Category Archives: Birds

The Canary FAQ


Please post as a comment any suggestions for addition or revision.

Version: 11/24/2014

1.1 Do Canaries come from the Canary Islands? Are the islands named after the birds, or the other way around?
1.2 What does the wild Canary look like?

2.1 Are there pure breeds of Canaries, like in other domestic animals? Do only certain kinds sing?
2.2 What is a “Type” Canary?

3.1 What are hybrids and mules?
3.2 Have any of these crosses been used in the development of the modern Canary?
3.3 What is the Venezuelan Red-Hooded Siskin?

4.1 Is much known about Canary Genetics?
4.2 What is hard and soft feather? What are feather lumps?
4.3 What are lethal traits?
4.4 Can any color Canary be shown?

5.0 DIET
5.1 What is the basic Canary diet?
5.2 What fresh foods are required?
5.3 What is soaked seed? Are sprouts the same thing?
5.4 What other items should be fed?
5.5 How do you give canaries vitamins?
5.6 Do Canaries need pellets?
5.7 Should bird seed be kept in the refrigerator?
5.8 I notice grubs and moths in the bird seed. Is this dangerous?
5.9 Are fountain feeders a good idea?
5.10 What other seeds do Canaries eat?
5.11 How often do Canaries require food and water?

6.1 What is color feeding?

7.1 What kind of cage is good for a pet Canary?
7.2 Bamboo cages are very attractive and economical. Are they a good idea?
7.3 What should be kept in mind if a number of Canaries are being kept?
7.4 What material is best for perches?
7.5 What is the possible range for temperature and humidity?
7.6 How does a Canary take a bath?
7.7 How is the cage kept clean?
7.8 My neighbor says that birds should be let out to fly around the house for exercise. Is this so?
7.9 Does a hectic schedule bother Canaries?

8.05 How do you tell a male from a female canary?
8.1 What is the breeding season? How is light involved?
8.2 How does a Canary build a nest?
8.3 How should the male and female Canaries be introduced? Is it normal for the male to beat the hen?
8.4 How many eggs are produced? How long does it take for the eggs to hatch? Do the eggs require any sort of special handling?
8.5 Can the hen become ill from producing eggs? What should be done if it happens? Can it be prevented?
8.6 Should the hen be given a bath when sitting on eggs?
8.7 How can I tell if the eggs are fertile?
8.8 Will the mother destroy the eggs if she smells a human odor on them?
8.9 Do Canaries need any sort of special care when breeding?
8.10 Will one Canary hen raise another’s chicks?
8.11 What is banding?
8.12 Will the hen go to nest again the same year?

9.0 Purchasing a Canary
9.1 What should one look for when buying a Canary?
9.2 What does a Canary cost?

10.0 Vermin and disease prevention and control
10.1 What insecticide is safe to use around birds?
10.2 What causes the feet of Canaries to become scaly?
10.25 What are air sac mites?
10.3 Are mosquitoes a concern?
10.35 Do canaries need to be treated for worms?
10.4 What problems do mice cause?
10.5 What should I do for a bird that just does not look right?

11.0 The Molt
11.1 What is the molt?
11.2 What is the soft molt?

12.0 Internet Resources

13.0 Print Resources

14.0 Clubs

1.1 Do Canaries come from the Canary Islands? Are the islands named after the birds, or the other way around?
Yes, we first meet up with the Canary bird in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, in a line with Spain. The birds are named after the islands, not the other way around. Curiously, the Romans named them the “Dog” Islands, for the inhabitants bred an extremely large type of dog. As might be expected, the ever pragmatic Romans were more interested in fierce, guard dogs, than in little singing birds! “Canary” is a corruption of “canis”, Latin for dog.
1.2 What does the wild Canary look like?
The Wild Canary is very similar in appearance to the common green canary – rather like a starved, runt English House Sparrow! One might venture to say that Nature’s original version of the Canary did not seem to offer much in the way of a very auspicious start!

2.1 Are there pure breeds of Canaries, like in other domestic animals? Do only certain kinds sing?
By the early sixteenth Century, Canaries were prized as pets in the European World. Over a span of five hundred years, through selective breeding, many distinct varieties of canaries have been developed.
Though all adult male Canaries sing, some were bred purely for vocal ability, of which the Roller Canary is the best example. The “looks” of a Roller are given very little consideration. Most of these feathered Carusos could easily be mistaken for one of the wild birds.

Rollers sing with a closed beak. Common singers perform with an open beak and are called Choppers.

American Singers are a special breed, produced from a cross of Roller and Border canaries, and are very popular in the United States. These birds maintain both Rolled and Chopped notes in their musical repertoire. Judges also score them on the basis of physical conformation.

All canaries, but particularly American Singers and Rollers, are capable to a degree of mimicry. It is possible to teach them simple musical scores, instrument tones, wild bird calls, and even a word or two of human speech. Don’t think that ANY Canary is going to give an African Gray or a Mynah bird any sort of competition!

As a digression, up until the Industrial Revolution, and the advent of loud machinery, it was common for craftsmen to keep canaries in their shops for entertainment. The “Canary in the coal mine” was an extension of this practice of work place bird keeping. The Canary would die from gas fumes, alerting the men to the danger.

The people of Great Britain delighted in experimenting with the possibilities inherent in the size and form of the Canary. The results were The Norwich, The Yorkshire, the Gloster, and the Border. The Norwich and Yorkshire are two of the giants of the Canary kingdom. Either might be twice the size of a common Canary. The Norwich concentrates on bulk, with a broad head and chest. The Yorkshire expresses height, being a tall, thin bird. The Gloster is a miniature Canary breed, with the broad head and chest of the Norwich, but only three-quarters of the size of the more usual Canaries. The Gloster is best know for its “cap” or crest (corona) of feathers on the head, rather reminiscent of the old Beatles hair-do! The Border, first kept along the border of England and Scotland possesses refined and pleasing proportions.

The French and Italians took special delight in “Birds of Position” and in Frilled Breeds, both among the most strange and striking examples of the breeder’s art. Birds of Position, like the Belgian Hunchback, show what looks like a curvature of the spine. The bird’s posture is that of an inverted half moon. The Scotch Fancy Canary and the scantily feathered Italian Gibber Italicus are other examples of this category. The feathers of the Frilled Canaries are long and twisted. The first impression that one gets is that a feather duster has sprung to life! The Parisian Frill is one of the larger varieties. The combination of size and bushy feathers produces an illusion of a bird the size of a dove.

Canary breeds have been developed in the United States. Every fair sized town of Italy can be counted on to have its own breed of Canary. These will nearly all be derived from combinations of the breeds described above, or will be refined versions of them.

2.2 What is a “Type” Canary?
Any variety of canary that is raised for novel appearance as opposed to song or color is called a “Type” Canary.

3.1 What are hybrids and mules?
In Europe it is very popular to cross Canaries with other finches. The Goldfinch, the European Siskin and the European Green Finch are most often used. The overwhelming majority of these crosses are infertile, hence the term “mule.” Mules are produced for their singing ability and are also exhibited at shows.
3.2 Have any of these crosses been used in the development of the modern Canary?
It is possible, over the last half a millennium, that some fertile crosses were achieved and subsequently bred back to Canary stock. This means that the Domestic Canary is not identical, as a species, to the Wild Canary.
3.3 What is the Venezuelan Red-Hooded Siskin?
The most important hybrid is the Venezuelan Red Siskin (Spinus cuculatus) male crossed with the Canary (Serinus canarius canarius) hen. This breeding scheme produces some fertile males in the first generation. These hybrids are the foundation for the Red Factor Canary.
The Venezuelan Red Siskin is an endangered species. Now, with the Red Factor well established, the production of further Red Siskin X Canary hybrids is a somewhat questionable practice.

4.1 Is much known about Canary Genetics?
This is a well developed field that will only be given a brief mention here. For more information see AVIAN GENETICS at the PETCRAFT Web Page:
All canary colors are based upon genes that control the melanin and the lipochrome. The melanin is the black in the original wild canary. The lipochrome is the ground color, yellow in the original bird. The combination of black and yellow gives the appearance of a green bird. The gene that removes melanin is partially dominant. One factor gives a variegated (a patchwork mix of light and dark colors) bird, two a “clear” canary. A clear canary only shows the ground (lipochrome) color.

The Lipochrome colors are Dominant White, Recessive White, Yellow, and Red. There are a large number of factors that affect the melanin color.

The Lizard, one of the original British breeds, is actually based upon a gene that restricts the deposition of melanin in the plumage. The result is a scale pattern, giving rise to the Lizard name.

4.2 What is hard and soft feather? What are feather lumps?
There are two categories of feather quality: Hard and Soft. Hard feathered birds have tight plumage and bright colors. Soft feathered canaries have downier plumage and the colors are subdued. In general, a Soft feathered bird should always be mated to a Hard feathered bird. If Soft feathered birds are bred together for a number of generations, feather lumps will begin to appear. Feather lumps are unsightly masses of ingrown feathers. The Gloster canary, the best examples of which are all Soft feathered, is especially prone to this malady of genetic origin.
4.3 What are lethal traits?
The Corona (cap) and the Dominant White are two lethal traits. Incomplete Dominant Lethal genes can’t exist in a homozygous state. As both members of a chromosome pair, Lethal factors cause the death of the individual. Crossing two Dominant Whites or two Crests gives an expectation of 25% fertile eggs failing to hatch. Always breed a capped bird to a normal (consort) Canary. Always pair a Dominant White to a Yellow ground bird. Keep in mind that a “Blue” Canary is a combination of melanin and White Lipochrome. If the White is the Dominant White, two Blues can not be crossed. Dominant White can be told from Recessive White by visual examination. A Dominant White Canary will always show some trace of yellow in the flight feathers. The Recessive White is pure white.
Hard Feather is often listed as a lethal trait. In any event, it’s not a good idea to mate Hard feathered birds together.

4.4 Can any color bird be shown?
For exhibition, type birds can be any color. The clears tend to win. With Glosters, mostly clear variegated birds with dark caps make for very striking specimens. For the Color-Bred birds, the Melanins and the Lipochromes are shown in different classes, which are further broken down into Hard and Soft feather. Clear birds are always more popular as pets, since most people consider these light colored Canaries more attractive.

5.0 DIET
5.1 What is the basic Canary diet?
The “white bread” of Canary nutrition is a seed mix consisting of 70% Canary Seed and 30% Rape. This is often called “Black and White.”
5.2 What fresh foods are required?
EVERY DAY the birds must get a high protein food. Most breeders use chopped hard-boiled chicken egg, a special “nestling” food, or a mixture of the two. During the breeding and moulting seasons, the Canaries should get as much of this as they will eat. At other times, a half-teaspoon per bird (a treat cup full), per bird, per day will do. The hard-boiled egg spoils quickly. Care must be taken in warm weather. Any fruit, vegetable, or green that is used for human consumption, with the exception of avocado, can be offered to Canaries. Canned corn is an especially loved and nutritious item.
5.3 What is soaked seed? Are sprouts the same thing?
Dry cracked corn, wheat, safflower, oil sunflower, and buckwheat can be put in jar with water in the refrigerator and allowed to soak overnight. This softens the hull and breaks complex carbohydrates into sugars. This soaked seed is very valuable when the birds are feeding their nestlings.
Mung beans and many other seeds can be fed as sprouts. Soak the seed in water for 24 hours. Drain completely and then rinse in a strainer under running cold tap water. Rinse in the strainer every day, until the seed sprouts. If any mold develops, discard the batch and drain it better next time. The container that the sprouting seed is in must have some air flow. A paper towel held in place by a rubber band works great.

5.4 What other items should be fed?
Small pieces of whole wheat bread or corn bread are greatly relished by Canaries.
Canaries should always have Cuttlebone and mineral grit.

