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Frequently Asked Questions

About Canaries & Canary-Keeping

Click on a question to go to the answer

Sick Birds?  |  Cages?  |  Sharing Cages?  |  Not Singing?  |  Male or Female?  |  Handling Canaries?  |  Lighting?  |  Breeding Season?  |  Bathing?  |  Cage Liners?  |  Falling Feathers?  |  Grit or Gravel?  |  Washing Greens?  |  Shaking His Tail?  |  Checking Weight?  |  Corncob Litter?  |  Colourfeeding Red Canaries?  |  Overgrown Beak?  |  Edible Flowers?  |  Feather Lumps?  |  Trip to the Vet?  |  Feather Types?  |  Unexpected Egg?  |  Building Nests?  |  Pairing Canaries?  |  Pairing Related Birds?  |  How Many Clutches?  |  Limiting Clutches?  |  Soft-Shelled Eggs?  |  Infertility?  |  Incubation Period?  |  Candling Eggs?  |  Bob Test?  |  Unhatched Eggs?  |  Nestling Food?  |  Fledging?  |  Weaning?  |  Soak Seed?  |  Canary Cam Photos  |

Sick Birds?    Return to top
    Please understand that if you think your bird is sick, you need to consult an avian vet. If you know your bird is ill and ask here for a solution, all we will tell you is to consult a good avian vet. Birds try to hide being sick, so if your bird looks sick, there is very little time to waste, if you value your bird's life. Please do not rely on home diagnoses or treatments until you have at least a few year's worth of personal experience - until you know exactly what you are doing, such guesses will turn out to be the wrong thing to do as often (or more) as they should chance to be right. You can look for an avian vet at www.aav.org. Some other ideas are to

  1. Ask your regular vet if there is someone in your area who specializes in birds, that he or she would recommend.
  2. If there is a good pet store in your area that sells birds you can ask them if there is someone they are experienced with and are willing to recommend.
  3. If you belong to a Bird club check with other members to see who they consult.
  4. Check with your state Audubon offices to find out who does wild bird rehabilitation in your area. The rehabbers will most likely be able to suggest an experienced avian vet who works with small birds.
  5. Ask the breeder you bought your bird from who they would recommend.
  6. Use the search engine at the website for the Association of Avian Vets to locate the nearest avian vet to you.

What's The Best Canary Cage?    Return to top
     Canaries aren't climbing birds, and don't do well in tall, narrow cages. They move most easily back and forth, which means they don't do well in round cages either. That said, the ideal cage for a canary has bar spacing no greater than a half inch, and is made of or at least coated with sturdy, easily cleaned non-toxic materials. By preference it should be at least 40 inches wide, and as tall as is practical for your living space.

     Generally, the more flying room you can give your canary, the healthier he is likely to be. You don't need a lot of perches, either; most of the space inside the cage should be just that, space. It may seem like a lot of room for one tiny bird, but remember, these birds were born to flit between trees, and like to own their own space; to them, even a cage of 2 feet by 3 feet by 4 feet - that's 24 cubic feet - seems fairly small. For more about canaries and cages, read the following articles.

     Article: Why Won't My Canary Sing?!?

     Article: Flight Cages Are For the Birds

Can Canaries Share A Cage?    Return to top
     You can sometimes allow more than one canary to share a flight cage for part of the year - but never plan to keep a group of canaries in the same cage, no matter how large it is, for the full year, unless you don't mind BIG trouble! If you want them to share a flight cage for awhile, fine - but you will still need to have at least! one cage available for each and every bird you have, as somewhere along the line, you will need to use it to separate them. If this sounds confusing, it's because canaries are photo-sensitive, and their personality will change according to the season.

     This means that birds who get along just fine during the summer, or in the early fall, will be seriously trying to kill each other, if they are kept together during breeding season, which is usually late winter through to the end of spring and sometimes into early summer. If you simply MUST have more than one bird in a cage year-round, you will be far better off to get birds of a more social species, like budgies, society finches, or 'tiels. Just remember that canaries (and most other species which sing pleasant songs) are not social, they are territorial. The most dominant male will try to claim the entire inside of of the cage for himself, no matter how big it is. If you have other males in with him, they will be constantly trying to challenge him - and sooner or later, somebody will die, indirectly through starvation and harrassment, or outright through fighting. Generally, canary hens are a little more sociable, but they are equally pugnatious about defending their nests once breeding, and again, only the most dominant hen will thrive, while the rest slowly fail, usually ending in one or more deaths, often completely unexpected by the owner.

     Article: Flight Cages Are For the Birds

Not Singing:     Return to top
    Sometimes canaries will stop singing due to problems with their diet or caging or because they are moulting; to learn more about this read Robirda's article Why Won't My Canary Sing?. Others will stop singing because they're not the only bird in the cage; only the dominant male will sing, if that's the case. (If the dominant bird is a canary hen, or of some other species, there may be no song at all). The answer to this is simple, just get each male his own cage.

    If you think your bird may have stopped singing due to illness, please check with an avian vet to make sure there's no serious illness involved. Whatever you do, please do NOT try to treat or medicate your canary without getting a professional diagnosis first, all you are likely to do is make matters worse!

    Once you've checked the above, you can help to keep your pet canary interested in singing by playing him our popular Canary Song CD, New Songs From the Birdroom. Male canaries are territorial, and hearing other canaries singing will challenge them to sing more in response. You'll find no distracting background music, just top-quality recordings of Robirda's canaries singing, for a great price. Over 3000 happy customers - and their birds! - agree, it's the best Canary Song CD currently available. Listen to a sample here.

     Article: Why Won't My Canary Sing?!?

Male or Female? How can I tell?    Return to top
    There is absolutely no way to tell gender in young canaries for sure unless you want to wait until they are adult. That is why most breeders won't even consider selling their youngsters until they are at least 8 or 9 months of age, because quite simply there is no way to accurately tell which you have, with very few exceptions. Young hens will often practice subsong every bit as much as young males - and none of the males will be singing true songs until they are almost adult - until then they will be practicing what is known as 'subsong'. Sometimes the young males sing more than the hens - but sometimes not. Sometimes the young hens don't sing much at all - but sometimes they sing as much or more than the young males. A few hens will go on to sing all their lives - some every bit as well as the males! Do note though that this is fairly rare.

    The only untimate proof of gender is - if it lays an egg, it is a hen - and if it has managed to fertilize a hen's egg, it is a male. You will sometimes hear that you can tell canary gender by examining their vents, the area just under the tail. Note that this is only true if the bird is fully adult, and in full breeding condition - otherwise the genders will appear identical to a casual examination. There are some companies out there who will examine the birds genes, from a blood or feather sample, but this can be quite expensive, and I've heard of a number of cases where the returned information was incorrect; this is not supposed to happen, but it does, and it's wise to be aware of the possibility. I have even had males who never sang a note - but who bred successfully, and whose sons all sang normally...go figure!

How Do I Handle My Canary?    Return to top
   Learning how to hold and handle canaries to check their health or to clip toenails can be difficult with only books for reference. To help you with this task, we offer you a great way to learn about housing, handling, and maintaining your canaries with Robirda's canary care video, The Canary Whisperer. Offering over 51 minutes of detailed canary care instructions and ideas, it's a great resource! Click here to learn more.

Lighting - Why is it So Important?    Return to top
   Canaries evolved so that their bodies respond physically to the amount of light which enters their eyes. This will trigger the beginnings or endings to some extreme physical changes, which can affect his personality, his health, his appearance, attitude and lifespan. This trait is known as 'photosensitivity'. A layer of cells in the Canary's eyes tells its body to respond physically to the changing lengths of the days and nights as the year goes through its cycle. It is the lighting they see and (to a lesser extent) warmth and food which brings them into breeding condition - normally this happens in the spring, as it is the lengthening days of the spring after the short days of winter which tells them it is time to begin to breed. Around mid-summer, as those longer days of spring begin to shorten with the onset of summer, the Canary falls out of breeding condition, triggering the annual moult. Controlling the lighting will allow you to be able to predict these changes, and see that your canary receives the care she or he reqires in order to complete the cycle properly and in good health. You'll find more discussion of these ideas in Robirda's book on canary-keeping, Brats in Feathers.

When is the Canary's Breeding Season?    Return to top
    IF the birds are getting only natural daylight, and that's a big IF! The entire Hemisphere of the planet (whether north or south) begins spring at about the same time, and generally, spring is breeding season for canaries. Those who are getting eggs and/or chicks earlier in the year, are getting them because their birds have seen enough artificial lighting before or after outdoors darkness, that they are confused, and think that it is later in the season than it really is. A lot of breeders do use artificial lighting to get a jump on the season - but according to my experience, early-season clutches tend to have a much greater percentage of infertile eggs, and very often, the better birds will be those who hatched later in the season - more like the normal time for a canary to be breeding.

   A proper lighting schedule is important. Every year, many canaries are tricked into thinking it is spring, when the holiday season comes along and suddenly there is more light and longer 'days' due to their human family's increased holiday socialization... every year I hear of 'surprise' Christmas hatchlings, and every year, some of them die, because once the holiday season is over, the house lights tend to go back to a more normal timing, and suddenly the canary finds itself experiencing shorter days.

