The COLOR BRED canary is classified into two divisions: melanin and lipochrome. Melanin birds are dark colored birds. The original wild canary was of the melanin variety. Green, blue, pastel, brown, isabel, agate, opal, topaz, ino, and satinette canaries are all melanin. The lipochrome birds are completely devoid of dark color. The yellow, white, red ground, and mosaic canaries are all clear, lipochrome mutations.

Some knowledge of genetics is needed to understand the production of the different canary colors. The phenotype of a living thing is simply its appearance. When we describe a bird as white, yellow, red or variegated, we are defining its phenotype. The genotype of an organism is its genetic description. One must know either the ancestry of an individual, or do test matings in order to know the genotype. Knowing the genotype allows us to compute what color nestling any particular bird can produce. The genotype tells us why a particular specimen has a certain appearance and what traits it is carrying.

All living things are composed of cells. Within cells are located pairs of chromosomes. The chromosomes are the genetic blue prints of living things. When viewed under a microscope, the chromosomes are seen to be pairs of tiny strings. On each chromosome of the pair are spots that, together, control some aspect of the organisms health or physical makeup. These spots are called traits or genes. Imagining any particular spot, two possibilities exist: both are the same or they are different. How the genes interact with each other is the subject of genetics.

The reproductive cells are an exception to the rule that chromosomes are found in pairs. The unfertilized eggs in the hen and the sperm cells in the cock bird contain single strands of chromosomes. These single strands are produced from cells with the usual double strands. These cells divide, evenly parting the genetic material, generating reproductive cells. When the egg is fertilized by the sperm cell, in the resulting fertilized egg, or zygote, the single strands combine to form a pair. Thus each nestling receives a set of genetic material from its father, and a set from its mother.

Knowing the genotype of any pair of birds, knowing what genes they are showing and what genes they are carrying, that they are split for, allows us to predict the appearance of the young. We count all the single genes that come from the father, and all the single genes that come from the mother. Charting all the possible combinations, we can then list the probability of any particular color being in the nest.

The wild canary produces melanin, the chemicals that cause the dark colors in the feather, from the proteins in its food. Melanin is deposited in the feather giving the green phenotype. The production of melanin is defective in the lipochrome, clear canary. This mutation is classified as an incomplete dominant. If a bird possesses two genes for lipochrome, it will be a clear canary. If it has one gene for lipochrome and one for melanin production, it will be variegated. If both genes are for melanin, the bird will be dark..

This knowledge allows us to figure out what varieties of young any pairing will produce.

+ – denotes melanin, the wild, normal type.
L – denote lipochrome, the mutated variety..

L/L – is the genotype of a clear bird.
Here we have a gene for lipochrome on each chromosome.

L/+ or +/L is the genotype of a variegated bird. A variegated bird has a gene for lipochrome on one. chromosome and a gene for lipochrome on the other.

+/+ – is the genotype of a green bird.
A green bird has the normal genes on each chromosome…
All living things pass their chromosomes onto their offspring. Thus if we mate two variegated birds together:..

L/+ X L/+ produces the following percentages.
25% L/L Clear birds.
25% +/+ Dark birds.
50% +/L Variegated birds.

These percentages come about because each parent produces the factors L and + in equal parts. L combines with L to yield L/L. + combines with +, giving +/+. L can combine with + in two ways:L/+ or +/L. L/+ is equivalent to +/L, so we combine the probabilities.

If we mate two clear birds together, all clear young are the result. If two dark birds are paired, only melanin nestlings will be in the nest.

The mating of a clear bird to a variegated gives the following:
L/+ X L/L.
50% L/+ Variegated.
50% L/L Lipochrome.

There is no good reason to produce variegated canaries in the COLOR BRED. Variegated birds are attractive in the TYPE, ROLLERS, and AMERICAN SINGERS, but they cannot be exhibited as COLOR BRED in the United States. Some, who should know better, write that it is necessary to cross the lipochrome birds into melanin stock in order to avoid a loss of vigor and to maintain depth of color in the clear line. This is not true. Healthy, brightly colored strains of clear canaries can be bred without any cross into melanin. Pairing lipochrome to melanin or variegated unleashes many problems. Many of the clear birds bred from variegated X lipochrome pairings will have tic marks and dark patches on the legs and feet, making them unfit for exhibition.

There are two kinds of white canaries:dominant whites and recessive whites. With the dominant white only one gene is needed to give the white phenotype. This is what is meant by a dominant gene. A canary cannot be a carrier of the dominant white factor.
W – the Dominant White Factor.
y – yellow ground.
W/y – A dominant white canary.
y/y – A yellow ground canary.
W/y X y/y gives the following:.
50% W/y Dominant White.
50% y/y Yellow Ground.

It is generally believed that the dominant white gene is a semi-lethal. This means that if the dominant white trait is located on both chromosomes, if two dominant white birds were paired together, the young bird would die in the shell.

