Umpire retires hurt after peck: Vicious beaks and sharp language are among the hazards confronted by cage bird judges. Martin Whitfield reports

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'OH DEAR, oh dear,' as Penny, the 20-year-old parrot that won yesterday's talking bird contest at National Exhibition of Cage and Aviary Birds, might say.

A swift peck from Doodle, a mature sulphur crested Australian Cockatoo, left Dickie Bird, test cricket umpire and guest of honour at the show in Birmingham's NEC, with a bloody nose.

Dabbing at his injury with a tissue, Mr Bird was forgiving as he was directed to the centre's medical centre for a tetanus injection.

'He was good as gold but just got over excited. The jab will come in handy if I have to go abroad this winter,' he said.

Penny is an Essex parrot. Laura McBride, 24, from Brentwood, says she takes off her own accent in such phrases as 'tickle, tickle', 'all right' and 'how's Kevin?'

Mrs McBride was only five when Penny came to live with the family and moved when she married Graeme a year ago. Kevin, by the way, is her brother, not an embarrassing former admirer.

Mr Bird and Joan Robinson, judging the talking birds for the 10th time, picked Penny for her remarkable mimicking of sounds. 'She was a real talker. I have never heard a parrot cry like a baby,' Mr Bird said. Penny also imitates dogs and cats, laughs, and sings opera.

Although the talkers were the stars of the show for the non- enthusiast, most bird fanciers are interested only in their own particular specialism. Owners of about 10,000 birds compete in scores of classes.

Walter Lumsden, 81, a former miner and breeder of the Fife canary from Kirkcaldy, has been showing birds since he was 12. 'Some grown men keep mice, others collect stamps. Everybody has their fancy,' he said.

The most valuable birds are worth more than pounds 1,000 but a pair of canaries can be bought for pounds 25.

John Wakeman, 63, a former toolsetter at Rover's Longbridge factory in Birmingham, recog nised that some may find it cruel to cage wild birds, but said they lived five or six times as long in captivity. He added: 'The pleasure a budgerigar can give to a pensioner is enormous.'

More than 20,000 visitors are expected at the show this weekend and they can expect a few rough words from some birds. Ms Robinson said: 'The most common things are 'hello' and 'come on sweetie', affectionate things. But you do get one or two that like swearing. I once got told to 'sod off' when I looked in the cage.'

(Photograph omitted)