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        Do Canaries come from the Canary Islands? Are the islands named after the birds, or the other way around?

Yes, we first meet up with the Canary bird in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, in a line with Spain. The birds are named after the islands, not the other way around. Curiously, the Romans named them the "Dog" Islands, for the inhabitants bred an extremely large type of dog. As might be expected, the ever pragmatic Romans were more interested in fierce, guard dogs, than in little singing birds! "Canary" is a corruption of "canis", Latin for dog.

What does the wild Canary look like?

The Wild Canary is very similar in appearance to the common green canary - rather like a starved, runt English House Sparrow! One might venture to say that Nature's original version of the Canary did not seem to offer much in the way of a very auspicious start!


       Are there pure breeds of Canaries, like in other domestic animals? Do only certain kinds sing?

By the early sixteenth Century, Canaries were prized as pets in the European World. Over a span of five hundred years, through selective breeding, many distinct varieties of canaries have been developed.

Though all adult male Canaries sing, some were bred purely for vocal ability, of which the Roller Canary is the best example. The "looks" of a Roller are given very little consideration. Most of these feathered Carusos could easily be mistaken for one of the wild birds.

Rollers sing with a closed beak. Common singers perform with an open beak and are called Choppers.

American Singers are a special breed, produced from a cross of Roller and Border canaries, and are very popular in the United States. These birds maintain both Rolled and Chopped notes in their musical repertoire. Judges also score them on the basis of physical conformation.

All canaries, but particularly American Singers and Rollers, are capable to a degree of mimicry. It is possible to teach them simple musical scores, instrument tones, wild bird calls, and even a word or two of human speech. Don't think that ANY Canary is going to give an African Gray or a Mynah bird any sort of competition!

As a digression, up until the Industrial Revolution, and the advent of loud machinery, it was common for craftsmen to keep canaries in their shops for entertainment. The "Canary in the coal mine" was an extension of this practice of work place bird keeping. The Canary would die from gas fumes, alerting the men to the danger.

The people of Great Britain delighted in experimenting with the possibilities inherent in the size and form of the Canary. The results were The Norwich, The Yorkshire, the Gloster, and the Border. The Norwich and Yorkshire are two of the giants of the Canary kingdom. Either might be twice the size of a common Canary. The Norwich concentrates on bulk, with a broad head and chest. The Yorkshire expresses height, being a tall, thin bird. The Gloster is a miniature Canary breed, with the broad head and chest of the Norwich, but only three-quarters of the size of the more usual Canaries. The Gloster is best know for its "cap" or crest (corona) of feathers on the head, rather reminiscent of the old Beatles hair-do! The Border, first kept along the border of England and Scotland possesses refined and pleasing proportions.

The French and Italians took special delight in "Birds of Position" and in Frilled Breeds, both among the most strange and striking examples of the breeder's art. Birds of Position, like the Belgian Hunchback, show what looks like a curvature of the spine. The bird's posture is that of an inverted half moon. The Scotch Fancy Canary and the scantily feathered Italian Gibber Italicus are other examples of this category. The feathers of the Frilled Canaries are long and twisted. The first impression that one gets is that a feather duster has sprung to life! The Parisian Frill is one of the larger varieties. The combination of size and bushy feathers produces an illusion of a bird the size of a dove.

Canary breeds have been developed in the United States. Every fair sized town of Italy can be counted on to have its own breed of Canary. These will nearly all be derived from combinations of the breeds described above, or will be refined versions of them.

What is a "Type" Canary?

Any variety of canary that is raised for novel appearance as opposed to song or color is called a "Type" Canary.


       What are hybrids and mules?

In Europe it is very popular to cross Canaries with other finches. The Goldfinch, the European Siskin and the European Green Finch are most often used. The overwhelming majority of these crosses are infertile, hence the term "mule." Mules are produced for their singing ability and are also exhibited at shows.

Have any of these crosses been used in the development of the modern Canary?

It is possible, over the last half a millennium, that some fertile crosses were achieved and subsequently bred back to Canary stock. This means that the Domestic Canary is not identical, as a species, to the Wild Canary.

What is the Venezuelan Red-Hooded Siskin?