5.5 How do you give Canaries vitamins?
Vitamins can be mixed with the water. Follow the directions precisely. ALWAYS change at the water at least once a day.
Cod’s Liver Oil and Wheat Germ Oil can be mixed with the seed to fortify it with vitamins A, D, and E. One teaspoon of each is mixed with ten pounds of seed. DON’T USE ANY MORE THAN THAT! If you have only a few birds, make smaller batches, for the treated seed quickly becomes rancid in warm weather. Some of the major seed companies produce good brands of vitamin fortified seed. There are a lot of hucksters selling “colored” bird seed. The colors are nothing but food coloring! Some mix a vitamin powder with the seed. This all gets lost when the birds hull the seed.

5.6 Do Canaries need pellets?
A variety of pellets and other processed foods are now sold for Canaries. If you wish to try these new dietary items out on your birds, go right ahead. I suggest that pellets be only one facet of canary nutrition. Pellets can serve as a dietary supplement. Always offer a variety of foods to your birds. If your flock refuses to consume the pellets, this is not a cause for alarm!
5.7 Should bird food be kept in the refrigerator?
The refrigerator is a good place to store bird feed. Use a Zip Lock bag, or a Tupperware style container, to keep out moisture. In the cooler, all bird food, even pellets and vitamin enriched seeds, will last a long time.
5.8 I notice grubs and moths in the seed. Is this dangerous?
Cold storage also prevents the development of feed moths. The moths and larvae are themselves harmless. Don’t worry about a few of these insects in the seed or bird room. Under warm conditions, the moths will quickly spread. If large numbers are present, discard the feed.
5.9 Are fountain feeders a good idea?
Deep dishes should be used for canaries. The “fountain” style dispensers are useless for the birds will constantly spill all the seed out, wasting it.
5.10 What other seeds do Canaries eat?
Many seeds can be fed to Canaries. Thistle, Oat Groats, shelled sunflower and Hemp are great favorites These oily seeds must be rationed as they are very fattening.
Wild seeds can be gathered and fed to canaries. The green, ripe, “milky” seeds are very nutritious. Wild Thistle and Sunflowers with small seeds are Canary favorites. (If you find a source of budding Hemp in the great outdoors, best to keep quiet about it!

Be sure that the wild plants are not contaminated with toxic or noxious substances and are not naturally poisonous.

5.11 How often do Canaries require food and water?
Keep seed and water before the Canaries at all times. Small birds can starve to death or dehydrate in very few hours.

6.1 What is color feeding?
Any canary can develop a shade of orange by adding paprika, cayenne, or red pepper to its food. The Norwich, Yorkshire, and Lizard are color fed for shows. The Red Factor Canary requires a carotenoid concentrate to exploit its full color potential. The best formula is a mix of half pure Canthaxanthin and half pure Beta-Carotene. Both chemicals are manufactured by Hoffman-LaRoche. Mix one teaspoon of the blend with one gallon of water. It helps to start off with a little hot, but not boiling water. This makes it easier to dissolve the powder. Keep the unused portion in the fridge. It lasts a week. The bird’s portion must be changed daily. Hoffman-LaRoche does not sell to individuals, but a club could arrange for a pharmacist to order the chemicals. Store the dry powders in a dry, cool, dark location. Flim Flammers sell diluted products at exorbitant prices. Don’t get ripped off! This caveat especially applies to imported products in fancy packaging.
If you expect to show your birds, carefully check the rules governing color feeding. Exhibition Glosters can never be color fed. Some breed organizations and clubs only allow the use of plant substances in the natural form. These venues prohibit the entry of Canaries that have been fed concentrates.

7.1 What kind of cage is good for a pet Canary?
If you are keeping a canary as a pet for it’s singing ability, just buy any cage that you like. It must be constructed of metal and at least 18″ long and 10″ high and 10″ wide. Canaries exercise by flying back and forth, not up and down.
7.2 Bamboo cages are very attractive and economical. Are they a good idea?
Don’t use a bamboo or wicker cage. Impossible to clean, these enclosures are not sanitary.
7.3 What should be kept in mind if a number of Canaries are being kept?
If you have a number of cages, don’t bother with shelves. Put two or three screws into the wall and hang the cage from the screws. A shelf is just another thing to clean!
No birds Like to be out in the open. With a solid wall behind them, birds don’t have to worry about a predator sneaking up on them. If you must put a column of cages in the center of a room, cover the backs with sheet metal. This will preserve a feeling of security.

Canaries are not social birds. One bird kept as a pet will be perfectly happy. Two males will always fight, as will a male and female, except during the nesting season.

For breeding, it’s best to buy all metal breeding cages. For economy, cages can be constructed from «” X «” wire mesh, or, preferably, «” X 1″ welded wire. The wooden breeding cages with wire fronts are obsolete and a waste of time and money. Wood can never be really sterilized. These old fashioned units need to be scraped, scrubbed, and repainted every year.

Flight cages are not needed. Canaries do much better and get much more exercise with just one bird to the cage.

7.4 What material is best for perches?
The best perches are made of half-inch by half-inch, SQUARE, “baluster” board, available at any good lumberyard. If you must use round dowel stick, scrape it with a hack saw blade, to make the surface rough. The smooth, polished surface is very exhausting for the birds. Make sure that the perch is clean. At least once a month, either replace the perch, or clean it with hot water, bleach, and pine oil. Make sure that it is dry before you put it back in the cage. The sandpaper that fits over the perch is not a good idea. Most don’t fit properly and constantly slip, putting the bird off balance. Standing in sand paper can’t be very comfortable.
7.5 What is the possible range for temperature and humidity?
A year round temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit and low humidity is best. Canaries, properly acclimated, can withstand temperatures of just above freezing to nearly 100 Fahrenheit. These extremes don’t do them any good and should be avoided. Only subject your birds to such heat or cold if those are the conditions under which you live yourself! During a heat wave, if air conditioning is not available, mist the birds often with cool tap water. Never use a strong fan around any bird. The ensuing drafts can lead to sickness and death even in warm weather.
7.6 How does a Canary take a bath?
Canaries like to take baths. The bird will splash around a dish of clean water in the cage . You DON’T restrain the bird and try to scrub it like you would a dog!
7.7 How is the cage kept clean?
Plain newspaper is fine on the cage bottom. NEVER USE CAT LITTER! Canaries will eat it and die! Corn Cob Bedding must be changed every day. Damp Corn Cob quickly becomes moldy. The cage-liner paper sold in pet shops is fine, but most breeders use newspaper. As often as possible, disinfect the cage. Gently take the bird out and place it in a temporary cage. Then scrub the original cage with hot water and a disinfectant.
7.8 My neighbor says that birds should be let out to fly around the house for exercise. Is this so?
The cage is your bird’s home. To them the cage is not a prison, but a safeguard from a terrible world. Letting your bird out for some exercise is like throwing people off of a cruise ship for a little swim – sure to be a terrifying experience.
7.9 Does a hectic schedule bother Canaries?
Canaries need a regular schedule. They must wake up and go to sleep with the Sun. Keep the cage in a room that is quiet when it is dark out. It’s a good idea to cover the cage at night with a heavy cloth. Loud noises and bright lights can startle and disturb canaries. This is certainly a cruel form of stress and can instantly cause the bird’s death.

8.05 How do you tell a male from a female canary?
Except during the breeding season, it is not always easy to tell the male canary from the female. Only the male sings and only the female will build a nest. During the Summer and early Fall, it takes a well informed canary fancier to detect the gender of a bird hatched that year. When shopping for a hen, go to a store that will guarantee the bird – allow a replacement if the wrong gender is supplied.

8.1 What is the breeding season? How is light involved?
Without the use of artificial lights, in the Northern Hemisphere, Canaries start to breed around April. The male and female should be kept in separate cages. By late February, the hens will be frantically tearing up paper and the cocks will be singing in a vigorous manner. Wait a week before you put them together, for the male develops the urge to breed before sperm production is peaking. If the hen is not trying to build a nest, she will not mate!
Many breeders setup full-spectrum fluorescent lights, in order to keep their birds in a basement or other poorly lit area. Using a timer it is possible to increase the length of “daylight” during the normally dark hours of November and December. The market for pet canaries is in the Spring, right around Easter. By breeding early, the commercial operation supplies its markets most efficiently. It is not a good idea for the hobby breeder, particularly the novice. The Fall and Winter months are the busiest times for most people’s work and social schedule. Taking care of a Canary breeding colony can be an oppressive burden during the Winter Holiday season.

A clever use of electric lights is to start the bird’s day earlier or later than the Sun normally allows. This gives the working hobbyist the opportunity to care for the Canaries either before or after work hours.

8.2 How does a Canary build a nest?
Buy a plastic canary nest. The wire nests are useless, for the birds get their nails caught in them. This can result in a lost leg and other tragedies. Fine dry, grass makes the best nest material, but shredded paper or burlap is OK. DON’T use the fine threads sold as nesting material. This garbage wraps itself about the bird’s toes and legs, cutting off the circulation. If not discovered quickly, gangrene will set in resulting in the loss of the limbs and digits, if not death.
8.3 How should the male and female Canaries be introduced? Is it normal for the male to beat the hen?
When the birds are in condition, place the male and females cages along side each other. The male should immediately start to sing and the hen should reflexively squat. If this is observed, the birds can be placed together right away. If not, wait until you see the birds “kissing” through the cage bars.
DON’T allow the male to beat the hen! This IS NOT a natural or required step, despite what a few morons have written!

Once mating has been observed, the cock can be removed and placed with another hen, to repeat the process. Canaries are naturally polygamous. Out of thousands of canary nests, I’ve only observed one case of a monogamous pairing. There is no reason not to leave the male and female together. Though the hen alone incubates the eggs, the cock will help with the feeding of the nestlings.

8.4 How many eggs are produced? How long does it take for the eggs to hatch? Do the eggs require any sort of special handling?
The average number of eggs is five, though any number from one to ten is not unusual. I’ve observed clutches of eight, where all eggs hatched. The eggs hatch about fourteen days after the hen starts to sit. Some hens start to incubate right after laying the first egg. Others will wait until the entire clutch is produced.
Some breeders remove the eggs and replace them with plastic eggs. The real eggs are stored in rolled oats, corn meal, or sawdust, at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The actual eggs have to be turned every day, to prevent the contents from settling. When five eggs are collected, they will be returned to the nest. The idea of this procedure is for all the eggs to hatch on the same day, and thus prevent the youngest from being a runt. I’ve never bothered with this and don’t know anybody that actually does. Though all the books write about it, the procedure is more trouble than it’s worth. More young will be lost from improperly handled or broken eggs, than by the hen’s inability to handle a range of sizes of young.

8.5 Can the hen become ill from producing eggs? What should be done if it happens? Can it be prevented?
If you expect the hen to lay an egg and you see her on the bottom of the cage in obvious distress or exhaustion, she probably has egg binding. The bird will die within a few hours without help. The best course of action is to seek a veterinarian’s help. I’ve gently felt the outside of the afflicted hens abdomen and been able to propel the lodged egg through the vent. But I have no medical training, so can not tell you to do the same thing. DO NOT HOLD THE HEN OVER A POT OF BOILING WATER! DO NOT ATTEMPT AN OLIVE OIL ENEMA! I’ve seen both of these idiocies offered as serious advice in published works.
Egg binding can be caused by a lack of calcium, so be sure that a mineral grit and cuttlebone is available at all times. Vitamins are needed for calcium to be used, so be sure that all aspects of nutrition are correct.