Many dominant white canaries show slight shading of yellow in the flight feathers and, occasionally, elsewhere. For show, the purest white birds are to be desired. Dominant white birds should never be crossed with red factor canaries, as this will intensify the color in the body. Similarly, dominant whites should never be color fed. The amount of suffusion can be limited by selective breeding. Selective breeding is the pairing of the best birds over a number of generations.

In the recessive white canary two genes are necessary to produce a white bird. This is the definition of a recessive trait. IT is possible for a bird to be a carrier, to be split for, the recessive white gene.
y – Yellow.
w – Recessive White (note that here I use the lower case w). w/w – Recessive White canary.
w/y – Yellow canary, carrier of recessive white.

Most breeders breed recessive whites by mating recessive white canaries to yellow carriers of recessive white. This pairing gives 50% recessive white, and 50% yellow carriers of recessive white. These canaryculturists assume that the mating of recessive white to recessive white will cause a decline in the health and vitality of the offspring. Whether this is founded on observation or superstition is difficult to discern.

Many breeders claim that recessive white canaries require vitamin supplements to survive. Given the proper care that all canaries require, these birds are as healthy as any others.

The recessive white mutation deletes all color from the feathers and skin. Recessive whites can be color fed and they will remain pure white. These birds can be crossed with the red factor canaries. It is possible to develop a strain of deep red birds that would be carriers of recessive white.

Many years ago, the recessive white was used in Red Siskin crosses. It was thought that the recessive white had no genes for the production of yellow. This cross showed otherwise, for here the red was still diluted in the first cross progeny. This shows that the recessive white gene masks the genes for yellow. The genes for yellow, or red, are still present. The recessive white gene makes the other genes inoperative. Dominant white canaries show slight shading of yellow in the flights.

Bird Q&A

I so enjoy visiting my many friends who own pet birds. I would like to get a bird as a pet for myself, but I am concerned because of my cats. Can a bird be kept with cats?
Yes. You must be ready to give the matter some thought and preparation. The simplest solution is to place the bird’s cage where the cat cannot get to it. Cages for small birds are not very heavy and can be mounted on a wall or hung by chains from the ceiling. For the first few days the cats will silently sit, calculating every angle of approach to what they consider an exotic meal. Once they decide that all avenues are fruitless, the bird will be ignored.

A cage for a very large parrot, like a macaw or a cockatoo, will most likely be too heavy to take off the ground. Most cats ignore a bird too large to eat. If they do come near the cage, the giant parrots will frequently nip the cat, training the feline to stay away. You must use your judgment in determining the nature of your cat. I know of three cats that are housed in a basement. A mated pair of Sulfur Crested Cockatoos are in the same area, contained in a sixteen foot long flight cage. Though the cats enjoyed climbing on the aviary when it was first built, since the introduction of the cockatoos, the cats stay off the wire. I am sure that the cockatoos have instructed the cats to keep away! The cats make sure that no rodents set up residence in the area.

Cats can be trained by the persons that care for them to stay away from flights that contain small birds that can’t defend themselves. Whenever the cat approaches the aviary, yell at it. Keep a straw broom handy. If the great hunter jumps on the wire, smack the cat with the fiber part of the broom. This will startle but not hurt the cat. Soon the feline will decide that the sport is not worth the trouble.

The same method can be used for smaller cages. It is more difficult to train a cat that a small cage is off limits , for the bird is more tempting in a cage. Unfortunately, though cats can be taught to stay away from cages and flights, it is very hard to teach a cat to not molest a small bird. If a finch, canary, or parakeet is loose, all of the cats instincts tell it to catch and kill the bird. Small birds should never be allowed to fly free around a cat. Even the large parrots should only be allowed out with a cat under careful supervision.

In several bird stores, I have seen cats that were kept with birds since the cats were very young kittens. These cats completely ignored all birds, even small baby parrots that were being hand fed. The bird professionals that own these stores have high praise for the cats value in keeping the shops rodent free.

There is no reason that you can’t enjoy the companionship of both cats and birds.

Is it cruel to keep a bird in a cage all of the time?
That depends on the bird! For finches and canaries, their cage is their home. These birds should have a cage large enough for them to get proper exercise. Letting finches and canaries fly loose is an act of cruelty. Their cage provides them with a feeling of security. Wide open spaces provoke feelings of terror and panic, not the joy of freedom. For these little guys a cage is not a prison but a sanctuary.

Parakeets are usually better off kept in the cage at all times. A tame, wing clipped keet may enjoy the close company of its owner. Many people do let parakeets out to fly about the house. For any bird flying at liberty, care must be taken that all windows and mirrors are either covered or kept away from the birds. Caution must also be taken with opening doors, fans, cooking, and electric wires. Many plants, chemicals, and paints are poisonous. Your loving pet may chew on them with dire consequences.

