Canaries are one of the most popular of all pet birds. Their happy nature, beautiful colours and amazing singing ability gives these petite birds quite a personality. They are loners by nature so are happy to be kept in a cage on their own and in fact, are often more likely to sing when in isolation. These delightful little birds are very tidy, easy to keep and perfect for indoors or the back patio.
The variety in colours and feathering in canaries is broad. Solid shades include yellow, orange, rose, cinnamon and white and then there are those with a combination of colours. Border Fancy canaries are popular amongst breeders and are good for the novice to begin with. The Fife is similar to a Border but smaller in stature.
Canaries display their own personalities and the Gloster is one of the best. It is well suited to the beginner and possesses a pleasant song. It is named for its place of origin in England, is a miniature breed known for the cap of feathers on its head that resembles a Beatles haircut.
Other varieties include the Norwich which is a large, robust bird but not a free breeder and the Lizard which is bred for the unusual spangled pattern of its feathers. The Roller canary is not bred for colour or form but for its soft, distinctive voice and of course, the red factor canary has the distinctive colour that sets it apart from all others.
CHOOSING A CANARY
Select a canary that’s in good health. It should be active and bright with smooth feathers that are not fluffed up or damaged. His beak should be smooth and his eyes clear and bright. The feet should have an even pattern to the surface and the nails should not be too long. It should be full of energy as it flies around the cage.
When purchasing a canary, look at the presentation of the cage that it is kept in as well as the canary itself. This will be a good indication of the care and reliability of the breeder or the supplier.
THE CANARY CAGE
Canary cages are available in all sorts of sizes and shapes. If keeping several canaries, an aviary is best. Choose one with a partly covered roof for protection from the elements and with small, one centimetre wire so that the canaries can’t slip through. Add in dowel and branches of varying sizes for the birds to fly between and include some swings for them to have fun with. The floor should be concrete or slabs covered in washed river sand or gravel making it easy to clean out when necessary. A shallow bird bath will add a bit of interest for the canaries as will one or two Australian native plants in pots.
If keeping just one or two canaries, a smaller cage will be fine but be careful not to go too small. For one bird, a size of 30cm wide by 30cm high by 60cm deep is the minimum. Some people choose tall cages but in fact wider cages are much better as after all, birds fly horizontally not vertically. And, however attractive wood or bamboo cages may seem, they are difficult to clean and impossible to sterilize.
Bird stands are available which are very attractive and allow the cage to be easily moved around but where other pets or small children are around that may knock the cage over, a hook from the ceiling is much safer. Always ensure that the base of a hanging cage is securely attached.
Canaries are not the type of birds to chew so the bars of the cage do not have to be particularly thick though they should be close enough together that they can’t get their head in between. Position the cage in an area where the bird gets some sunshine but not in full sun, especially in summer. If kept indoors be very careful not to place the cage in a window where the sun streams in as the glass will heat up the area and could result in disaster. Drafts can also be a problem as can sudden changes in temperature from indoor heating and cooling.
When first bringing home the canary, allow him to enter the cage himself. Open the end of the travelling box and place it against the open cage door so that he can hop in when he is ready. Then, give him a few days to settle in before playing with him, talking to him or showing him to your friends. He will settle in far more quickly if left to get accustomed to his new surroundings.
Use a cage cover to protect the bird from drafts at night and to discourage him from singing at daybreak awakening the household. Cover him when the sun goes down as it is not healthy for him to be kept up with artificial light.
Gravel paper is ideal for the floor of a canary cage. It catches the droppings, is easy to replace and keeps the bird’s nails trimmed when he walks on it. Lining the cage with newspaper and then sprinkling gravel over the base is also effective and has the added benefit of providing the grit that the bird needs to help him digest his food.
Perches and the cage should be cleaned and disinfected weekly. A small toothbrush or scrubbing brush helps to get into the nooks and crannies. Cage disinfectants are available to keep away mites and insect pests and if the perches are washed in water, dry them thoroughly in the sun or even the oven before returning them to the cage.
