PAS Newsletter Vol. 10 No. 4
October 2003

Advantages of an American Singers Base Line
by Bryan Chin
Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.

Though the American Singer Canary didn't start out as a pure strain it is to your advantage to create a base line with consistent characteristics. A base line will give you the security of a known line of birds that you can depend on. If you don't, every pairing of birds you setup is a roll-of-the-dice of what you are going to get and the only way to deal with this method is breeding a large quantity of birds. I am unable to deal with the time and cost to do this and must breed on a smaller scale. I will share with you my experiences with creating a base line and what are the benefits to a breeding program.

For the past three years I have been focusing on creating a line of American Singers that is consistent in singing traits. The American Singer standard demands freedom of song, variety, good musical range, ideal volume (person dependant), good clear tone, and good conformation. Trying to create a base line of birds that consistently carry a high level in all these traits is virtually impossible. The reason behind this is that most of the time the most winning birds are combinations of recessive/recessive, recessive/dominant, dominate/dominate, and co-dominate genetics. This is why you often hear of a winning bird coming from a first generation cross to another breeder's bird. The winning combination most of the time comes from the breeding of two birds that have some contrasting traits. For example a loud bird bred to a soft bird can result in a medium volume bird. If new unrelated male birds are introduced for breeding show birds each year you are at the mercy of what is available to you and the burden of knowing what your hen's mixed background is to make the right combination. This is a difficult task to maintain each year.

To begin, I had to decide what traits to focus on to develop my base line of canaries. In descending priority I chose freedom of song, excellent tone, reliable hens, and variety. Freedom of song was chosen because if the bird doesn't sing at the show he is useless. Excellent tone for me seemed to be the most elusive trait to find and maintain so this was the major song trait I decided to focus on. Having good breeding hens is essential for me since a line can be lost so easily without this. Variety is my tipping point to decide between birds that have about the same tone quality.

After careful selection and record keeping I have come close to my goal. I would say about 60-75% of my birds carry the 4 traits I focused on. Now that the consistency is high and I know that my hens have high probability of carrying the desired traits, I can now take less room and concentrate on another line to balance the traits of my Base line.

I needed another line to balance the Base line because I lost other traits during my 3 years of fixing the 4 traits. I lost volume and variety (in the high range) due to less open beak phrases. I also lost the high range of the song because I concentrated on getting good clear tone in the mid to low range which is more difficult. I could see these traits decline as I fixed my Base line but did not worry since high range birds with open beak phrases are more available. Last year I have obtained birds in the high range with open beak phrases and on the loud volume side. These birds also had good freedom. The cross to my Base line looks promising and starting to display the balance I hope for with the combination. I plan to use this cross to develop a line to lean more towards high range, open beak phrases, and medium/loud volume. This will be my 2nd line to develop and maintain. My plan is to use these two lines to cross for show birds. This technique is not new and often used with Roller breeders that maintain Bass lines and Flute lines.

On a side note as you focus your birds towards a few traits you risk having fewer chances to win at shows since only judges that appreciate your goal will reward you. If you then create another line to balance the other, you can then have a range of bird song types to show and increase your chances (no guarantees here). It is important to keep each line vigorous and consistent in your chosen traits. There are various ways to maintain and develop each line and it is important to find the method that works best for you.

Clear Eggs - One Reason Why We Get Them
by Linda Ferzoco
Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.

I belong to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Project Feeder Watch, which I encourage all backyard bird feeders to join at . The most recent newsletter from them had an article of great interest to us. It was a study of the causes of clear eggs in some songbirds.

The study showed that the numbers of clear eggs in wild populations increased with the second and third clutches produced each year. The question was why does that happen? The ultimate answer was temperature.

The birds studied do not set on their eggs immediately; they wait until about the next to last egg is laid, which is similar to our canaries if their eggs are not pulled. It is known that their eggs remain viable but not developing between the temperatures of about 65 to 75°F. The birds incubate the eggs and they develop normally between 95 - 105°F. But it was learned that between 75 - 95°F. the eggs will develop in fits and starts and the embryos will die.

In the wild, the ambient temperature is often between 75 - 95°F in late spring or summer when those final clutches are being laid. The eggs that the hen lays and does not set on never develop, resulting in entire clutches with clear eggs. Not only minimum temperature but also maximum egg storage temperature can be very important in the success of our breeding programs.

