Essex-Kent Cage Bird Society Logo  A-Z guide to canaries by Brian Keenan
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    Whether you’re an experienced canary enthusiast or a novice, you can’t fail to learn something from the A-Z guide.

A is for April.  This is the time of year when the breeding season starts in earnest. It is a target date, which ensures that parent birds will have ample natural daylight hours to enable them to feed their chicks, particularly in providing plenty of food to last through the hours of darkness.

B is for Boldness.  Cock canaries of all varieties display a bolder attitude than their partners, particularly around the eye.  Learning to recognize this boldness helps new fanciers overcome the problematical sex-change birds that have been experienced in the past.

C is for Condition. Condition is essential, whether for general health, a quick moult, show season or breeding.  Birds that are out of condition will fail to perform and ultimately perish unless attended to.

D is for Daily routines.  Our birds rely on us for their every need, and are helped greatly by a daily routine throughout the year.  If you cannot guarantee the time when you’ll arrive home, feed the birds early each morning and make it your daily routine.

E is for Eggs. Canaries should lay 3-5 eggs per clutch, one each morning and replacing them with a dummy egg until all are laid mains they should hatch within a couple of hours of each other, allowing each chick an equal chance of survival.

F is for Feed Supplements.  We supplement our own food intake by adding essential vitamins, either knowingly or unknowingly through the manufacturers’ processes – just read the packets! Similarly, hard seeds do not provide all the nutrients our birds need.  Providing a balanced diet throughout the year according to the season helps maintain the maximum health of our stock.  Most successful breeders supplement a
basic diet, achieving this in various ways.

G is for Greenfood. Canaries relish fresh Greenfood, but take care it is not contaminated.. Chickweed, dandelion, shepherd’s purse and plantain (rats’ tails) are all commonly fed by those lucky enough to obtain fresh supplies, although lettuce, cress and broccoli make fine substitutes.  Greenfood is especially useful during the breeding season, but if it cannot be obtained then a supply of sprouted seed is equally acceptable.

H is for Hygiene.  Clean feeding pots, cages & utensils are a must in an efficient birdroom.  Whether we use household soaps and detergents, birdroom cleansers or bleaches is our own choice, but there is no excuse for unhygienic conditions.

I is for Incubation.  Canary eggs take an average 13.5 days to hatch, with first round clutches taking slightly longer because of colder conditions.  If eggs have not hatched after, say, 16 days, place them in a cup of warm water.  Any that are full will bobble around. As the young chick kicks inside the shell, and will soon hatch.  If the eggs float lifelessly, or sink and stay at the bottom of the cup, they can be thrown away.

J is for Junior.   Junior exhibitors are few and far between these days, and the odds on any remaining long term are slight as external pressures compete for their time.  However, look out for any juniors who are interested, as they often return to bird keeping later in life.

K is for Killing with kindness.  Overfeeding, mollycodding stock and using too much heating are all provided with the best of intentions, but in the long term they do little to improve the wellbeing of your stock.  Work out a feeding and cleaning routine, then stick to it and your birds will flourish.

L is for Line breeding.  The quickest  way to succeed is to develop a line of related birds – resisting the temptation to buy birds from several different sources – and concentrate on establishing a related breeding line.  Limiting the gene pool helps you control the quality of the offspring, while using unrelated stock is much less predictable.

M is for Moulting.  A quick, clean moult is essential, both for breeding birds and first year birds, before the show season.  Birds change dramatically during the moult, and those showing early signs of promise should be caged individually to prevent their feathers becoming damaged.

N is for Nothing going right.  We all know the adage “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.  It applies especially to canaries, and new breeders will quickly learn that their new charges are not always predictable.

O is for Out of the cards.  Winning is only satisfying when you have bred the bird yourself.  At the more competitive shows, new breeders will be competing against more experienced novice breeders, and will be lucky to get in among the cards.  Learn why your birds have been placed in their respective positions by comparing them with their classmates or by asking advice form the judge.  This will help you recognize the traits that create an exhibition canary.

P is for Parasites.  Lice and mites bring down the health of your stock, and are particularly dangerous at breeding time.  Clean conditions and regular use of anti-mite products will control these pests.  These treat both birds and cages.  Remember to spray birds returning from shows before placing them in stock cages.

Q is for Quality,  Quality stock, quality feather, quality accommodations, quality show cages and quality food mixtures are essential and the end result makes it all worthwhile.  Sacrifice quality and you are compromising your chances.

R is for Rings. Split celluloid rings can be used to identify birds and are easy to apply or take off, though ringing canaries is not usually essential.  It is important to keep records of parentage so future breeding programmes are not compromised, regardless of whether or not birds are ringed.

S is for Seed.  Seed is convenient food for canaries.  It is easy to feed, easy to store and readily available.  Most birds will take a standard canary mixture, and this, complemented by condition seed and later soaked or sprouted seed, forms the basic diet for your stock.  A seed diet supplemented by other foods helps keep canaries in good health.

T is for Training.  Training birds for shows is best started at an early age, from six weeks onwards.  Carefully handling birds in an old show cage, known as a training cage, at this age means that the birds will develop confidence and display to their best advantage throughout the show season.

U is for Unflighted.  These birds are so named because, in their initial moult from the nest feather to adult plumage, they do not moult their wing and tail feathers.  These are only moulted in the birds’ second moult, after which the birds are termed flighted and compete in the over-year classes (adult or open class).

V is for Vigour.  A vigorous canary is a healthy canary.  Avoid birds that show signs of illness, wheezing, sitting huddled on the perch, tails pumping, heads tucked under their wings or are generally listless.  These signs indicate that the bird is not in peak condition, and attempts to  breed from it will bring disappointment.  Always select vigorous, healthy stock.

W is for Weaning.  Weaning canaries begins before the young are removed from their parents.  At 18-24 days old, chicks will be seen picking up softfood, soaked seeds or greenfood , and at this stage it is safe to remove them, keeping them in family groups. Fresh soft food should   provided in shallow dishes with paper put across the cage floor,  Each time the softfood is replaced – about three times a day – a sheet of paper should also be removed, and with it any stale or spilled food.  After a week or so of this, access to seed can be provided, to which a large amount of sweet red rape has been added,.  The young canaries will eat this with relish, and being a soft seed it is easy for them to crack it before moving on to the more difficult, harder canary seeds.  When the birds are 5-6 weeks old, they should be separated into single cages to allow the better birds to develop to their full potential.

X is for exhibition – and yes, I know it doesn’t start with an x!  Exhibitions are there to be enjoyed, whether at local cage bird society level,  national open show or specialist club level.  By joining a local CBS club, new fanciers will be introduced to the exhibition side of our hobby.  They will gain much satisfaction by comparing their birds with those of their peers, and discussing the merits.

Y is for Yellow.  In canaries, “yellow” is a descriptive term for a feather type not a colour.  The structure of a yellow feather allows the colour to be displayed right to the tip of the feather.  A buff feather, in comparison, carries no pigmentation at the outer edges, which results in a frosted appearance.  A paler colour is displayed on a buff bird, which has a wider feather structure than on a yellow bird that has denser, narrower feathering.

Z is for Zygodactyl.  These are birds that have two toes pointing forwards and two backwards.  However, this term does not apply to canaries as they are perching birds of the order Passeriformes, having three toes pointing forwards and one toe pointing backwards.

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Last updated: November 16, 2004