Introduction to Canary Breeding
by Ginger Wolnik

First published in "The Pet Gazette", March 1992.

Consider canaries if you want to raise pets in your own home. Unlikedogs and cats, there is no surplus of unwanted cage birds. If youdecide to breed canaries, my best advice is to read a book aboutbreeding them because there is more you should know than can becovered in an article. However, I will go over some basics.

Obviously, you need to start with a male and a female. This is notalways simple because it is difficult to determine the sex of canariesby appearance. Most males sing and most females don't, but there areexceptions both ways. The only way to be 100% sure is to buy olderbirds from a breeder who has already bred them once. Ask for a"proven" hen who was a good mother and you will avoid disappointment.

Canaries are only fertile when the length of the day is increasing toabout 12 hours. This naturally happens in the spring. The birds mustalso have adequate nutrition which should include animal protein suchas hard-boiled eggs. It is crucial to provide a cuttlebone or similarsource of calcium for the hen to eat.

Canaries are territorial and each pair needs its own cage. If the henfights with the male, she is not ready and they should be separated.For convenience, many breeders use a double cage with a removable wirepartition. When you observe them "kissing" through the bars, you canremove the partition and see if they are compatible.

When the hen is ready to lay, she will want to build a nest. Buy anopen (uncovered) 4" nest cup from a pet shop and hang it in a topcorner of the cage. Provide nesting material for her to line the nestwith. Pet shops sell commercial material for canary nests, or you canshred burlap or even toilet paper.

The hen lays one egg a day until 4 or 5 are laid. Then she sits onthem for 2 weeks and rarely leaves the nest. When the chicks hatch,you must provide food rich in egg protein for the parents to feedthem. Greens such as broccoli and sprouts are also very important.

The chicks leave the nest about 18 days after hatching. The parentswill feed them for another week or so. Then the hen will want tostart a new family and may attack the old one. A double cage becomesuseful again because you can separate the chicks from the parents.The father can feed them through the bars while the hen lays anotherclutch.

By the time they are 4 weeks old, the chicks must learn to eat ontheir own. Provide them with the same egg food the parents fed them.Also prepare softened seed by soaking it for 48 hours. Rinse thesoaked seed daily. Start an assembly line so that every day you willhave seed that has been soaked for 2 days. Do not give them thenormal dry canary seed mix until they are at least 6 weeks old.

Limit a pair to raising two families a year, or the parents willbecome exhausted. Move the hen away from the male to another cagewith no nest and she should stop laying. The young birds will getalong with each other until they are mature the following winter.

If you do not wish to keep all your new birds, there is a ready marketfor them. You can place an ad in the paper, sell them wholesale to apet shop, or donate them to retirement homes where they are welcome aseasy care pets. According to the Santa Clara County Humane Society,pet cage birds are rarely brought in, and the few they get are readilyadopted.

To learn more about breeding canaries, join a cage-bird club. Askingother breeders what to do is the best way to become a successfulbreeder yourself!

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