BTW, an experienced canary breeder I was talking to recently gave me another, rather obvious, cause for clear eggs: the males are too young. If you've been getting clear eggs from a couple, check your records to see if either of the birds was hatched late in the previous season. He claims that the late hatchers are not ready themselves sometime until their second year.

Color Feeding and the Constitution
by Linda Ferzoco
Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.

At the last PAS meeting, I raised the issue of color feeding our American Singers. As we all know, the public at large prefers colored birds to green birds and most of us have to sell our excess birds to the color-mad public in order to support our addictive little hobby. That's why Laura Schwanof, among others, is trying to establish a line of show-quality AS with red factor genes. I too am interested in that idea, but, as I talked to folks and read the AS Constitution, I became somewhat confused. To quote the AS constitution:

Sec. 3. The use of color food, vegetable dye, or color assist in any form is absolutely forbidden and barred in feed to all American Singer Canaries during the moult or at any time. Judges must disqualify all entries at shows showing color food.

Sec. 5. All color-bred red factor American Singers are now classed in the regular classes and should be from the 6th to the 10th generation from the first mating of the Siskin and Roller or Border to insure fair or equal competition in all shows. (See Chapter 6.)

After much discussion at our meeting, it seemed that a judge would disqualify or at least mark down a bird they perceived to have been color fed. The judges there said that would mean any bird that displayed distinctly orange color, since they felt that would mean the bird had been fed canthaxanthin or one of its derivatives.

After the meeting, I read more of the constitution and found this passage.

7J. Only the birds best in color should be used for breeding pairs as well as type and song. Only the best buff, yellow, green, cinnamon, blue or white birds as well as the deepest shades of light orange, orange and deep orange in red-factor should be used. As long as we are aiming for red birds we should not encourage near whites, frosted or any pale birds in our classifications. Breeders will always have plenty of these birds in a hatch, as well as birds with faults in type and song than more excellent specimens fit for the show bench. As this is true in breeding Borders, it is also true in American Singers, only more so, as Borders are only judged for type, American Singers are judged for SONG with FREEDOM first, then TYPE or CONFORMATION then CONDITION. Color comes under CONFORMATION but does not score in the total 20 Points. In judging AMERICAN SINGERS, the song score as recorded by the Judge holds in the selection of the BEST birds. In case of a tie between the best regular AMERICAN SINGER and the best red- factor AMERICAN SINGER the song and conformation decides which is BEST and not the color.

I infer from the above passage that our birds can be an orange color, which they presumably will become with a great deal of beta-carotene in their diet, and not be disqualified. Of course, they must sing well in order to win, since our birds are judged for beauty of song and not appearance.

To summarize

  1. A good breeding program includes feeding one's birds foods rich in beta carotene such as broccoli, chard, kale, sweet potato, carrot, red pepper, etc.
  2. A regular American Singer bird will become rich yellow if fed lots of beta-carotene-containing foods
  3. A red factor American Singer bird will become distinctly orange if fed lots of beta-carotene-containing foods
  4. Both birds would be acceptable under the Conformation part of American Singer judging.

I invite comments about this issue. When I first examined it, I thought we might have to request a change to the AS constitution, but I no longer think so. In any event, I need to hear from you, especially those of you with color breeding experience, since there seems to be conflicting information. Email: or phone me at 650-359-7063.

Song Preference Creates a New Species
by Linda Ferzoco
Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.

Most species are created from an older one due to geographic barriers of some kind, such as a rising mountain range, loss of a river, etc., so that after some time, the two parts of the species grow so different that they can no longer interbreed (one definition of speciation). But the African Indigobird seems to be the first invertebrate species to have divided without that kind of barrier, according to Michael Sorenson and colleagues in the August 21st issue of Nature.

Indigobirds are like our cowbirds: they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, usually targeting a particular species. Previous proposals for speciation of this kind of bird were that when the host species split, the parasitic bird speciated as well, but the authors of the current paper disagreed.

An experiment was done to place the indigobird eggs into the nests of two different species: one familiar to the indigobird and found in the same environment, the other not found in the same area and unfamiliar to the indigo bird.

An interesting thing happened. As many of us song canary owners know, young males will imitate the songs of their tutors - fathers, uncles and other males of the same species in the environment. These young males adopted the songs of their foster communities. When it came time to breed in subsequent year, the females preferred the males with a song similar to that they heard in their early days. Voila, this preference and a few years (maybe thousands, maybe not - that's another article) and you have a new species.

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