Pet parrots must be taken out and handled as often as possible. For these intelligent birds, play and companionship are as necessary as food and water. Sometimes a parrot will become rather aggressive on top of his cage. This is because the bird thinks of his cage as his castle and is prepared to defend it. The solution is to have a stand or playpen located away from the cage. Take the parrot out of the cage and immediately place it on the stand or playpen. Your pet will consider this as community property and will enjoy socializing with you there.

A parrot should always be wing clipped before being taken out. Your pet shop or veterinarian can perform this service for you. Only let the bird out under supervision. The bird might harm itself or get into trouble by destroying furniture or other objects.

If a parrot is not tame enough to take out of the cage, think seriously about why you are keeping it. If you don’t enjoy the bird’s company, it probably doesn’t enjoy yours. I am sure that the bird has not committed any crime that merits a lifetime of solitary confinement. The humane option is to consider placing the parrot in a breeding situation. You can then purchase either a tame parrot or birds like finches, parakeets, or lovebirds that are happy in pairs and don’t require human companionship.

How do I go about giving my bird a bath?
Small birds, budgies, canaries, lovebirds and finches, bathe by splashing around in a bath dish. Your pet shop can supply you with a special little tub that is either placed in the cage or attached to the door. The water should be room temperature. As soon as the bird is finished, remove the bath. You don’t want the bird to drink the soiled water.

Allow a new pet to get accustomed to his home before offering baths. Birds must feel secure before they will take the chance of getting wet. If after several weeks your pet has not taken the plunge, put a few pieces of greens in the water to catch his attention. Clever little tubs are available with mirrors for the birds that likes company when washing up!

You can help a larger bird groom itself by misting it with one of the good bird bath sprays. Don’t spray a cockatiel or cockatoo with anything that contains oil. The peculiar powdery feathers of these birds are damaged by oils. Lories and lorikeets bathe like the smaller birds by jumping in a dish. A heavy dog bowl serves the purpose very well.

The cage bottom must be cleaned after the bird is done bathing. A damp cage floor will quickly develop unhealthy molds and mildews.

DON’T ever try to give a bird a bath like you would a dog or a cat. Restraining a bird, wetting it, and sudsing it, will probably result in the bird’s death from either shock or chilling. In rare circumstances, a veterinarian or someone under a veterinarian’s direction will scrub down a bird that has been covered with oil, paint, or some other noxious substance. This is an emergency procedure that must only be performed by persons that have received proper training.

An `old timer’ suggests that I add more protein to my birds diet by offering monkey chow soaked in milk. Is this a good idea?
The answer is very simple. NO!

When monkey chow, dog food, or cat food is moistened, bacteria immediately start to grow on the kibble. Within twenty minutes the number of germs is so high that the food may be considered rancid. This even happens in a refrigerator._ Just imagine how rotten the concoction will be after several hours on a hot humid day.

High in fat and difficult to digest, dairy products are not good foods for birds. A small amount of yogurt or cheese may be given to your pet as a treat.

Birds are very different from monkeys, dogs, or cats. You don’t have to be a trained Biologist to notice that this is true. Their nutritional needs are also very different. If you are feeding a bird food that is a product of scientific research, no extra protein supplement should be required. Careless feeding is a sure fire way to throw your bird’s diet way out of whack.


How relaxing would you find living in a police station or a hospital? I am sure that the never ending hustle and bustle, the constant exposure to crisis and horror, would stress and wear down all but a calloused few. Imagine if you can, an even worse situation. You are forced to reside in such a place, but never know if you are going to be an observer or a participant in the never ending stream of nightmare dramas.

This is the home that we prepare for our birds. One day they are fed special treats. The next they may be netted and brought to the vet for surgical sexing. From our point of view, this is proper management. The birds, though, never know what to expect. This uncertainty must be very stressful.

How can we minimize this stress? Again, through proper management. Handle birds intended for breeding only when absolutely necessary. Wear some distinctive clothing when, and only when, the birds must be caught. This might be an unusual hat, a jacket, a jump suit, or a smock. Keep the garment out of view of the birds, except on those occasions when you must touch the birds. The same goes for carriers, holding cages, towels, gloves, and nets. Do not force your birds to constantly view what they must consider as instruments of torture!

Snakes, hawks, owls, cats, and other predators are quick to make
a meal of any bird small or weak enough to be killed. Birds by instinct constantly watch for their natural enemies. Because of this, birds will never be secure in a cage located in the center of a room or in flights open on all four sides. With this sort of situation birds must worry about something sneaking up on them from behind.

Something solid in back removes the anxiety. Keep cages against
a wall. If a flight is built in the open, cover at least one side
with sheet metal or plywood. One breeder reports covering all
four sides of an outdoor flight cage with plywood. With finches
and soft bills, the aviary can be planted so that the birds may
feel more at home.

Birds are concerned about attacks by hawks and owls from above.
A barrier should be installed over one end of an outdoor flight
so that the birds can get out from under the scrutiny of cruising
hawks. Even birds kept indoors worry about this. Visiting a bird
shop, I noticed that all the parrots were looking out the large
window at something in the sky. At first glance, I didn’t see
anything. By Squinting, I could just barely make out the form of a
gliding falcon. The parrots, with their superior eyesight, were
clearly observing the bird of prey. Since birds don’t understand
that glass is any protection, they must have thought that their
lives were at risk.