The most important hybrid is the Venezuelan Red Siskin (Spinus cuculatus) male crossed with the Canary (Serinus canarius canarius) hen. This breeding scheme produces some fertile males in the first generation. These hybrids are the foundation for the Red Factor Canary.

The Venezuelan Red Siskin is an endangered species. Now, with the Red Factor well established, the production of further Red Siskin X Canary hybrids is a somewhat questionable practice.


All canary colors are based upon genes that control the melanin and the lipochrome. The melanin is the black in the original wild canary. The lipochrome is the ground color, yellow in the original bird. The combination of black and yellow gives the appearance of a green bird. The gene that removes melanin is partially dominant. One factor gives a variegated (a patchwork mix of light and dark colors) bird, two a "clear" canary. A clear canary only shows the ground (lipochrome) color.

The Lipochrome colors are Dominant White, Recessive White, Yellow, and Red. There are a large number of factors that affect the melanin color.

The Lizard, one of the original British breeds, is actually based upon a gene that restricts the deposition of melanin in the plumage. The result is a scale pattern, giving rise to the Lizard name.

What is hard and soft feather? What are feather lumps?

There are two categories of feather quality: Hard and Soft. Hard feathered birds have tight plumage and bright colors. Soft feathered canaries have downier plumage and the colors are subdued. In general, a Soft feathered bird should always be mated to a Hard feathered bird. If Soft feathered birds are bred together for a number of generations, feather lumps will begin to appear. Feather lumps are unsightly masses of ingrown feathers. The Gloster canary, the best examples of which are all Soft feathered, is especially prone to this malady of genetic origin.

What are lethal traits?

The Corona (cap) and the Dominant White are two lethal traits. Incomplete Dominant Lethal genes can't exist in a homozygous state. As both members of a chromosome pair, Lethal factors cause the death of the individual. Crossing two Dominant Whites or two Crests gives an expectation of 25% fertile eggs failing to hatch. Always breed a capped bird to a normal (consort) Canary. Always pair a Dominant White to a Yellow ground bird. Keep in mind that a "Blue" Canary is a combination of melanin and White Lipochrome. If the White is the Dominant White, two Blues can not be crossed. Dominant White can be told from Recessive White by visual examination. A Dominant White Canary will always show some trace of yellow in the flight feathers. The Recessive White is pure white.

Hard Feather is often listed as a lethal trait. In any event, it's not a good idea to mate Hard feathered birds together.

Can any color bird be shown?

For exhibition, type birds can be any color. The clears tend to win. With Glosters, mostly clear variegated birds with dark caps make for very striking specimens. For the Color-Bred birds, the Melanins and the Lipochromes are shown in different classes, which are further broken down into Hard and Soft feather. Clear birds are always more popular as pets, since most people consider these light colored Canaries more attractive.


       What is the basic Canary diet?

The "white bread" of Canary nutrition is a seed mix consisting of 70% Canary Seed and 30% Rape. This is often called "Black and White."

What fresh foods are required?

EVERY DAY the birds must get a high protein food. Most breeders use chopped hard-boiled chicken egg, a special "nestling" food, or a mixture of the two. During the breeding and moulting seasons, the Canaries should get as much of this as they will eat. At other times, a half-teaspoon per bird (a treat cup full), per bird, per day will do. The hard-boiled egg spoils quickly. Care must be taken in warm weather. Any fruit, vegetable, or green that is used for human consumption, with the exception of avocado, can be offered to Canaries. Canned corn is an especially loved and nutritious item.

What is soaked seed? Are sprouts the same thing?

Dry cracked corn, wheat, safflower, oil sunflower, and buckwheat can be put in jar with water in the refrigerator and allowed to soak overnight. This softens the hull and breaks complex carbohydrates into sugars. This soaked seed is very valuable when the birds are feeding their nestlings.

Mung beans and many other seeds can be fed as sprouts. Soak the seed in water for 24 hours. Drain completely and then rinse in a strainer under running cold tap water. Rinse in the strainer every day, until the seed sprouts. If any mold develops, discard the batch and drain it better next time. The container that the sprouting seed is in must have some air flow. A paper towel held in place by a rubber band works great.

What other items should be fed?