Why Won't my Canary Bathe?    Return to top
    What colour is the tub, and how deep is the water? How high above the tub are the perches, and how far away? If they are directly up, then chances are, he may not hop down to it. If he grew up with a tub which hangs on the side of the cage (as many birds do), he may find a tubbie on the bottom of the cage scary - particularly if he doesn't like the colour. Many birds prefer the tubs that hang on the outside of the cage door. Here's a link to a cam picture where you can get a glimpse of one of the more useful designs for such a tub: robirda.com/campic70.html

     Take note of the colour. Canaries tend to like lighter colours, rather than browns or blacks, and they often dislike the deeper or more intense colours such as red or dark brown - but for some odd reason many of the little plastic sit-in-the-bottom bird tubs are made with just those colours. Hmmm!

     The water's depth should be no deeper than 1/2" and it is very important that the bottom of the tub be a non-skid surface. The lighting should be bright enough that the bird can easily see, not only the light refracting off the water's surface, but that the depth is shallow, and there's nothing scary in there.

     Temperature is another important factor, especially for canaries. A bath of COLD water is not only preferred, but also much better for them! That's because baths of warm or hot water will strip the feathers and skin of their natural oils, while cold water 'sets' those same oils, making it easier for the canary to maintain good feather quality with a litte preening.

     Finally, one last note; don't use tubs with mirrors on the bottom for a canary; canaries are highly terratorial and do not like to see another canary anywhere in their cage, in their bath or out of it!

     Sometimes you may have to try several different things, to see what your bird will take to. Try the same tub for consecutive days, giving the bird a chance to become familiar with it before trying another style. If your canary still won't bathe, take him to an avian vet and have his health checked out, as a bird that is too sick or too weak won't bathe either.

     Thorough misting with a plant sprayer set on a soft mist, so that the sprayed water gently "rains" down on him, is always an option with any bird that won't bathe, but it is best for him if he can learn to actually get INTO the water; this will be better for his legs and feet in the long run, and his preen gland too. Just make sure that the tub is easily accessible, shallow, and highly visible.

What's the Best Cage Liner?    Return to top
    Believe it or not while there are many alternatives available on the market today, in my opinion plain old newspaper is probably the best thing you can use in the bottom of your bird cage, and one of the safest, too. Too many cage-liners involve using loose pellets or bits of ground corn-cob and such; while they may seem to work well, there's a real and present danger of a bird trying to eat some. This can cause a wide variety of problems, none of which are good for your canary, and some of which can cause illness or even death.

     I prefer newspaper for three main reasons. 1.) It's convenient; newspaper is easy to get, and you can cut several days worth of paper all at once and layer it in the bottom of the cage so that all you have to do is remove the top sheet every morning to give your bird a clean cage floor. 2.) It helps you to keep an eye on your bird's health; newspaper is light enough and flat enought that you can easily monitor your bird's droppings to watch for any changes in color, consistency, or volume that would indicate a protential problem such as an early sign of illness. 3.) It's often available for very little cost, sometimes even for free, and you have the added benefit of recycling your daily reading material in your bird's cage - and if you have a garden, you can add the used materials to your compost pile.

Why is My Canary Losing His Feathers?    Return to top
    Canaries do this really interesting thing once every year, for about four to six weeks; they shed their old, used feathers and grow in new ones. This generally happens from mid to late summer, and is a normal occurrance. Just make sure your canary is getting plenty of good nutritious foods, and keep his lifestyle calm, relaxed, and predicatable during this time, as they are very susceptible to problems caused by too much stress while growing in their new feathers.

     If it's not mid to late summer and your canary is losing feathers, then you have some sleuthing to do, in order to figure out and prevent the cause. One common cause of unseasonal moulting is incorrect lighting (see the FAQ on lighting, above). Another common cause is the presence of a draft, either hot or cold. Some windows can be quite drafty, and especially during the winter, a bird within a couple of feet of such a window will almost certainly be experiencing a draft. Stairs and doors can also be sources for a draft, and don't forget that drafts can 'bounce' off walls and room corners to exist where we wouldn't suspect them to be!

     Luckily, it's quite easy to find out for sure exactly where the air currents in each of your home's rooms are by using a lit candle, - you will find the instructions for how to dfo this in my article, Why Won't My Canary Sing - it's really quite simple to do, and will provide you with clear, easy-to-understand results.

     Do note that one fairly common cause of winter feather-loss is the hot air rising from a heating vent; sometimes these can get under cage covers at night and overheat the poor bird quite badly. That, by the way, leads to mention of yet another fairly common cause for unseasonal moulting; temperatures that vary 10 degrees or more between day and night.

     Once you've found a draft, you don't necessarily have to prevent it; you can also simply arrange a sheltered area where your canary will be able to get out of it when he wishes.

Do Canaries Need Grit or Gravel?    Return to top
    As long as they are receiving an adequate supply of minerals in their diet, canaries do just fine without grit. What it comes down to is, pigeons, chickens, and other such birds do need grit in order to digest their food - but canaries and most hookbills or waxbills don't. What they do need is adequate minerals in their diet to remain healthy - but there's safer ways to see they get it, than offering grit. I myself know people who have successfully raised and kept breeding pairs of canaries, 'tiels, conures or Amazons for up to 20 years on a gravel-free diet, so I know it can be done!

     Generally, an adequate mineral supply for a pet canary can be provided just by offering a cuttlebone, that's assuming that it receives adequate vitamin supplementation to ensure that it can fully digest said minerals - in order for this to happen, all indoor-kept birds require vitamin supplmentation. (the exception to this is if the birds receive adequate full-spectrum lighting during their days)

     You can also use (either instead of, or offered with the cuttlebone) baked, crunched-up eggshells. They don't need to be crunched up too small - canaries love to nibble on the bigger pieces, and this kind of activity is very good for helping to keep the beak in proper trim. Just save the shells from any fresh eggs you use, dry them, then break them into chunk-sized pieces. You don't need to grind them - and shouldn't, in fact, as the birds don't like them too finely ground, you just need to crunch them up somewhat, so that they're not in big half-egg sections. (If they are too finely ground, the powder will tend to 'set' into a solid lump the first time water hits them.) Bake at 250 degrees F for 30 minutes, cool and then store in a dry, dark place (not the refrigerator).

     The baking is necessary, in order to get rid of the membrane, (if they get used to eating that, they may decide to sample their own eggs) and also to eradicate any chance of transmitting salmonella, which chicken eggs can carry, and canaries can get - people too, and now you know why you shouldn't ever eat a raw egg!

How Best To Wash Greens & Veggies?    Return to top
    This is how we have been washing our store-bought veggies if we can't find organic - it helps remove any traces of fertilizers or pesticides which may remain on the leaves of non-organically grown veggies. Since many of us can't always find good organically-grown greens, this method is a good way of cleaning most commercially-raised produce.

     Clean your sink well and then run it full of cold water. Add a cupful of table salt and stir till dissolved - then add your greens and slosh about well, (making sure you get all of them under water) Let them sit in the water for about five or six minutes, sloshing and dunking every minute or two. Make sure you don't leave them for longer than ten minutes, but ensure that they're soaking for no less than 5 minutes.

     Remove the veggies from the water, drain the sink, and refill with fresh cold water. Dump the veggies in and rinse thoroughly, to remove all traces of salt. Remove from the water, shake off as much water as you can, then wrap the stems in damp paper towelling and store in a tightly closed plastic bag in fridge. Note that you want to exclude as much air as possible, to keep the greens as fresh as possible for as long as possible.

     OR if you have the room, you can remove just the dried bottom end of the stems (like you would do for flowers you are putting in a vase) and stand the greens in a cup or vase of cold water in the fridge, just like a bouquet.

     The first method of storage works quite well - the veggies will last around 5 days stored like this, and it takes less fridge space. The second method works even better for long-term storage - the greens will keep for a week to ten days like this, but it will take up much more fridge space - and your family may wonder just what all these 'bouquets' of greens are doing in the fridge!

Why Does My Bird Keep Shaking His Tail?    Return to top
    Shaking the tail is not necessarily a sign of constipation. It can be, but it can also mean a number of other things - including an effort to shake off droppings stuck to the behind. It's important to always consider all the facts, when you are observing anything about your canary, and, hand in hand with that, goes the necessity to NOT jump to conclusions - every time you are tempted, remind yourself that, and observe again - try to notice all the little details, and think about how they go together.

     If you see no droppings on the cage bottom, but only on the bird's rear end, then the vent is blocked, and you will need to gently clean it off for him. Do NOT ever use any kind of oil while doing this! Warm water should be sufficient... be patient, and be careful to be very gentle, too, as this area is extremely delicate and sensitive, and it doesn't take more than a very little pressure to accidentally give your canary internal damage.

     Then, you will need to do some detective work, to find out exactly what is going on.