At home, make sure that your pet’s cage is not in a window or an
open patio or balcony. What is a pleasant and diverting atmosphere for you and I can be a horrible experience for a bird in a cage or on a stand. Don’t turn your parrot into a sitting duck!

Wild caught birds, with good reason, are deathly afraid of
snakes. Serpents eat both birds and bird eggs. If you have a pet
snake, keep it away from your bird. A large boa or python might
actually attack and kill a parrot. Even a small snake, if kept or
brought anywhere that the bird can see it, will make the bird ill
at ease. An object that vaguely resembles a snake can cause
problems. I have seen parrots panic at the sight of a vacuum
cleaner hose.

Pet birds can stress each other. Challenging each other, by
yells and display, can be very exhausting for the birds. Just
being under the constant observation of another bird may make some nervous. This can cause many problems. The most common is that
the birds refuse to go to nest or, if eggs are produced, fail to
rear their young. Constant stress of any kind paves the way for
disease. Male cockatoos can go into a jealous rage and kill the

In a large collection, various strategies are used to solve this
problem. Again as above, sheet metal or plywood can separate
the flights. Species may be staggered. For example, if you had
two pairs of amazons and two pairs of cockatoos, the cockatoos
would not be housed in adjoining aviaries. One of the pairs of
amazons would be placed in between the pairs of cockatoos. Even
better yet, would be to put finches in the flights between the


The world’s most beautiful bird, the Lady Gouldian Finch, makes a tremendous display in the home. These finches may be housed in cages or in flights. Like most finches, despite their small size,
they do insist on a fairly large cage. To properly appreciate them, a cage at least twenty inches long, by ten inches square is required as a minimum. A taller cage is better yet, for, unlike canaries, finches enjoy flying up and down, as well as across.

The Lady Gouldian really comes into its own in a planted flight. An area, indoors or out, may be screened off as an aviary. Since this bird is not destructive, the flight may be planted. Palm, ficus, and scheffelaria are all easily obtained and are safeto use with birds. The sight of a small flock of Gouldians, with their bright rainbow colors, playing amongst the branches of thesmall trees and shrubs, is a constant source of entertainment. This sort of bird garden is within the reach of all. I have seen charming setups built into closets and alcoves of New York City (it would be redundant to add small!) apartments. Full-spectrum lights, for an indoor situation, benefit both the plants and the birds.

Lady Gouldian Finches are not delicate but they must be allowed to adjust slowly to any new situation. Temperature is the most critical factor. When you purchase your birds, note the temperature at which they have been kept. This is important even indoors. Some breeders raise these birds under hot house conditions. Many pet shops, to provide the best conditions for tropical birds, fish, and reptiles, will also keep the heat on a high setting. These birds will acclimate to normal room temperature, but it must be a gradual process. The colorful Lady Gouldian will accept temperatures as low as forty degrees, if a heated shelter is available for them. They, like little children, enjoy playing outdoors on chilly days. The heated shelter will be used for sleep and if a bird feels out of sorts. Even if the flight is indoors, a single goose-neck lamp is valuable as a source of additional heat. A bird that is slightly stressed will bask under the lamp for several hours. This period of rest and relaxation will help in the prevention of serious disease.

The Lady Gouldian Finch is extremely easy to feed. Any of the many excellent vitamin, mineral, and protein enriched finch mixes will be eagerly accepted. Millet sprays are greatly enjoyed treats. Honey, fruit, and egg sticks may also be provided. Cuttlebone and mineral grit must always be available. Fresh greens and apple are often enjoyed. Nestling food should always be given, but, most often, these birds seem to eat very little of the protein supplements.

If your birds are kept in an aviary, hang all dishes as high as possible. Lady Gouldian finches enjoy heights. They are very nervous on the ground.

As juveniles, Lady Gouldians are a nondescript brown, grey, andgreen bird. They don’t develop adult plumage until they are at least six months old. I have found it best to purchase them before they molt, for at this age they are most adaptable. Much has been written of massive die offs of this species during the juvenile molt. This is one of the myths of bird breeding. I have not seen anything like this happen with my own birds or those of other breeders. As a matter of fact, I never lost a young bird that was molting.

It is very easy to distinguish the sexes in adults. The male has a bright purple chest. The hen’s is lavender. All other colors are somewhat subdued in the hen. The sex of adults may also be determined
by behavior. A mature male does a little bouncing dance in front of his beloved. He attempts, at the same time, some sort of song. This vocal display is generally inaudible. It is always unimpressive. If you don’t have a lot a patience, there is a trick to sex a bird in juvenile plumage. Pluck a single feather from the chest. A new feather, in the adult color, will grow in very quickly. On a hen that is ready to go to nest, the tip of the beak will turn black.Lady Gouldians will make use of any sort of finch nest, both wooden boxes and wicker baskets. The birds will fill the bottom of the box or basket with feathers, dry moss, or dry grass. My experience is that the birds feed their young without incident. If your pairs refuse to care for their offspring, society finches may be used as foster parents.