8.6 Should the hen be given a bath when sitting on eggs?
As long as it is not cold, let the hen bathe every day while incubating. This will aid in the embryo’s development and eventual hatching.
8.7 How can I tell if the eggs are fertile?
After the hen has been sitting three days or more, the egg can be carefully held up to a light. A newly laid or infertile egg will be clear, allow the light to shine directly through. A fertile egg will display the embryo and the network of veins supporting it. Eventually, even when held to a light, a fertile egg will become opaque.
8.8 Will the mother destroy the eggs if she smells a human odor on them?
Don’t overly disturb the sitting hen. She will not destroy the eggs because of a foreign odor, like small mammals. Constantly pulling the eggs away can distress her enough to abandon the nest.
8.9 Do Canaries need any sort of special care when breeding?
The birds should be getting a high protein food every day, all year round. Once the first egg hatches, make sure that you increase the amount offered. For the first couple of weeks, this is all that the hen will feed her young. A lot of food is required to fuel the nestling’s explosive growth.
Some hens take extremely good care of their young. Others refuse to even sit on the eggs. I’ve had birds that lovingly cared for their young for a week or two. At that point the mother would mutilate the baby birds. If, after a couple of tries, a hen does not make a good mother, either just keep her as a pet, or give her away to a good home.

8.10 Will one canary hen raise another’s chicks?
With rare breeds, it is possible to “foster” the eggs under other Canaries. The Canary hen can not distinguish eggs. Just be sure that the eggs are about the same age.
8.11 What is banding?
Get closed bands for your infants. When the babies get pin feathers, the main group of toes can be pointed forward, and the last one pointed back. Then the closed band can be slipped onto the leg. Once the bones of the toes harden, a band can not be slipped on or off. This gives a permanent identifying mark.
8.12 Will the hen go to nest again the same year?
When the first group of young is about three weeks old, the hen will desire to breed again. Simply put in another nest. When the first group of young is eating on their own, put them in a different cage. For a day or two their cage can be left next to the mother’s. This way she can feed them through the bars.

9.1 What should I look for when buying a canary?
If you want a singer as a pet, any breeder or pet shop can sell you a good bird. Make sure that the bird is closed banded, and that it is only a couple of years old. With proper care, a male canary easily lives for ten years or more. It’s best to hear the bird singing in the store, so that you know that you like the style. At any rate, make sure that singing is guaranteed.
If you want to start breeding, the best idea is to buy a number of young birds of undetermined gender during the Summer. These birds will be reasonably priced. You and the birds have six months to get to know one another. Don’t bother trying to buy Canaries, particularly hens during the breeding season. Most people will simply refuse to sell and get annoyed at you for bothering them during a busy time. Low life will sell you worn out or defective birds. Even an honest Fancier will put a very high price on every bird in the breeding room once nesting has commenced.

Many bird breeders will take unfair advantage of a beginner’s enthusiasm and lack of sophistication. Shop around and ask around. People will be happy to tell you if they were conned. The novice can also get an idea of quality and market prices.

9.2 What do canaries cost?
I’ve seen Canaries fairly priced from nothing to $350 US.

10.1 What insecticide is safe to use around birds?
The birds, the cages, and the whole bird room should be sprayed with a .05% Pyrethrin solution. Do this once a week in the warm months, once a month in the cooler months. This insecticide will control mites, lice, flies, and roaches.
10.2 What causes the feet of Canaries to become scaly?
Scaly conditions of the feet are caused by mites. This can be controlled by rubbing SCALEX on the birds feet. All mites, including those of the air sacs, are eliminated by the application of Ivermectin. This should be done under the supervision of a veterinarian.
10.25 What are air sac mites?
Air sac mites infest the birds respiratory system. Spraying the entire aviary with a pyrethrin solution (as described in 10.1) will control these pests. Air sac mites can be eliminated by treating the birds with Ivermectin. This should be done under the supervision of a veterinarian.
10.3 Are mosquitoes a concern?
Canaries are persecuted by mosquitoes. Make sure that the windows are all screened. Mosquitoes also carry CANARY POX. A colony that contracts POX will probably be wiped out. If your birds develop lesions on the face, a symptom of the Pox, IMMEDIATELY consult a veterinarian.
Because of the danger of Pox being transmitted by mosquitoes, Canaries are NOT safe in outdoor flights or cages.

10.35 Do canaries need to be treated for worms?
Canaries kept indoors rarely need to be treated for worms. If kept outdoors, at least once year have the droppings examined by a veterinarian.
10.4 What problems do mice cause?
Mice can be a real problem in the bird room. Poison is generally a waste of time, for bird seed tastes better than poison! Use traps baited with pieces of salami to eliminate mice. Cheese, despite what you see in cartoons, does not work. Mice are no joke. The rodents waste seed, upset the birds, and are a real hazard to avian and human health.
10.5 What should I do for a bird that just does not look right?
If a bird looks out of sorts, separate it from the rest of the colony. Put it in a small, warm cage with food and water in easy reach. Only give any sort of medicine on a veterinarian’s specific prescription. Many birds, perhaps just listless or suffering from a slight indigestion are killed by well-intentioned, but misguided owners inappropriately giving drugs.

11.1 What is the molt?
Once a year, regularly at the end of the breeding season, canaries replace all their plumage. This is a natural condition, not a illness. Give an adequate supply of nesting (protein) food and perhaps a little bit of the oily, treat seeds.
11.2 What is soft molt?
Soft molt is when a canary constantly sheds feathers all year round. This is caused by constantly changing hours of light and/or temperature. Canaries need a stable environment. The soft moult signifies that the Canary’s metabolism is stressed. Soft molt in Canaries has nothing to do with PBFD or French molt in the parrot type birds.



Pet care Web Page. Articles on Canary genetics and husbandry.
Covers the whole range of companion animals.

13.0 BOOKS
by G.B.R. Walker & Dennis Avon
Blandford Press

by G.T. Dodwell

P.O. Box 6050
Mission Viejo, CA 92690
Monthly magazine

Cage and Aviary Birds
Specialist And Professional Press
Surrey House, 1 Throwley Way,
Sutton, Surrey
Great Britain
Weekly newspaper.

There are also magazines in France, Belgium, and Italy. If there is any interest in these, let me know. I’ll include them in the next revision.

14.0 CLUBS
to be added. Please send recommendations!

Complete Canary Care

White Chopper Canary

The goal of every canary breeder is to improve his stock. Unfortunately, so much time and energy is invested in simply keeping the birds alive that improvement is impossible. Miserable breeding results, too often accepted as the norm, also stop the fancier from upgrading his birds.

Numbers are important in aviculture. The frequently recommended small but high quality stud is impractical. Even the long established breeder produces only a small percentage of top quality birds. Thus to get a quantity of high quality young, it is necessary to breed a much greater number of mediocre birds. Darwin, in his monumental work, noted that evolution proceeds most rapidly in large populations. Also the small stud quickly becomes too highly inbred, forcing the fancier to constantly seek outcrosses or to suffer a decline in vigor.

In this article I will give the method by which I maintain and breed my birds. Though mainly intended for the canary fancier, these rules may easily be modified to include all seed eating birds. Aviculture requires a great deal of time and effort and a little information which is absolutely necessary. This information I can provide but each fancier must provide his own labor.

Nutrition is the most important aspect of aviculture. Every canary must be provided with a fortified blend of canary seed, rape seed, golden German millet, oat groats, thistle, steel cut oats, flax, sesame, and hemp. This mix may be more costly than the usual “black and white,” but, in the long run, pays dividends. Birds fed a vitamin, mineral, and protein enriched blend produce more fertile eggs, better feed the chicks, are less likely to pluck the feathers of the young, and are more resistant to disease. The extra young produced more than pay back the few cents a day it costs to feed a top quality mix.

The seed mixes of all birds can be vitamin fortified through wheat germ oil and cod liver oil. A complete diet including a wide variety of fresh foods also is very important. Aviculturists need to take vitamins seriously. Vitamins are essential for the metabolic functions of all living things. When seed is not vitamin fortified birds are not able to reap the full benefit from the nutrition present in the feed. Vitamin enriched feed is a must for optimum growth, maintenance, reproduction, and health.

Some counter that vitamin enriched seed is not “natural.” The natural diet of seed eating birds is very rarely dry seed. For the better part of the year, all seed eating birds consume the milky seed directly from the plant. This seed is at its nutritional best. The vitamin content of even the best processed seed is nether consistent or adequate enough to assure optimal nutrition. Natural factors, such as drought, insects, excessive moisture, disease, and molds, make the vitamin levels of seed uncertain. Man made variables, the storage, transportation, and processing of feed, conspire to rob the seed of the vitamins needed by birds. Research has proven that the vitamin supplementation of seed is a must to achieve peak production

Pelleted feeds, seemingly an answer, fall short of the mark. Pellets have a place as supplements and in commercial production. If by a “complete diet,” the manufacturers mean that birds are able to survive and raise young on their products, then they are correct. If by complete is meant being able to rear vigorous show winners, without the addition of vitamins, fruits, vegetables, or eggs to the ration, then pellets fail miserably. No one knows all the elements that are required in any cage bird diet. Only the cockatiel has been the subject of recent university research. Human diet, intensively studied for millennia, is constantly being revised and updated. Canaries fed on pellets alone, particularly red factors, show rough plumage. The droppings of canaries on pellets are often loose.

The seed should be given to the birds in a deep dish. Fountain style feeders encourage the birds to pick out their favorite seeds. This is wasteful and leads to an unbalanced diet. The mix should only be changed when all the seed is consumed. The hulls should be blown off the top daily.

The birds should also get a small amount of fruits, vegetables, and greens. I use apples, oranges, bananas, green peppers, canned corn, fresh corn on the cob, cooked broccoli, raw spinach, raw dandelions, raw collard greens, raw Swiss chard, pears, peaches, strawberries, and cherries. The various berries are very good, especially for red factor birds, but these fruits are very expensive. Iceberg lettuce is useless and should not be fed.

Ideally, all produce should be home grown. Organically grown fruits and vegetables are free of dangerous pesticides, Any insects add an extra touch of protein; the birds relish them. Rinse store bought fruits and vegetables in an effort, albeit most often in vain, to remove all chemicals.

Soaked seeds are an absolute necessity for the feeding hen and for the newly weaned young. They are a treat for all birds. Cracked corn, wheat, buckwheat, and safflower, normally too large and hard, are made acceptable to canaries by soaking. Soaking breaks down complex carbohydrates rendering the seed more palatable and more highly digestible. This is done by taking a special soak seed mix and adding two parts, or more, of water and refrigerating. Soak for at least twenty-four hours. Rinse well and strain before feeding.

Mung beans and sprouts

Dry mung beans on the left, soaking shown center, and sprouts ready to be fed on the right

Sprouts are not the same thing as soaked seed. Not all seeds can be sprouted. Most bird seeds are treated with preservatives and vitamins and will not germinate. Seeds for sprouting should be kept separate for various species of plants have different germinating times and requirements. In addition to the regular bird seeds, many seeds for sprouting are available in health food stores. My favorite is the Chinese mung bean which is very easy to sprout and possesses a high degree of palatability for the birds. I have also used soy beans for sprouting. My birds do not like alfalfa sprouts.

Sprouting seed is the simplest way to provide your birds with fresh greens. For a few birds only a quarter cup of seeds should be sprouted at a time. Seeds increase in volume tremendously when sprouted. Place the seeds in a clean glass jar. Fill with tap water and let stand at room temperature for twenty-four hours. Rinse and drain completely. Repeat the rinsing and draining completely daily until the seed has sprouted. If a foul odor or mold develops, discard. Preparations are available to prevent spoilage. Rinsing and draining well is very important. Any surplus sprouts may be refrigerated up to a week.

A proper nestling food is very important. The best bet for the beginner is to purchase a good quality dry nestling food with which many local fanciers are experiencing good results. I have found it economically unfeasible, as well as time consuming to mix my own. A treat dish of dry nestling food should be before the birds at all times. This serves as a treat and protein supplement out of the breeding season. In this way the birds are also trained to eat the nestling mix. Whenever given a new food, birds will ignore it for a few days. If you wait until the nestlings hatch before giving the rearing food, the babies will starve by the time the parents sample it. When the birds have young, give them as much dry nestling food as they want.

Nestling food can also be mixed with egg. To four cups of dry nestling food, add one pound grated carrots, and one dozen grated hard boiled eggs. Chop the eggs in a food processor shells and all. This is for about fifty feeding hens. Boil the eggs for twelve to fourteen minutes to ensure that no fowl diseases are transmitted to the canaries.