     You see, a bird who doesn't clean his own behind, has one of two problems - either he is too fat to be able to reach his rear end, or he is sick. If it's the first, that is WAY too fat to be healthy, as the preen gland is just above the tail, and birds NEED to be able to easily reach it - if they can't, they aren't able to properly care for their feathers.

     But if he is too weak to reach his rear end, then he is critically ill, and needs attention, fast.

     Remember that birds try to hide being sick, so it's little clues like this that you will usually have to go on, in order to detect his being ill in the first place - such things can make a difference between a happy life or a miserable one, a short one or a long one, for your canary.

     The first thing to do when you see that a bird is not able to clean its own rear end, is place fresh paper in the cage. This will allow you to observe whatever the bird is passing (or not), and is one of the bigger reasons why it is better to use paper to line the cage bottom, rather than a litter of some sort - besides the fact that most litters are rather dusty, which is not good for either human or canary (or any other critter, for that matter). If the bird is constipated, there will be no sign of droppings being passed. So, if there are droppings, then he is not constipated.

     The second thing you will need to do is to pick up the bird to examine it. Hold it as described in the series of pictures starting at robirda.com/howto.html. or for more detail, see the chapter on holding canaries in our movie, The Canary Whisperer.

     What you need to do is to check whether the bird is fat or thin, and examine the state of the vent. The first is easier to do than it sounds - just feel along the keelbone that runs along the front of the chest, beginning at the base of the neck, and running down the first half of the front of the body. The muscles on either side of the keelbone should be roughly even with the top of the keelbone - if instead, this bone sticks out, and feels sharp-ish, then the bird is very thin, and likely sick.

     More often though, a bird who can't clean his own tail end is just fat. Being fat is quite dangerous for a canary, who due to his size and metabolism is already quite susceptible to heart problems, and fatty liver disease. Being fat increases the odds that he will develop problems with either or both of these, greatly reducing his chances for living a long and happy life.

     When a canary is fat, the muscles on either side of the keelbone will plump up higher, leaving the bone running down a depression in the middle - it will be much more difficult to feel the keelbone, in this case, and if you find that this is what's happening with your bird, then you need to do two things - 1) try to see that he gets more exercise, and 2) put him on a diet. It is important to NOT take all his food away, ever - but you will quite likely need to change what and how much you are offering him.

     Stop offering any treat foods or seed mixes; this includes such things as egg, egg biscuits, song food, conditioning food, treat seed, moulting seed mixes, or any other mix high in niger, canola/rapeseed, sunflower chips, or any other relatively high-fat food. Stop offering sprays of millet (you shouldn't be offering these more than a small piece once every week or two at most to a single bird anyhow) - and don't give crackers, bread, egg, cous-cous, cooked rice or any other cooked grain, or any other cooked noodle.

     Instead, see that the bird has a constant supply of a good seed mix that is not too heavy in dark seeds, and all the dark leafy greens that he can eat. Use things like the crinkle-leafed cabbages, kale, rapini (brocolli raba), leafy endives, and other such greens by preference, as they are much more nutritious than even the best of the lettuces (romaine), or such greens as spinach or chard, which are best avoided, especially in breeding season when a hen is likely to be laying eggs.

     Chop his greens coarsely, and mix coarsely-grated carrot in with it - I use a whole large carrot per day, (enough to produce a cup or more of grated carrot) for about 20 birds, mixed with about 2 quarts (loosely packed) of chopped greens. And yes, they usually eat it all! If the grated carrots are too wet, then you are using too fine a grate - try a coarser one.

     At the same time, be sure to be offering plenty of water, and make sure that it is clean, pure, and changed daily. Wash the drinker thoroughly when you change the water, or better yet, have two drinkers, so you can thoroughly wash and dry each drinker, while the other one is being used - then when it's time to change it, all you have to do is switch the clean one for the used one, and wash the used one at your leisure.

     One thing commonly seen when changing a bird's diet from a seed or starch/fats-based diet to one heavier in greens, is a change in droppings. Especially if you are using a supplement that includes probiotics, you may find that the droppings get rather sticky for the first week or two.

     This is actually quite normal, and is part of the process of the birds' body readjusting to a healthier diet - if you ate next to no vegetables for several years, then suddenly began to eat a good amount every day again, your system would show similar changes. You will want to watch to see that if your bird needs a little help cleaning his behind during this transition period, you will be able to offer it.

     In the meantime, try to encourage him to get more exercise. You can do this by offering him a larger cage, of course - or, you could train him to fly about outside of his cage, in a (either temporarily or permanently) bird-safed area of your house.

     But, if you can't afford a larger cage and for whatever reason can't arrange an area where he can fly, you may be able to encourage him to exercise more, by simply rearranging his cage. Much of the time, we humans tend to crowd our bird's cages with toys and accessories. Most cages that I see have far too many perches, toys or other apparatus, taking up far too much space.

     All most cages really need, is one perch on either side, a swing in the middle, a cup for seed, a drinker, and a cuttlebone. A toy or two can be placed inside, near the perches, and a small plate of greens and such can go on the floor of the cage, but all the rest should be space.

     You want to encourage him to fly, not just hop, as it is using the wings that burns the most energy - but if the cage is not arranged to encourage this, your bird may be able to get about with only hopping - most canaries have no problems hopping a foot or more, without ever needing to spread their wings.

     If you have an older or a cage-bound bird, you may not be able to do much, to encourage him to get more exercise - but do try, as every little bit will help, and when added in with the diet, could mean a difference of years of lifespan, in the long run.

How To Check a Canary's Weight?    Return to top
    Many people will tell you that it's common practice with hookbills to check their weight through use of a special scale that holds them within it, rather than on top of it. While it's true that you can use such a system to check your canary's weight, it won't actually prove all that useful to you, unless you happen to know what's the correct weight for your particular bird. Never let anyone tell you what the average weight of a canary is, or compare your canary's weight in such a way; there are so many different kinds and sizes of canary, that what is normal weight for one could be grossly fat or badly underweight for others!

     The best way to check the weight of your canary is to check his keelbone. If you've ever eaten a whole roast chicken or turkey, you've seen a keelbone; it's the sharp bone that runs down the center of the breast, dividing it in two. It starts at about the same place the breastbone does on a human, and runs down about as far as our ribs do, but it's shaped quite differently, rather like the 'keel' on a boat for which it is named. It serves to anchor the large muscles that power the wings, and that run lengthwise down the body.

     To check how the keelbone sits on your bird, simply run your finger down the center of his breast, and check how well you can feel the tip of the keelbone. If it is sitting about level with the muscle of the breast on either side of it, then he is fine - if it is hard to feel the bone and the flesh rises a little on either side of it then he is fat, and if it is sharp and protrudes a little, then he is skinny - it's basically as simple as that

     For more info, check out our pictures that show how to properly hold your canary. Click on the small thumbnails to see a larger picture and find a descriptive narrative of what you're seeing. For more detail, see our video on holding and handling your canary.

What About Corn Cob Litter?    Return to top
    I've been told in no uncertain terms by my own avian vet as well as many others, that corn cob bedding is very dangerous for all birds, not just canaries, so if you've considered using this material, please reconsider! It seems that necropsies (animal autopsies) have shown that birds will sometimes eat little bits of the ground cob, which would seem harmless enough - but there's a problem.

     Ground corn cob litter does not pass through the avian digestive system, but soaks up moisture and swells up, sitting in the crop taking up room that otherwise would be used for food. This material does not digest, and worse, it can accumulate over time so that as the bird eats more little bits of cob, its crop begins to be able to hold less and less real food, until eventually the bird quite simply starves to death!

     As it requires a (can be rather expensive) necropsy to discover this particular cause of death, many pet owners never realize that it was the bedding they were using which caused the sudden and unexplained death of their birds. According to my avian vet, such deaths happen on a far more regular basis than most bird owners ever realize - so if you've been using or considering using this material, please do change your bird's bedding to something which can't harm him, such as plain old newspaper.

Colourfeeding Red Canaries?    Return to top
    The only time you need to worry about colour-feeding is when the feathers are growing in. Then, in order for a properly-bred red canary to show good colour, you need to get a good percentage of carotenoids in the diet, ideally, about 10%. Using store-bought colour-feeding supplements that contain a good proportion of canthaxanthin and other carotenoids will allow him to show his maximum potential for colour, but if you're not planning to show your bird and are only interested in keeping him pretty, you can usually get quite good colour fairly easily, by feeding him plenty of chopped kale (which is high in complex minerals and has a comparatively high level of carotenoids when compared to other easily available greens), and coarse-grated carrots (which have the highest carotenoid content of all the vegetables or greens native to the temperate zones)

     Some canaries will eat more of this mix than others, and most canaries of true red breeding will colour up beautifully. Those who eat less of this mix will colour up a little less, but most will show at least some colour - as long as they are from a true red line, that is! Yellow-ground birds will just stay yellow on a diet like this, but note that colour-feeding supplements that include canthaxanthin will give a little colour to the growing feathers of even a normal yellow canary; rather than yellow, they will finish the moult coloured a pale orange. It won't be anything like the depth of colour achieved by a properly bred red canary, but it can happen!