The Lady Gouldian Finch is very susceptible to a parasite called the air sac mite. This miniature scoundrel attacks the bird’s respiratory system. Your pet shop has sprays to prevent infestation. if you see birds having difficulty in breathing, do consult your avian veterinarian about treatment with Ivermectin.

In the wild Lady Gouldians occur in red headed, black headed,and yellow headed phases, the last being very rare in nature. Many mutations have been discovered by bird breeders. The most impressive,
and, luckily, the most widely available, are the white-chested, the yellow, and the blue mutations. White chested birds may be sexed by behavior. As in the normal colors, the hen white breasted shows less bright colors over all, compared to the male.


Imagine that there are no bird clubs, local, specialist, or national. Imagine that there are no bird shows. Such is the situation for the aviculturist in India. Very different from Great Britain or the United States, Indian bird keeping is not organized and lacks any means of communication. The Indian fancier is very much on his own. The sole source of information is the bird dealer.

What makes the situation all the more paradoxical is that India is a country rich in avi-fauna. Though illegal, many Indian birds are locally kept. These include Indian Hill Mynah, Shama, Golden Chloropsis, Golden Fronted Fruitsucker, White Crested Jay Thrush, Pekin Robin, Indian Zosterop, Red Avadavat, Green Avadavat, Black Headed Mannikin, Spicebird, Racket tailed Drongo, Pagoda Mynah, Alexandrine Parakeet, and Ring Neck Parakeet. Most of these birds are very rarely maintained overseas.

The Shama, the Golden Chloropsis, and the Racket tailed Drongo, are superb mimics of birds and other animals. One Calcutta enthusiast has a collection that includes Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Indian Hill Mynahs, Canaries, Java Sparrows, and Red Avadavats in addition to a Shama Thrush. The Shama has mastered the songs and calls of all the other birds.

For the Racket Tailed Drongo, size is no obstacle. This feathered performer frequently lets loose with a tiger’s roar. This is very disconcerting, to say the least,to any birds, monkeys or other animals-including tigers! The Shama Thrush and Golden Chloropsis are frequently kept in captivity by Indian fanciers. Unfortunately, the Racket Tailed Drongo is notoriously short lived in captivity.

Strangely enough, most Indians maintain their native birds singly, as songsters or mimics. Few try to rear the native birds. More are interested in culturing birds that are very common in Great Britain and the United States:Budgerigars, Lovebirds, Cockatiels, the various common Australian finches, including the Zebra, and Canaries. Only Yellow and Roller canaries are bred. Type Canaries are unknown. I was struck by this, considering the many years of British influence. The larger parrots are often kept as novelties, but few Indians are breeding them.

There is one way that Indian aviculture resembles that in the USA-bird keeping is expensive. This sorry state of affairs is further accentuated in the subcontinent since the average per capita income is about seventy dollars. In India a house with a canary is the home of a rich man. Birds are the pets of the well to do.

India has many zoos and bird sanctuaries. These bird sanctuaries owe great debt to the late British naturalist, E .P. Gee. He visited the bird sanctuaries at his own expense and made many suggestions to the Indian government for improvement.


Aviculturists are deluged by a confusing array of pelleted foods for their charges. These processed foods offer the advantage of convenience, since they all claim to be “complete diets.” For a bird that refuses to eat fruit or vegetables, pellets are a valuable source of nutrients not found in seed. One cockatoo would only eat white millet. The distraught owner tried in vain to get the bird to eat any other seed, fruit or vegetables. Luckily, the bird quickly developed a taste for pellets, saving it from a one sided diet. Pellets serve as a vehicle to medicate a whole flock; pellets are sold that contain tetracycline.

Pellets have many drawbacks. The claim that pellets are a complete source of nutrition for all parrots is blatantly fraudulent. Not every species of parrot type bird that has been the subject of extensive nutritional research, with the cockatiel as an exception. That the diet for a cockatiel also satisfies the nutritional requirements for all other parrots is hard to believe. Pellet manufacturers also state that their products are extensively tested. It is necessary to feed a diet through three generations in order to call it complete. Surely, very few have fed any these artificial foods to many of the larger parrots through three generations.

I question the advisability of feeding the same food year round. The highly intelligent birds must be bored to madness by such bland diets. Even white rats relish a change from pellets. By watching wild birds, even here in the North East, one sees that birds do not naturally maintain a static diet. The availability of food stuffs from day to day, and from season to season. During nesting, the birds’ protein intake increases dramatically. The coming of winter increases the consumption of fats and starches.

