefully choose the canaries we will use in breeding, as relates to there high quality and song direction, with which we can form a good line of subjects of pure race which bring together the indispensable qualities necessary to give us high class singers. To acquire knowledge to facilitate this proposition is never a wasted effort, but we cannot hide the fact that this can be difficult and complicated. Moreover, the qualities sought for in the male are also basic in the hen.
If an aficionado of good quality song wants to procure a canary which will sing to add happiness to his free time and to begin the day with an agreeable song, he will have no difficulty in encountering an adequate subject. It is enough to purchase a canary that has participated in a contest and has a good score. But the situation changes when one desires to acquire a canary that, beyond singing well, is to serve as a producer of young and moreover of quality young at that. We have already seen that for this to happen a score sheet with a high point value is not enough since there are also other factors that play an important roll.
It is obvious that any breeding effort must begin with quality singers taken from a good line, one which can serve as a sort of guarantee. With respect to this guarantee of pure race, fortunately, there are series of valid data on which to base judgment, among these can be found:
• The score sheet which must have: the judge’s signature, the seal of the association that organized the contest, the date of the contest, and the band number of the canary.
• The canary must have, at least, one of the three primary series of notes, that is, slow water sound, fast water sound, or rolled water sound (Klokkende Waterslag, Bollende Waterslag, or Rollende Waterslag—trans.).
• The canary that is to be acquired should be listened to; it must be banded, and the band must bear the name of the federation to which the breeder belongs as well as the registered number of the breeder.
• The acquisition should be made from a breeder whose reputation guarantees quality and who has a good line of canaries.
• One must also concern oneself with observing the bird’s physical characteristics, assuring oneself that the canary corresponds as much as possible to the physical standard described in a previous chapter.
In spite of all this, one must still rely on the canary to possess an inherited quality of song, that is, that it doesn’t merely sing a song acquired under the influence of surroundings by imitation of a master singer.
It is also indispensable that the song line of the male canary is the same as that which the hen carries in latent form. The absence of this factor (the same song line) can be remedied by those breeders who are diligent, after three, four, or five years of breeding, beginning from the moment that the breeder renounces the idea of forming his own line of canaries.
Together with the characteristics which are visible (physical characteristics or “phenotype”) here one must also take into account the characteristics which are invisible, latent, or genetic (“genotype”). The radical problem is that the genetic factors cannot be immediately perceived. We know that song depends on:
• 1) the hereditary quality of the respiratory apparatus in general and of the structure and function of each of its parts (syrinx, vocal chords, the muscular system on which these depend, lungs, air sacs, etc.)
• 2) the influence of the surroundings and, more concretely, of the master singer(s), that the canary has had from birth and, above all, during his first singing experiences.
In consequence, if we encounter a Malinois that has had one or various exceptional song masters, it is possible that he will sing well, but may not have the genetic quality of an outstanding singer as inherited from his parents. He may well be an exceptional singer, but won’t be in a condition to transmit the outstanding song quality which he doesn’t genetically possess, and his song is only an imitation. Among good singers there are genetically outstanding birds, but there are also others which, like simple parrots, have learned there lessons by memory.
Naturally, in order to begin a breeding program or to simply renovate the bloodlines of an established one, we desire genetically outstanding birds, but a technique for determining one type of bird from another is yet to be treated. The good reputation of the breeder directs us to a valid indication. The canary should come accompanied with a certificate of origin. And, finally, we are in a position to begin breeding experience and therefore verify if the selection of the male has been adequate. For those who seek latent or genetic characteristics, the genotype, there is included some element of the “game of chance”. There are not enough recognized points of crossover between the phenotype and the genotype to allow one to augur, as sufficient indications, future success or even to allow one to determine which are the optimum forms to be selected.
The most common error which is committed in breeding malinois is, without doubt, to assign little importance of the selection of the hen. Novice breeders habitually pay large sums for to acquire a good male, with a high point total on its score sheet, which are subsequently bred to hens whose pedigrees are unknown to them. Naturally, the results are disastrous. The young obtained have no value as song birds.
