According to Webster Dictionary:     a-ri-a. (ä΄rēַə), noun,  1. an elaborate melody sung by a single voice    2. a striking solo performance  [Italian, from Latin ǎera, literally means air]

Aria From A Birdcage

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Here 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 wings.    A 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.

The mom will keep the nest clean by removing the waste of the babies for several days.   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 gets very soiled, I will tear up some newspaper or unscented toilet paper, and will add a layer of clean material.

When I started breeding canaries, I began with three pairs of birds and twelve cages.  This is because I wanted to compete at bird shows, and knew that I would need about twenty young males in order to choose a show team from.  I had a basement birdroom, and unlimited space, and the hobby mushroomed.  It didn't help (or hurt) that my husband shared the same hobby, so there was no one saying, "I think you have enough canaries now, don't you?"  To the contrary, it was, "Instead of two pairs of that new breed, you should get two trios!".  Needless to say, we expanded the birdroom several times, and at one point were accommodating a couple of hundred canaries after breeding seasons.  After a few years, we came to our senses, and realized that the hobby had become "work" and not enough "fun", so we thoughtfully and purposely downsized.  It took several rounds of downsizing, over several years, to come to the "right size" for us.

After about 21 days, the babies will fledge (leave the nest).  They will still be fed by their parents for another 2-3 weeks, and will be learning to pick at food and will eventually be eating on their own.  As they mature, their beaks harden and they become able to crack seeds.  

Sometimes, the mother will start to build her second nest, and will think it's a great idea to use the soft feathers from the bodies of her first chicks as nesting material.  Watch for this plucking, as the fledglings need their feathers to stay warm.  If they start being plucked....and you will notice missing or bloody tail feathers, put a wire divider in the cage, with the babies on one side and the parents of the other.  The parents will feed them through the wires until they are eating on their own.

What do you feed canary babies?  This reminds me of the "Wide Mouth Frog" children's story, but I will spare you that here.  Newborn canary babies need nestling food that you provide to the parents.  The simplest thing is to buy a prepared nestling food mixture, and supplement it with boiled egg.  I will put a wedge of boiled eggs in the dish with the nestling food every day, as it is nutritious and easy for the chicks to digest.  After they fledge, a piece of boiled egg is often the first food that they will pick at as they learn to eat on their own.  Continue to provide the nestling food well after they have been weaned and are on their own.  They may be as big as their parents, but are still growing and developing, and need the extra nutrition.  Offer them foods like brocolli, and other foods that you feed to the adults, and of course, their seed mix.  If you have to feed a late hatched baby, have a hand-feeding formula powder on hand.  In a pinch, I have just used boiled egg yolk mixed with a bit of water to give it moisture and the consistency of toothpaste.  You can use a number of things as a tool for hand feeding, from a toothpick, to a chopstick that has been whittled down a bit, to a needle-less shringe.  Young birds will lift their heads and open their mouths, and you simply but small bits inside and let them swallow.  Stop feeding them when they stop opening their mouths for the next bite.  

I have had times where everything is fine, babies are feathering out, nearly ready to fledge, and one of them starts falling behind.  For some reason, mom has stopped feeding it, and it is slowing starving to death.  There is an age after the baby's eyesight is developed, when it imprints on the parent bird and will not accept food from any other source.  When you take the nest out of the cage to examine it, all of the babies will hunker down and be as still as rocks.... their instinct to act invisible if a predator comes around.  A starving baby, at this age, will not open their mouth to save their life, as that instinct is so strong in them.  If you need to hand feed one at this age, your patience is needed.  You need to sit at a table with your baby food and gently open the baby's mouth and put some food in (easier said than done!).   The baby will have its mouth clamped tightly shut, and after you put food in, will vigorously shake his head to throw the food out of its mouth.  I have worked with a baby for 20 minutes before it finally would swallow a bite of food and realize that I was feeding it.  Once you've got that baby volunteering to be fed, you are home free, and will be able to feed him until he is eating on his own.  

Breeding Canaries

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.

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.

Before You Commit

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 offspring.

Remember that canaries are very territorial by nature.  For most of the year, you must 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.  The overall square footage of a cage does NOT equate to square footage at perching height... each bird wants to be on the top perches.

One breeding pair that has two successful nests, of three to four chicks each, would give you eight to ten birds to provide housing for after their breeding season is finished.  If you have more than one pair.... well, you can do the math and quickly determine that cage space will be a primary need.

This photo shows my breeding cages. The three cages on the top are where the three males that are the "baby daddys" live, each in their own "apartment".  I've removed the dividers from the other three rows to configure long flight cages.  Hens are placed in one of these flight sections, and the other two sections are used for the maturing youngsters.     

Before you begin breeding canaries, determine how many birds you would be comfortable providing for, and the cage space that is going to be required.  One cage for a pair of canaries may work for a few months, but when chicks start fledging, it will not be enough.  Will a corner of the laundry room work for you, or will you dedicate a spare bedroom, garage or basement space?  

Planning Your Pairings

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 young from that pairing may have the genetic qualities 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 I 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 present when/if you pair a dominant white ground colored canary to another dominant white ground colored canary.  In common canary-color terms, this would be pairing two white, blue, fawn, or variegated canaries (that have the dominant white ground color) together.  25% of the chicks from such a pairing would not be viable due to the genetics of chicks that obtained the dominant white gene from both parent birds.  There is more information on the subject posted in this website on the "Cinnamon Gene" page.  It is discused in the Sex-Linked Genes of Canaries video presentation that is shown there.  Don't be afraid of topics on genetics.... if you are breeding any type of creature, you are dealing with genetics, and need to develop a basic understanding.