Many aviculturists feed pellets to increase the protein in their birds’ diet. This effort might very well be in vain. There are two problems with the protein in pellets: the quality of protein and the source of protein. The protein for most pellets, and for most dog and cat foods, is derived from meat by-products. Meat by-products are what is left on a carcass after all items considered fit for human consumption are removed. These remains include the hide, hair, hooves, sinews, and feathers. Such refuse is made up of garbage protein, protein that is indigestible. Thus most of the seemingly high protein of man-made foods is an illusion.

The meat that is used in animal foods is, most often, not USDA inspected. The manufacturers of animal feed use what they call “the four D’s: the dead, diseased, dying, and deformed. This garbage of the meat processing industry is actually condemned for human consumption. The purveyors of artificial animal feed reason that the high temperatures and pressures used to process this foul matter somehow purifies it. I would think that the extremes of temperature would only further lower the digestibility of the final product. And there’s also the risk of Melamine adulteration.

Some high quality pellets might serve as a replacement for seed in the avian menus. Birds given such pellets would still require fruits, vegetables, and sprouts in order to maintain a balanced diet.


This attractive little bird is very similar to the better known Venezuelan Black Hooded Siskin. The markings of the males of both species are identical. The head and neck is a deep, lustrous black. The flight feathers are also black. The ground color of the Green Black Headed Siskin is yellow, differing dramatically from the Venezuelan’s red . The hens of the Black Headed Siskin are basically a dusky green. A grey shadowing is present on the head and flights. The siskins are very similar in shape to the European Goldfinch. The males are about the same size as the Goldfinch. The hens are somewhat smaller..

The Green Siskins are very hardy cage and aviary birds. Housed singly in cages 20″ X 10″ X 12″, the birds are quickly acclimated. A planted flight is recommended for breeding. A temperature of at least 70 degrees is best, though I kept them in a room were the temperature ranged from fifty degrees at night to eighty during the day. Dowel sticks and cherry branches were used for perches. Unfortunately, especially in cages, the birds are very nervous and shy. Strangely enough, hens caged with the cocks in a large stock cage picked the feathers on their intended mates.

A mix of 40% white millet, 5% flax, 30% rape, 10% canary, 5% groats, and 10% sunflower hearts is kept before the birds at all times. A blend of soaked safflower, soaked thistle, soaked hemp, canary nestling food, and grated fresh carrots is given in small amounts to very bird, every day. Thistle is a valuable food, but it must be rationed. Fed ad lib., the birds will eat it to exclusion of all else..

This bird has been reared in both cage and aviary. In cages, they use a standard canary nest. These birds are reputed to be very steady parents. Indeed, some claim to use them as foster parents for the more temperamental Venezuelan Siskin.

The Green Siskin crosses freely with the canary. Supposedly the hybrids, both cocks and hens, are fertile. The first cross is similar to the canary in size and shape, only the beak and markings resembling the Siskin father. The canaries used in these pairings were clears. The hybrids were all variegated, marked similarly to the Siskin, with the green in the head and flights, vaguely similar to an American Goldfinch. No trace of black showed in the young. This was disappointing, for the cross was made in the hope of yielding a black canary.

I was struck with the similarity of these hybrids to the extinct London Fancy canary. If the melanin could be removed from the head, but retained in the flights, we would have a bird nearly identical to the extinct London Fancy. It would be especially interesting to attempt a Green Siskin X Lizard Canary pairing. Perhaps the markings of the Green Siskin bears some genetic relationship to the lost variety?


When we first establish our bird rooms, we rely on the experiences of our fellow fanciers, as related in books, magazines, or personal communications. For canaries, budgerigars, domestic pigeons, poultry, most pheasants, and waterfowl, the husbandry required for some modicum of success is fairly well established. Even for these birds, variations in management, perhaps even minor ones, can increase production substantially. I raised budgerigars, always attaching the nest box to the side of the cage. It was startling to hear Binks describe how nesting was dramatically increased by bolting the nest box to the front of the cage. On the front, the box was darker, more secure. The sitting hen was less disturbed by the coming and going of people. It is very important for fanciers of different types of birds to communicate. Things that are obvious to one sub-branch of aviculture may be unknown among others.

Once when visiting a local bird store, I noticed that all the parrots were acting in a nervous manner. They were fidgeting in their cages, peering out the window up into the sky. I looked up into the sky and saw nothing. The birds’ displeasure was plainly very real. I again looked up, no w squinting. This time I barely made out a hovering pin point, way up. The superior vision of the parrots enabled them to recognize a hunting bird of prey. Not understanding that the glass was a barrier for a hawk, how stressed must the parrots have been. To their perception they were “sitting ducks,” exposed to imminent attack.

Where do we keep our birds? Converted garages, porches, spare rooms, or even basements. Where do birds live in the wild? As high up as possible. Watch the overwhelming majority of birds in the wild. They only come to the ground when sorely tempted by food. Even then they are always on the alert, ready to fly at the slightest alarm, real or imagined. I have tried keeping birds in cages, in a location at ground level, in cages about eight feet from the ground. They seemed much more secure. I was never able to maintain these accommodations for long periods of time, due to devious neighbors or hostile landlords.