The quality of the male has some limited guarantees in respect to the song, since one may hear him sing. But in the case of the hen, direct control is at least difficult, and it is not possible to completely discover her characteristics when it comes to song. The song characteristics she will pass on are not observable and, moreover, hens are sold at more or less the same price, which is normally 1/5 to 1/10 the price of the best males. This is a grave error. A male is not worth 5 or 10 times as much as a hen. It would be as though a new breeder of race horses was convinced that in order to breed good horses he could breed a thoroughbred to any old nag, or that a breeder of dogs thought that it is enough to pair a dog of great pedigree with a mutt. Therefore, what is true for horses, dogs, and all purebred animals, must leave us with the conclusion that a quality male Malinois must be bred to a quality hen.
In order to recognize a good hen, that is, a hen of quality and of pure race, the indications of the physical standard are useful here as well; they are valid for both sexes. Naturally, we cannot observe the song quality nor the inherited structure of the vocal apparatus. However, one should not forget that a breeder of optimum males will always have optimum hens which pertain to the same line as the males.
To resume, we should not merely select hens of good pedigree, without—and this is very important—them coming from the same breeder from which the males were purchased; in this way we will have males and hens from the same line. Observing these fundamental rules of pairing, we will continue the same line of canaries as the breeder in whom we have put our confidence, and we shall not waste whole years in attempting to form a new line of good singers. Furthermore, in order to reach the foreseen objective, we are not obliged to review—with an eye to causes—all of the degrees of the laws of genetics.
A good hen must have a rounded cloaca, not coming to a point, widened, or standing proud toward the rear; the reason for this are that these last conditions could present problems in setting or placement (“la puesta”; mating?—trans.). In order for a hen to be a good producer, she must have her vent surrounded by a cap of fat, since during incubation she will tend to slim down (one must beware of overly fat hens which will not come into condition; these have a lot of fat over the crop area as well—trans.).
Some Common Observations on Both Sexes
Naturally, apart from having all the proper characteristics of the Malinois race, in the male as in the hen, the birds must be in a perfect state of health, not suffering from the least illness. A canary in good health maintains himself in an erect position on the perch. It must have brilliant eyes and smooth plumage. It is attentive, curious, and almost always in motion. Blowing aside the plumage on the abdomen, the skin almost always appears pink. Data in relation to the age of the canary may be obtained by examining the feet (some canaries may be without a band for diverse reasons; for example, it may have been lost in the nest without the breeder realizing and replacing it). A young canary will have almost transparent feet. During the first year they are smooth and almost translucent. Successively, over the next three years they become more angular. After the three years they are completely jagged and covered with covered with small scales, the nails are large and thick and the toes stronger. By this age the reproductive capacity is reduced by 50%. An old hen—and by old it is understood after the third year—coupled with a young male will give mediocre results. Moreover, a young hen paired with an old male will produce many clear or infertile eggs. In the end, with these stated possible outcomes, it is preferable to procure young canaries, vigorous and presenting themselves well.
Since Mr. Van De Vonder made so much of the song of the nightingale as an ideal for that of the waterslager, I have posted some links to nightingale fun facts and song on the internet; once you get to the various sites you may have to skim down the page for the correct file you're looking for. Click on the KBFK icons below for the fun facts and song:
From Le Canari de Chant Malinois-Waterslager Website
Translated from French by Sebastian Vallelunga
Silent singing during sleep aids the bird in learning his song.
There is a study which suggests that sleep plays a central role in the process of learning, according to researchers at the University of Chicago which shows that during their inactive phase the song birds replay, repeat, and perhaps reinforce the modes of neural activity implicated in the production of song.
What does learning do? Song acquisition is shown to be a system of “models of the same fashion” through which the baby learns its discourse. Young birds learn to sing by listening to adults and later they improve the practice by listening to their own attempts.
In an article in the review Science from October, 2000, researchers described how the neurons implicated in the general process of singing precisely recreated during the bird’s sleep the complex activities utilized during singing, although no sound is emitted. (The actual source seems to be: Dave, Amish S. and Daniel Margoliash. Song Replay During Sleep and Computational Rules for Sensorimotor Vocal Learning. Science, 290 (27 October, 2000), 812-16. It should be noted that Margoliash has been involved in a series of studies which began before October of 2000 and continued afterward. Many of these have been reported in, and commented on, in Science—trans.)