Small pieces of whole wheat bread or corn bread are greatly relished by Canaries.

Canaries should always have Cuttlebone and mineral grit.

How do you give Canaries vitamins?

Vitamins can be mixed with the water. Follow the directions precisely. ALWAYS change at the water at least once a day.

Cod's Liver Oil and Wheat Germ Oil can be mixed with the seed to fortify it with vitamins A, D, and E. One teaspoon of each is mixed with ten pounds of seed. DON'T USE ANY MORE THAN THAT! If you have only a few birds, make smaller batches, for the treated seed quickly becomes rancid in warm weather. Some of the major seed companies produce good brands of vitamin fortified seed. There are a lot of hucksters selling "colored" bird seed. The colors are nothing but food coloring! Some mix a vitamin powder with the seed. This all gets lost when the birds hull the seed.

Do Canaries need pellets?

A variety of pellets and other processed foods are now sold for Canaries. If you wish to try these new dietary items out on your birds, go right ahead. I suggest that pellets be only one facet of canary nutrition. Pellets can serve as a dietary supplement. Always offer a variety of foods to your birds. If your flock refuses to consume the pellets, this is not a cause for alarm!

Should bird food be kept in the refrigerator?

The refrigerator is a good place to store bird feed. Use a Zip Lock bag, or a Tupperware style container, to keep out moisture. In the cooler, all bird food, even pellets and vitamin enriched seeds, will last a long time.

I notice grubs and moths in the seed. Is this dangerous?

Cold storage also prevents the development of feed moths. The moths and larvae are themselves harmless. Don't worry about a few of these insects in the seed or bird room. Under warm conditions, the moths will quickly spread. If large numbers are present, discard the feed.

Are fountain feeders a good idea?

Deep dishes should be used for canaries. The "fountain" style dispensers are useless for the birds will constantly spill all the seed out, wasting it.

What other seeds do Canaries eat?

Many seeds can be fed to Canaries. Thistle, Oat Groats, shelled sunflower and Hemp are great favorites These oily seeds must be rationed as they are very fattening.

Wild seeds can be gathered and fed to canaries. The green, ripe, "milky" seeds are very nutritious. Wild Thistle and Sunflowers with small seeds are Canary favorites. (If you find a source of budding Hemp in the great outdoors, best to keep quiet about it!

Be sure that the wild plants are not contaminated with toxic or noxious substances and are not naturally poisonous.

How often do Canaries require food and water?

Keep seed and water before the Canaries at all times. Small birds can starve to death or dehydrate in very few hours.


       What is color feeding?

Any canary can develop a shade of orange by adding paprika, cayenne, or red pepper to its food. The Norwich, Yorkshire, and Lizard are color fed for shows. The Red Factor Canary requires a carotenoid concentrate to exploit its full color potential. The best formula is a mix of half pure Canthaxanthin and half pure Beta-Carotene. Both chemicals are manufactured by Hoffman-LaRoche. Mix one teaspoon of the blend with one gallon of water. It helps to start off with a little hot, but not boiling water. This makes it easier to dissolve the powder. Keep the unused portion in the fridge. It lasts a week. The bird's portion must be changed daily. Hoffman-LaRoche does not sell to individuals, but a club could arrange for a pharmacist to order the chemicals. Store the dry powders in a dry, cool, dark location. Flim Flammers sell diluted products at exorbitant prices. Don't get ripped off! This caveat especially applies to imported products in fancy packaging.

If you expect to show your birds, carefully check the rules governing color feeding. Exhibition Glosters can never be color fed. Some breed organizations and clubs only allow the use of plant substances in the natural form. These venues prohibit the entry of Canaries that have been fed concentrates.


       What kind of cage is good for a pet Canary?

If you are keeping a canary as a pet for it's singing ability, just buy any cage that you like. It must be constructed of metal and at least 18" long and 10" high and 10" wide. Canaries exercise by flying back and forth, not up and down.

Bamboo cages are very attractive and economical. Are they a good idea?

Don't use a bamboo or wicker cage. Impossible to clean, these enclosures are not sanitary.

What should be kept in mind if a number of Canaries are being kept?

If you have a number of cages, don't bother with shelves. Put two or three screws into the wall and hang the cage from the screws. A shelf is just another thing to clean!

