Thomas B. Trujillo
The Waterslager Canary. Photo by Everett Putney
Belgian Waterslager (Water Singer) song canary is one of the oldest established
breeds of canaries in existence today. The earliest known reference to
Waterslagers is in a French travelogue written in 1713. That author mentioned
that while traveling through the Belgium, he had stopped at the town of
Malinois (near Antwerp). He discovered many Protestant refugees living
there that had been forced to flee France and the Spanish occupation of
Holland. He was quite surprised to see that these refugees had fled with
their slender yellow canaries. These birds were apparently prized as some
of their most valued possessions. He wrote in his journal that after listening
to their unusual song, which included the sounds of water, he could understand
the reasons why.
that time, Waterslager fanciers have diligently protected their canaries
through adversities such as economic upheavals and the numerous wars that
have been fought in the European city of Belgium and on the fields of
Flanders. Thanks to the dedication and love of their birds by these Belgian
fanciers, Waterslagers have become the most popular of the three song
canary breeds recognized by the world organization, Confederation Ornithologique
popularity continues to soar throughout the world because this bird has
so many desirable traits. Their repertoire includes water sounds and the
sounds heard in the song of the European Nightingale. It also includes
bell and flute sounds as refined as in any breed of song canaries. Waterslagers
compose their "melodies" using one or a combination of these
basic sounds, thereby creating songs of true beauty and intriguing variety.
Sounds of the Waterslager
different sounds that create the song of the Waterslager are often given
a name phonetically similar to what the bird is actually heard singing.
Klok is the name of the single water note and brings to mind a large drop
falling a distance into a pool of still and deep water. The sound is actually
softer and more similar to Wuut. When the bird sings a tour of Klok there
will be a repetition of distinct and separate sounds like Wuuut .. Wuuut
water tour is Bollende which sounds like bubbling water. Here you can
hear the single water notes emphasized but there is no noticeable pause
between the notes. The "Bol" ( short for Bollende) tour when
sung sounds like Wuut Wuut Wuut or Bluuu Bluuu Bluuu Bluuu.
The last water tour is Rollende in which the water notes are rolled and
sound like boiling water. There is only enough emphasis in each rolling
note to clearly distinguish the water sound in the tour. This sounds either
like wutwutwutwutwut or blublublublublu.
A very different sound is the Chorr which is the equivalent to the bass
roll in Rollers or the timbrÈ (deep ringing roll) in Spanish Timbrados.
The Knorr tour is a deeper version of the Chorr. The tour begins with
a C (Chorr) or K (Knorr) followed by a strong O sound and completed with
a prolonged rolling R sound. This is quite an impressive tour.
A sound unique to the Belgian Waterslager is the Staaltone (steeltone).
It is a metallic note resembling the sound of a metal hammer beating on
a musical pipe or anvil. It can vary from a higher pitched ping to a lower
The Tjok note is one of the nightingale's notes and we can probably describe
it as tchoke. The notes can be sung separate and distinct or can be rolled.
As one small child at a show said, it sounds like a cute little train,
The Waterslager also has the ability to create a variety of flute and
bell notes and tou rs. Flute notes sound like a puff on a flute while
a bell can sound like a phone or doorbell ringing. Some Waterslager breeders
have been able to develop a particularly beautiful bell note which is
frequently referred to as the church bell. It is composed of a double
tiered sound like the church bell of tee-lung. The water sounds can also
be heard in these notes and tours.
Waterslager song is scored on a 300 point system rather than the 100 point
system used for rollers and Spanish Timbrados. The judges in the various
countries have their own particular methods of scoring and there can be
some variation in scoring the same bird depending upon the locale. The
Belgian judges appear to be the "toughest". The highest score
that I have seen awarded in the country of Belgium was in the 130's. Such
high scoring birds are very rare and most song contests do not have the
benefit of one as an entry. Good fortune has been with me and I have had
the opportunity to hear five Waterslagers that have scored in this range.