     Such a diet usually produces colour enough to keep most pet owners happy - but some like to try colour-feeding anyway - it's up to you, basically! If you want to show your canary though, be aware that you will need to use the proper colour-feeding supplements that will allow the bird to show the maximum amount of red it is genetically capable of producing.

     Some like to offer the canthaxanthin-based colour in the birds water, but in my experience quite a few canaries will resist drinking this mix, which can cause health problems due to lack of adequate moisture. So if I'm going to be colourfeeding I prefer to mix any daily colour supplements into a bit of nestling food, or some other soft food such as cous-cous or cooked rice that the bird likes and will quickly eat.

     Whichever method of colour-feeding you choose to go with, whether it's the greens & carrots, or the commercially bought supplements, note that your bird(s) will need to receive something or another high in carotenoids roughly once a week or so outside of the moulting season, to ensure that any randomly dropped, pulled, or otherwise shed feathers grow in red rather than white or yellow. Then, before the annual moult starts and continuing through the moult until no more feathers are falling, they will need to receive their colouring supplements daily, to ensure that any and all new feathers receive a good blood flow including the proper colour-enhancing supplements while the new feathers are growing in.

     I muself usually just give my birds a mix of kale or other greens mixed with grated carrots daily most of the year. (Sometimes I will skip the odd day or two in winter, if greens are hard to find that week). To my mind, the high nutrient content of this mix warrents offering it to my birds, whether they are colour-bred or not. But seeing them growing in all their lovely colours certainly is a nice bonus!

Overgrown Beak?    Return to top
    The actual name for this condition is rhinorrhea, and it can indicate one of two things; either your bird isn't using his or her cuttlebone, or there's a problem with stress to the kidneys and/or liver, usually due to a too-rich diet, or not enough exercise - or both.

     To eliminate the possibility that the bird simply isn't using its cuttlebone, make sure that it's fixed solidly to the cage with the soft side facing in, so that the bird can chew on it without problems. Some birds will be afraid of a larger cuttlebone, especially if it's sitting upright, so if you think this might be the case, try turning it sideways, and make sure it's close enough to a perch to be easily usable.

     "Avian Medicine: Pinciples and Applications" by the Harrisons recommends a change in diet as outlined below, BUT they stress that even though the underlying cause is being corrected, this "does not eliminate the need to continue trimming the upper bill". This is because if the beak is allowed to become so overgrown that it interferes with eating, the bird may starve to death.

     Be very careful when trimming beaks not to trim too much, or at the wrong angle! The upper beak should over-hang the lower by just a tiny amount - if you cut too far, you could cause bleeding, perhaps even heavy bleeding, so be VERY careful if you try this on your own. If you are at all unsure, then its best to go to an avian vet, and have them do this for you.

     Brooding hens are especially prone to rhinorrhea, because even if they are in a draft, they will not leave their eggs - and their kidneys have very little protection, being under a thin layer of feathers just above the root of the tail, so if they get chilled, the stress this causes to the body can start a negative chain of events.

     Also, if your canary has free access to a mixture of seeds, make sure he or she isn't picking out and eating all the softer fatty seeds, and leaving the rest behind; this can accelerate stress to the inner organs, rather like a sick child wanting to eat only candy. It can also indicate that the beak is too sore to crack the harder seeds, so be sure to provide plenty of easy-to-eat foods, as long as they are not high in fats. Note too that stress to the liver and/or kidneys can come from the body having a minor infection of some sort, which a chill can accelerate, and sometimes even cause.

     The dietary changes for rhinorrhea can take awhile to take effect - remember, the problem took awhile to develop too! As with many illnesses, this 'cure' has more to do with correcting diet and lifestyle.

     Try to get the bird on a low-protein, low-fat diet. Make sure you offer lots of organically grown greens and a wedge of organically grown apple every day, and if it's a hen, don't let her breed this season, as feeding babies would increase the stress to her system immensely. If she insists on wanting to nest, go ahead give her a nest and switch any eggs she lays for fake eggs and let her sett them for as long as she likes, as long as she is in a sheltered spot with NO drafts present to exacerbate her problems.

Edible Flowers?    Return to top
    First of all be very careful that any flowers or plants you offer your birds are pesticide and chemical fertlizer free (only organic fertilizers please). Also you want to be sure that the greens or flowers you are picking are far enough away from any roads or parking areas to avoid contamination from exhaust fumes. Note that I'm talking here about ways you can eat these delicate treats too, so you might not want to offer it all to your birds!

     Day lily buds can be eaten at any stage, but they are sweetest just before the flower unfolds - some people dip 'em in tempura batter and cook them a few seconds, but I think personally that's a waste of a great fresh treat. The entire plant is edible, roots too - they can even be baked like 'taters, although they are a little small! I personally prefer the older varieties with their lovely perfume, the newer hybrids are pretty, but they have lost all their scent, which is a shame - there's very little nicer than a flower which actually smells like a flower, and day-lily fragrance is subtle, fresh, and utterly wonderful!

     Any of the squash family plants (all the cucurbits) have sweet, edible, very tasty flowers... that includes pumpkin, pickling cukes, acorn sqash, zuccini's, etc. You can eat the flower open or closed, it is sweetest when it has just opened - careful not to dump the little bit of nectar at the bottom of the blossom out when you pick it! You can also chop up and stir-fry the growing tips and shoots of squash vines, they are quite tasty as well - don't eat them raw, though, or the little prickleys on the shoots will get you - just a few seconds in a stir-fry and they are gone, though, and the shoots are very good!

     Roses and marigolds are both edible, but not as tasty straight off the plant as squash blossoms or day-lily buds; I prefer to use them for cooking with, or for making jams (rose petal jam is to die for!) And of course naturtiums are edible too, they have a unique, pungent, peppery flavour that can quickly get quite addictive! The buds of the seed pods are pickled to make 'capers', it's easy to do, too, just use a regular pickling recipe but without the added spices. Wooly borage has beautiful tiny edible blue flowers, that look like little blue stars, and they have a nice fresh flavour, almost like cucumber.

     All of the brassicas have edible flowers, that's stuff like broccoli, mustards, radishes, cabbages, etc... they all tend to have yellowish flowers, which pretty much taste like the rest of the plant. Lettuce can be left to go to flower/seed, and the birds will go NUTS on it, they absolutely adore lettuce seed in any stage, they don't seem to mind how bitter the plant gets as it bolts at all, either- they also quite like carrot and dill seed-heads or flowers. There is an oriental plant called the 'edible crysanthemum' which you can get seeds for, the flowers and greens are quite tasty, and you may find you don't feel like giving the birds much at all!

     The old varieties of calendula are really good for you, the daisy-like flowers are edible straight off the plant, and also (like roses) make some of the best healing and smoothing skin creams and lotions out there - try washing with water which has been brought to a boil, then add a bunch of (orange or yellow, doesn't matter) calendula flower petals to it and leave it to steep (covered) til it is cool enough to use - you won't believe how wonderful your skin feels afterwards. You can do the same thing with roses, too - that's how rose water is made, so why spend a fortune buying it when you can make your own? Assuming you have a rose bush or three, that is! Red roses (for some odd reason) seem to work the best.

Feather Lumps?    Return to top
    Basically, feather lumps are the equivalent to an ingrown hair on a human - only larger, of course, since feathers are so much larger than our hairs, and canaries are so tiny, when compared to us. There are a number of theories on the cause of feather lumps, some of which insist that diet is a part of the problem, to which I tend to agree - I have had stock which, when kept by others, had feather lumps, but when kept under my care system I never had any problem, and never saw a single feather lump. The only consistent difference I've found between the other care systems and my own is that I feed very few oily seeds, and lots of dark leafy greens. Whether this alone makes the difference, or if there's other factors involved, I'm not sure.

     It is true that at least the tendancy to acquire feather lumps is genetic - this problem tends to show up most often in inbred or linebred show stock, and is thought by many to be caused by breeding for softer, broader feathers. This opinion is backed up by the fact that it's the breeds such as Gloster, Norwich, and Mosaic, who have some of the softest, broadest feathers of all, who are most often seen with feather lumps.

     Stress may have something to do with the appearance of lumps, too, particularly stress that is experienced by the bird during the time it is moulting, that is, growing in a new coat of feathers. This idea is backed up by the fact that many a canary has gone for two or three years without any sign of feather lumps, only to develop them later in life - and as everyone who's experienced it knows, old age is when physical results of a stressful life really tend to show up!

     All theories aside though, the fact remains that studies which can conclusively prove one source or another of this problem have not been done in numbers great enough to produce proper statistical evidence - and until they are, the discussions and opinions will rage on.

     I personally have observed that feather lumps can be quite painful for the bird, depending on their placement - if they are situated where they can cause pressure on a nerve or an internal organ, they can cause quite a lot of long-term damage, and occasionally can even kill a bird! (These type of lumps are best removed only by your Avian vet.)

     If your bird gets a feather lump - your first action would be to contact your Avian vet and have him or her show you how to best deal with the lump. Some feather lumps, as noted above can only be safely removed by a vet. All that being said - here is a copy of some advice a long-term breeder who removes her bird's feather lumps herself gave a friend of mine, in two emails, reprinted here with her permission.