No birds Like to be out in the open. With a solid wall behind them, birds don't have to worry about a predator sneaking up on them. If you must put a column of cages in the center of a room, cover the backs with sheet metal. This will preserve a feeling of security.

Canaries are not social birds. One bird kept as a pet will be perfectly happy. Two males will always fight, as will a male and female, except during the nesting season.

For breeding, it's best to buy all metal breeding cages. For economy, cages can be constructed from " X " wire mesh, or, preferably, " X 1" welded wire. The wooden breeding cages with wire fronts are obsolete and a waste of time and money. Wood can never be really sterilized. These old fashioned units need to be scraped, scrubbed, and repainted every year.

Flight cages are not needed. Canaries do much better and get much more exercise with just one bird to the cage.

What material is best for perches?

The best perches are made of half-inch by half-inch, SQUARE, "baluster" board, available at any good lumberyard. If you must use round dowel stick, scrape it with a hack saw blade, to make the surface rough. The smooth, polished surface is very exhausting for the birds. Make sure that the perch is clean. At least once a month, either replace the perch, or clean it with hot water, bleach, and pine oil. Make sure that it is dry before you put it back in the cage. The sandpaper that fits over the perch is not a good idea. Most don't fit properly and constantly slip, putting the bird off balance. Standing in sand paper can't be very comfortable.

What is the possible range for temperature and humidity?

A year round temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit and low humidity is best. Canaries, properly acclimated, can withstand temperatures of just above freezing to nearly 100 Fahrenheit. These extremes don't do them any good and should be avoided. Only subject your birds to such heat or cold if those are the conditions under which you live yourself! During a heat wave, if air conditioning is not available, mist the birds often with cool tap water. Never use a strong fan around any bird. The ensuing drafts can lead to sickness and death even in warm weather.

How does a Canary take a bath?

Canaries like to take baths. The bird will splash around a dish of clean water in the cage . You DON'T restrain the bird and try to scrub it like you would a dog!

How is the cage kept clean?

Plain newspaper is fine on the cage bottom. NEVER USE CAT LITTER! Canaries will eat it and die! Corn Cob Bedding must be changed every day. Damp Corn Cob quickly becomes moldy. The cage-liner paper sold in pet shops is fine, but most breeders use newspaper. As often as possible, disinfect the cage. Gently take the bird out and place it in a temporary cage. Then scrub the original cage with hot water and a disinfectant.

My neighbor says that birds should be let out to fly around the house for exercise. Is this so?

The cage is your bird's home. To them the cage is not a prison, but a safeguard from a terrible world. Letting your bird out for some exercise is like throwing people off of a cruise ship for a little swim - sure to be a terrifying experience.

Does a hectic schedule bother Canaries?

Canaries need a regular schedule. They must wake up and go to sleep with the Sun. Keep the cage in a room that is quiet when it is dark out. It's a good idea to cover the cage at night with a heavy cloth. Loud noises and bright lights can startle and disturb canaries. This is certainly a cruel form of stress and can instantly cause the bird's death.


       What is the breeding season? How is light involved?

Without the use of artificial lights, in the Northern Hemisphere, Canaries start to breed around April. The male and female should be kept in separate cages. By late February, the hens will be frantically tearing up paper and the cocks will be singing in a vigorous manner. Wait a week before you put them together, for the male develops the urge to breed before sperm production is peaking. If the hen is not trying to build a nest, she will not mate!

Many breeders setup full-spectrum fluorescent lights, in order to keep their birds in a basement or other poorly lit area. Using a timer it is possible to increase the length of "daylight" during the normally dark hours of November and December. The market for pet canaries is in the Spring, right around Easter. By breeding early, the commercial operation supplies its markets most efficiently. It is not a good idea for the hobby breeder, particularly the novice. The Fall and Winter months are the busiest times for most people's work and social schedule. Taking care of a Canary breeding colony can be an oppressive burden during the Winter Holiday season.

A clever use of electric lights is to start the bird's day earlier or later than the Sun normally allows. This gives the working hobbyist the opportunity to care for the Canaries either before or after work hours.

How does a Canary build a nest?

