Monday, March 27, 2006

Feathered fascination

Carroll Myers uses a firm but gentle grasp as he places one of his English budgerigars into a show cage. The male bird quickly finds a spot on one of the two perches and, with no prompting from Myers, puffs its plumage in a display of confidence. He knows it's time to show off.Eagle Myers is a nationally known budgie breeder and judge who got started after seeing an ad for the birds. "I gotta have a few of those," he said.
Meanwhile, about 400 birds in crisp whites, cool blues and vibrant greens waddle on perches in Myers' custom 1,000-square-foot aviary.
His fascination with breeding and showing English budgerigars started two decades ago as a hobby and has evolved into a passion that takes him all over the United States. He has won dozens of awards at regional and national budgie shows.
"It's the fact you want to raise something, and raise something better. You're trying to build a bigger, better bird," he said.
The English budgerigar, also known as a budgie, is a larger cousin of the common parakeet. The bird is native to Australia and in its native habitat has a bright-green body and black-and-yellow wings.
Myers, who also runs a cattle ranch, said his interest in budgies stems from his work with the cows that roam his property near Navasota. "I enjoy the cows because I enjoy the genetic aspect of breeding. It's the same thing with the budgies. The genetics are just unbelievable."
Myers said there are 23 varieties of budgies. Breeding different birds results in vibrant colors that range from cobalt blue to army green. Other birds have "cinnamon" colors, budgie talk for pastels.
To assist in the breeding process, he tracks each bird's lineage with a special computer program. That way he can find birds and breed a couple with particular strengths such as colors or spot patterns.
Myers' fascination with budgies doesn't stop at breeding and showing the birds at contests in Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, California and Colorado.
He also has served as a judge for national shows and is the past chairman of the Budgerigar Association of America.
The ideal bird, Myers said, is about 9 inches long and will stand upright on its perch in a "very regal" position. It has a large head that's almost as wide as its body. Budgerigars are orginally green but through breeding take on many other colors and color patterns.
Myers was introduced to the birds in 1990 by a friend in Houston who was moving. He had about 75 American parakeets, Myers said, and couldn't take them.
Myers agreed to watch the birds and, as he learned more about them, became more interested.
Soon after, he came across a newspaper ad for an English budgerigar show in Houston and decided to go.
The attraction was instant.
Today, Myers is a nationally known budgie breeder. He fields about five calls a week from prospective buyers across the country; they'll pay $50 to $1,000 per bird depending on the rarity of its color.
But vibrant colors don't always make a star show bird. Aside from physical characteristics, Myers said you can tell whether a certain budgie feels comfortable in the spotlight.
"We look for birds that have spunk, showmanship and good color. See how that one is shy and goes to the back of the cage? A good 'show bird' comes up to you and puffs up its head. Some just naturally like to show off."

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