How to Purchase a Canary
by Ginger Wolnik

To be published in a future issue of Winged Wisdom

[ Canary in Carrying Cage ]
Canary in Carrying Cage
photo by Ginger Wolnik

So you've decided to get a canary, perhaps as a result of readingmy previous article, Canaries as Pets. I will assume that you've already decided thata canary is the right pet for you and you understand their basicnature and requirements.

First, you need to decide how many birds you will get and whatgender. Most people want a male canary because males sing. Youshould get one cage for each male because they are very territorialand will fight with each other. If it isn't breeding season, they mayeven fight with a hen. Some people prefer hens, because they are moresociable. You can put several hens together in a flight or aviary.

It is a common mistake to buy a young male and then discover it isactually a hen. Most people get attached to the bird and arereluctant to return it when they discover the mistake. Since malesare more expensive, ask for a written guarantee when you buy a male,especially if buying from a business. If the bird does not singwithin two weeks, return it. Either exchange it for a singing male,or get a partial refund price for the less expensive female.

It is very important to realize that young canaries are basicallyandrogynous. Even experts make mistakes about gender before a bird'sfirst breeding season. Both males and females may sing a baby songfrom about age 4 weeks until the summer molt. By fall, most malesstart to sing their adult song, which is facilitated by listening toolder males. Buying a bird too soon deprives it of this post-molttutoring period and can result in a less varied song. Some henscontinue to sing the baby song and some even develop a decent adultsong, so even experts are occasionally fooled. In the spring when thebirds come into breeding condition, an experienced breeder canusually tell them apart by examining the vent area.

You can tell the approximate age of a canary wearing a closed(seamless) metal leg band with the year stamped on it. This type ofband can only be put on the chick when it is about a week old. Sincethe bands are only issued in the year stamped, it is proof of how oldthe bird is. In addition to the year, check the band for breedinformation. Letters indicate the society or club that issued theband, which could indicate what breed of canary it is. Sometimesletters and numbers indicate the breeder. If you buy a bird without aclosed band, you have to take the seller's word about the age andbreed. A canary might also have colored plastic bands or a metalband with a seam. These open bands can go on and come off any time.They are used by breeders to help organize their birds. Ask theseller to explain the purpose of all bands on the bird and to decodeany numbers for you.

There are many breeds of canaries and you could do a lot ofresearch trying to decide which to get. A more practical approachmay be, what is available in your area? It is best to buy directlyfrom a breeder. To find canary breeders, contact a bird club,veterinarian, or look for ads in the paper. Some pet shops that onlysell supplies give referals, or have "message" boards with businesscards you can check.

If you want a singing pet, then try to pick out a bird that youhave actually heard singing. A pet shop that also carries screechingparrots is a poor place to even hear a canary, let alone choosebetween the songs of different individuals! The ideal situation isto make an appointment with a breeder who will set up a separate"listening" room with just the birds that are for sale. Breeders aresometimes reluctant to let strangers into their bird room. It helpsto be a member of a local club, or be referred by a friend. To get abreeder to allow you into their home or aviary, assure themyou are responsible and serious about getting a good bird. The moreresearch you do and the more knowledgable you sound, the better yourchances. These things will also help:

If you fail to find a cooperative breeder, then the next bestplace to buy a canary is at a bird show. Breeders who exhibit birdsin competition often sell excess birds right off the show bench atthe end of the show. A show bird which failed to win is still likelyto be a superior pet! Shows may also have a sales area which can bea good place to find canary breeders. There are also bird marts orbird fairs which focus only on sales, no judging. But beware! Some verygood birds can be found there, but also some of the poorest andunhealthiest.

Regardless of where you buy your canary, you need to recognize ahealthy bird. First look at how clean the cage is. Are thedroppings watery? Is the cage overcrowded? Even at a bird mart,a conscientious breeder doesn't cram so many birds in a cage that allcannot perch comfortably. A weak or sick bird will become too tiredto defend itself and will quickly become pecked on. A healthy birdlooks well groomed, alert, has clear eyes and no nasal discharge.

If you are seriously considering buying a bird, have the sellercatch it for you. Put the bird up to your ear and listen to itsbreathing. It is normal for it to pant and be upset, but you shouldnot hear wheezing or clicking. Touch the bird's chest to try to feelits breastbone. If the breastbone is very prominent, the bird is toothin and may be sick. Do not make the mistake of feeling sorry for apoor looking bird and buying it to "rescue" it. That just rewardsthe seller for allowing the bird to get in that condition and maycause you big problems and vet bills.

A written health guarantee is not usually provided by privatesellers because many problems that develop after a sale are the faultof the buyer. Changing homes is stressful to a bird and makes itmore susceptible to illness. A perfectly healthy bird can became illquickly if exposed to drafts, if it lacks food or water for long, orif the diet offered is substantially different from the one which hadbeen fed previously. Buying from a reputable source and knowing howto properly care for the bird is your best guarantee of continuedhealth. Get a book on canary care and reread it occasionally torefresh your memory on their needs.

If you are buying from an individual (as opposed to a business)that you do not know, offer to pay cash. In return, the sellershould provide a written receipt with band number. A responsibleseller should also be willing to give you a food sample and writtencare instructions. If the bird's toenails are long, ask the seller to demonstrate how to trim them.

In the U.S., prices can vary from $10 for an old hen to $200 ormore for a show-quality bird from a top breeder, one who has wonconsistently at national shows. Most male canaries cost between$50-$125 at pet shops. Ironically, breeders usually charge less eventhough the birds are often better! (Breeders do not have theoverhead of a store.) If you are buying directly from a breeder, askfor a price range before you make the appointment. If you arethinking of buying several birds, ask if there would be a discountfor quantity. Then, do not insult the breeder by haggling when youare ready to buy. Be prepared to pay cash and avoid needing change.

If possible, have your own small carrying cage to carry the birdhome. Pet shops and dealers usually provide paper bags or smallcardboard boxes, but I believe it is less stress on a canary if itcan sit on a perch and see. Do not use a clear plastic box; Iactually had a customer put a bird in one and it promptly injureditself trying to fly out! Make sure the cage doors are securelyclosed before you leave the room. Cover the cage with a light towelor cloth while carrying it outside and while in a vehicle. Whiledriving home, protect the bird from drafts and temperature stress.Once home, you can introduce your new pet to its large main cage.The carrying cage will come in handy when cleaning the main cage, orif it is necessary to transport the bird in the future.

If you already have pet birds, it is a good idea to quarantine thenew bird for a few weeks. This not only protects the current birdsfrom possible introduction of diseases and parasites, but benefitsthe new bird as well. The stress of changing homes may make the newcanary more susceptible to unfamiliar strains of normally harmlessbacteria carried by the existing birds. Isolation will result ingradual indirect exposure so it can build up a tolerance.

Once the bird has settled into its new home, call the breeder orwrite them a note letting them know all is well. Thank them for thetime they spent helping you with the purchase. If the bird is asinger, let them know how long it took him to start singing. I'vealways appreciated hearing from happy customers and that is part ofthe satisfaction of this hobby!

To summarize my recommendations for buying a canary:

To learn more about canaries, visit the Canary List Homepage.

Winged Wisdom Note: Ginger Wolnikbreeds and exhibits American Singer canaries as a hobby. She isactive in the national AmericanSingers Club as well as local bird clubs.

Copyright © 1998 Ginger Wolnik and WingedWisdom. All rights reserved.

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