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 do encourage you to breed purebred canaries, and not simply take a male of any canary breed and put it with a hen of any other canary breed.  The reason for this is not that I am a purebred snob.... I'm not.  My two mixed breed dogs are wonderful pets.  Mixed breed canaries could also be wonderful pets.  The problem that I see is that there are a lot of people breeding canaries and selling them as something that they are not.  Let me give you an example.  A friend of mine bought a pair of colorbred red mosaic canaries, with the intent to raise beautiful red mosaic babies from them.  One of the mosaics had a crest on its head, and the seller she got it from said it was a very "rare" red mosiac canary and very difficult to find.  The truth is that the seller had represented a mixed breed bird as being a rare bird (no colorbred canary should have a crest!).  My friend, who had not learned enough about that breed yet to know, was taken advantage of.  She soon learned that she could not use the mixed breed canary in her pair and expect to produce purebred red mosiac babies.  Even if the babies were born without a crest, she couldn't sell them as purebreds because, genetically, they would be mixed breed birds.  Her "rare" crested colorbred bird would pass its mixed breed genetics to any offspring it produced.

Think of it in dog terms.... Someone can breed a beagle to a poodle and get cute mixed-breed puppies.  One puppy may look like a beagle, but have longer legs and a narrow nose.  Another puppy might have the coat of a poodle, but have short legs and floppy ears.  They are not beagles and they are not poodles.  If people bought the puppies as "rare" poodles with floppy ears, the original breed of poodle could be lost.  This is what I want to avoid. 

If you want to raise American Singers, get a pair of American Singers that are banded with "ASC" bands and are from a reputable breeder.  When you get chicks from them, band them with "ASC" bands.  Keep the breed pure so that generations from now, folks will be able to enjoy the breed as it was designed to be. 

P.S.  I have also seen "rare crested American Singer canaries" for sale on internet sites.  I hope you know that there are no crested American Singer canaries.... this is another case of someone selling mixed breed birds as "special".  Unfortunately, the wonderful song of the American Singer would be lost because of the song genetics of the crested canary that was used to create the "rare" one.  

 

Breeding Condition

A domesticated canary's life cycle is governed by light, just 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.  Nature uses this warm season to allow birds molt and replace all of their feathers with new ones, preparing for either migration or for keeping the bird warm if they stay in colder climates.  Then comes Fall, and the number of hours of daylight start dwindling.   Winter gives us the shortest days, and then gives way to Spring and another breeding season.

For your canaries to come into breeding condition, the primary thing they need is the right number of 'daylight' hours in a schedule that simulates natural seasons outside your window.  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, before I retired from working,  I needed for birdroom lights to be on in the evening when I was home from the office and could spend time in the birdroom.  When my birds are on a nine hour 'Winter" day, their lights came on at Noon and stayed on until 9:00 PM.  They had nine hours of daylight and I had a few hours to spend with them in the evening.  When it was breeding season, with thirteen or more hours of light each day, I used 10:00 PM as the end of the day, and adjusted 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 if the room lights come on all at once.  During breeding season, the dusk warning lets the hens get back on their nests before all of the 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 before morning.  I have also kept a night light or two on during the night in birdrooms where I did not have any windows to offer a bit of moonlight so that the room was not completely dark.

Without adhering to a lighting plan, and simulating the cycle of light that nature provides, the internal system of your birds will not function as nature intended.  Some folks breed canaries using natural daylight, having nice windows in their birdroom that provide plenty of light.  That works great, and is easiest, but you may still need to supplement the natural light from the windows with artificial lights to get the brightness that is needed.

You should also feed greens and sprouted seeds which replicates the birds having access to budding plants as their Spring season unfolds.  Again, we are trying to replicate nature to stimulate the birds to come into breeding condition.

Making Introductions

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.

Nesting materials 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 problem.

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 after they remove the first one.  Once all the eggs are laid, they will remove the fake egg and put all of the eggs back 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 also realized that there is nobody in nature that pulls bird eggs out of nests as they are laid, and puts them all back in at the end of the week.  The hen usually does not "sit tight" until the last egg is laid, so incubation usually begins around the same time for all of the eggs.  I've found that most eggs in a clutch hatch within two days, and if a baby hatches on the third day, I will give him supplemental feedings until he catches up with the others.  Yes, there may be a loss now and then, but this occurs in nature.  If there is a loss of a late hatcher after I've done what I can to help him with the supplemental feedings and moving him to "the top of the pile", at least he didn't perish because I broke the egg he was developing in, killing him before he even had a chance at life.

If you do decide to handle the eggs, get a pair of specially made plastic egg tweezers.  They work perfectly for handling the delicate eggs, and help to prevent breakage.

I frequently candle the eggs on the seventh day after incubation has started 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.

It is good to provide the hen with a bath on the day before the eggs are due to hatch.  The moisture in her feathers from the bath water will transfers to the eggs and increase the humidity in them and in the nest.  It 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.

Hatchlings to Fledgelings

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 them.

They 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 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 fledge. 

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