Toys such as swings and bells provide a bit of fun for a canary but don’t hang them in the middle of the cage where they will obstruct the flight pattern. Avoid adding in mirrors as these will stop a male from singing as he will think that he has found a mate. Small branches and twigs also provide different surfaces on which to stand and are easily changed when they get soiled.
FOOD & WATER
Canaries need a balanced diet. The best seed mixture consists of canary seed, rape and smaller quantities of other seeds for nutrients and flavour. Provide a fresh portion daily and supplement this with treats such as millet sprays, grass seeds and shell grit. Avoid lettuce for these birds as it is very watery and may cause diarrhea however other greenery such as cabbage, broccoli, endives, silverbeet and a bit of dandelion is ideal. They will also enjoy apples, pears, peaches, bananas and strawberries. Use a clothes peg to hold these to the cage bars.
At the end of each breeding season canaries replace all their plumage. During this period the bird will need high-protein foods such as egg biscuit, finely chopped chicken or insects which are available in a powdered version for finches.
Cuttlefish provides minerals and salts to supplement a canary’s diet and also allows him to trim his beak as he pecks at it. Replace the cuttlefish every month.
Commercial feed is available that will intensify the colour of red-factor and new-colour canaries as will grated carrot and sweet potato. However, if you plan to show the birds, check the rules carefully as not all varieties are allowed to be colour fed.
Canaries love fresh water and they drink quite a lot. Change it every day and wash out the cup so that it is clean and sparkling. In summer, provide two sources of water just in case one spills or dries up and consider an automatic waterer so that there is always plenty available.
Canaries love a bath. They jump in and flutter around and can make quite a mess so a bird bath that attaches to the door on the side of the cage provides lots of fun. Put in about 1 to 2 centimetres of lukewarm water and remove the bath once he has finished. It may take him a few goes to get used to it but once he tries it once, he will look forward to this little treat.
The ability to sing certain notes can actually be bred into canaries and passed from one generation to the next. Breeders have worked to develop birds that have a pleasant tone and greater range without the shrillness that some people don’t enjoy.
When purchasing a canary for its song, it is best to get a male. Although both males and females start to sing as early as four weeks, the females usually stop at about six months as it is the male’s role to serenade during courtship. Norwich and coloured canaries have exceptionally strong songs but a reputable breeder should know which bird is a beautiful singer.
SYMPTOMS OF ILLNESS
Canaries are hardy birds and if cared for and fed properly can live for up to nine years but like all of us, sometimes illness can strike.
A canary can be affected by colds which are obvious when he looks puffed up and listless, shivers and occasionally sneezes. His droppings will be white and watery and there may be discharge from the nose. Softer food supplements such as egg biscuit moistened with a liquid bird tonic will help provide energy but the main thing is to move the bird to a warm area of about 29°C.
If the bird appears listless and is unable to evacuate without a jerky tail movement or discomfort, he may be constipated. Add more greens to the diet and allow more exercise. Loose droppings or diarrhea is often evident by wet or soiled feathers around the bird’s vent and loose droppings on the floor. Where this is the case, withhold green foods for a few days and feed him only on seed.
Strangely, canaries can be affected by asthma which may be caused by drafts or dirty cages. The bird will wheeze or squeak and may have difficulty breathing. Clean the cage thoroughly and treat the asthma as for a cold.
Baldness in canaries can sometimes be caused by mite or possibly the cage being kept too close to a heater causing the bird to start shedding. If it is a parasite, the bird must be treated as well as the cage and perches. Mite treatments are available at Better Pets and Gardens which will help to control the problem.
An avian veterinarian is always the best place to start when dealing with broken wings or legs or any problems that persist. If a bird is sick enough to need heat, it is sick enough to need a vet so act quickly at the first sign of problems. Before taking a bird to the vet, phone ahead to ensure that they are the best one to visit. They will often recommend a specialist avian vet and will have the contact details available for you.
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