Why Doesn't My Canary Sing?
by Ginger Wolnik

First published in the Pet Companion, February 1997.
Revised July 2001.

A common frustration for the canary owner is a non-singing bird. Forthe newly acquired pet, a little time is all that is usually needed.Some canaries will sing their first morning in the new home, but manytake up to two weeks to adjust to a new cage and environment. Toavoid disappointment, buy a male that is at least 6 months but lessthan 3 years old. He should be the only bird in his roomy cage thatis placed high in a well-lit, draft-free room.

A canary that stops singing after a while may be a female. Some youngcanary hens sing but they usually stop after their first baby molt.Other hens may sing sporadically throughout the year, but they rarelyhave the consistency or duration of males. If your bird tries tobuild a nest in the spring or ever lays an egg then you have a hen andyou should not expect it to ever sing well.

A common mistake is to think your male canary is lonely and get it amate. A hen in the cage may initially cause a lot of courting song,but she often inhibits the male from singing once she settles in.Similarly, if a mirror is put in the cage, there may be more song atfirst, followed by less singing. A worse problem is to put anothermale in the cage which will cause a lot of fighting. Both becomeexhausted and then neither sing.

Eventually, every canary enters a silent period. The first thing toconsider is whether the bird is molting (losing feathers). Mostcanaries stop singing for a couple of months each summer while theyconcentrate their energy on replacing all of their feathers. Someyoung birds may sing during the molt, but as they get older they areless likely to. So, a summer molt is a normal and expected reason forcanaries not to sing, even if they sang through a previous molt.

Canaries can also molt at other times of the year. Molting is usuallytriggered by exposure to more than 14 hours of light per day. Warmertemperatures also can start a molt. Finally, stress can cause moltingto begin. A classic case is acquiring a bird in the winter that waskept in a large, outside aviary, then keeping him in a small cage in awarm room with the lights on. The stress of the new home, along withthe heat and extra illumination are almost guaranteed to start a molt!After a couple of weeks, feathers start falling out and the bird nolonger sings.

Once a molt has begun, the only thing you can do is wait about 2months until it is over. It is important to feed your canary extraprotein during this period. If the bird is on a seed diet, supplementit with egg-biscuits, which are available at pet supply stores. Soakin water before serving the biscuits.

After the molt is over, some older birds might not sing for a while.Try playing classical music or a tape of canary song to get your birdstarted again.

Canaries need to molt so don't try to prevent this to keep yourbird singing. If you keep a canary in a room with a constant amountof light year round then after a couple of years it will probably die.To keep a bird healthy, vary the amount of light exposure as theseasons change to match the natural day length.

A canary that stops singing but is not molting is probably in poorhealth. Birds hide their illnesses so this can be the first and maybeonly sign that they are not feeling well. Get a book on canary careif you don't already have one and make sure you are doingeverything you can. For instance, proper nutrition is crucial to longterm health. A seed-only diet is not sufficient for canaries.Supplement with egg-biscuits and vitamins or convert to pellets. Thecage should be large enough to provide horizontal flight for exercise,otherwise the bird may become too fat to sing. A canary can also betoo thin to sing. As a bird loses weight it puffs its feathers outmore to keep warm, so ironically the owner thinks the bird is fat.Catch and hold your canary to diagnose this problem. If you can feelthe bony ridge of the breastbone, it is too thin. Also check forparasites such as mites or lice.

A respiratory infection will keep a bird from singing. This canbe caused by bacteria, virus, fungus, or air sac mites. A correctdiagnosis should be made because antibiotics will not kill mites.Anti-parasite drugs will do nothing for a bacteria infection and thetoxic chemicals involved may further weaken the bird needlessly.Prolonged or improper use of antibiotics may cause a fungus infectionbecause normal bacteria that keep fungus under control will bekilled. No drugs will cure a virus, but keeping the bird warm mayenable his own immune system to fight the disease. If the birdrecovers from any respiratory infection, it is possible that scarsmay prevent him from singing in the future.

Pain may cause a canary to stop singing. Perhaps it was startled andinjured itself. If the toenails get too long, the feet might not beable to perch properly and this could be causing discomfort. Somecanaries have a genetic predisposition to fits or seizures which canupset them. Observe the bird for a while (from a distance) to findout if it could be under any physical distress.

Between 5-10 years of age, the bird may become too old to sing much,although they may live for several years more.

Sometimes you never know exactly why your bird stopped singing. Agood avian veterinarian may be able to discover an underlying illnessor problem but this can involve a lot of expense. Be aware that mostvets are not very experienced with canaries and many problems have noknown cure. Hopefully, time or intervention will correct thecondition and your bird will be singing again.

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