This mixture is given in an amount that the birds will eat in one hour. All birds get one treat cup per day of this egg mix. The supply for birds with feeding young is constantly renewed during the day. The nestling food with egg spoils very rapidly, particularly during the Summer. It would be best to prepare the egg mix fresh every day. If this is not possible, refrigerate the excess immediately.

It has been stated that birds will die from overeating soft foods. This is nonsense. That birds will be killed by fresh, nutritious foods is the height of absurdity. It is true that birds will die from eating rotten nestling food. Just like tropical fish, birds die not from overeating but from overfeeding.

Grit and cuttlebone are before the birds at all times.

I must emphasize that there is not one diet for the adult bird, one for the nesting hen, one for the young bird, and yet another for the molting bird. Each and every bird must get a balanced diet each and every day of the year. It is foolish to think that birds may be bred on a diet of seed and water. Try living on bread and water yourself! It is ridiculous to keep a bird on a plain seed and water diet for nine months and then to “gear up” for the breeding season. This misplaced economy is responsible for the majority of breeding failures:hens not coming into breeding condition, eggbound hens, dead in the shell young, and non-feeding hens. The percentage of protein in the diet willincrease during molting and nesting, but the list of items in the diet should not vary.

I do not feed any milk to my birds but do add small amounts of yogurt to the nesting egg food. Bread soaked in milk is a very primitive nesting food. I question that birds can completely digest milk.

The original staple of the captive canary was freshly gathered milky seeds and seed heads. Plaintain, Chickweed, Shepherd’s Purse, Anne’s Lace, Charlock, Smartweed, Dandelion, and Thistle have all been recommended as canary foods. The old time poverty stricken British miner or farmer, our ancestors in the Fancy, maintained their beloved pets in perfect health solely on such a diet. Only by gathering these foods were they able to afford to feed the birds.

Today we are not allowed such a luxury. Plants in both rural and urban areas are fouled by engine exhausts, factory fumes and by the spraying of pesticides and herbicides. Feeding roadside plants can cause lead poisoning. The only safe way to feed milky seeds is to grow them yourself. I raise the small sunflower seed for this purpose. This plant can be found growing wild. Seeds may be collected and cultivated in an area that is known to be safe. This food is very rich and should only be offered in small quantities. This will help to bring about a most beautiful feather sheen.

A practical way to house canaries is the commercially available wire cages with metal trays. The seed and water dishes should fit into the cage-front. This sort of cage is easily serviced without bothering the birds. There should be a provision for two dividers, one solid and one of screen. Since it is all metal, this cage is easily sterilized.

Cutting welded wire mesh to build bird cages

Using an angle grinder to cut welded wire mesh makes the job a lot easier than by using hand clippers. This is 1″ X 1/2″ welded wire mesh. The cut pieces are 12″ X 12″ and are going to be the end sections for cages for canaries and finches.

Custom cages constructed out of 1” X ½” welded wire mesh (16 gauge, galvanized before welding) and j-clips is the best plan for any substantial project. The welded wire is purchased in 100 ft, rolls. Three sections are cut for each cage. The long piece is bent at three right angles. The edges are fastened together with j-clips to form two sides. The remaining two pieces are then attached with j-clips . Holes are then cut for the door, nest box hole, and feed dishes (grit, seed and soft food). The cages can be painted using a roller with black polyurethane paint. This is not necessary, but vastly improved visibility is the result. Painting, of course, needs to be done in a well-ventilated area far removed from the birds. These cages can be attached with u-bolts to 4 pieces of ¾” electrical conduit pipe acting as supports / legs. Debris falls through the wire bottom either to a galvanized steel pan or to a sheet of disposable plastic film, like that used to protect floors when painting. As a hand does not have to enter the cage for daily maintenance, the birds’ territory is not invaded.

canaries welded wire cages
zebra finches welded wire cages

Here are some cages constructed using welded wire. The dimensions are 24″ X 12″ X 12″. Automatic waterers are being installed. Some young Zebra Finches are already in one cage. The canaries that are now in the conventional breeding cages soon will be moving over to the welded wire units.

The box style cage may also be used but to no real advantage. Only in a location subject to drafts will the cage with solid wood sides be superior. Box cages are no longer a bargain. The material to construct these cages might easily cost more than the conventional metal cages. The construction of the box cage is time consuming and laborious. They are also impossible to sterilize and require more maintenance, at the very least a yearly painting.

I have found flight cages to be unnecessary. Supposedly birds in a flight a healthier for they are thought to get more exercise. This is not the case. In the flights birds tend to sit in one spot all day. It is difficult for them to move about, for each tends to maintain a territory. In a cage they will keep active jumping from perch to perch all day long. Canaries do best in a cage around 24 inches in length by 10 inches square, one bird to the cage, except during the breeding season.

Young birds and hens may be put into a flight. Cocks over a year old should not. They may attack and kill each other. The hens and young may also be harassed and mutilated. In any event, flights must be constantly inspected for birds failing or going light. Large populations bring unbearable pecking order pressures on individual birds. These low men on the totem pole will rapidly fail. Placed in individual cages they will often recover. Despite all precautions, occasional unexplained mortality will occur in any flight.

Bengalese finch with water bottle

Water bottles are great for canaries, finches, parakeets and many other types of birds.

Birds can contaminate open fountain drinkers or water dishes. With the fountains, if the birds place nesting material or a feather in the drinker, all the water can wick out. Gravity water bottles (as used for mice) are much, much better. Ones designed for birds, with a ball bearing end, are available. Edstrom automatic drinkers are even better yet. With either system, canaries and finches require something of a training period. The birds given the new dispensers and the usual waterers are at first left off for an hour or so, with the time increased each day. Once the birds are observed using the new system, dishes or fountains are no longer provided. In a flight, generally one bird gets the idea quickly and the others follow the leader. Water bottles or fountains, at the very least, need to be rinsed out every day. An improvement is to have a duplicate washed set of waterers that can be refilled for use each day. As the Edstrom system connects to the plumbing, no maintenance, changing or cleaning is required.

Nest pad attached to Canary nest with a brass fastener, the kind with the two “legs” that are used to hold papers together.

Every breeding season attaching the nest liner to the nest is a disagreeable chore. Sewing is very troublesome. I have used ELMERS glue. That works, but it is difficult to change the pad-the whole nest has to be soaked to remove the old glue. A local breeder has come up with a better idea. A small hole is drilled in the bottom of the canary nest. A hole is cut in the bottom of the felt nest liner. The nest pad is then attached to the nest with a brass fastener, the kind with the two “legs” that are used to hold papers together. This way the pads can be efficiently and quickly changed.

Finch nest boxes made from welded wire

On the left is a 6-inch cube for smaller finches. Here, the cardboard is held in place by packing tape, except for the door to the box. The cardboard is fastened there with a twist tie. The other nest box has yet to be covered with cardboard. This one is 6 X 6 X 10 inches and is intended for Java Rice birds.

Wooden finch nest boxes are time consuming to construct and to clean. It is very easy to make small boxes out of 1/2″ x 1″ welded wire. Cover the wire boxes with cardboard using twist ties to fasten the cardboard onto the wire. When cleaning, simply discard the soiled cardboard and sterilize the wire basket. A wide range of sizes and styles are easily fabricated using these materials.

The bird room itself should be a peaceful and relatively dry environment. Optimally, it should be located above ground and away from flashing lights and noises at night. Unfortunately, most of us are forced to locate our aviaries within earshot of screaming babies and rock music. That the birds survive and reproduce under these conditions is a miracle! It is certainly not to be recommended.

The temperature of the bird room should regularly be between sixty and sixty-five degrees. This should be raised, gradually, to seventy-two degrees during the breeding season. Canaries will live and breed under colder conditions, but this is minimum survival, not the best conditions that we should strive to provide.

For artificial light in the bird room, full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs are most commonly used. LED illumination are a more modern option. The fixtures are to be controlled by an automatic timer a regularly set for eight hours of light per day. This will be slowly increased, for the breeding season, to seventeen hours of light for each twenty-four hour period. The birds will start to show a desire to breed from about fourteen hours of light for each day, but at this point are not really ready to breed. If the cocks and hens are united too soon, the entire first round of eggs may be infertile. The pairs should be set up at sixteen hours of light. The slight wait is required to insure fertility. Seventeen hours of light gives the hen that much extra time to feed the young. Birds must have proper rest. Turning the lights on and off can be a death sentence.

It is usually recommended to increase the light only a few minutes each day. With the mechanical timers this is not possible in practice, since these devices are accurate only to the half hour. The old-fashioned timers must be periodically checked, set, reset, and lubricated. Eventually they wear out. New computerized, remote-control timers are available. These space age instruments are accurate to the minute and can independently control many fixtures. They can also dim incandescent bulbs. This allows dusk and dawn schemes to be implemented.

Sanitation can not be overlooked. The paper in the trays must be changed at least once a week. More often is better yet. All water and soft food dishes must be washed out every day and frequently sterilized. A dish washing machine is best. The floor of the bird room is to be kept swept and mopped clean.

Hand in hand with sanitation goes disease prevention and control. I write prevention and control because treatment is only to be done under a veterinarian’s supervision. All sick birds are to be isolated and professional assistance sought. The shotgun approach of antibiotics, sulfa drugs, vitamins, and god only knows what else has killed as many birds as germs.

All new stock must be quarantined. The cage and fixtures of a sick bird have to be well scrubbed and disinfected. All wooden items, like perches must be discarded.

Mites, feather lice, and flies may be controlled by spraying a .05% solution of pyrethrum. This may be dispensed by means of a hand held mister. This pesticide concentration can be sprayed as a mist directly on the birds and cages from a distance of eighteen inches. A stronger mixture, .1% may be used on the floors and walls of the room, but not on the birds. Ivermectin, through a veterinarian, is used to cure mites and lice.

The aviculturist should endeavor to make the birds’ quarters mosquito free. These pests are at the very least a source of irritation. These insect bites are unsightly and perhaps permanently mutilating. Mosquitoes are a very serious source of infection. Through them our birds may be infected with Pox, Newcastle, or Ornithosis.

By following this outline anyone can experience success. It is now up to the fancier to implement the rules.


This article describes a simple and complete system of nutrition for parrots, budgies, and hook-bills in general. Many breeders and pet owners have their own “secret” recipes. Unfortunately, many feeding plans are based more on superstition than on scientific research. The diets outlined here are based on years of research and experience. They have the added advantage of convenience. By using these diets even the beginner will experience success.

Three basic seed mixes are used for hookbills: parrot, cockatiel, and small hookbill. The parrot mix should contain sunflower, whole corn, whole peanuts, buckwheat, safflower, cracked corn, chili peppers, and protein kibble. The mix for the cockatiel and lovebirds consists of canary seed, white millet, whole sunflower, Japanese millet, golden German millet, oat groats, safflower, steel cut oats, cracked corn, flaked corn, buckwheat, thistle, flax, hemp, sunflower hearts, kibbled corn, protein supplements and wheat. The small hookbill mix is made up of canary seed, white millet, Japanese millet, golden German millet, oat groats, steel cut oats, cracked corn, safflower, flax, thistle, sunflower hearts, hemp,protein supplements and buckwheat.

The seed mixes for all birds can be vitamin fortified. Aviculturists should take vitamins seriously. Vitamins are essential for the metabolic functions of all living things. When seed is not vitamin fortified, birds are not able to reap the full benefit from the nutrition present in the feed. Vitamin enriched feed promotes optimum growth, maintenance, reproduction, and health.

The vitamin content of even the best seed is neither consistent or adequate enough to assure optimal nutrition. Natural factors, such as drought, insects, excessive moisture, disease, and molds, make the vitamin levels of seed uncertain. Man made variables, the storage, transportation, and processing of feed, conspire to rob the seed of the vitamins needed by birds. For birds eating only seeds, vitamin supplementation of seed is a must to achieve peak production.

