American Singers Club, Inc.
National Colorbred Association
Master Breeder Award
For most of us
who are breeding and raising canaries, our interest began by being a pet
owner. Having a single canary as a pet is very enjoyable, but then
something inside urges us to expand our hobby. We want to "kick it
up a notch", and that next level means finding a mate for our bird,
breeding them, and raising babies.
If you are
reading this, it means that you are at this point in the road. I
encourage you to move forward, but first learn all you can BEFORE you
commit to this adventure. One of the first challenges will be
planning for enough cages to accommodate a breeding pair and their
canaries are very territorial by nature. For most of the year, you
have to house mature males individually. Hens are fine in a flight
cage together as long as they have enough personal space. A rule
of thumb is one square foot of space per bird, but keep in mind that
canaries love the higher perching places. Square footage of a cage
does NOT equate to square footage at perching height.
One breeding pair
that has two successful nests of three chicks each, would give you eight
birds to provide housing for in your first season. If you have
more than one pair.... well, you can do the math and quickly determine
that cage space will be a primary need.
Since my goals are
to produce exceptional singers, I plan my pairings based
on the song of the male and the song of the hen's
father. The theory is if the male sings low notes
and the hen's father signs in the high range, then any
young from that pairing would have the quality of
both...and would have a broader range in their song than
either of the parents.
I also have to
confess that I love the colors of
canaries, and will plan pairings that consider the
ground colors of the parents and whether they have the
brown gene (or are a carrier of that gene) that produces
the lovely cinnamon and fawn birds. See the Color
Pairing Chart that is on this website that will show you
the possible outcome of any pairing based on the color
of the male and hen. This paragraph will make hard
core American Singer breeders shiver in their shoes,
because we have been preached to that color "doesn't
matter", and yes, I agree that color doesn't matter on
the show bench. Points are given primarily for the
SONG of the American Singer, with a few other points for
conformation and condition... no mention of color.
But I LIKE COLOR, too. And I will plan pairings of
males and hens from quality songsters, and solely make
the pairing because of the color of the birds. The
youngsters will also be quality songsters, and I will
get the added benefit of enjoying the color.
One thing to keep
in mind is the 'lethal factor' that is believed to be
present when/if you pair a dominant white bird to
another dominant white bird. In American Singers,
this would be a white, blue, or fawn, or any variegated
bird with white ground color. It is said that 25%
of the chicks from such a pairing would not be viable,
or would be badly feathered or have some other
deformity. I have not tested this theory, but
choose to not take a chance.
I plan my
pairings sitting on the couch with my pedigree records
and notes. I look at family lines, wanting to
preserve them and keep them strong. I will line
breed (breeding daughter to father, or son to mother)
for a generation or two to concentrate the qualities of
the line, paying careful attention to the youngsters
that are produced.
I'll also keep in
mind who is a cinnamon bird or a male that is a carrier
of cinnamon, as mentioned before because of color
outcome possibilities. I love the color of fawn
canaries, a soft beige brown on a white bird. One
neat thing about pairing a cinnamon/fawn male to a
non-cinnamon/fawn hen is that ALL of the babies hatched
that are cinnamon will be girls. All of the boys
will be carrier's of the brown gene.
canary's life cycle is governed by light, as it is for
birds in the wild. Think about the change of
seasons outside your window. In the Spring, days
start getting longer and trees start coming back to
life, flowers bloom, birds start nesting. In the
summer, the days are long and birds born that year are
growing an maturing. Towards the end of Summer,
birds molt and replace all of their feathers with new
ones, preparing for either migration or for keeping them
warm if they stay in colder climates. Then comes
Fall, and the number of hours of daylight start
dwindling. Birds finish their molt and the days
grow shorter. With the onset of Winter, we have
short days and birds.
For your canaries to
come into breeding condition, the primary thing they
need is the right number of 'daylight' hours. I
use lights on timers in the birdroom, with bulbs that
replicate sunlight (full spectrum). Set the hours
to coincide with YOUR best time to be in the birdroom.
For instance, I work during the day, so I need for
birdroom lights to be on in the evening when I am home
and can spend time there... so when my birds are on a
nine our day, their lights come on at Noon and stay on
until 9:00 PM. They have nine hours of light and I
have a few hours to spend with them in the evening.
When it is breeding season, with thirteen or more hours
of light each day, I use 10:00 PM as the end of the day,
and adjust the beginning hour to provide the total
number of hours needed.
If you use
artificial light, be sure to have smaller dawn and dusk
lamps that come on shortly before lights come on and go
off for the day. This gives the birds a more
natural day, and not a rude awakening when all of the
room lights come on. The dusk warning lets the
hens get back on their nests before lights go out.
Should they be caught off the nest when lights go off,
the babies will get chilled and, if they don't have
enough feathers to keep warm, will most likely die
You should also
feed greens which replicates the birds having access to
budding plants as their Spring season unfolds.
When your birds
are in good breeding condition, the males will be
singing stongly and dancing on the perch. Hens
will be tearing paper and building nests in seed cups or
in the corners of the cage.
You need to be
careful when introducing the male to the hen you have
chosen for him. Canaries can kill each other,
literally, if introduced when one of them is not in
breeding condition and the other is too aggressive.
