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

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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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.  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 before morning.

You should also feed greens which replicates the birds having access to budding plants as their Spring season unfolds. 

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 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 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.

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.

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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