To truly enrich seed in vitamins, it must be soaked in an oil. Vitamin powder coatings are a waste, for the vitamins all fall off when the bird hulls the seed kernel. Be particularly skeptical of “colored seeds.” Many of these simply contain food dye! You can vitamin-fortify the seed yourself by mixing one teaspoon of wheat germ oil and one teaspoon of cod liver oil with ten pounds of seed. Let it soak over night. For fewer birds, adjust the amount accordingly. Since an average parakeet eats roughly one-third of an ounce of food a day, eight pounds will last one bird a year. (A healthy Keet normally consumes an amount of food equal to one-quarter of its own body weight In a cold environment, very likely more will be required.) A batch of oil enriched seed should be completely used in less than a week or refrigerated.

The fat soluble Vitamins, those found in Cod liver oil and wheat germ oil, can be toxic in high levels. Don’t be tempted to increase the dosage. Too much of these supplements will give you very dead birds, not very healthy ones.

These mixes might be slightly more costly. By using these diets the birds will maintain better health, appearance, temperament, and reproduction. The extra young produced will more than pay back the few cents it costs to feed a top quality mix.

A nestling mix should be offered to the birds at all times. This guarantees that the birds will accept the rearing food when young are in the nest. The best course of action is to use a commercial mix. This promotes consistency. Birds need extra protein during growth, the moult and egg production, not just when feeding babies.

Sunflower seed is extensively used in cage bird seed mixes, farm animal feed (where it is a component of pellets), and human diet. Sunflower, both seed and oil, is considered as a “Health Food” item for people. The United States government has tested sunflower and has declared it to be fit for human consumption. All the reasons given against the use of sunflower in parrot mixes have been found to be without any basis in reality.

These birds require the small hook bill mix at all times. A dish of dry nestling food should also be available.

Spray millet is a greatly enjoyed treat. Soak seed, sprouts, and fresh foods are relished by the birds. If your birds will consume these foods, supply them. If not, do not worry, fortified seed supplies all the dietary items required.

These birds require the cockatiel mix at all times. A dish of dry nestling food should also be provided. Again as for budgerigars, these birds vary in their taste for soak seed, sprouts, and fresh foods. If your birds eat these foods, all well and good, if not, do not worry, for the vitamin supplemented cockatiel mix is nutritionally complete.

The fortified parrot mix is the basic diet. Also offer a dish of nestling food.

Spray millet is a very good supplement. For breeding success, conures must have soak seed, sprouts, and fresh food on a daily basis.

The basic food for these birds is the fortified parrot mix. Spray millet is enjoyed by the cockatoos and the African Greys. For longevity and breeding, these birds must have a wide range of foods. Sprouts, soak seed, and fresh foods must be given every day.

The seed for soaking or sprouting should not be vitamin enriched. Soak seed is just that. Take a quantity of plain seeds and put them in a jar with about three parts water. Refrigerate for twenty-four hours. Strain and rinse. Give to the birds. Soaking makes the hard shells easier to crack for the smaller birds. Soaking also turns complex carbohydrates into simple carbohydrates, improving palatability and digestibility.

Sprouting seed is the easiest way to provide your birds with fresh greens. Chinese mung beans or a soak seed mix may be sprouted. For one bird only one quarter cup of seeds should be prepared at a time. Place the seeds in a very clean glass jar. Fill with tap water and let stand for twenty-four hours. Rinse and drain completely. Repeat the rinsing and draining completely every twenty-four hours until the seed has sprouted. If a foul odor or mold develops, discard. Preparations are available to prevent spoilage. Rinsing well is very important. Any surplus sprouted seeds may be refrigerated up to a week.

A large variety of foods may be given to birds. Bread, cooked meat, cheese, yogurt, cooked fish, soaked soy beans, soaked or cooked lima beans, cooked kidney beans, cooked rice, raw corn on the cob, cooked corn, soaked or cooked lentils, peas in the pod, cooked peas, raw green beans, grapes, oranges, cherries, melons, cooked potatoes, escarole, bananas, peaches, cooked sweet potatoes, beets, spinach, chard, dandelion, cooked broccoli, mushrooms, raisins, carrots, celery, and cooked chicken eggs. All cooked items should not be fried and should room temperature when served. Most parrots enjoy crushing chicken and other bones. Any food that is used for human consumption may be offered to birds. Never use discarded or spoiled products for bird food. For one or two pets, simply give a small portion of your dinner each night. The breeder will find it necessary to prepare a mix in quantity. It is useful to dice and mix this to make it less easy for birds to pick out their favorites. Only allow these foods before your birds for a few hours at a time. These foods are all perishable, particularly the the eggs.

Seed eating birds require grit and cuttlebone at all times.

Vitamins can also be given in the water, in addition to the seed.

Birds need fresh clean water at all times. Chlorinated tap water is fine. Spring water is even better. Never place antibiotics or other medications in the water unless prescribed by a veterinarian. Alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea, or soda should not be given to birds. Birds will often not drink fruit juice.



This educational and entertaining event was held on June 21, 1992 at Gratz College, just outside of Philadelphia. Lectures were delivered by Richard M. Schubot, of the AVICULURAL RESEARCH AND BREEDING CENTER, JAMES J. MURPHY, amazon expert, John Vanderhoof, developer of the dry lory diet, LORIES DELIGHT, Carol Anne Calvin, finch enthusiast, and Liz WIlson, bird behavior specialist. A veterinarian was available for surgical gender determination. Many vendors and manufacturers were on site providing a bird supply supermarket. Hobbyists also had birds for sale at the expo.

Richard M. Schubot was the first to speak. He showed slides of his extensive Cockatoo, Macaw, Eclectus, and African Grey breeding complex located in FLorida. The lecture centered around the tendency in various species of Cockatoo for the cocks to mutilate or murder the hens. Charts were shown illustrating the probabilty of this tragedy for the majority of Cockatoo species. The methods to stop the horror included large cages and a severely wing clipped cock paired with a full flighted hen. Nest boxes were constructed with two holes to make sure that the hen could not be cornered by an irate mate. The most innovative scheme involved having a veterinarian affix an acrylic ball to the point of the cock’s beak. This operation limits the scope of the mayhem. The plastic ball falls off by itself after a period of time that varies from species to species.

Mister Schubot also showed slides and discussed Beak and Feather disease. He does not hold much hope for an immediate vaccine. He mentioned that even if a serum is sold, it will be in short supply for a long time. His facility now quarantines all new acquisitions for three years and pulls all eggs, in order to prevent the spreads of PBFD.

Identification of the subspecies of eclectus parrots was also discussed.

Schubot also mentioned a common sense method for checking to see if two birds in adjoining flights are pairing up – look at the droppings on the floor! If the droppings are as close together as possible, then you can be certain that the birds are trying to perch next to each other.

Later that day Richard Schubot made another slide presentation. He now showed various aspects parrot husbandry, as practiced by AVICULTURAL RESEARCH AND BREEDING CENTER. The birds are housed in suspended, “Noegel-California”, welded-wire cages. Water is supplied by a central system using LIXIT valves. The nest boxes are made of plywood and are hung outside of the cage. Richard Schubot finds the chewing of wood conducive to initiating nesting activity. The larger nests are now being lined with welded wire to prevent complete destruction. He is not completely comfortable with this innovation. He worries that a bird may get a nail caught and in this way lose a toe, or even a foot. Mister Schubot states that for most parrots, a dilapidated nest may be removed for repair or replaced. He warns that this is never done in the case of the Leadbeaters Cockatoo. With this specie, the nest must be repaired as best as possible while on the cage. It must never be removed for the Leadbeaters considers its nest a “personal possession.”

Diet was also covered. The birds get a wide variety of fresh and cooked foods in a mash. Seeds, including sunflower, are also provided. Peanuts are no longer offered, due to the possibility of toxic fungus. All the birds get small amounts of animal protein.

The morning’s next speaker was John Vanderhoof, California lory lover. Slide after slide showed his vast breeding collection of these beautiful birds. The dietary requriements of the various species was also discussed. He states that most do well on his dry diet, supplemented with fresh fruit. This did differ for a few, particularly the smaller birds. These do require nectar

. One slide showed a charming scene of his daughter playing with a whole flock of hand-raised lories.

Mister Vanderhoof related his experiences with the Tahiti Blue Lory. He has, as of yet, not been succesful with this specie. The males are hen killers.

He also told of how escaped lories do not flee his premises, but `hang around’ like cats. Dishes of food are placed out for these birds that are flying at liberty. To retrieve them, it is only necessary to place food inside a flight. The lories will fly right in of their own volition. Mister Vanderhoof remarked on how the patterns under the lorie’s wings can only be appreciated while watching the birds soar overhead.

Carol Anne Calvin showed video tapes of her beautifully planted finch flights. Ms. Calvin stressed how important it is to promote captive breeding. If this is not done, most finch species will disappear from our collections. She also stressed how important it is to keep one variety to a flight. Often she keeps one pair to a flight. For social species a number of pairs will be kept in separate flights that are close together. The birds can see and hear each other, but are unable to interfere with one another.

James J. Murphy, Washington state amazon expert, showed us slides of his extensively planted outdoor operation. His birds are first housed in single species flocks. There they are allowed to pair up naturally. Once the birds have bonded, they are then placed in their own flight. Again, the `Noegel-California’ welded-wire, suspended cages were used. Most flights seemed to be about 8′ or 10′ long by 3′ or 4′ square. Water was supplied by rabbit style gravity waterers.

Trees, bushes, and vines surround each and every flight. The foliage is selected to serve a number of different purposes. It provides shade and privacy for the pairs. The plants are also all edible, at one stage or another, to provide nutrition and diversion for the birds. James J. Murphy considers the psychological needs of the birds to be of supreme importance. He also has dogs and chickens running around his farm. These neighbours also help to entertain the parrots. He stressed that there is no `magic-bullet’ in aviculture, rather success is an incremental process of combination. Nutrition, proper housing, privacy, natural pairing, and entertainment must all be considered when caring for parrots. He allows that the one quantum-leap advance for bird breeding was surgical gender determination.

These parrots receive a wide range of foods. The basic diet is a cooked mix of rice and beans.

For the six weeks of Washington’s inclement weather, the birds are again returned to flocks. They are kept during this time in large flights inside of a one story building. This is again in keeping with nature for, out of the breeding season, most parrots do join in large flocks.

Avian Genetics


Mutation has been defined as “a heritable change in the base sequence sequence of a cistron.” These disrupted base sequences are caused by mistakes in DNA replication. Due to the structure of the DNA molecule, and due to proofreading by repair enzymes, such errors are very rare. Mutation may occur at a universal rate of 1 X 10-7 per base pair per generation under normal conditions. Certain chemicals, radiation, and even high temperatures, can contribute to an increase in the probability of such mistakes.

At the chromosome level, little is known concerning the mechanics of mutation with respect to cage birds. For the avian practitioner, such knowledge would be desirable but is not needed. Mutations of the feather colors and the feather structure can be classified into a relatively small number of categories. An understanding of the different types of mutations will allow the discerning eye to judge whether a true breeding strain can be developed from an unusual individual. This understanding of mutation will also enable the avian practitioner to separate birds with pathological metabolic disorders and “artificial mutations” from actual mutations.

As in any form of domestication, mutations are of central importance to aviculture. Even initial captive breedings may be as much a matter of the selection of suitable pairs as of husbandry. As soon as such a first breeding has been accomplished, the aviculturist strives to produce superior or novel strains. Superior may mean freer breeding, steadier, resistant to disease, or able to withstand extremes of climactic conditions. Novelties are selected most often on the basis of size, feather color, and feather structure.

Mutations are also valuable in the monetary sense. About ten years ago years ago a lutino Peach Faced Love Bird(Agapornis roseicollis) sold for one thousand dollars. Such examples of high prices could be listed for any of the early mutations of exotic birds. Such mutations create, albeit temporarily, a gold rush atmosphere. The price of even the most drab and common colors goes up, since interest in and market consumption of the species increases. Many more people start to keep and breed birds of all types. Thus it can be seen that mutations serve both to create, improve, and vary captive strains and to promote aviculture.