In fact, during my exam to become a judge, I gave a score of over 130
to a Waterslager in a team competition. I was very nervous about giving
such a score but felt a bit of relief when the judges giving the exam
also scored the same bird in the130s.
How does a Waterslager scoring over 130 points sound? It has a clear,
deep voice that holds each note or tour to an emotional level. One wants
to applaud or yell out a strong YES! (or in my case BRAVO!). He sings
seven or eight deep, and distinct Klok notes to draw your attention and
then follows these with a sweet water roll. Then he sings a flute roll
that has the reverberating hollowness heard in the best Rollers and spices
it with token tours (the nightingale sounds) beginning as a roll and slowing
to separate, deep tjoks. Before you start to miss the water sounds, he
gives a rendition of Bollende, the bubbling water tour, followed by a
"tightening" to a deep Knorr which is equivalent to a Roller's
Finally he shows off by striking his steeltones five or six times. He
stops for a few seconds and begins again with a different composition
of notes and tours spiced with hollow bells, glucke flutes and three or
four church bell rings of tee-lung, tee lung. The more the bird sings
the more the song becomes watery and one begins to hear notes and tours
rarely heard from other fine Waterslagers. Regrettably, he will end his
presentation, having demonstrated he can sing just about everything and
sing it well. It is the variety of sound and the tonal quality of those
sounds that makes him a star performer!
The Waterslager is still relatively unknown in North America and advice
that applies to other song canaries may not apply equally well to the
Waterslager. I do not believe, as some enthusiasts do, that different
types of song canaries can be kept together without affecting their song
quality. In my experience, the risk is too great.
The problem is that this intermingling interferes with you obtaining the
best efforts of your birds. This is because the corruption of their unique
song can be heard by the sounds of other birds creeping into their repertoire.
All canaries mimic sounds in their environment within a range determined
by their genetics. I have seen Rollers quickly develop tours unacceptable
in Roller competition because they have been kept in the same room as
Waterslagers. I have heard Waterslagers kept with other types of canaries
singing tours unacceptable in Waterslager competition. I have heard Waterslagers
that were kept with Rollers sound sweeter and deeper as should be the
case of the Rollers. However, these Waterslagers ultimately limited their
natural variety of song as was also true in the case of the Rollers.
You (and the birds) are better off not allowing different breeds of song
canaries to mix if you truly want to develop the best talents of your
favorite type. Do not under any circumstances, consider cross breeding
song canaries unless you just want to destroy the historical efforts of
400 years of dedicated bird breeders. Seasoned breeders are quick to tell
you that when you bring in new blood lines from the same breed of song
canary it may take many years to "settle" the bloodline back
down. Bringing in completely new bloodlines (especially as varied as the
currently developed breeds) will take even longer, if ever. All song canary
breeds have an abundant supply of birds available. I would encourage the
fanciers of each breed to focus on improving their favorite birds.
Most canary literature written in English, is authored by color and type
canary breeders who emphasize feather texture, color and other physical
standards. These factors do merit consideration in the selection of any
breeding stock. However, in song canaries, the primary emphasis is the
quality of song. This is especially difficult when one is not familiar
with the song characteristics of a particular breed. If you really want
to improve the song quality of your birds, you must invest the time and
energy to learn the necessary requirements from reputable and experienced
song bird breeders. Better yet, attend a song contest and acquire some
first hand experience.
I have personally raised type and color canaries for years. In my experience,
it is more difficult to live with a song canary with a faulty note than
a color or type canary with a physical fault. A bird out of sight is out
of mind, but one out of sight and still within hearing range is very annoying.
A good Waterslager even captivates the ear of the first time listener.
