Basic Pet Canary Care
by Ginger Wolnik

First published in the Pet Gazette, March 1992. Revised and updated July 1997 and November 1998.

Food
It is best to feed your bird the type of food it was raised on, so besure to find out if that was seeds or pellets. Most breeders includea food sample when they sell a bird.

Pellets are more nutritionally complete than seeds and less messbecause they do not have shells. However, if your bird was not raisedon pellets, it might not recognize them as food and it can bedifficult to get a bird to accept this artificial diet. There areseveral brands of bird pellets available, I recommend Kaytee Exact forCanaries and Finches. Pellets contain vitamins and more protein thanseed, so no other supplements are needed.

If you feed your bird seeds, buy a seed mix just for canaries, notfinches or parakeets. One bird eats about ½ tablespoon of seed eachday. Spread the seed in a thin layer in a large dish so it does notget buried in empty seed shells. If you feed a small amount daily,the bird will eat all the types of seed in the mix for a balanceddiet. However, it will not hurt the bird to have access to largequantities of seed if you are gone for a few days.

Get a vitamin-coated seed mix so you will not have to add vitamins inthe water. If you want to give a vitamin supplement, the best isNekton-S which is a water-soluble powder. You must mix it fresh everyday and clean the water tube or dish each day if you give vitamins inthe water.

The cage should always have a cuttle bone or a mineral block forcalcium. Grit is not necessary for canaries because they shell theirseed. (Claims that grit is needed for birds were based on studies ofpoultry and pigeons.)

If your bird eats seed, it is important to supplement this about once aweek with higher protein food. A good source is egg biscuit, whichyou can buy at pet shops or at pet supply stands in stores. Softenthe egg biscuit with water before serving and the bird should eat itright up.

Canaries like to eat greens and can have some every day. Lettuce istoo watery, but a small piece of leaf lettuce is all right if nothingelse is available (about 1" across). Broccoli is the best. A 2"piece of the top will keep a canary busy all day pecking the buds andchiseling at the stem. Dandelion leaves are good, and so is kale.Tiny pieces of fruit (apple, orange, melon, grape, papaya) are goodtoo. Corn and peas can be fed fresh, or thawed from a frozen bag.Chocolate and avocado are toxic to birds.

Water
Clean drinking water must always be available. Do not use coveredcups that are large enough for the bird to climb in, because it mayget trapped and drown. Drinking tubes are the best way to providewater.

Bathing
Canaries love to take baths. A shallow bowl with about 1/4 inch ofroom-temperature water will do. You can let them take a bath everyday, but in the winter, once a week is better. Early morning is thebest time. After the bath, they like to preen and dry in a sunbeam,so setting the cage on a windowsill that gets morning sun is good.The window should be closed so the bird will not be in a draft.

Housing
Canaries need to fly to remain healthy. (Never clip the wings of acanary.) They do not climb like parrots and parakeets, so they onlyget exercise if they can fly, not just hop, between perches. A tall,narrow cage does not give them the correct type of flight. The propercanary cage is a long rectangle. HOIE makes a flight cage that is 24"long, 16" deep, and 18" tall, that I think is an ideal pet canarycage. A wire grill above the bottom of the cage will keep the birdfrom eating spoiled food that has fallen. It will also prevent a hencanary from tearing up the cage paper for nesting material. However,the grill itself can be hard to clean and I do not think they arenecessary for pet canaries. The HOIE cages come with grills that canbe removed. The cage should be set up with one perch at each end tomaximize the flight distance. A swing near the top in the middle ofthe cage is good. Get the type of swing that hangs from one point inthe middle. It is less stable, but canaries seem to prefer that andhave a lot of fun hanging on.

Perches
Perches of different diameters ¼ - ½ inch are best because thefeet get more exercise. Get several perches and rotate them forvariety. The easiest way to clean perches is to soak for a fewminutes to an hour in hot, soapy water. Then scrub clean with asponge, cloth, or nylon brush. Rinse well, and let air dry for atleast a day, preferable two days. If you have at least four perches,then it is easy to keep a clean pair in the cage at all times. Do notcover the perches with sandpaper, it is bad for the soles of theirfeet.

Molting
Canaries normally molt once a year in the middle of the summer. Allthe feathers are replaced over a 2-3 month period. A molt can alsooccur if the bird is under a lot of stress, like moving to a new home.If the bird is used to a cool room, and then moved to a warmer room inthe winter, that can trigger a molt. The most common cause ofoff-season molting is too much light. Canaries should not be kept uppast sunset, especially in the winter. When molting, feed the birdextra egg biscuits because it needs extra protein to grow newfeathers. Dark greens like kale or broccoli leaves are important fordeveloping a deeper color in the feathers. Once formed, the featherscannot change, so this is the only chance to give the bird the propernutrition to grow them right. Male canaries usually don't sing muchwhen they molt.

Cage Placement
The cage must never be in a draft, so do not put it in front of anopen window. The bird can overheat in the sun, so make sure at leastpart of the cage is always shaded if it is at a window. Canaryhormones are regulated by daylight length. If the bird is kept uplate in the winter, it will go into a molt because its body will thinkit is summer (which is molting time). In the evening, it is best tokeep a canary in a dark room, or else cover the cage with a blackoutcover.

Canaries are very sensitive to chemical fumes. They should not beexposed to smoke, room deodorizers, scented candles, bug sprays, oven cleaners, or the fumes from any strong cleaning agents.Teflon and other non-stick polymers will break down if overheatedand create toxic fumes that can kill birds anywhere in your home.Avoid using nonstick coated cookware, especially if you keep birdsin your kitchen.

Toys
Canaries are not as playful as parakeets, but they will show interestin mirrors and bells. Generally, any toy that is safe for a parakeetwill probably be OK for a canary. Be aware that a mirror in the cagemay cause a male to stop singing.

Toenails
A couple of times a year, it may be necessary to trim their toenails.If the nails get too long, it is hard for the bird to perch and theycan snag themselves and hurt their leg. Use fingernail clippers toremove the lower part of the nail below the vein inside. If youaccidentally cut into the vein, you can stop the bleeding by applyingsteptic powder that you can buy at pet shops. You can also applypressure by pinching the tip with your fingers until the bleedingstops.

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