The genetics of the mutations in aviculture are relatively simple. A review of basic genetics will now be given. The patterns of inheritance that are most important to the production of cage birds will of course be stressed.

Simple, autosomal, recessives are the largest class of mutations of exotic birds. It is possible for such recessive traits to be present in a proportion of the wild population as heterozygotes. Such heterozygotes exhibit the normal phenotype. The mutant phenotype of autosomal recessives manifests itself only in the homozygote. Any regime of inbreeding will quickly bring such mutations to the surface. As soon as any species becomes established in captivity, such factors are discovered.

This is the most likely explanation behind the phenomenon noted by Darwin that domestication seems to induce variation. Domestication does not increase the rate of mutation, but it does increase the probability of the production of homozygotes. Also such mutant phenotypes that might be culled by natural selection will be favored by artificial selection.

The autosomal recessive traits are denoted by lower case symbols. The corresponding normal, wild gene is given by a plus sign, +.

As a practical matter such mutations may be discovered by inbreeding. This system is exploited by Dutch breeders of Australian Parakeets. These clever fanciers seem to turn out mutations on an assembly line basis.

Dominant autosomal mutations are less common in aviculture. If the dominant mutated individual appears in captivity from normal parents, the mutation must have occurred in the germ cells of the parents. The extremely low rate of mutation explains the paucity of such traits.

Dominant genes are of two types:complete and incomplete. Complete dominance allows heterozygotes to express the full mutant phenotype. With incomplete dominance, heterozygotes show a compromise between the normal and the mutant phenotypes.

The manifestation of the dominant genes is affected by the phenomena of penetrance and expressivity. Penetrance is defined as “The percentage of individuals that, carrying a gene in proper combination for its expression, actually express that genes phenotype.” Expressivity is defined as “the manner in which phenotype is expressed.” These terms clearly describe two aspects of the same situation. Penetrance refers to the clear cut, discrete, cases where a given trait is or is not expressed. Expressivty refers to the full range, continuous cases, of intermediate examples.

Another way of looking at this would to be consider the dominant trait as not fully suppressing the recessive trait. This may be noted in the clear dominant white mutation of the canary(Serinus canarius). Rarely this mutation shows only the faintest hints of lipochrome in the wings. More often they will have well defined bars of lipochrome color. At the other end of the spectrum, some show a red or yellow suffusion throughout the entire plumage.

Expressivity is almost certainly due to the action of modifiers. Without controlled experiments we are not able to simply discount environmental influences. Modifiers are secondary genes that mold the phenotype. “Even when only one principal gene is involved, its expression is influenced by some extent by countless other genes with individual effects often so slight that they are very difficult to localize and analyze.” Thus modifiers are by definition a multiple allele phenomena.

Even though multiple alleles may not be analyzed by simple Punnet squares, we, as aviculturists, can still control them. Simply and drastically, we can cull out any bird that we deem undesirable. More subtly we can utilize as stock birds specimens that are extreme examples of the expression of a trait. By blending these together, we hope to take a middle path and so obtain a few outstanding birds.

The symbol for dominant genes is a capital letter. The corresponding wild, normal allele is again given by a plus sign.

Sex linkage is a very important pattern of inheritance in aviculture. The sex chromosomes are of two types:X and Y. The X chromosome is relatively large and contains many genes. The Y chromosome is much smaller and, in the case of cage birds, no traits are known to be located on it. Male birds have X chromosomes in pairs. In females, the sex chromosome pair consists of one X and one Y. The X chromosome is sometimes designated as Z and the Y as W. The Z-W notation is used in most genetic literature to signify the difference between birds and mammals. The sex linkage system in mammals is the inverse of that in birds. Avicultural literature universally uses the X-Y notation.

All sex linked mutations so far described in exotic cage birds are recessive. One reason for this, as for autosomal recessives, such sex linked recessives can build up hidden in the wild gene pool. Dominant sex linked traits are certainly possible, in fact, Levi describes many common ones in the domestic Pigeon(Columba livia domestica).

For the male bird to exhibit a sex linked recessive phenotype, he must posses to such factors, be homozygous for the mutant gene. A hen will exhibit the mutant gene with only one factor. This is explained by the fact that the X chromosome has no corresponding allele on the Y chromosome to dominate the normally recessive mutation. Such hens are called hemizygous. Some traits seem to act differently in the homozygous and the hemizygous configurations. Two examples are the Pearl mutation in the Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) and the Pastel mutation in the Canary (Serinus canarius). More research is needed to confirm these observations. An alternate explanation is a different phenotype is due to hormonal differences.

In some organisms a few genes are located on the Y Chromsome. None have been described for cage birds.

Crossing over and linkage must be taken into consideration when any traits that are to be combined are located on the same chromosome pairs. This is obviously the case for any double mutations involving sex linked traits. This is also true for autosomal chromosome pairs. An example is the traits for blue, s, and the dark factor, D, in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus). The breeder attempting to get a combination of the dark and blue mutations is in for a surprise if he starts by mating an olive, a two factor green bird, with a sky blue. This mating will produce all one dark factor green birds that are heterozygous with respect to, split for, blue. Realizing that blue and the dark factor are autosomal, not sex linked, he computes the expected frequencies of the progeny. Mating a green carrier of blue to a blue bird yields 50% blue and 50% green carriers of blue. Pairing a dark factor bird to a no dark factor bird gives 50% one dark factor birds and 50% normal, no dark factor, birds. By simple multiplication(50% blue X 50% one dark factor), this fancier expects 25% of the young to be cobalts, one dark factor blue birds.

If only a few pairs are being used it is very likely that no cobalts will result. If he manages to breed one hundred young from this sort of pairing, on the average, only seven cobalts will be obtained.

Why is there this gap between theory and practice?

Our fancier assumed segregation of the traits. These genes do not follow Mendel’s law of independent assortment because they are not independent. Both traits, blue and the dark factor, are located on the same chromosome. Genes located on the same chromosome are said to be linked or in linkage.

During prophase 1 of meiosos homologous chromosomes, chromosome pairs, are situated in close proximity to each other. Sometimes points of contact and breakage are formed. These discrete points are visible under magnification and are called chiasma, plural chiasmata. At these points, single strands, chromatids, of each chromosome may break and switch chromosomes. This whole process is known as crossing over. It is through crossing over that linked factors may undergo recombination.

There are two basic plans by which linked traits may become involved in crossing over:in coupling and in repulsion. Genes are linked in coupling when mutant traits are located on the same chromosome. They are linked in repulsion when mutant genes are located on opposing chromosomes. See figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1 s+ /+D

Figure 2 sD/++

Figure 1 symbolizes traits linked in repulsion. In figure two they are in coupling. Linkage in coupling is also known as cis linkage. Linkage in repulsion is also known as trans linkage.

Most avicultural literature, in particular budgerigar literature, refers to linkage in repulsion as type 1 linkage, type 2 designating linkage in coupling. This is an undesirable terminology for several reasons. Firstly, no genetic text books ever use these terms. Secondly, some authors switch type 1 with type 2. They designate type 1 for coupling and type 2 for repulsion. This leads to confusion. Also some authors use type 1 and type 2 to label a host of unrelated concepts:homozygous versus heterozygous, separate forms of the yellow face factor in the budgerigar, and various genotypes of specific phenotype, e.g.the fallow phenotype in the budgerigar. Thus we should follow the example of the geneticists.

The concepts of coupling and of repulsion are of both practical and of theoretical importance. The percentages of the genotypes and the phenotypes produced are most often different, since the percentages of young produced from crossing over is most often different.

This difference may be best observed by the frequencies of young produced from the cross of a one dark factor green budgerigar that is split for blue with a sky blue bird. Both blue and green are autosomal, non sex linked traits. These factors are located on the same chromosome and are thus linked.

The first example will be for in repulsion

D – dark factor
s – blue

olive green + D /+D X s+ /s+ sky blue
The young will all be: + D /s+ Dark green/blue

The symbols graphically represent how the traits, both mutant and normal, are located opposite to each other on the chromosome.

This bird will produce the following gametes:+D, s+, ++, and sD. The last two gametes are due to crossing over. Pairing this bird with a sky blue will give the young described in the accompanying chart. Percentages are according to Hart.

+ D/s+ X s+/s+

+ D /s+ 43% dark green/blue
s+/s+ 43% sky blue
sD/s+ 7% cobalt
+ +/ s+ 7% light green/blue

An alternate method to get a dark green carrier of blue is to mate a mauve, a two dark factor blue budgerigar, with a light green.

mauve sD/sD X + + /++ light green
The young will all have the phenotype of ++/sD

. This is an example of traits in coupling. Though of the same phenotype as the preceding example, the genotype differs by the arrangement of the factors on the chromosomes. The mutant genes are on one chromosome and the normal genes are on the other chromosome of the homologous pair. Pairing this bird with a sky blue gives the same genotypes and phenotypes as the case in repulsion, put the frequencies are modified.

+ + /sD X + s /+s

+ + /+s 43% light green/blue
sD/+s 43% cobalt
s+ /s+ 7% sky blue< br> +D/s+ 7% dark green/blue

Percentages are again according to Hart.

Thus the position of the genes determines the manner in which crossing over occurs. In the first example, linkage in repulsion, the gametes ++ and sD are only obtained through a crossover. This is the explanation for the low frequencies of cobalt and light green/blue young. In the second case, the example of linkage in coupling, the gametes +s and +D are obtained by means of the process of crossing over. Therefore the sky blue and the dark green/blue young are of the lowest frequencies.

The probability of crossing over and the implied frequencies of the progeny may only be inferred from breeding results. The closer the two linked traits are located to each other, the less likely is the chance of breakage and the subsequent crossing over. Genes located at a great distance from each other have a much greater probability of crossing over. This probability is expressed as a percentage and varies from 0% to 50%. At the rate of 0% there is, for all practical purposes, no chance of crossing over. The percentage of 50% implies that, since the chance of breakage and recombination is so high, in practice, the traits may be considered as independent. The probability of crossing over for any two specific traits, as it is a function of the location of the gene locus, is nearly constant. To calculate this probability, the percentage of crossing over may be expressed by the following formula:


No complete chromosome maps have been constructed for any exotic birds. There are many problems concerning the formulation of such maps in birds. All birds have microchromosomes. These microchromosomes are extremely small, less than one micron in diameter. Even under magnification these are very small, in fact dot like, and hard to distinguish. Because of the difficulty of viewing these structures, the exact counts of even the well researched species is not known. The accepted counts of the domestic pigeon(Coloumba livia domestica), the budgerigar(Melopsittacus undulatus), and the canary(Serinus canarius) are + _80, + _58, and + _80 respectively. The plus or minus notation is used to stress that the exact count is not known. For the majority of cage birds, no attempt at a karyotype has been made. Very few traits have been documented in ornamental birds. Once we possess a more comprehensive understanding of the genetics of avicultural subjects, we will be in a position to deductively construct chromosome maps.

We all learned as children that the whole equals the sum of the parts. This very basic mathematical concept is so obvious that we accept it as common sense. Common sense does not carry much weight in genetics. Here the whole, the phenotype, might be more or less than the sum of the parts, the genotype.

The most important form of genetic interaction is epistasis. Epistasis is defined as “the suppression of the expression of a gene or genes by other genes not allelic to the genes suppressed. Similar to dominance but involving the interaction of non-allelic genes.” Epistasis is sometimes referred to as genetic masking for it may disguise or camouflage the genotype. Epistasis implies hypostasis in the same way that dominant implies recessive. The gene that is doing the masking is said to be epistatic to the other trait. The trait that is being masked is said to be hypostatic to the first factor.

Related to the concept of epistasis is the phenomenon of complementary genes. With complementary genes two or more traits must all be present, in the proper dosages, for a given phenotype to be expressed. The crest factor in the budgerigar is a perfect example.