     "Most people do believe feather lumps are hereditary. Any time you see a bird with feathers not growing back and most of all if they aren't straight - growing back at an angle or crooked, you can be pretty sure it is feather lumps. They grow on all parts of a canary except for the head and feet or legs.

     "Many times feather lumps will be found growing in the tail and preen gland area. It is one of the areas that are prone to them and the area that I hate most of all removing them from. When they are ready to remove they will turn hard, and eventually the skin will split on top of each one. At this stage they are quite easy to remove. Inside there will be a hard, cheesy stuff and bits of feather junk.

     "If you see a crooked feather, follow it down the shaft with your fingers. These small ones are easy - just pull it out with your finger nails. As soon as possible, remove those big ones. They stretch the skin and it hurts.

     "If you see a bird with a feather sticking out from the wing it is usually a feather lump, unless the bird has been fighting or caught on something. Again, just follow it down and at the end on the skin you will find a feather lump.

     "I did my first one via telephone with a club member on the other end. He told me that if I were going to raise canaries that I would have to learn to do some things for myself. I did. After the first time it isn't so bad. Your bird will thank you."

     Here is the second email; this one will give you more detail on how to deal with these lumps yourself.

     "I removed My first feather lump via telephone. A fellow club member was on the other end and guided me through it. I had called him about it and he said, "If you are going to raise canaries you must learn to do this yourself." And so I did. It wasn't easy the first time. It took me forever and the sweat was dripping down my face until I could hardly see. Now I can do it in five minutes depending on the hardness of the lump.

     "First of all get your stuff together. Peroxide, cotton balls, a sterilized needle (or a small scalpel if you prefer) and some white flour (to help stop bleeding and clot any bloodflow in case you make a mistake).

     "Don't try your first time to remove a soft feather lump. It will bleed. Get a good hard one. If it is good and hard the skin will split over it which makes it easy for you. The bird WILL NOT feel anything if you just stick the needle in the lump, just far enough to simply lift it out. Thats all there is to it if you have a hard lump. You must not stick the needle into the body of the bird, just into the lump.

     "You can lift the lump right out and you will see an empty sac. It won't be bleeding but the mucus lining will look bloody to you. Pretend you make a mistake and you just lift out a part of the lump. You just put the needle back in and lift the other part out - being very careful not to pierce the bird itself. If you are right handed you will be holding the bird in your left hand and be working with your right hand.

     "It all dries up very quickly. By the next day you may have trouble finding it. Even the sac shrivels and dries up.

     "If you have done a good job, then just sponge where the lump was with Peroxide and a cotton ball. I have never had a bird get an infection from this and one day I removed 19 of them for a lady who had cancer and couldn't use her hands well.

     "You can tell if the feather lump is hard and ready to remove by feeling it and by the color. If it feels soft and is more reddish in color it is not ready. When they get hard they are a whitish-yellow and sometimes get a split on top. With the split you don't even have to make your opening. Just use the open split, put the needle in the lump and lift it out.

     "This sounds worse than it is. However it is not for the squeamish. Most people consider me to be squeamish but I learned to do this because I had to. The bird is in a lot more pain with the lump stretching its skin and maybe pressing against an organ than it is removing the lump. If you are careful you won't hurt the bird at all.

     "Don't try it unless you feel you are ready for it. Just take your time and be sure you have your needle in the ball of feathers and dry stuff, not in the bird. If you get the lump out intact or at least be sure to remove all of it, you will find it won't come back until the next moult. If you leave a piece behind, even a small bit, it will come back very quickly."

     That is the best, most practical advice I have seen anywhere on dealing with feather lumps - and I don't think anybody could have put it better, more clearly, or more simply.

Emergency Trip to the Vet?    Return to top
    Before you prepare the car, add a little sugar to your bird's drinking water and rig a way to keep him warm, hopefully he will drink a little before you leave, the sugar will help keep his energy level up (this is important when dealing with shock, which is so often a factor when you have to make a sudden trip to see the vet) and the extra warmth will help also.

     Depending on the season, preheat or cool your car before you take his cage out, then keep the heat off while you are driving, unless you are completely positive there are NO gas fumes in the hot air coming in from the engine; canaries are far more sensitive to car exhaust than humans. Preheating or cooling the car should last you well enough til you get to the vet's, and you can provide the cage with a hot water bottle on the bottom of the cage to help make the heat last if you think he might need it.

     If it's very cold you can use one of those cheap styrofoam coolers to place your cage in. If your bird is sick enough that he isn't flying you can put a hot water bottle in the bottom of the cooler, cover it with a towel or folded sheet and then just put the sick bird in on top of the covered water bottle. Make sure the water bottle will not shift around as you're driving and squash or pin the bird up against the side or bottom of the cooler. The styrofoam insulation will keep the warm air inside and prevent any cold air from chilling your bird when you carry him to and from your car. There should be more than enough air in there, even with the top on, for a short drive to and wait at the vet's office.

     If it's not too cold, you can just fix the cage firmly to a car seat with a seatbelt, and cover the cage with a light white sheet - a bed-sheet is perfect, you want something densely woven enough to stop a draft, and light enough so he will be able to see, but not see out. Remove his water for the duration of the trip, but put a little lettuce or some such into the cage instead, he can eat that if he gets dry. Take a little jar of the water he usually gets, to fill his cup with when you get to the other end.

What to Look For When Pairing Feather Types?    Return to top
    When breeding some canaries, especially colourbreds, it's important to ensure that your pair has compatible feather types, so as to guarantee youngsters with good feather quality. in my opinion the best way to find out if you have a good pair or not, is to pull a feather from the breast of each, and then look at them on a sheet of paper of contrasting colour, so you can see the details clearly; in other words, for a dark feather use light-coloured paper, for a yellow or white feather use black or dark brown or grey paper.

     Then look at the shape of each feather. Does it narrow slightly towards the tip into a softly rounded point, or is it more evenly oval all the way around? Does the feather have a distinct edge to it, or does it thin out softly towards the edges? Do the barbules of the feather flanges hook together tightly all the way out to the edge of the feather, or are there some soft little fluffys waving around on the edge? This is exaggerating just a little - but the soft feathers are held together less strongly, and the hard feathers are quite 'solid' - they even feel less fluffy. All feathers will have some fluffy downy bits towards the bottom - but soft feathered birds have quite a lot more.

     Generally, you want to resist breeding two birds together who each have very soft feathers, or two birds who have very hard feathers... and either kind of feathering can happen in both non-intensive and intensive-coloured birds. Generally, non-intensive birds are also soft feathered - but not always. Mostly, intensive birds are also hard-feathered - but not always. The soft-feathered intensive coloured birds used to be called 'checked frost' - as in, they had the same feather structure of a frosted (or non-intensive) bird - but the frost was 'checked', that is, stopped - it extended all the way to the edge of the feather. You can believe that caused confusion - a lot of people translated that to mean that the bird was frosted so heavily it looked checkered!

Unexpected Egg?    Return to top
    I'd hate to tell you how many times I've heard something like "Oops, my male canary just laid an egg; can canaries change gender?" While the simple answer is, "No," in all fairness it's only right to point out that if you find an unexpected egg, it means you are dealing with a hen, not a male canary, and there's a few basics you need to know. (Yes, there are canary hens who sing, a few of them quite well! But it's relatively rare in most breeds.)

     Canary hens will lay eggs during their perceived springtime, which can vary depending on the lighting they are getting (See the FAQs above on the importance of lighting and about moulting). Depending on the diet she's on, generally she will lay eggs whether or not a male is present; of course, if there is no male, there will be no hatchlings, as all her eggs will be infertile.

     The most important thing to understand about canary hens and eggs is that even if you don't want to breed her, you will need to allow her to keep her full clutch of eggs and allow her to sett (that is, brood) each clutch for at least two or three weeks. If you just take her egg away, she will just keep trying to lay more, and eventually she could kill herself trying to lay a full clutch of eggs.

     Canary hens will generally lay from three to five eggs per clutch, the usual rythym being one a day for several days in a row. Never move a hen when she might be laying an egg the next morning - it greatly increases the chances of your finding an eggbound hen, and make no mistake, egg-binding is serious and can kill.

     So make sure you never change anything in the cage of a hen who is either currently or soon to be laying eggs. If you have to remove a male from a cage with a hen who is laying, rather than putting your hand into the cage to catch him, simply open the cage door and let him fly out, then catch him away from where she is. This avoids any stress to the hen. If you stress her too much it can cause big problems, so best to avoid any handling or moving whatsoever until the entire clutch is laid. Even removing the male can sometimes cause her problems, so don't do it unless you have to.

     If a hen in breeding mode but who is not currently laying eggs is moved, she will almost always bounce out of breeding mode, and stop wanting to nest, for a week or two at least. So now you know why canary hens are rarely if ever moved, traded, or sold in breeding season - late winter is usually the latest in the season when you'll find it possible to buy a hen, the reason being that they need to be comfortable with their surroundings, care, and lighting system in order to be willing to begin coming into breeding condition - and moving them from cage to cage is NOT the way to do this.