Buy a plastic canary nest. The wire nests are useless, for the birds get their nails caught in them. This can result in a lost leg and other tragedies. Fine dry, grass makes the best nest material, but shredded paper or burlap is OK. DON'T use the fine threads sold as nesting material. This garbage wraps itself about the bird's toes and legs, cutting off the circulation. If not discovered quickly, gangrene will set in resulting in the loss of the limbs and digits, if not death.

How should the male and female Canaries be introduced? Is it normal for the male to beat the hen?

When the birds are in condition, place the male and females cages along side each other. The male should immediately start to sing and the hen should reflexively squat. If this is observed, the birds can be placed together right away. If not, wait until you see the birds "kissing" through the cage bars.

DON'T allow the male to beat the hen! This IS NOT a natural or required step, despite what a few morons have written!

Once mating has been observed, the cock can be removed and placed with another hen, to repeat the process. Canaries are naturally polygamous. Out of thousands of canary nests, I've only observed one case of a monogamous pairing. There is no reason not to leave the male and female together. Though the hen alone incubates the eggs, the cock will help with the feeding of the nestlings.

How many eggs are produced? How long does it take for the eggs to hatch? Do the eggs require any sort of special handling?

The average number of eggs is five, though any number from one to ten is not unusual. I've observed clutches of eight, where all eggs hatched. The eggs hatch about fourteen days after the hen starts to sit. Some hens start to incubate right after laying the first egg. Others will wait until the entire clutch is produced.

Some breeders remove the eggs and replace them with plastic eggs. The real eggs are stored in rolled oats, corn meal, or sawdust, at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The actual eggs have to be turned every day, to prevent the contents from settling. When five eggs are collected, they will be returned to the nest. The idea of this procedure is for all the eggs to hatch on the same day, and thus prevent the youngest from being a runt. I've never bothered with this and don't know anybody that actually does. Though all the books write about it, the procedure is more trouble than it's worth. More young will be lost from improperly handled or broken eggs, than by the hen's inability to handle a range of sizes of young.

Can the hen become ill from producing eggs? What should be done if it happens? Can it be prevented?

If you expect the hen to lay an egg and you see her on the bottom of the cage in obvious distress or exhaustion, she probably has egg binding. The bird will die within a few hours without help. The best course of action is to seek a veterinarian's help. I've gently felt the outside of the afflicted hens abdomen and been able to propel the lodged egg through the vent. But I have no medical training, so can not tell you to do the same thing. DO NOT HOLD THE HEN OVER A POT OF BOILING WATER! DO NOT ATTEMPT AN OLIVE OIL ENEMA! I've seen both of these idiocies offered as serious advice in published works.

Egg binding can be caused by a lack of calcium, so be sure that a mineral grit and cuttlebone is available at all times. Vitamins are needed for calcium to be used, so be sure that all aspects of nutrition are correct.

Should the hen be given a bath when sitting on eggs?

As long as it is not cold, let the hen bathe every day while incubating. This will aid in the embryo's development and eventual hatching.

How can I tell if the eggs are fertile?

After the hen has been sitting three days or more, the egg can be carefully held up to a light. A newly laid or infertile egg will be clear, allow the light to shine directly through. A fertile egg will display the embryo and the network of veins supporting it. Eventually, even when held to a light, a fertile egg will become opaque.

Will the mother destroy the eggs if she smells a human odor on them?

Don't overly disturb the sitting hen. She will not destroy the eggs because of a foreign odor, like small mammals. Constantly pulling the eggs away can distress her enough to abandon the nest.

Do Canaries need any sort of special care when breeding?

The birds should be getting a high protein food every day, all year round. Once the first egg hatches, make sure that you increase the amount offered. For the first couple of weeks, this is all that the hen will feed her young. A lot of food is required to fuel the nestling's explosive growth.

Some hens take extremely good care of their young. Others refuse to even sit on the eggs. I've had birds that lovingly cared for their young for a week or two. At that point the mother would mutilate the baby birds. If, after a couple of tries, a hen does not make a good mother, either just keep her as a pet, or give her away to a good home.

Will one canary hen raise another's chicks?

With rare breeds, it is possible to "foster" the eggs under other Canaries. The Canary hen can not distinguish eggs. Just be sure that the eggs are about the same age.