Lethal traits so disrupt the metabolism that they cause the death of the individual. Dominant lethals are clearly self deleting. Recessive and incomplete dominant genes are perpetuated. In cage birds, very few lethal traits have been posited:the crest, hard feather, and dominant white traits in the canary. These traits are all incomplete dominants. In one factor, in the heterozygous state, these genes produce an unusual phenotype, desirable to the fancier. In two factors, in the homozygous configuration, they cause death. Penetrance and expressivty may also come into play.

Mutations, though often of an essentially simple genetic nature, tend to become confused in aviculture. Unusual specimens fetch high prices and bring prestige to their owners. This fact generates one of two responses from the person lucky enough to spot something different in the nest or in a consignment of wild caught birds. The egotistical fancier informs all that he possesses a new variety. The aviculturist more noted for business acumen will keep his new type a secret and build up his stock. In this way the market is cornered and a handsome profit may be realized at the time of sale of the novelties. All give poetical and fanciful names to mutations.

On occasion the same mutation arises in two or more locations at about the same time and greatly confuses the issue. Most every country regulates the import and export of birds. In Australia, an important country both ornithologically and aviculturally, trafficking in birds is all but outlawed. It may be years before the proper test matings are performed to determine the true nature of the new mutations. Without test matings, only comparisons from photographs or, even less reliably, from memory can be used. These comparisons, even if perfect pictures are available, are only the roughest of guides. The same mutation may be drastically affected by modifiers or by environmental factors.

Conversely, identical phenotypes may be expressed by completely different mutant genes. For example, there were originally both a sex linked recessive and an autosomal recessive ino factor in the budgerigar. Sadly, the latter has been lost.

The term sport is sometimes used with a wide range of meanings. The broadest definition is of any different and unusual appearance. This would include extremes of phenotype caused by both genetic and non genetic factors. We here restrict the definition to include only oddities that owe their unusual appearance to environmental or to pathological factors. Of course, such phenotypes will not be passed on the future generations.

Sports are not unknown in birds. Many unusual colors are caused by metabolic disorders or by injury to the skin or growing feather. Some very striking color combinations, half siders and other mosaics, though of a genetic nature, are also not inheritable.

Hybrids, inter-specific crosses, are common in aviculture. Mule breeding, the production of mostly sterile hybrids involving the canary and various finches is very popular in Europe. The society finch(Lonchura domestica) is possible a free breeding blend of several Mannikin species. With species of waterfowl, it takes real effort to not get hybrids.

Hybrids are very interesting genetic subjects. Mutant genes have been transferred to the canary and some love birds from closely related species by means of hybrids.

Unfortunately, the haphazard production of hybrids has often become a liability in aviculture For example, it took many years for the American stocks of Love Birds to become sorted out after various species had become mixed up. Sometimes a hybrid might be mistaken for a new species or for a mutation.

At best, the heredity of birds is not easy to study. The shortest generations are several months. Many birds take years to mature. Some species insist on choosing their own mates. Others are difficult to keep alive in captivity, let alone rear. For the altricial species, some are poor parents. In these cases, the breeder must attempt to foster or to hand raise the young. This is not a perfect solution, for imprinting and other unnatural forms of socialization complicate further breeding. Even relatively simple mutations may be lost. The London fancy color variety of the canary was lost through ignorance. At the turn of the century this simple recessive melanin diluting gene was confused with variegation. Through pairings with variegated birds, the rare recessive was lost. We are very lucky that any mutations have been established for the more temperamental species.

The great majority of mutations in aviculture affect the color of the plumage. A basic knowledge of the mechanics of feather color is needed. The appearance of color in the feather is due to two mechanisms:chemical coloration and structural coloration. Biochromes, compounds actually present in the feather, cause chemical coloration. Structural coloration, on the other hand, produces an optical illusion by means of anatomical elements in the feather. These elements might manage to give the appearance of a blend of chemical colors. Orange, red, and yellow are most often caused by carotenoids being deposited in the feather. These compounds are called lipochromes in the avicultural literature. These chemicals are metabolized from plant and animal matter. They are not synthesized by the bird.

Species that possess carotenoid colors will often exhibit variation in color due to changes in the diet. The red of the male Virginia Cardinal(Richmondena cardinalis) fades in the North East United States during the Winter when fruits, berries, greens, insects, and other small animals that are part of the bird’s diet become scarce. The Venezuelan Black Hooded Red Siskin(Carduelis cuccullata) will lose its natural red color, turning yellow, if not offered a source of carotenoids.

Yellow ground birds can obtain a sufficient supply of carotenoids from a diet of seed. This is not true for red or orange ground birds. In captivity the most common practice is to supply these birds with a source of synthetic carotenoids. The most commonly used substances are beta-carotene, apo-carotenol, and canthaxanthin. Canthaxanthin gives the brightest scarlet red. Beta-carotene and apo-carotenol allow the birds to develop golden, orange shades. Beta-carotene is of limited usefulness for much is metabolized as vitamin A, which lacks color, according to Doctor Adams, technical director of Hoffman La Roche. All these chemicals may be used together, for their action is complimentary.

In parrot type birds orange, red, and yellow are probably not caused by carotenoids. George Smith has posited a new class of chemical compounds. He has named these substances psittacins. In parrot types, color is not clearly a function of the diet. Ramon Noegel states that birds raised in captivity do show a greater extent of red and orange color. His believes that this increased degree of color is related to a diet rich in carotenoids. It must be noted that an improperly fed scarlet macaw or chattering lory, or any other scarlet parrot, might be near death from malnutrition, but still have fire engine red plumage

. Unique to touracos, musophagiformes, is green caused by the deposition of a biochrome, turacin, in the feathers. Since there are, to my knowledge, no mutations of touracos in aviculture, all cases of green plumage may be considered as structural colors.

The blacks, browns, and grey colors are from melanin pigments in the feather. These pigments are synthesized by the birds from amino acids. The exact color and shade is due to the size, density, and shape of the melanin granules. Mutations that affect melanin coloration most often affect either the size or density of the granules.

White is a structural color. Here all micro structures in the feather are transparent, including the covering cuticle. Since the whole spectrum of light passes through, our eyes register the color as white. This is seen, literally, in any color less chemical. An single sugar granule is transparent. A teaspoon of sugar is white.

Slate blue, as in the canary, is given by a combination of a transparent cuticle and underlying melanin cells. The transparent cuticle is called white ground in aviculture. The bright blue, as in the blue jay(Cyanocitta cristata) is due to a refractive layer of polyhedral cells situated between a transparent cuticle and a refractive melanin base. A green effect occurs when yellow carotenoids or psittacins are spread through the cuticle. Avicultural writers call this yellow ground. If the carotenoids or psittacins of the cuticle are primarily of a red nature, a red ground bird is the result. If no melanins are present, a red or orange hue is here observed. Red biochromes do not readily interact with melanins to form structural colors. Red is most often obscured by melanin.

Iridescence is given by spectral colors due to light interference. This interference is caused by twisted and broadened, melanin containing, barbules or by spherical granules of melanin in close proximity to the cuticle.

Since feather color is governed by only two phenomena, all color mutations may be divided into two classes:mutations of the biochromes or of the micro structure of the feather.

The most common mutations are of the chemical colors that affect the melanin granules:inos, cinnamons, fallows, pieds, and yellows.

The inos are the most distinctive colors. All the melanin is deleted from the entire bird. Here the ability to synthesize melanin is completely disrupted. A pinkish color is seen in the eyes, beak, skin, and nails. This is actually the red blood circulating below the transparent tissues. Carotenoids or psittacins are not affected. Thus an ino love bird is yellow with red-orange markings. A bird that is of a predominantly white ground is an albino. A yellow one is a lutino. A red orange ground bird is called a rosino. Unfortunately, the term rosino is often misused. The rose bourkes neophema(Neophema bourkii) and the rosino canary are not inos. These mutations do not delete all the melanin. The canary does have a true ino mutation, possibly transferred from the European Greenfinch(Chloris chloris), the satinette variety.

Cinnamon-inos are special cases. Ino mutations do not completely delete brown melanin. Daniels has shown that it is not unusual for birds of this genotype to evince a laced phenotype. This is seen in the brown satinette canary and in one form of the lacewing budgerigar. Similar cinnamon-ino colors are being researched in peach face love birds and the cockatiel.

Many species have patches of different ground colors. The most notable example is the cockatiel. These patches are almost completely hidden by melanin in the normal bird. Once the melanin is removed, the previously hidden psittacin is revealed.

In pieds the melanin mutation is removed in patches. These sections may be almost completely random, like the variegation in the canary, or may be very definite, as is the European clear flight mutation in the budgerigar. Most pieds are neither completely restricted to certain areas, nor are they random. The Australian banded pied mutation in the budgerigar affects mostly the feathers of the lower wings, belly, and tail, often giving a circle or band of clear feathers about the waist. The harlequin mutation of the budgerigar affects mostly the head, upper wings, and chest. The exact delineation of the areas from which melanin will be deleted is random.

Birds may be completely pied. In budgerigars such examples are called black eyed clears. I will use this term for all species. Here all melanin is removed from the skin, nails, beak, and feathers. Melanin is retained in the eyes. Black eyed clears may be obtained from selective breeding of a single pied mutation. For example, in the American pied peach faced love bird light strains exist. These are extremely pied birds that produce a percentage of black eyed clears. Variable penetrance is very common among pied mutations.

Black eyed clears may also result form a combination of distinct pied mutations. The black eyed clear budgerigar is derived from a cross of the European clearflight and the recessive pied. In the canary black eyed clears, most often called simply clears or lipochrome birds, are birds that possess two factors for an incomplete dominant, V, the variegation gene. Individuals of the genotype +/+ are the normal melanin forming birds. Those of the genotype V/+ are variegated, pied.

Cinnamon(brown) and fallow mutations change the shape and size of the melanin granules. The melanin is changed from black to brown and the size of the granules may also be reduced. Cinnamons often have red or plum colored eyes as nestlings and juveniles. In fallows this red eye is retained in the adults.

Strangely enough, despite the profusion of melanin diluting and restricting mutations, traits that increase melanin distribution are very rare in aviculture, at least in the exotic species. The only one is the black breasted zebra finch(Poephila eastanotis). All other black forms have so far proven to be sports.

Yellows result from genes that affect the quantity and distribution of melanin granules. Yellow mutations reduce the amount of melanin in the feather. A lighter, diluted, but not clear appearance is the result. Yellow might not change all the feathers. The clearwing mutation of the budgerigar most effectively reduces the melanin in the wing, but does not reduce the body striations. Yellow type genes can also restrict the melanin distribution to certain parts of the feather or body. The lizard mutation in the canary deletes the melanin only from the edge of the feather, but does not change the granules elsewhere. The terminology yellow is most descriptive in yellow ground birds. In white ground birds the term white may be used, as it is for a budgerigar mutation. It is important to keep in mind that here we are discussing a whole class of melanin affecting mutations.

A few categories of mutations affect the ground colors. As has been explained, the ground colors are due to the presence or absence of carotenoids or psittacins in the plumage. The only true mutations of ground colors are those that reduce or delete the pigment, producing a white ground or, like the ivory factor in the canary, reducing the deep original shade of the ground color.

The deletion of carotenoids or psittacins from the feather is very common. This is seen in the blue canary and the blue budgerigar. The phenotype is blue for the melanins are unaffected by this group of mutations. The combination of this sort of mutation and an ino factor, thus deleting all biochromes, is an albino. Albino double mutations have been produced in the canary, budgerigar, and cockatiel.

At this point a brief digression concerning feather anatomy is appropriate. The central shaft or quill of the feather is called the rachis. The visible rays of the feather that run perpendicular to the rachis are called barbs. Very small, but just visible to the naked eye, are structures called barbules that run perpendicular to the barb. Under magnification, hooklets, or barbicels, may be observed. These hooklets catch adjoining barbules, holding the feather in a continuous sheet. The importance of these hooklets to mutations will soon become apparent.