     If for whatever reason you have to move a hen in the midst of breeding season, she may or may not decide to continue breeding in a few weeks, depending on how old she is, and what kind of physical condition she is in. Quite often she will simply stop breeding and begin moulting, which means you have to wait until next year, and next breeding season before renewing the attempt to get her to breed.

Building Nests?    Return to top
    Before a canary pair can lay eggs and raise babies, the hen must build her nest. This isn't something that just happens! Just like little girls playing house, even though she has the instincts and drive, she still has to learn just exactly how to accomplish her goal. As a result, young hens just coming into breeding condition can make quite a mess with any nesting material you offer them, strewing it hither and yon with great abandon, and sometimes in the silliest of places, too!

     Generally, a hen who is still 'playing house' will carry any bits of string or fluff and anything else she considers to be potential nesting material near the tip of her beak. This often continues for a couple of weeks or more, so if you want to limit the mess she will make, limit the amount of mesting material you offer her during this time.

     She's looking for just the right spot to place her nest, and for good reason, too; that nest is going to have to withstand a lot of use and abuse while she's raising her babies! It needs to have at least six to eight inches of headroom above the edge of the nest, and out of direct sunlight and away from any draft. The final location also needs to offer bright light all day long, so she will be able to see her chicks well enough to care for them properly. Canaries don't see at all well in dim light, so remember that lighting that seems just a little dim to us, will seem black and dark to them.

     You'll know when she's decided on just where she wants her nest to be when you see her stuffing her beak full of nesting material, so she's carrying it right back near the back (or joint) of her beak; when you see this, you'll know she's seriously building, so provide her with more nesting material. You'll probably be surprised at how quickly and cleverly she puts the whole thing together, especially if you're offering her the right kind of nesting material. To learn how to make your own, check Robirda's article 10 Pertinent Points About Breeding Canaries.

     Some male canaries will try to help with building the nests, but most don't do much more than drop in the odd piece and look interested. Many will cart nesting material about in mimicry of the hen, though, and some will offer pieces to their chosen partner. It's almost as if they are trying to show her that they will be a loving and doting father to her chicks. But for all their efforts, I have never yet seen a male canary who could build a tidy nest.

     Some male canaries will help to sit on the eggs, but they aren't capable of producing the heat necessary to incubate them. So if you have a 'male' canary who builds a tidy nest, you can be certain it never was a male. Yes, some hens can and do sing, so this mistake can and does occasionally happen! But the presence of an egg means you have a hen for sure. Note that some hens will build rather sloppy nests, especially if they are not yet in full breeding condition, so 'sloppy nest' doesn't necessarily mean 'male canary'.

Pairing Canaries    Return to top
    Your canaries live in separate cages and have been exposed only to the equivalent of natural daylight through the winter. Youíve paid special attention to their diet, and seen that they got plenty of exercise. Now the winter solstice has passed, and the birds are beginning to act as if breeding season is here already. The hen has begun ripping paper and carrying it around, while your male is singing constantly, a much louder, stronger song than his former tunes. He is eager to join the hen, and so restless that he is practically dancing on the perch.

     Successfully mating a pair of canaries is seldom a simple matter of just putting the two into a single cage - there can be quite a lot of aggression on both sides, and injury may be done. Because of this it is best to allow a pair you plan to mate a short period when they can get to know each other before being required to share a cage. You may have noticed that most canary breeding cages come with a removeable divider, with which it is possible to separate the cage into two areas. The wire divider allows you to introduce a pair to each other without harm to either, as will sometimes happen if they are just put into the same cage together. This is especially true if both birds are not equally ready to breed.

     The idea is that they can get to know each other through the bars, but wonít be able to do much (if any) harm to each other, should any arguments arise. The male is able to court the hen by feeding her through the bars, and the hen will have a choice about accepting this courtship without needing to worry about getting thrashed if she should turn down a too-eager male, as can happen if canaries are introduced in a single cage.

     Once youíve put your pair into the divided cage, itís a good idea to wait until active feeding is going on between the pair before considering removal of the divider. Another sign of readiness is when the hen begins to carry her nesting material in the back of her beak. About this time she will have begun to work more seriously on building her nest, not just Ďplaying houseí by ripping paper and scattering pieces of that and anything else she considers worthy to be nesting material all across the cage.

     Once you see mutual feeding, and the nest has been begun, you can remove the divider and allow your pair the run of the cage. Mating is only the start of the process, though! Success at each step entails knowing how to interpret how the birds are acting, and what response is necesssary.

     Itís just not possible to include enough detail here to cover the entire breeding season; besides mating, you need to learn how to bring the birds into breeding condition, what to use for nests and nesting materials, how to decide what kind and size of breeding cage is best for your situation, what kinds of foods you will provide for rearing and weaning the youngsters - and much more. Remember, any youngsters will require intensive care until they are 6 months or so old, and you may not be able to sell them until they are nine or ten months old. Successfully raising canaries is a much longer process than breeding many other avians commonly kept as pets, who, unlike canaries, can often be sold quite young.

     For this reason, we offer a book, Brats in Feathers written especially for those new to keeping canaries, whether as a pet or for breeding. You will find several chapters with details on the hows and whys of breeding canaries, including an entire chapter full of photos of a canary pair hatching and rearing their chicks. Even if you donít plan to breed, itís a good idea to know this kind of information, as you never know when it will come in handy, when dealing with a quirky canary personality.

Pairing Related Birds?    Return to top
    You will sometimes hear that it's a good idea to pair related birds, so as to get similar offspring. It's true, such a method of pairing figures in many breeding plans, used for everything from vegetables and cows to, yes, canaries; but to do it properly takes quite a lot of study and knowledge, and, worst of all, means you must be prepared to deal with the occasional unwanted offspring. By 'unwanted', I don't just mean coping with babies born dead-in-shell, but particularly such things as babies born deformed, or so silly that they can't easily live; usually 'dealing' with them means putting them down so as to avoid further contamination of the gene pool, so unless you are prepared for this, don't breed related birds!

     Particularly when you're just starting out working with breeding canaries, it's best to use a pair as unrelated as possible, to give the gene pool a wide base, and the babies as much protection from potential genetic defects as possible - you will have enough to learn as it is, without adding to your workload! If you do somewhere along the line decide to adopt a line-breeding or in-breeding plan (yes, these two approaches are different, although they both advocated breeding related birds), do yourself a favour and study up on potential problems beforehand, and see you are well eqipped to cope before any problems have a chance to arise.

     Articles: More Info On Breeding Canaries

How Many Clutches Per Year?    Return to top
    All the more experienced breeders who care properly for their stock, the ones I know at any rate, will tell you that TWO clutches per year is the limit for their canary hens. Some will allow only one clutch to be raised if the hen is doing the raising of the babies all on her own, without the help of the male. Note that a 'full' clutch is generally considered to be three to four or more babies in the nest.

     I supposed every new canary breeder has to try this one out for him or herself, and I was no exception. I can now tell you from my own personal experience that if you allow a canary hen, even one partnered with a good feeding male, to raise three full clutches of youngsters within one year, she will not be likely to live past four years old, and will probably only breed for three years - if that long.

     A hen allowed to raise three full clutches of chicks on her own, will likely not breed at all her second year, and may or may not breed in her third year - that's if she lives long enough, as there's a good chance that she will die during the moult just after her first breeding season.

     This contrast spectacularly highlights just how much energy a canary hen spends in raising her babies, as a hen limited to one full clutch (by herself) or two clutches (if with a male who also feeds) per year, will often live for eight to ten years, often continuing to breed successfully until she is six or seven and occasionally even eight years old.

How To Limit Clutches?    Return to top
    The deceptively simply answer to limiting the number of clutches any canary hen lays, lies in good management. But just what does that mean? Well, for starters, it means don't prolong your hens' breeding season by starting too early. This can be accomplished through use of a good lighting schedule, and careful control of the diet. Don't offer too many rich foods during the winter and early spring, as these can serve to 'push' the birds into wanting to breed too early. For those in the Northern Hemisphere of the planet, somewhere from mid-Feb to mid-March is about right.

     Then when you decide, with her best interest in mind (as discussed in the previous FAQ), that she has reared enough young, step in and take control. Remove the male from her cage until next year's breeding season. If she continues to lay eggs, swap them with fake Canary eggs that can be found in some pet shops or ordered online. This will keep her from continuously laying, which she would do if you simply took them and left her nothing in their place. The swapping with fake eggs will give the hen something to contentedly sett on (that is, brood) until she gets bored with the whole process.

    One important fact to remember, when dealing with canary hens, is that each egg she lays includes the equivalent of 25% of her bodily resources - you can imagine how laying a dozen or so could really take it out of her! This can kill a hen, and in not too long a time, too, if her eggs keep getting taken away from her, so it's quite important not to do that. Once her days begin to shorten and her annual moult starts, she will fall out of 'breeding mode' on her own.

