Spring Canary Care
by Ginger Wolnik
First published in the Pacific American Singer newsletter, volume 1, number 2, April 1994.
Hopefully, most of you are in the middle or end of the breeding season by now. If you haven't started yet, it will soon be too late because the daylight will be too long and the hot weather will make it difficult to keep the eggs from drying out. If you are still breeding, provide incubating hens with a daily bath. Most hens will take a quick dip to get their breast feathers wet and then return to the nest. This will raise the humidity around the eggs.
A common mistake of new canary breeders is to let a pair raise too many families. Just because a hen lays eggs doesn't mean you have to let her incubate them. Limit each pair to two families a year or they may become exhausted and not survive the summer molt. If a hen lays a third clutch, wait until you are sure it is complete, then remove her from the breeding cage.
If possible, put the hen in a large flight cage out of sight of her mate. Do not give her a nest. If she pulls her own feathers out, you can give her some burlap or other nesting material to shred to keep her busy, but don't let her construct a nest. She may lay some eggs on the floor of the cage, but without a nest, she cannot incubate and the hormone cycle will eventually shut off for the year.
If you have another hen who has not raised two families yet this year, you can try to give her the eggs to incubate and raise if you want to save the third family of the first pair. This works best if the foster hen has just laid a clutch herself. However, some old hens can pick up the cycle at any stage because they are relying more on memory than instinct. It is handy to keep a proven good mother for fostering, even if she is too old to be fertile anymore.
Young birds should be weaned slowly to prevent them from "going light." If you feed your birds seed, do not give dry, hard seed to baby canaries until they are at least 6 weeks old. They will eat more if you feed them egg food and soaked seed. To make soaked seed, buy a mix that contains only whole seeds like millet, rape, canary grass, sunflower and whole oats. Put some in a bowl and cover with water. Soak for two days, rinsing once a day. Start a new batch daily so that you have freshly soaked seeds available daily. To make sprouts from soaked seed, rinse, drain, and spread in a bowl. Cover with a damp paper towel. Rinse the seeds and resoak the towel daily. In about a week, the seed sprouts will be ready to serve to the birds.
Consider converting your birds to a commercial pellet diet. Weaning is the easiest time to do this. I feed my birds Kaytee Exact pellets for canaries and finches. For weaning, I soak the pellets in water for a couple of minutes to make them puff up soft and moist. The young birds relish this like egg food! As they get older, I make it with less water until they are eating it dry. Treat the soaked pellets like egg food that can spoil. Replace it a couple times a day and always serve in a clean cup.
Adult canaries are harder to convert. Try mixing soaked pellets with egg food and gradually increase the percentage of pellets. Then gradually decrease the amount of moisture. Reduce the amount of seed to make them eat the pellets, but be prepared to revert to seed if they start getting thin. After the breeding season but before the molt is a good time to try this stressful conversion. Once all your birds are eating nothing but dry pellets, feeding them will be easier and cleaner and you will be glad you persevered!
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