The ivory factor in the canary is somewhat more interesting and also more complicated. This sex linked recessive manifests itself in a ground color one shade lighter than normal. Yellow ground ivory canaries have the light yellow bone ivory color of old piano keys. Red ground ivories appear rose or pink. This pale ground color occurs because carotenoids are deleted only from the hooklets. The pigmentation in the other parts of the feather is unchanged.

The other traits that are thought to affect the ground color are actually mutations of the structure of the feather.

The most commonly noted change in the feather structure is soft feather or buff. This is seen particularly in canaries, but also in budgerigars. Soft feather birds have defective hooklets on the barbules. The feathers are in this way all slightly raised. With the canary, a white frosting from the defective hooklets may be observed without magnification. This sort of plumage gives the bird a larger appearance. Soft feather reduces the intensity of all colors.

In the budgerigar, the feather duster, an abnormally long feathered bird, thus the name, is said to be a genetic aberration – analogous to Down’s syndrome in the human. Feather dusters generally die soon after leaving the nest.

The dark factor of the budgerigar is due to changes in the feather structure. This gene reduces the layer of cells on the barbs that scatter and reflect light. Due to this less efficient structure, a dark factor budgerigar is of a deeper color. Because the reflecting layer is thinner, more color escapes. This trait reduces the layer of cells by about one third for each dose of the gene present. In a dark green the layer is about two-thirds of normal. In an olive, a two dark factor budgerigar, the layer is about one-third of normal. Similar acting dark factors are seen in the peach faced love bird and in the Indian ringneck parakeet.

The only remaining types of mutations are the long flight in the budgerigar, the frill in the canary, and the crest in the canary, budgerigar, society, and zebra finch. All other mutations of exotic and ornamental birds may be classified according to the previous discussion.

Modifiers are very important in all domesticated species. The very changed size, shape, plumage, and posture of the Norwich, Belgian, Yorkshire, and Scotch Fancy canaries are due to modifiers. Fanciers, through slow, selective breeding and the artful combining of breeds, derived these varieties.

Distinctive strains of may other species exist in aviculture. Some lines of Lady Gouldian finches (Poephila gouldia) are very free breeding but require foster parents to rear the young. The most commonly used foster parents are society finches. Other strains of Gouldians are known to be good parents. Some American fanciers are consistently rearing Lady Gouldians about fifty percent larger than usual, thus creating a modified phenotype. Families of pied peach faced love birds and pied cockatiels that are very light also exist. Primrose, extremely yellow, cockatiels also are available as distinctive strains.

Splashed or variegated birds are the most common sports. These are relatively common in Indian ringneck parakeets(Psittacula krameri manillensis) and budgerigars. Other parrot types sometimes spontaneously develop maroon patches. Some lutino cockatiels suddenly get a deeper yellow color. Black canaries have been produced but have never been reproduced.

No bird should be dismissed as a sport without careful test matings. Any individual that was born with a normal phenotype but develops an unusual color must be suspect. A careful examination by a qualified veterinarian is certainly in order.

Half siders are birds that have a dual phenotype. The plumage, size, color, sometimes even the gender, differs from the left and right sides. It seems as if two halves of different birds have been glued together, which is not far from the truth. Half siders are one facet of the larger phenomenon of mosaicism Mosaics are organisms of patchwork phenotype and/or genotype. In aviculture, half siders are most frequently encountered in budgerigars, though they have been reported in canaries and Lady Gouldians.

Hollander has discussed half siders in many species of birds. Though of a genetic origin, half siders can not be intentionally bred. Half siders are the result of cytological accidents and are the inverse of twins. The half sider phenotype is not inheritable. A strain of half siders can not be developed.

Hybridization can be a valuable technique in aviculture. Fanciers have always delighted in the production of novel forms. The progressive aviculturist uses hybrids to achieve specific results. The red factor canary was produced by a cross of the Venezuelan red hooded siskin (Carduelis cucullata) and the canary. The satinette in the canary, actually an ino factor, as described above, might have been the result of a cross of the canary with the lutino European green finch (Chloris chloris var.) the yellow gene was transferred to the Fischer’s love bird (Agapornis fischerii) from the masked (Agapornis personata).

The haphazard production of hybrids must be descried. The clumsy breeding of mules and intergrades can not be tolerated. All birds used in a hybrid breeding scheme must be closed banded. Closed bands are seamless metal rings. They can only be placed on a young bird within about two weeks after hatching. These bands are coded and allow positive identification. Any birds that can not be identified should be destroyed.

Frauds are not unknown in aviculture. South American Indians have many techniques for treating the growing feathers of parrots to get bizarre and beautiful colors. Dyed finches are seen in quarantine stations. The most common fraud is the “double yellow head” conure. The cheap green conure becomes an expensive peroxide blond and is passed off the unsuspecting Yankee tourist as a juvenile Mexican double yellow head Amazon parrot. Similar combinations of dyes and bleaches must always be looked out for upon the announcement of any new and high priced mutation.

A more subtle form of deception also takes place. Many mutations in aviculture are sex linked recessives. Clearly, hens can not be split for these traits. Sometimes the developer of such a trait reports the mutation to be an autosomal recessive. This way he can sell normal hens as high priced splits. This occurred with the rosy variety of the Bourke’s neophema.


This paper shows that the overwhelming majority of mutations in aviculture can be broken down into a limited number of patterns, in all species of birds. The underlying genetic phenomena show an amazing degree of similarity.

All bird breeders must be extremely selective. In all probability, many species will soon become extinct as viable wild populations. The only hope for these birds is aviculture. We must decide what sort of population or populations that we want to maintain. If the hope is for eventual re-introduction, the wild type, both in appearance and in behavior must be used as a model and as an ideal. Some feel that the wild type is superior on strictly aesthetic grounds. I hope that the normal type of most captive birds will not be lost. I see no reason why different breeds, as have been produced in all domestic plants and animals, should not be developed. Selection can not be held in abeyance. It can be either used to improve and vary a species, or ignored with penalty.

Most every country regulates the import and export of birds. This will greatly affect the ability of aviculturists to work with wild species. It will also become increasingly difficult to make test matings between mutations occurring in different parts of the world and to thus determine if two birds of similar description are the same or different mutations.

We pontificate concerning the uninformed and poverty stricken third world peoples that catch and sell wild birds. The Western aviculturist is noted for his pious sermons of “saving from extinction.” Unfortunately all too few breeders of the larger parrots deserve to be called aviculturists. Instead of developing any captive strains – despite their knowledge of the reality of rain forest destruction and their relative degree of financial comfort – they sell all the young parrots produced as pets. I hope that there is a special place in hell for these hypocrites. Perhaps a waste land that was once a rain forest?

Anom., 1981, MOULT AND FEATHER COLOR, Bird World, Aug-Sept

Daniels, Trevor, 1981, UNDERSTANDING CINNAMON INOS, Cage and Aviary Birds, Jan. 17

Darwin Charles, 1872, THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, 1958 ed., The New American Library, NY, NY

Hart, 1978, BUDGERIGAR HANDBOOK, TFH Publications, Neptune, NJ

Hollander, W.F., 1944, MOSAIC EFFECTS IN DOMESTIC BIRDS, Quarterly Review of Biology,19:285-307

Keeton, W.T., 1980, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE, W.W. Norton, NY, NY

Levi, THE PIGEON, Levi publishing


Ohno, S., 1970, EVOLUTION BY GENE DUPLICATION, Springer-Verlag, NY

Smith, G.A., 1980, MUTATION COLOURS IN PARROTS, The Magazine of the Parrot Society, vol XIV, #9, Sept. Nov, 220-222

Smith, G.A., 1981, COLOUR MUTATIONS, The Magazine of the Parrot Society, vol. XV, #11, Nov., 307-310


Dove Diet

Young orange pearl ringneck doveI just raised a few doves this year. This orange pearl is the one with the most interesting color.

The most commonly kept doves, the ringnecks, diamond, cape and Australian crested are extremely easy to feed. A menu of seeds suits these birds. The two larger species — the ringneck and the Australian crested — can be kept on a diet of fancy pigeon seed mix with popcorn. You must insist on the popcorn, for the regular poultry corn is too large for the delicate doves. This mix will consist of the following seeds: milo, millet, wheat, peas, and popcorn.

Those keeping just a few ringneck doves will find it more convenient to use wild bird seed instead. The doves won’t eat the sunflowers, but those seeds and anything else that remains in the dish can be given to the outdoor birds.

Ringneck doves enjoy canned or (defrosted) frozen peas or corn intended for human consumption. Ringnecks are very fond of cooked lentils, whole, and cooked and then grated chickpeas and lima beans.

Whole wheat bread ground in a blender or a food processor is very good. For variety, a little peanut butter might be spread on the bread before grating. You also can grind peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, almonds, or walnuts with the bread and/or a small amount of nearly any fruit or vegetable that you eat yourself. (Don’t use avocados.) I often give my doves grated cooked sweet potato, regular potato, or canned or cooked fresh beet.

Tofu, tempeh or soy yogurt are healthy supplements to be mixed with the ground whole wheat bread. These foods are high in protein. The tempeh and soy yogurt contain Lactobacillus that is useful in maintaining a healthy microbiome and helping to prevent gastrointestinal disease.

Doves have a beak that functions as a forceps for picking up small items. These birds often will not peck at a mash. For these reasons, the whole wheat bread and anything added to it must be finely ground. Only small amounts of moist items can be added, as too much will turn the consistency of the bread crumbs from mealy to mushy. First toasting the whole wheat bread helps in keeping it granular when adding ingredients with a high water or oil content.

Ringneck doves are particularly fond of the separated pips of pomegranates and very small blueberries. From time to time, I’ll grate raisins, dried figs or dates and the mix it with the whole wheat bread meal. The doves enjoy sweet dried fruit, but I feed it just as a treat.

Ringnecks will eat cooked brown rice, though it’s not a favorite. Adding a little pancake syrup to the rice is a good idea. A small amount of olive oil and a dash of salt can be mixed with the rice instead of the syrup. The olive oil and salt also goes well with the corn and peas.

Fresh foods can spoil and should be prepared each day. Only give the doves as much as they will eat in an hour or so, especially in warm weather. Remove and discard any uneaten portion.

Ringneck Doves are particularly fond of hemp seed. High in protein, this is a great addition to the diet when the birds are laying eggs and feeding young, or molting. Due to the oil content, hemp seed helps to boost the calories if the environment is cool.

The Cape and the Diamond doves are two miniature bird species. They heartily enjoy a vitamin, mineral, and protein enriched parakeet (Budgie) seed mix. A high quality, fortified, finch mix can be offered instead of the keet mix. Both will be made up of mixed millets, canary seed, and oat groats. The difference is in the varying percentages of ingredients — for the parakeet mix, larger seeds will predominate. If you are keeping your toy doves with smaller finches, Australian finches or waxbills, for example, for the sake of convenience, feed them all the same mix. If the doves are being housed with larger, more robust finches, like Java Rice Birds, Whydahs, or Weavers, all in the aviary will enjoy the variety of the two seed mixes. As a supplement, pellets for finches and parakeets can also be used. Greens, fruits, high-protein nestling foods, and live foods can be offered to the above species. Sometimes, the birds will ignore everything but seed. These species will thrive and rear their young on plain seed diets.

All seed eating birds require grit to help digest their food and to provide minerals. This is particularly true of the seed-eating doves, for these birds swallow all grains whole. They don’t hull the seed, remove the outer, indigestible part, as do most cage birds. The seeds go to the bird’s crop, or gizzard. There in the crop, with the help of the sand and gravel in the grit, the seeds are ground into a digestible mash. Grit also contains calcium and trace minerals, to ensure that the diet is balanced.

The basic diet of the majority of wild doves is the fancy pigeon mix. The fruit pigeons are an important exception. As the name suggests, these birds require a soft bill diet.