What Lighting is Best For Canary Song
By: Bill Summers

First published in the American Singers Club newsletter, January 1999.

There is no lack of opinion as to what type of light source is best for encouraging canaries to sing. Natural sunlight is a popular choice - and why not - after all birds were evolved over millions of years exposed to natural sunlight. But no birds at all are judged at shows under natural sunlight and in fact most canaries never see natural sunlight. Most owners who are blessed with an aviary whose flight cages are bathed with sun rays through glass windows probably naturally assume that their birds are receiving natural sunlight. However, this is not true. Glass windows block out all the ultraviolet light, and hence, the health benefits of ultraviolet are not obtained.

To my knowledge no research has been undertaken to compare various types of artificial (lamps) and natural light sources (sunlight) to determine how they affect canary song. In order to accomplish this, certain conditions must be observed to assume that valid conclusions are reached. For instance, if your birds were exposed to sunlight every day and you compared their song by hanging a fluorescent fixture over their heads - the results would be predictable. No birds will respond favorably to some new and foreign light source. Another condition is essential for any meaningful information to be obtained. The birds must be removed from their comfortable aviary atmosphere. After all, no American Singers are judged at home and from a breeders standpoint only the freedom of song obtained under show conditions have any importance. Another condition must be met to obtain meaningful results; therefore, the tested singers must be removed from sight and hearing of their aviary partners. Again, this is important to obtain meaningful results.

Parameters of the tests
Six birds at a time were brought from my basement aviary to my living room that is out of sight and hearing from the aviary. My living room has a large picture window with heavy drapes that shut out most of the light, when artificial (lamps) lighting is being tested. Show conditions were emulated as closely as possible by lining the cages up side-by-side on white sheets. A large movie screen was mounted about 2 feet behind the birds with a fluorescent fixture mounted approximately 42 inches above and 18 inches behind the show cages. Incandescent lamps were also mounted in the same relative position as the fluorescent fixture. A Simpsons light meter was used to measure the footcandles illumination at the show cages for each lighting type. The total number of birds consisted of 9 old and 27 young singers. Eighteen young singers were put in show cages on October 1. The balance of the young and all of the old were put in show cages on October 15th. The show cages were sheeted down at the time of cooping and remained in place at all times except while being fed and watered. No attempt was made to shuffle cages during this period of time. My aviary is approximately 11 by 13 feet and has four two-lamp fluorescent fixtures mounted in a recess ceiling and the fixtures have plastic light diffusers that scatters the light rays so that there is a more uniform light distribution throughout the room. The light distribution varies from 20 footcandles in the corners of the room to 65 footcandles on the countertop directly below a light fixture and 4 feet below. A six cage show carrier was used to transport the singers upstairs. This was also useful to acquaint the birds to what they would be exposed to when taken to the shows.

Six types of lighting was used for the tests-reflected sunlight with the drapes open, 2 40-watt Vitalight Plus (rated 91% of sunlight), 100 watt incandescent, 100 watt Gro Lamp, 2 40-watt Vitalight Supreme (rated 96% of sunlight) and 2 40-watt Cool White fluorescent. The tests were all conducted between 9 am & noon, therefore, no direct sunlight ever entered the room because the room faces west. The reflected light varied between 14 footcandles and 25 footcandles depending on how cloudy it was outside. No extreme weather conditions were experienced during the tests (this was important as to be explained later.)

The following light meter readings were taken:
Reflected natural light

Cloudy14 footcandles
Sunny25 footcandles
Vitalight Plus20 footcandles
Incandescent15 footcandles
Gro Lamp (incandescent)15 footcandles
Vitalight Supreme23 footcandles
Cool White fluorescent20 footcandles

First test: Each set of six birds were set down for 20 minutes for six days starting with sunlight and alternating to Vitalight Plus every other day. Total number of songs were not counted, as the young birds were not previously trained, only freedom of song was noted. Due to the poor performance on the first day under natural light a seventh day was conducted under natural light. Even then the birds performed about 2% better under Vitalight Plus. But such a small amount is of no statistical importance; essentially the results were comparable.

Second test: Now that the singers were better trained each six birds were tested for ten minutes by counting each song. The results are as follows:

DayLight sourceFootcandlesSongs sung
2100 Watt Incandescent15279
3100 Watt Gro Lamp15257
4Vitalight Supreme23487
5Cool White fluorescent20310

Conclusions: The birds sang much better under Vitalight Supreme, but this may have been influenced somewhat by the fact that a low pressure system moved in the following night with lots of snow and miserable conditions. If you have ever noticed, all outdoor birds are super active around the feeders just before a major storm. Birds have been conditioned by millions of years of evolution to recognize that a change from high pressure barometer to low pressure barometer signals a storm is approaching and it's time to stock up on food reserves. This might also explain why so much no-song is experienced at shows during bad weather conditions. Accordingly an additional test was conducted using both Vitalight Supreme and outdoor light at 45 footcandles with the birds singing 371 songs. This test was on the day of the storm and although there were more songs than outdoor light alone, it was still below Vitalight Supreme which only confirms my beliefs about the connection between good and bad weather and song performance.

As shown in the statistics Vitalite Supreme is greatly superior and incandescent bulbs should be avoided.

Copyright © 1999 Bill Summers. All rights reserved.

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