“Beginning with our set up, we suspected that song birds sing in their dreams,” said Daniel Margoliash, professor in the department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, and principle investigator in this study. “The bird seems to follow the model of neural review (author’s note: the neural path—remember that the fashion is to present the production of song as passing along a bustling path from the brain reaching to the syrinx. To simplify, this path is traveled by a succession of electric impulses.), using their daytime song emissions, but their “bedtime” song at full voice is not their final review. Afterwards, they use cerebral repetition of song and, perhaps, the variations of improvisation.” (Margoliash)
During sleep, the brain is unconscious to external stimuli in part due to changes in the concentration level of a specific hormone which plays an analgesic role. While at the heart of paradoxical sleep (the sleep phase which includes the review), cerebral activity appears to be more prolific than when the bird is in a dozing state.
Recall that sleep in all animals (including humans) is divided into two phases: light sleep which is the majority and paradoxical sleep, which comes in cycles throughout the night.
Paradoxical sleep is a state of paralysis and of sensory isolation to a point of total vulnerability vis a vis a predator. It consumes, without any physical reason, a lot of energy. The regulation of respiration, of the heart, of circulation, and of neurovegetative functions is upset. The brain uses much glucose and oxygen, and the metabolism becomes anaerobic in part. It causes fatigue as in muscle effort. Motor movement is blocked, and only small movements of the extremities are visible. However, cerebral activity is very intense as the accompanying rapid eye movements show.
Light sleep, on the other hand, seems to be a relenting of cerebral activity.
The recent miniaturization of the means of recording neural activity was adapted by the research team to allow better study of the activity of precise groups of brain cells in the bird while allowing relatively free movement and natural behavior. “The recording of precise neurons gives us a powerful tool for the study of the importance of sleep in learning.” (Margoliash)
The investigations began with the cerebral and vocal recordings of a male attempting to attract a female. The precise activity of the cerebral zones implicated here was then noted. The researchers then compared the activity of the same bird as he listened to or ignored the tape, and as he was in or out of a phase of paradoxical sleep. While awake, the bird did not react to his tape; on the other hand, in sleep, he identically reproduced the cerebral journey without any emission of his own. “The learned song is a temporal code which employs the impulse points of nerve cells as models which precisely correspond to hearing and to singing. The two models may be aligned evenly in precision from point to point,” continued Margoliash. “The bird employs its own precedent to foresee how to produce the next syllable.”
Comprehending how the models of behavior are represented within the brain is a major problem for neurobiologists. “Earlier we reported that, in time of song, the emission is represented as a temporal code. At this time, to our great surprise, we have discovered a certain correspondence between cells affiliated with sensory and motor modes. The formation of a certain configuration between these senses and actions define the process of learning… Our results show that these neurons replay complex activity during sleep which had been produced during the day. This storing and this interior repetition can help adult birds to maintain precise copies of their songs and help young birds in learning to sing.”
During the phase of paradoxical sleep, the researchers discovered that the neurons spontaneously returned to the same models of complex song production. But, in this very interesting fashion, these models of cerebral activity may be in slight discord as when the bird repeats a slight variation of his song as in occasionally varying the tempo, slower or faster.
How does the bird learn to correct his song when at the moment of its being produced his brain is already engaged in the production of the next? Practice during sleep may form part of the response. “In contrast to the prevailing idea that learning involves readjustments to keep on track, our idea is that the bird stores the production of the full-voiced ‘model’ song, and at night goes into a sort of silent ‘autonomous mode’. It is a solution to the problem of timing for the bird. The bird can replay and reinforce the model during sleep.”
The following step, according to Margoliash, must be to explore if learned song can be arrived at if sleep, accompanied by the cerebral activity of song, is interrupted. “If we could describe the rules which sleep exercises on song learning, these lessons might apply to learning in other species and in man. The beautiful songs of birds may possess a great lesson for us and explain how we ourselves learn.”
If Professor Margoliash interests himself in applying his future inquiry to man, these studies will permit us to modify and readjust certain conceptions on our own learning.
Does The Night herself, then, bear good counsel for our birds?
(It should be noted that the study was conducted using zebra finches as subjects, but that the basic premiss of sleep replay as a contributing factor in song learning should apply to canaries as well. When song birds are very young it is common to see them absent-mindedly twittering to themselves with eyes half closed; I wonder if this is a related phenomenon? As far as human learning goes, I think I spent a good deal of time learning while asleep when I was in college—trans.)
Belgian Waterslager (Malinois) Breed Sheet
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