In the cage shown
here, you will see a hen on the left and a white male on
the right, in a double cage with a wire divider between
can interact and get to know each other with no
bloodshed. As their courtship begins, the male can
feed the hen between the bars. When you see that
behavior, it is usually safe to remove the divider.
I put a nest form in
the cage with the hen and give her nesting materials.
In the photo, you can see strips of newspaper attached
to the cage door. Also, give them treats of
the nestling food you are planning to give when the
babies arrive. They need to like it, and if they
won't eat it themselves, they won't feed it to their
babies. You can add some wheat germ for a boost of
Vitamin E, but be careful to not give too much or they
will be too aggressive.
can be anything from strips of newspaper to burlap
fibers to grasses to unscented toilet paper. If
you use threads, be sure they are preshrunk, so that a
fiber doesn't get wrapped around a tiny leg and create a
I line the
plastic nest form with coffee filters, taped around the
upper edge with masking tape. This is easy to use
and gives the hen a non-slippery surface to begin
building on, plus it is disposable when the babies
Egg Laying and Incubation
A hen will lay one
egg per day until her clutch is complete. An
average number of eggs is 3-5, and you will occasionally
see a nest with less or more. The last egg in the
clutch is a darker pigment than the others, often called
the "blue egg".
Some breeders pull
the eggs out of the nest as they are laid and collect
them in a safe place until the entire clutch is laid.
They will place a fake canary egg in the nest when the
remove the first one. Once all the eggs are laid,
they will remove the fake egg and put all of the eggs in
the nest for the hen to incubate. The purpose of
doing this is so all of the eggs hatch together, rather
than staggered with the eggs laid last hatching last.
I did this in the beginning, but don't any longer.
I broke a couple of eggs when transferring them, which
was enough to discourage me. I did find that using
a pair of specially made plastic egg tweezers worked
perfectly, so if you do decide to use this method,
purchase this tool.
I let the hen lay
her eggs and keep them. I find that most nests
hatch all the chicks within two days. This is
because the hen usually does not sit tight on the nest
until the entire clutch is laid. Once it is, she
gets serious and sits with her bare belly making contact
with the eggs and keeping them the perfect incubation
I frequently candle
the eggs on the seventh day to see if they are fertile.
Use a flexible headed penlight available in automotive
supply departments, and cushion the head with a corn
pad. Take the entire nest to a darkened room and
hold the head of the light against the egg. If it
is fertile, you will see the embryo moving inside and a
web of arteries and veins. If it is clear, with
only a yolk showing, it is most likely not fertile.
I would keep the clear eggs in the nest for a few more
days and check them again. If they are still
clear, throw them away.
Penlight for Candler
It is good to
provide her with a bath on the day before the eggs are
due to hatch, because the moisture in the feathers that
transfers to the eggs may help prevent a baby from being
unable to free himself from the shell. You don't
want them to get stuck, and when the hen throws the
eggshell out of the nest, the baby could go with it.
we have it, the moment when miracles happen, when we
witness life beginning.
The egg in the nest is full of promise and hope of what
may be, but the hatching of that egg is that hope taking
poem from Emily Dickinson has a phrase "Hope is the
thing with feathers that perches in the soul."
Canary babies hatch
by chipping a hole in the side of their egg, and taking
their first breath of air from the outside world.
They continue to
chip around the circumference of the egg until they have
it split into two halves. During their chipping
process, they are also stretching, pressing against one
half of the egg with their feet, and the other with
their head. They eventually push out of their
confinement, and the hen throws the bits of shell out of
the nest. Seeing a shell on the floor of the cage
is often your first sign that you have BABIES!
Babies are nearly naked,
coming out of the shell wet. When dry, they are a tiny,
helpless bundle of fluff, eyes closed tight, beaks soft and
pliable. They have a small food supply left in the yolk
sack being absorbed in their tummy, but they need to receive
food within 24 hours.
They lift their heads on
wobbly necks, their mouths gaping wide, begging for food.
As they grow and become stronger, their begging becomes more
vigorous and you'll hear the chorus of 'cheep, cheep, cheep'
rising from the hatchlings whenever Mom or Dad lands on the side
of the nest. They sense the movement of the nest, and soon
learn that means "dinner is served".
The Mom will keep the nest
clean by removing the waste of the babies for several days.
These babies are about eight days old. It is
amazing how quickly they change. You'll notice
that these guys have dark patches and light patches on
their skin and their feathers are starting to form.
This group of babies will be variegated birds, which are
All of the light
skinned areas will be yellow feathered (or white
feathered if the bird is a white ground colored bird),
with no melanin coloring. All of the dark skinned
areas will feather out with dark feathers.
Hungry Mouths to Feed
You'll notice the
droppings on the outer edge of the nest, as the babies
learn to expel their waste over the edge of the nest.
The Mom stops cleaning the nest and is devoted to
feeding and keeping the babies warm. Just like
with humans, the housework can wait when there are
hungry babies to take care of.
If the nest material
the the babies are sleeping on gets very soiled, I will
tear up some newspaper or unscented toilet paper, and
will add a layer of clean material.
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