I believe that the best place to situate an aviary is on the roof, what pigeon fanciers describe as a loft. The loft itself would be a building or new level built on top of the existing structure. The higher the original building and location is, the better. Coming off from the loft would be a flight, built along the lines of a greenhouse. Screen or welded wire would not be used in order to stop the transfer of disease between the exotic birds and the native birds. The technology for such glassed in areas has reached a very high level and is used by most fast food establishments Ventilation and shade would have to be carefully thought out, and would vary from region to region. Here in the North-East, we would have to both be able to shade the flight in the Summer and to obtain as much light as possible in the Winter. Accordingly ventilation would be regulated.

The birds might spend most of the day in the larger flight. Nights, or when startled by birds of prey, they could retreat to the enclosed loft building. Nests could be placed both in the flight and the loft. The birds probably would find the loft a more secure place to raise a family.

It might not be necessary to heat the flight. Even in the Winter, the sunlight will raise the temperature considerably in an enclosed glass area. No matter what, the birds could warm up in the heated loft. At night, the fancier should make sure that the birds roosted in the heated area.

An aviary on the roof would help control vermin, both two legged and four. Rats and mice would find it more difficult, but not impossible, to infest such a structure than one at ground level. Thieves would either have to actually break and enter into the aviculturist’s residence and make their way to the roof, or they would have to scale the side of the building. Either prospect would be more challenging than simply cutting some screen or forcing open a porch door. Yes, thefts would still occur, but they would be very less frequent.

Another advantage is the easy access to sunlight. I at first thought that birds were best maintained under full-spectrum artificial illumination,. Years ago, I noticed that birds able to bask even in window sunlight, in addition to the fluorescent lights, are much more active and vigorous. These observations were made at ground level. Here the birds were also frightened by passing cars, cats, dogs, and gawking people. On the roof these stressful objects would not be a factor.

The Avian Environment

Unfortunately, most bird rooms are constantly undergoing growing pains. New varieties, species, and types of birds are constantly being acquired. A disparate collection of cages fills the bird room. A confusing array of dishes, waterers, and utensils are used. Often the actual purpose for keeping the birds at all is not clearly defined in the mind of the owner.

The first thing thing that a budding aviculturist should do is make up his or her mind. Why are the birds being kept? If the birds are pets, only a few should be kept. Pet parrots become strongly attached to their owners. It is no possible to give many the attention that they crave, deserve, and need. Large wrought iron cages are the best housing for pets. These cages are roomy enough to allow the birds exercise, while being attractive additions to the human living space.

If breeding is the goal further questions are to be asked. How much time can be devoted to this task? Does the bird breeder expect the activity to become self supporting? Large numbers of parakeets and cockatiels can be bred in

limited space, and with comparatively little effort. These birds can be colony reared in flights, minimizing labor. Even with cages, automatic watering systems may be installed, halving the time needed to service the bird room..

The large parrots are a different realm entirely. A sobering investment in both time and capital is required to rear these birds. These birds are generally extremely noisy. Unless your home is some distance from your neighbors, expect complaints. Remember, these birds are loudest at sun up and sun down. The bird noise also attracts thieves and vandals. Some years ago, over seven thousand dollars worth of birds were stolen from me. A macaw that whistled at women walking by brought the collection to the burglars’ attention!.

Uniformity should be paramount in the bird room. Amazons, Conures, Lories, and similar size birds are efficiently housed in commercially available welded wire cages. The wire can be purchased separately and the cages constructed as a do-it-yourself project. If trays are not required, if, for example, all the waste is allowed to fall to a concrete floor, savings can be realized. If pans are needed, it is cheaper to buy the ready made units. It is best to use as few different sizes of cages as possible. Always have a few extra cages on hand. This way the cages can be washed and rotated, with as little disturbance to the birds as possible.

This minimalism extends to the dishes. Try to use only one kind of dish for all your birds. This way, seed, soft food, etc., can be made up, portioned out, and quickly distributed. I modify the welded wire cages to allow the use of dishes inserted from the outside. This way I do not have to put my hand into the cage, disturbing the birds. I cut holes in the welded wire and use plastic dishes like those in the pet style parrot cages. The dishes are held in place by a flap of welded wire. Crocks and the stainless steel bird proof dishes are also very good.

Water is most efficiently supplied to these birds by the gravity bottles sold for guinea pigs. This keeps the birds from fouling or emptying the water. To keep the hookbills from destroying the plastic bottle, cut and wire a piece of sheet metal to the welded wire screen. Position the metal neck of the bottle through the screen, just below the sheet metal.

All cages should be kept against a wall. Birds are not comfortable in cages or flights that are set up in the center of a room. Birds are most secure when they are kept against a solid surface, for they only have to concern themselves with intruders coming from one direction. If this is not practical, the screen should be covered with sheet metal on all but one side.

