THE super models of the avian world will put on quite a show in Geelong next year. So will their owners, writes SARAH HUDSON
Forget Miss Universe and other beauty contests. If you want to see the claws come out and the feathers fly then head to a budgerigar competition.
It's in these competitions, held around Victoria and the nation throughout the year, you'll find these humble household pets transformed into super models of the avian world.
And up for grabs? Glory. With the occasional odd trophy.
President of the Budgerigar Council of Victoria Alan Baxter, who oversees 300 statewide members, says the National Budgerigar Shield, which will be held in Geelong in 2012, is the ultimate beauty contest.
"What is the Jennifer Hawkins of the budgie world?" he asks rhetorically, laughing.
"There's a standard, which changes every so often, that is generally a little beyond the reach of what breeders can achieve.
"Generally speaking a bird should be about 240mm, have six throat spots, wing length is important, markings can also earn points and colour is a major factor.
"Deportment - straight backs and balance - earns high points and big heads are a sign of a good-looking bird.
"In total there are 23 categories a bird can be entered in and most of those are colour.
"But overall a judge will not get out a paper, pencil and measuring tape. It's about getting a sense of the bird in front of them."
Alan says each breeder has his own set of secrets to glam up their charges - unwanted feathers are plucked, plumage is primped and preened and beaks polished.
And just like on the catwalk, disputes arise as to the judges' final decision. There are 25 judges throughout the state who meet regularly to ensure consistency in judging.
"Yes, we can have disputes on judging and between clubs.
"Sometimes it's easy to see which bird stands out. At other times it's difficult - there can be 20 all of the same quality.
"The average person may not be able to tell the difference."
If US billionaire Donald Trump is the mastermind behind many of the Miss Universe success stories, then Alan Rowe is his equivalent in the budgie world.
Alan, who lives on a small property in Yarrambat, on Melbourne's outskirts, is one of just 20 people in the Australian Budgerigar Hall of Fame - and one of just three Victorians.
He earned the accolade after taking out 14 national titles and umpteen state awards.
He's since gone on to win another seven national titles.
Alan, who is also a judge, says the success of his 300-bird stud is all down to his budgie smuggling - of the legal variety.
"In the 1980s the Australian Government opened a small window that allowed budgies to be brought back from the UK," says Alan, 71, who has been a budgie fancier since he was a young boy.
"I bought 15, which cost about $700 each by the time I got them back. All my birds now have been bred from that original group.
"British birds are generally better than Australian ones because they have been bred better - at one stage they had 20,000 breeders.
"We believe their birds have a mutation that gives them bigger heads and longer tails."