What is banding?

Get closed bands for your infants. When the babies get pin feathers, the main group of toes can be pointed forward, and the last one pointed back. Then the closed band can be slipped onto the leg. Once the bones of the toes harden, a band can not be slipped on or off. This gives a permanent identifying mark.

Will the hen go to nest again the same year?

When the first group of young is about three weeks old, the hen will desire to breed again. Simply put in another nest. When the first group of young is eating on their own, put them in a different cage. For a day or two their cage can be left next to the mother's. This way she can feed them through the bars.

 What should I look for when buying a canary?

If you want a singer as a pet, any breeder or pet shop can sell you a good bird. Make sure that the bird is closed banded, and that it is only a couple of years old. With proper care, a male canary easily lives for ten years or more. It's best to hear the bird singing in the store, so that you know that you like the style. At any rate, make sure that singing is guaranteed.

If you want to start breeding, the best idea is to buy a number of young birds of undetermined gender during the Summer. These birds will be reasonably priced. You and the birds have six months to get to know one another. Don't bother trying to buy Canaries, particularly hens during the breeding season. Most people will simply refuse to sell and get annoyed at you for bothering them during a busy time. Low life will sell you worn out or defective birds. Even an honest Fancier will put a very high price on every bird in the breeding room once nesting has commenced.

Many bird breeders will take unfair advantage of a beginner's enthusiasm and lack of sophistication. Shop around and ask around. People will be happy to tell you if they were conned. The novice can also get an idea of quality and market prices.

What do canaries cost?

We have seen Canaries fairly priced from nothing to $350 US.


       What insecticide is safe to use around birds?

The birds, the cages, and the whole bird room should be sprayed with a .05% Pyrethrin solution. Do this once a month in the warm months, once a month in the cooler months. This insecticide will control mites, lice, flies, and roaches.

       What causes the feet of Canaries to become scaly?

Scaly conditions of the feet are caused by mites. This can be controlled by rubbing SCALEX on the birds feet. All mites, including those of the air sacs, are eliminated by the application of OVERMATCHING. This should be done under the supervision of a veterinarian.

What are air sac mites?

Air sac mites infest the birds respiratory system. Spraying the entire aviary with a pyrethrin solution (as described in 10.1) will control these pests. Air sac mites can be eliminated by treating the birds with Ivermectin. This should be done under the supervision of a veterinarian.
Are mosquitoes a concern?

Canaries are persecuted by mosquitoes. Make sure that the windows are all screened. Mosquitoes also carry CANARY POX. A colony that contracts POX will probably be wiped out. If your birds develop lesions on the face, a symptom of the Pox, IMMEDIATELY consult a veterinarian.

Because of the danger of Pox being transmitted by mosquitoes, Canaries are NOT safe in outdoor flights or cages.

        Do canaries need to be treated for worms?

Canaries kept indoors rarely need to be treated for worms. If kept outdoors, at least once year have the droppings examined by a veterinarian.

What problems do mice cause?

Mice can be a real problem in the bird room. Poison is generally a waste of time, for bird seed tastes better than poison! Use traps baited with pieces of salami to eliminate mice. Cheese, despite what you see in cartoons, does not work. Mice are no joke. The rodents waste seed, upset the birds, and are a real hazard to avian and human health.

What should I do for a bird that just does not look right?

If a bird looks out of sorts, separate it from the rest of the colony. Put it in a small, warm cage with food and water in easy reach. Only give any sort of medicine on a veterinarian's specific prescription. Many birds, perhaps just listless or suffering from a slight indigestion are killed by well-intentioned, but misguided owners inappropriately giving drugs.


       What is the molt?

Once a year, regularly at the end of the breeding season, canaries replace all their plumage. This is a natural condition, not a illness. Give an adequate supply of nesting (protein) food and perhaps a little bit of the oily, treat seeds.

What is soft molt?

Soft moult is when a canary constantly sheds feathers all year round. This is caused by constantly changing hours of light and/or temperature. Canaries need a stable environment. The soft moult signifies that the Canary's metabolism is stressed. Soft molt in Canaries has nothing to do with PBFD or French molt in the parrot type birds.

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