     At the same time, it's important to proceed to 'dry out' her environment, so as to convince her that spring breeding season is over, and summer has arrived. Wild canaries evolved to breed in the spring because that was best time of year for access to plenty of water and lots of protein-rich foods. So, reduce her baths to once a week or less, offer only a few greens daily, and cut back on all soft foods - especially protein-rich foods. Once her moult starts, you can increase the amount of nutrition in her diet, in order to help her to complete her moult smoothly - but until then, limit her diet to mostly dry seed.

Soft-Shelled Eggs?    Return to top
    There are different reasons for a hen to lay a soft shelled or shell-less egg. The first thing to check is to make sure you are providing an adequate supply of calcium for your birds. This can be supplied by always having a cuttlebone available (and making certain that you've seen her using it) as well as crumbled baked egg shell, as discussed in the grit & gravel FAQ, above. Some calcium is available in certain dark leafy greens such as kale, dandelion greens and others. Usually, having a cuttlebone in the cage at all times is the best way to provide the necessary calcium she needs for her eggs, along with the baked egg shells.

     An important thing to remember is that you can give all the wonderful calcium containing resources available, but if you fail to provide Vitamin D to your birds, the calcium will not be able to be absorbed into their system. Vitamin D comes to our birds through sunshine (as long as it's not filtered through glass or screen,etc.) If they aren't getting adequate amounts of direct, unfiltered sunshine then the necessary vitamin D has to be obtained by providing a daily powdered multivitamin. Canaries don't reliably drink enough water, so rather than use a mix meant to be offered in water, use a dry mix so that a full dose can be sprinkled on or included in a little bit of a favourite food that you know the bird will clean up readily. This will allow you to be certain that your bird really is getting adequate vitamin supplementation.

     If you are positive that the proper amount of calcium and D3 are being provided there is the possibility the egg is moving too quickly through the uterus as is seen with most uterine infections, and sometimes in other internal infections. If you suspect such an infection, you will need to consult an avian vet, who will know which tests to use to verify a correct diagnosis, and will then be able to offer you the best medication to provide effective results.

     Another possible cause for shell-less eggs could be exposure to toxins. These toxins could come from the air, especially if you keep your birds outside (from sources such as vehicle exhaust, or pesticides, or cleaners used by neighbours), your water source (try bottled water), and more. It's my understanding that the presence of small amounts of copper, lead, zinc, aluminum or nickel can all inhibit the binding of calcium, which can affect a hen's ability to produce eggshell. Note that some cages have a coating on the bars that contains zinc, and that nibbling on these bars can cause quite a wide range of potential problems, depending on just how much zinc the bird ingests.

     It is also possible that you could also be dealing with a genetic/physical problem, such as the lack of progesterone. This discussion should give you some insight into some possible causes of laying soft shelled eggs. However, if your hen is laying soft shelled eggs, your best course of action is to contact your avian vet and discuss the needs of your particular hen. Self diagnosis or treatment is not recommended.

What Causes Infertility?    Return to top
    There are all sorts of things that can cause infertile eggs, here's a list of just a few of the more common causes of infertility:

  1. pairing the birds too soon
  2. putting the pair together and expecting them to come into condition sharing the same cage (this rarely works well)
  3. loose, bouncy, shaky, or slippery perches
  4. trying to breed birds who did not get adequate chance to exercise over the winter
  5. trying to breed birds who had incorrect lighting over the winter
  6. trying to breed birds who are too old or too young to breed
  7. trying to breed birds who have a personal dislike of each other (yes, this can happen!)
  8. trying to pair birds who are bonded with another bird living in the same birdroom, within eye-or-earshot of the attempted pairing

     ...there are a lot more possible causes of infertility than these, and of course disease can sometimes be a factor, but such problems are quite rare. If you think disease may be a problem with your bird, be sure to consult an avian vet! More often than not though, the real problem is due to something simple that the keeper has overlooked or not considered - the problems listed above being prime examples. Probably one of the most common causes of infertility is trying to pair too early or too late in the season.

What is the Canary's Incubation Period?    Return to top
    In general, the incubation period of a canary hen is usually around thirteen to fourteen days, but live hatching can happen as early as 12 days or as late as 16 days, depending on the actual hours spent by the hen incubating her eggs. A healthy hen in good condition who 'setts' her eggs tightly (yes, 'setts' is the correct term) can hatch out her eggs as early as twelve days, but thirteen days or fourteen days is more commonly seen.

     In the wild, the hen will not start incubating her eggs until the entire clutch is laid, usually from three to five eggs, however in the domestic canary this varies. Some hens will follow the wild pattern, whereas others will begin incubating as soon as the first egg is laid.

     If such a hen is allowed to do this with the entire clutch, her chicks will hatch over several days, with each new chick hatching a day earlier or later than its siblings. This can cause some major problems, so if a breeder knows he has a hen inclined to do this, he or she will often pull the eggs after they are laid, replacing each with a fake egg in the nest. Then, when the entire clutch has been laid, the dummy eggs can be removed and the real eggs returned to her to be incubated together.

     This way, the chicks will all hatch on the same day, and no one chick will have any advantage over the others.

     On the other hand, a nervous new canary mom can sometimes seem to find several hungry mouths waving at her to be rather overwhelming, particularly if she's never bred before, so breeders who feel this may be the case with their hen will sometimes set one egg a day earlier than the others. This gives the hen has a day to practice feeding with one new chick, before being greeted with an entire hungry nestful of youngsters - and only one chick will have any size advantage over the others. Since the difference is only one day, it won't be as serious as with chicks hatching two, three, or more days apart.

     Note that most hens will relieve themselves only once a day, while setting their eggs. This is perfectly normal, so don't be alarmed at the size of her droppings! Do please note though, that because of this, rich foods can cause some rather serious problems for incubating hens. So keep her diet plain and simple during this time, with only the occasional taste of egg food, to be sure she remains familiar enough with it to be willing to feed it to her babies when they hatch.

What is Candling Eggs?    Return to top
    'Candling' is a way to tell if your hen is setting on fertile eggs or not. It involves shining a bright light through the egg, and only the egg, allowing you to see if there is a chick developing inside.

     With canary eggs, candling is done from seven to ten days - I was warned by my avian vet that candling any later could risk damaging the chick's eyes at a critical stage of development.

     Often the aim is to find out a week or so ahead of the expected hatch date if the eggs actually are fertile or not. They still may not actually hatch, as there's always the possibility of dead-in-shell or a mishatch, rare though such occurrances are - but at least you will learn if your pair is fertile together, and that there's a possibility of hatchlings!

     I don't bother with fancy (and usually expensive) candlers, but instead just keep a bright little penlight around. I have one with a bendable neck, so I don't ever have to touch the eggs - I just take the whole nest away during one of my daily checks, go into a dark corner, and take the penlight and put it the tip into the nest with the light on, then I can look at each egg with the light behind it.

     Many breeders will leave any infertile eggs in the nest, citing the fact that the chicks will need the support of the unhatched eggs. You can do this, and it's true that the chicks do need the support of either an unhatched egg or their nestmates - but I usually take 'dud' eggs out and leave plastic eggs or even marbles in their place, It's safer that way, in case the eggs are infected or diseased or even just decomposed, as if there's some accidental breakage, you could have some major problems, even if it's just cleaning up two-week-old decomposed egg from all over the nest and your hatchlings. But if a dead egg carried something that could infect or contaminate your hatchlings, as can happen, things could be a lot worse, so swapping infertile eggs with fake eggs as soon as possible is an effective preventative.

     Even if the eggs all candle to be infertile, you will still usually want to leave the hen sett for a week or two before attempting another nest, otherwise she could wear herself out over the course of the breeding season, making it unlikely that she would ever be useful for breeding again.

     Right from the beginning I establish the routine of taking the whole nest away every day for a minute or two, checking it out where the hen can't see me, and then returning it - I start that when the hen is still building her nest, usually.

     They get a little nervous at first about their nest being taken away, but quickly get over it when they realize that it will always come back exactly as it left - or so it seems to them! It makes it much easier for me to candle eggs and band babies, and is a lot easier on the hens, because that way it is just another part of their daily routine, and they don't tend to worry about it.

     Another reason to do this is to test her true readiness to breed; if a hen abandons her eggs easily, she is not really settled enough to be fully ready to breed, or she is not well enough acquainted with the place and the routine to be comfortable with it, or she doesn't like the male she is with... all of which mean she needs different adjustments in her care - so again, you can learn what she needs by her reaction.

     That's is yet another good reason to try to hold breeding season back a little, and perhaps the most telling reason of all. Rather than trying to start the season early as many do, you will find that you will tend to get better fertility rates and little to no problems with hens abandoning nests if you start a little later in the season, if only because by then they are SO ready to breed that they will stick to that nest through almost anything!

What is the Bob Test?    Return to top
    The bob test is a way to check if the chick inside a fertile egg that is due to hatch but has not, is still alive. It can also be used to check fertility, but since the water used will wash off the protective film applied by the hen when she lays the egg, this should not be done until after the eggs are due, but have not hatched.