For the comfort of both humans and birds, the ventilation of the bird room must be considered. Birds, particularly budgies, cockatiels, and cockatoos, give off a tremendous amount of dust from the feathers. This can now be removed with electronic air cleaners. This equipment will also cut down the amount of cleaning required in the bird room. I installed a commercial heavy duty air cleaner in my bird room about six months ago. It is now much more pleasant to work around the birds. Also, many slight odors are now a thing of the past.

The bird room must be constantly inspected for vermin. Roaches may be controlled by spraying with a pyrethrin based spray. Cockatoos and cockatiels can not be sprayed directly with an oil based spray. Oils ruin the feathers of these birds. Mice are much more troublesome. Poisons are generally useless in the bird room, for mice prefer seed and fruit to poison. Some of the newer formulations contain lard. Mice will choose food containing beef fat over seed. Traps work very will. Bait them with the smoked sausage sold in delicatessens. I have found the “SLIM JIM” brand to be very popular! Cats also can be used. Some years back, I used to visit a bird store on Long Island in New York that housed a colony of cats. They were been raised from kittens alongside the birds. The cats, terrors of the local mice, did not molest the birds.

The large macaws and cockatoos require more planning in housing. The commercially available welded wire cages are not large enough for these birds. If flights are built from weld ed wire, do not use wood framing. All wood will eventually be splinters in the beaks of these ingenious destroyers. Large flights constructed of cyclone fencing are the perfect homes for these birds.

I have not found the gravity waterers to be useful for cockatoos or macaws. The giant parrots constantly work to remove them from the cage. Perhaps, a heavy spring would be the answer.

Any plastic dish will be quickly shattered, perhaps injuring the bird. The best dishes are the heavy clay crocks or the bird proof stainless steel dishes.

The water and soft food dishes of all birds must be sterilized daily. A dishwasher with a sterilize cycle is the best way to go. Without this, hot water and bleach will do the job.

Birds for Fun and (or?) Profit

Your Zebra Finches have been practicing the multiplication table. You bought the biggest cage, but now it’s bursting at the seams. When making one of your many trips to the pet shop to buy seed, you timidly ask the owner if he can use any Zebra finches. Sure, you are told. The store is always happy to buy Zebra Finches.


You rush home and pack every baby that is feeding on its own into a travelling cage. Only barely breaking a few speeding laws, you make the return trip to the store.

While unpacking the young Zebra Finches, the pet shop owner tells you that they are very popular birds. Don’t hesitate to bring more. A few minutes later you are walking out of the store, smiling as you count the cash.

Found Money?

Every bird lover after raising, and selling, the first few nests of young, starts to think about birds as a business. It is very easy to make a bird hobby self-supporting. There are many people who spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on their hobby. They afford this by raising and selling birds. You must ask yourself some serious questions before you try to do the same.

Bird breeding is extremely labor intensive. If you add up the hours it takes the owner of a large establishment to clean cages, wash dishes, supply food to the adults, perhaps hand feed babies, and deal with customers and suppliers, you will be shocked. If you are fascinated by birds, this is not seen as work. I am sure if you figured out dollars per hour, more money can be made washing dishes. Will you be able to do this all yourself? If you expect to go partners with your spouse or a friend, give it careful consideration. Business and marriage are the two leading causes of death in friendships. The combination nearly always is fatal.

Caring for the birds allows no vacations or sick days. Perhaps you will be able to work out some agreement with another local fancier. Maybe a teenager or retiree is looking for a part time job, and could be trained to run the whole aviary in a pinch. If you can’t find anyone, then the birds own you as much as you own them. Labor saving devices are of some help. One hundred birds might take fifty times as much effort to take care of as a single
bird. For you, will they be fifty times as much fun as one is?

What are your local laws? Some municipalities strictly limit the number of pets that can be owned. If your town has any laws like this, the judge will not want to hear that you are trying to help save the rain forest.

What will the neighbors say? The person next door that loves to listen to your macaw talking on the patio, might take you to court if you have a dozen macaws yelling at four in the morning. The incorrigibly irritable will blame you and your birds every time their car is dive bombed by a pigeon. You will be brought to task for any rodent sighted within a ten mile radius.

What sort of security precautions can you take? Birds are the target of vandals, petty thieves, and professional criminals. When setting up your breeding complex, security will be a prime concern. This may be as simple as keeping birds that don’t make much noise, or maintaining the birds in the basement. In a large complex with outdoor flights, a combination of fences, dogs, watchmen, and electronic devices will be needed.

This is not meant to scare anyone from raising birds. I have, on several occasions, supported myself through my hobby. It was a lot of work. You will find the bird breeding, aviculture, much more satisfying if you grow to a level that you can sustain. It is a real shame to establish an important collection, only to have it destroyed overnight by a burglary. Almost as bad is to be forced to sell off your birds because of the constant complaints
of irrational neighbors. Both have happened to me.