We have all heard the sounds of water and a good Waterslager will imitate
them to such a degree that the listener will immediately recognize the
sounds. Even the staaltone has a harmony to it and it is not just a metallic
A song canary is measured and judged by what it sings. "A Waterslager
must sing water notes or it is not a Waterslager." This is how the
Belgians characterize a Waterslager. Appearance or pedigrees do not mean
a thing if the particular canary does not "sing water". However,
the one bird that sings water by accident is of no value to the breeder
if his offspring do not consistently inherit these innate abilities.
Waterslagers do have several physical characteristics that can offer some
evidence or insight that one is at least observing a canary that could
produce a Waterslager song and could possibility pass on this ability
to its offspring.
All Waterslagers developed in Belgium have been limited in color to yellow.
Recently, a dominant white mutation in these yellow birds has been produced.
Ticking (as distinct from variegation) is common and acceptable if the
dark areas do not cover over 25% of the bird's body. This ticking does
not mean the presence of melanin in the bloodlines as seen in variegated
birds. Tick markings are black or of a smudged appearance. The lack of
melanin means there are no green or blue Waterslagers. Evidence of red
factor and cinnamon in the feathering is not acceptable as it would indicate
an outcross to a color canary.
The standard size for Waterslagers is approximately 6.5 inches in overall
length. However, a slightly larger or smaller bird is of no consequence
if it can produce the defined notes and tours of the Waterslager song.
Unique features of the Waterslager that I can personally differentiate
easily from other canaries lies in the head area. The beak appears to
be of a larger and thicker appearance with more of a cone shape than of
other canaries. The beak of a Waterslager has a stronger pinch than other
canaries. Its eyes are a very pronounced and shiny black with lots of
expression. The feathers at the back of the head rise a little, when the
bird is excited, giving a cardinal crest like affect. I would guess that
this must indicate that the canary in the Peanuts comic strip, Woodstock,
is a Waterslager. One does not have to worry about buff or intense texture.
Having seen several thousand Waterslagers in Belgium, Mexico, Puerto Rico
and the United States, I have not seen a single intense feathered (hard
feathered) Waterslager. However, the shades of yellow do vary, from a
very pale color to a very rich tone. The feather type does not vary.
Just as 400 years of selective breeding has produced a canary with a very
distinct song and personality, it also has produced a canary with unique
characteristics, even as would apply to egg. The eggs of Waterslagers
are often larger than other canaries of similar mature size. The coloration
varies from a grayish green with heavy smudging to beautiful clear sky
blue. Having four or five clear blue eggs in the nest runs counter to
the experience in other canaries that the 'blue egg' is the last egg in
the clutch. Once the eggs hatch the parents generally do an excellent
job of rearing their young. However, they make very bad foster parents
as they seem to recognize a difference in their baby's call for food from
that of other canary babies.
Placing foster babies in the nest of a Waterslager most often results
in the hen standing at the edge of the nest intently looking and listening.
Once she is convinced these are not her young, she tosses them out. Even
babies the same color as Waterslagers have been distinguished and tossed,
the color appearing to make little difference. The only caution with the
parents and their young (and a reason not to use them as fosters for type
canaries) is that Waterslagers can be prone to severely plucking their
young, particularly if they want to nest again. Do not ignore "fussing"
sounds coming from a ca ge with a clutch of babies, as it could be the
young trying to defend themselves. Providing a second nest with dummy
eggs and nesting materials in place often stops the plucking. Another
solution is to have an extra male always available and place the babies
in his cage. Most Waterslager males are excellent fathers.
Waterslagers are not especially social canaries. Even when very young
and in large flights, it is not surprising to have to remove an aggressive
youngster or one that has been picked on or both. Older males do not do
well in flights, especially those previously kept as tutors for a few
seasons. The fighting and level of stress that can occur can prove to
be fatal. As luck will have it, your most prized male will most likely
be the one involved in the fracas. A common practice among experienced
breeders in Belgium is to place a large raw carrot on a spike in the middle
of the cage floor. It seems that the birds exhaust some of their energies
pecking away at the carrot thereby alleviating aggression in the aviary.