     The actual test is quite simple. Run a cup or so of water, being certain that the temp is right around 100 or so degrees, not much cooler, and no hotter - then gently place each egg in the water and observe it. If it is infertile, it will float quite high in the water, and will be tilted. If it is fertile but dead-in-shell, it will float low-ish, big end down, and still. But if there is a live chick inside, the egg will 'bob' a little.

     The average canay incubation time is thirteen days, but that can vary, depending on how tightly the hen sits. It is also VERY important to assist the chicks in hatching by making certain that the hen has a bath available to her beginning on day eleven of the incubation. A rise in humidity is necessary during the process of hatching, but you should never add any water yourself, instead allow the hen's instincts to guide her, she will know precisely the right amount, and how to apply it without harm to the chicks. Otherwise you could drown an unhatched chick, still in it's shell!

     This test isn't infallable (is anything?), but it is usually fairly reliable and offers another way to test your eggs beyond candling.

What To Do With Unhatched Eggs?    Return to top
    You'd think the best thing to do would be to remove any eggs from the nest that aren't going to hatch - but you'd be wrong. In fact it's very important to leave the unhatched eggs in the nest until the chicks have fledged, that is, left the nest. Why? Because the chicks need the support of either other nestmates, or unhatched eggs, in order to develop their feet and legs properly.

     You will rarely if ever see a spraddle-legged chick who comes from anything other than an empty nest - without anything to help keep him on his feet, he sprawls on the bottom of the nest, and the legs have nowhere to go but up. This can also happen if you have a chick in a nest that's, for whatever reason, slippery, so that the chick's feet can't get a decent grip on it. This highlights the need for both a good nestliner, and proper nesting material, to help keep the growing chicks healthy.

     Go ahead and remove any infertile eggs and replace them with fake eggs or even marbles, to prevent any possible problems with the infertile eggs breaking, but make sure the support they offer the chicks stays around in one fashion or another.

What is a Good Basic Nestling Food?    Return to top
    My homemade recipe is based on dried 100% whole wheat bread. I get several loaves, tear them into bits, and oven-dry them at around 250 degrees F or so til they smell nutty and are bone dry. Then I whiz them, a few handfuls at a time, in a blender or a food processor till its pretty finely ground. I mix 6 cups of these ground whole-wheat bread-crumbs with 2 cups of rolled oats, and 1 cup each of corn meal and cream of wheat (sometimes called wheatlets - dry, not cooked).

     To this mix is added around a half a cup of raw sesame seed, and a tablespoon of sea salt (preferred), or (alternatively) iodized table salt, and about double that of Hagen's Prime. You can also add a couple of tablespoons or so of canthaxathin at this stage if you like, and want to colour-feed your birds. The exact proportions vary depending on which product you are using, so be sure to follow the instructions, which should be included. I mix it all thoroughly and store it in the freezer.

     When I have moulting birds or weanlings, or recuperating birds, they are given this mix dusted on a good soak seed mix. If I have youngsters in the nest, 2 cups of the bread crumb mix is blended with 1 cup of the flaked instant baby-cereal (the kind without all the extra iron added) before being dusted on the soak seed.

     I find this an easy-to-use recipe, which can be adapted easily depending on what it is being used for, from the high-protein diet needed for babies in the nest, to the higher starches and vitamins mix needed by moulting, weaning, or recuperating birds. It also makes a good stretcher for commercial egg foods, besides being cheap to make. Also, because there is no sugar whatsoever in it, it is safe for even first-day hatchlings, unlike many of the commercial egg foods.

     I find I get great results with it, even better than with commercial nestling foods, and also it avoids all the fuss and mess of fixing eggs, as well as cutting all those extra fats (that are in the eggs) from their diet. They still get adequate amounts of protein, including all the amino acids, when they are in the nest.

     If you are not sure what I mean by 'soak seed', you can read the article I've posted on my site, at www.robirda.com/soakseed.html It tells you how you can make your own soak seed mix, if you can't find any to buy, as well as how to prepare it.

When Do Chicks Leave The Nest?    Return to top
    On average a baby canary will usually 'fledge' - that's the term used to mean, 'leave the nest' - at three weeks old or so. This can happen as early as sixteen or seventeen days old, or as late as thirty or more days, depending on the quality of rearing foods being offered and the parenting birds' skills and the breed, but usually such extremes are quite rare.

     The fledged chicks will still need to be fed by one or both parents until they are fully weaned. You will know when this has happened when they have stopped begging for food, and have begun to eat on their own. This will usually occurr sometime between twenty-five to fourty days of age.

     The complex process of weaning actually begins earlier, while the youngsters are still in the nest, and may not be complete until as late as fourty or more days from hatch. The timing can vary quite widely, depending on the environment, the diet offered, and the breed of canary, as well as individual personalities of the youngsters and their parents.

     Article: Robirda's Breeding Articles

     Book on Canaries: Brats in Feathers

What To Feed Weaning Chicks?    Return to top
    Well, they're out of the nest, and starting to experiment with chewing on differents foods, but what do you offer them until they are adult and fully capable of supporting themselves? Well, one thing you don't do is offer your youngsters nothing but a dry seed mix; until they are at least three months old they will not be capable of cracking enough dry seed to properly support themselves. So, you need to offer your weaning youngsters a variety of soft foods, while at the same time teaching them about the kinds of foods they will be living on for the rest of their lives.

     This is where using a good soak seed mix as a part of your breeding diet comes in exceptionally handy. Soaked and just-starting-to-sprout seeds are tasty, nutritious, and easy to eat, and can easily be dusted with my homemade nestling food, to provide an easy-to-eat weaning food that will naturally teach the chick, as it grows, about eating a variety of foods. I often add coarse-grated carrots to the mix, as they are easy to eat as well as easily digestible, not to mention being high in vitamin A and carotenes, needed in good quantities by all birds, but especially a growing youngster.

     You can also offer weaning chicks a variety of other soft, easy-to-eat foods such as dry rolled oats, (also known as porrige oats or oatmeal), plain cous-cous or other cooked pastas, cooked grains such as rice, buckwheat, barley, etc. An occasional dusting with a good low-protein nest food ensures that the youngsters get adequate amounts of vitamins and other nutrients, essential to digesting the minerals so important to their growth and long-term health.

     One thing to note about the quickly-growing canary youngster, is that as they grow old enough to leave the nest, you need to reduce the protein content in their foods. A youngster in the nest will double his weight or more every day, and for this they need a highly nutritious diet, ideally around 17% protein. As they get a little older and the growth slows down, the food needs to become less rich in proteins and fats, with the ideal varying from 12 to 14%, depending on the season. To consistently offer higher levels of protein courts longer-term possibilities of liver, kidney, or heart troubles, as well as gout and other such problems.

     The one dietary item which is one of the most important of all to have around when weaning young canaries, in my opinion, is dark leafy greens daily. No spinach or lettuce, please! Instead offer items such as kale, rapini (brocolli raba), leafy endives, mustards, dandelion, etc. It's okay to offer all they will eat - and note that in most cases, that will mean quite a lot! I've seen a canary chow through a heap of kale almost as big as he is with no ill effects whatsoever, many a time. My preferred method of serving greens, especially for youngsters, is to chop them and mix them with coarse-grated carrots, to be certain that they get enough vitamin A, an especially important nutrient at this stage of their lives.

     Article: Robirda's Soak Seed & Nestling Food Diet

Can I Soak A Regular Seed Mix?    Return to top
    If you are not sure what I mean by 'soak seed', you can read the article at www.robirda.com/soakseed.html It tells you how you can make your own soak seed mix, if you can't find any to buy, as well as how to prepare it. But a lot of people wonder, why that particular mix, and why not just use a regular seed mix and soak that instead?

     Well for starters, that particular soak seed mix was carefully researched to offer a balanced and easily digestible form of protein and other nutrients, also most of those particular seeds share similar growth rates, with the exception of the canary grass seed, which takes longer to sprout, but will still be beneficially softened and made easier to eat.

     Most canary seed mixes contain other items besides seed, things like pellets, bits of dried fruit or greens, what-have-you. Soaking something like that in with seed is asking for trouble - and you will almost certainly get it, in the forms of mould or rot or some such - definitely not the kind of thing to offer your canary!

     You can order a soak seed mix from Herman Brothers (see our Links pages for links to all these companies), or you can find a pet store who carries the 'Abba Seed' product line, and have them order some of Abba's soak seed mix in for you - most places don't carry it, because most people don't know about and ask for it - sort of a vicious cycle kind of thing. You can also get a fairly good soak-seed mix from Silversong West, or so I am told.

The Canary Cam Archives:    Return to top
    This is where you'll find a few of the better Canary Cam pictures. We saved a series of pictures from each spring that show a breeding pair courting, mating, nesting, rearing and fledging their babies. There are some utterly precious, often hilarious and always thoroughly heart-warming pictures here to be enjoyed by everybody from youngsters to elders, and yes, they can help you to learn quite a lot about keeping and breeding canaries, too! Visit the Cam Archives!

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Last update June 6, 2013.

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