NFSS | National Finch & Softbill Society 501(3)(C)
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Introduction to Showing Softbills and Finches

What to Pack for the Show

Bottled water or water from home
Mister to spray birds with water
Bird Net
Blood stop powder
String (for attaching cage tags)
Address labels (for filling out cage tags)
Hand sanitizer
NFSS Judges’ Handbook and Official Standards

Finch and Softbill Exhibition is more than just a contest to see who will make the Top Bench. It is an invaluable educational experience as well as a tool to assist one with their breeding programs. It is for beginners and experts alike. It is an excellent opportunity to make new contacts and meet others who are dedicated to the hobby of keeping finches and softbills.

The National Finch and Softbill Society does not require that birds be banded, although certain awards such as Best Unflighted require a bird to be closed banded in order to be eligible. Nor does it require that the birds shown be bred by the exhibitor. Showing the birds that you own but have not bred provides one with the opportunity to assess the qualities of their potential breeding stock and can also be an excellent learning experience. One doesn’t even need a standard show cage – any small wire cage is acceptable.

Finding a Show

NFSS-Sanctioned shows are posted on the NFSS website and are listed in the NFSS Journal. Show season is usually in the fall, culminating with the National Cage Bird Show in November. However, occasionally finches will be shown in late spring and summer.

Preparing for a Show

While there is nothing that can be done to affect the bird’s genetics once the egg has been laid, condition is in the hands of the keeper. In the months before the show, some like to prepare the bird by supplying a good balanced diet and keeping the birds in a flight that gives them plenty of opportunity to exercise. Many like to cage train the birds by placing them in the show cage for periods of time before the show. Picking up the cage and moving it around will help the bird become used to the normal activity of a show. If the bird will not sit on the perch, cage training while filling the bottom up with an inch or more of seed will help encourage the bird to stay off the floor. Covering the cage front below the perch with cardboard will also help teach the bird to perch.

Make sure to give the birds bath water daily or to mist daily in the few weeks before the show so the bird’s feathers are in the best condition.

The day before the show, make sure the show cages are clean. The bottom of the cage should contain seed. Do not use seed with artificial coloring or colored pellets as the dye in the pellets may stain the bird’s feathers, affecting its score. Placing a piece of paper towel on the bottom will facilitate clean up after the show. The cage (for most species) should contain two perches running perpendicular to the front of the cage.

Water should be supplied in a drinker placed as low and off to the side as possible, so as not to obscure the judge’s view. Birds entered without food or water will be disqualified.

Only one bird should be placed in a cage unless entering birds as a pair. Birds entered as a pair should be a true pair and should be as identical as possible (eg, a black-headed, normal-backed, purple-breasted Gouldian cock should be paired with a black-headed, normal-backed, purple-breasted hen). It is generally more difficult to compete as a pair, as the birds will be judged based on the lesser of the two birds. Trim the bird’s nails before putting it in the cage if they are long – long nails will count against the bird. Brush out any pin feathers with a toothbrush or the stiff side of a piece of Velcro to free the feather. Once the bird is in the cage, tape the cage door shut with black electrical tape to prevent accidents.

Show Time

When you get to the show, you will purchase your cage tags (one for each cage entered) and you will receive an entry form and a show catalog. The steward will help you fill out your paperwork if you have any questions. Other exhibitors are also helpful.

Before you enter your birds, remove any feathers from the bottom of the cage. Mist the birds with water so that they are in their best feather when the judging begins. Make sure their drinkers are filled with water.

The catalog will divide the birds by Divisions, Sections, and Classes. The Division will be assigned a number or a letter and will be Finches and Softbills. The Finch and Softbill Division is divided into Sections based on native region of the species. Zebra finches, Gouldian finches, and Society finches are given their own sections because of the large numbers of birds entered in these categories and the number of mutations present in each species. Each section is given a number. The sections are further divided into classes. Each class represents a species or a mutation, with an AOV class to include any bird that doesn’t fall into any existing class. The class is also given a number, usually a three digit number, the first digit being the same number used for the section.

Each cage tag will be uniquely numbered. Below the number on the tag, record the division number/letter, the section number, and the class number for the bird in the cage. Print your name and address where indicated (or affix an address label). Under description, write the species/mutation of the bird entered. If the bird is banded, record the band number where indicated. If you are a novice, write the letter “N” at the top left corner of the cage tag. If the bird is bred and banded by you, write “BB” in the top left corner. Tie the cage tag to the cage bars in the lower left corner of the show cage (when the cage is facing you).

Once all the cage tags have been filled out and attached, fill out the entry form. Duplicate the cage tag information for each entry on the entry form, and fill in the remaining information on the form. Write your NFSS number at the top of the form if you are a member. If you are a novice, write “Novice” at the top of the form.

When you are done, the steward will check your paperwork, staple your cage tags shut, and take your birds. You will not have access to them again until the judging is over. It is always nice to volunteer to help at this time, as sometimes positions have not been filled. Volunteering to ribbon tie is an easy job for a novice.


The birds are judged based on Conformation, Color/Markings, Deportment/Demeanor, and Condition. The NFSS Judges’ Handbook and Official Standards provide detailed descriptions of what the judge is looking for. In general, conformation is the body shape/size/posture. Is the bird proportionate? Does it stand at the proper angle? Do the wings meet in the appropriate way? Color/Markings is judged by depth of color, evenness of color, and lack of irregular blotches of color. Markings are dependent on the species and mutation begin judged. Deportment and Demeanor pertains to how the bird behaves in the cage. A bird with good deportment will sit still and calmly on a perch. Zebra finches, society finches, java rice finches, among others, should exhibit good deportment. Demeanor applies to the wilder-type birds, such as waxbills. These birds are supposed to be more active in the show cage – moving from perch to perch and displaying proper head, tail, and body movements. Condition refers to more environmental factors – are the feathers in good, tight conditions – are all present and none torn? Is the bird the proper weight and in good health? Are the nails trim?

How the Show is Run

After you turn in your birds to the steward, the steward will place the birds on tables behind the judging bench and place them in order based on class and section. When all the birds have been checked in, the judge and the steward will do a walk-through and reclassify any birds that the judge deems to be misclassified. After the walk-through, the birds will be judged.

The birds are judged one section at a time. The section is judged on class at a time. The judge will frequently comment on the birds and explain why he/she chose one bird over another. When all of the classes in a given section have been judged, the judge will then judge the top birds in that section. A bird that placed second in its class may place above a first place bird in another class, but it may not place above the first place bird in its own class. Once all the sections have been judged, the judge will then decide upon the top ten birds for the division. Once again, a bird that placed lower in one section can place higher than a higher placed bird in a different section, but it cannot place higher than a higher placed bird in its own section. The top ten birds in the division is referred to as the “Top Bench.” Once the top bench has been determined, the judge will open the cage tags and announce the winners.