COPYRIGHT 1996 By David Poole

Good safe foods that I also use with my birds are: Banana, Apple, Pear, Melon, Strawberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Cherry, Apricot, Peach, Nectarine, Pineapple, Guava, Mango, Grapes (only a few for they have very little nutritional value). Potatoes — either boiled or dry roasted (a safe alternative for the delicious but totally unhealthy french-fry) Swede (sorry rutabas)– boiled in water or cooked with carrot in fresh orange juice. Cauliflower, Spinach, Kale, Cabbage, Pumpkin (seeds as well), Vegetable Marrow & Courgette (sorry Zucchini), boiled or baked, Sweet Potato boiled in water or orange juice or baked, Sugar Snap Peas and Mange-Tout (lightly steamed), Green beans,boiled or steamed, Bean Sprouts — Mung and Fenugreek, either fresh — make sure they are thoroughly washed, or lightly steamed. Onions — either fresh, dry roasted or boiled. Garlic — same as for onions. Whole wheat, brown rice, pearl barley, oats, bulgur wheat. Natural yoghurt sweetened with fresh fruit is a very good source of beneficial bacteria and promotes optimum conditions within the digestive tract for natural, healthy flora. Low fat or hard cheese can be a beneficial source of protein and oils if used with caution. Both onions and garlic can also be used as flavourings as can very sparing amounts of cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and sweet bay. Dried, powdered chillis and paprika can be used reasonably liberally.

Bad foods are Avocado — highly toxic and rapidly fatal. Rhubarb — excessively acidic and may contain remaining traces of the toxin, oxalic acid even after cooking. Olives – excessive oil/salt and if not properly prepared, may contain toxic residues remaining from the processing. Aubergine (Egg Plant) may contain slightly raised levels of solanin which although comparatively harmless to humans in such quantities, may cause digestive upsets or worse with parrots. Asparagus — Asparagin which gives the characteristic flavour can cause severe stomach upsets. Chocolate — Theobromin which gives chocolate it’s characteristic flavour and is thought by some to have a soothing near addictive effect on humans, is toxic to psittacines and has been associated with respiratory and cardiac problems ultimately leading to death. Anything containing caffeine — tea of coffee can eventually lead to cardiac problems and in certain cases can also lead to hyper-activity. Anything containing alcohol. Milk or cream in any large quantities cannot be properly digested and can cause digestive problems with very long term, regular use. Butter, because of its pure fat content and also the possibility of the same digestive problems caused by milk and cream. I would be cautious in the use of nutmeg as a flavouring — it is poisonous even to use if taken in excess and I believe that the ‘jury is still out’ with regard to coriander.

No doubt there are many others which should be added to the list of baddies, but I can’t think of them at the moment and I think the best maxim to apply with the diet of any parrot is “If in doubt, don’t” There is such a vast amount of good things to give your bird without having to resort to those which are, or may be questionable. Hope this helps.


The Blue-Fronted Amazon Parrot, Amazona aestiva, whose ancestors called the wilds of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay home, counts as one of the most desirable pet birds. This exuberant and outgoing parrot is one of the best talkers.

In fact, its only fault is a love of vocal expression. The Blue-Fronted Amazon is a natural mimic and chatterbox. This talent is practiced throughout the day, but especially at sunup and sundown. A household pet will not understand why his performances that are such a source of joy for you on weekday mornings are not also appreciated on the weekends. Your parrot has no way of understanding that you were out the night before and wish to sleep late. Keep this in mind when you are considering where to place your bird’s cage. Noise can be controlled, to some extent, by keeping the cage covered when you want the bird to sleep.

The Blue-Fronted Amazon does not simply `parrot’ human speech. Very often, birds imitate people’s expressions seemingly on cue. The very real possibility exists that parrots have some understanding of what they are saying. For example, “Hello” is almost always given only as a greeting. I have seen (and heard!) Amazon parrots that would whistle only at women.

I worked in a store that had a pair of Amazon parrots in the window. One clever little fellow silently looked young ladies over as they entered the shop. As they walked down the aisle, turning their backs to him, he would let out an exuberantly delivered wolf whistle. I, standing behind the counter, in front of the bird’s cage, invariably instantly received a reproachful glance from the female patron. Luckily, the bird always immediately reproduced the whistle, saving me an explanation that probably would not have been believed. Men never received this attention from the feathered Don Juan.

A friend of mine owned a tame and talking Blue-Fronted Amazon, Bruce. Bruce was kept in an insurance agency. The bird just wasn’t cut out for the nine to five routine. His great pleasure was trying to join in on telephone conversations. The secretary did not consider this an endearing trait.

My friend decided to find Bruce a new home.

Doreen, the sister of my office manager, had a birthday coming up. She always wanted a parrot. Bruce fit right into his new home, becoming the ruler of the roost. He soon named his new owner “Ma.” Bruce, whose wings are clipped, takes great delight in climbing up a flight of stairs. Upon reaching the top, he yells, “Come get me, Ma!” You can see that Bruce is definitely not a bird brain. The only problem that Bruce is causing his new owner is not his fault. Before getting the parrot, she wanted to give the human child that she is expecting the name Bruce. Since the parrot arrived before the infant, the bird gets to keep the name.

When shopping for a Blue-Fronted Amazon, or any parrot for that matter, insist on a hand fed, domestically reared bird. You might want to purchase a nestling that still requires formula feeding. By hand-feeding your new baby bird, it will very quickly become bonded with you. Hand-feeding is not difficult, but must be done correctly. A bird this young is also not as hardy as one that is slightly older. A bird that is eating on its own will also probably be able to regulate its body temperature. This means that you will be able to keep your new pet in a bird cage instead of a heated fish tank.

Researchers have developed some excellent hand-feeding formulas for avian infants. These are vastly superior to the many “home brew” recipes that were used in the past. The new manufactured baby parrot foods may be conveniently purchased from most pet shops. No grinding or soaking is required. The modem nestling foods offer complete nutrition, only requiring the addition of hot water. It is very important to mix fresh for each feeding. Infant formula spoils in as little as twenty minutes, even under refrigeration. A microwave oven is very helpful in warming the baby food. Do test the formula on your wrist; it must be warm. If too hot the baby parrot may be injured or killed. For the exact feeding technique, consult the store where your bird was purchased.

Some may consider saving money through the purchase of a wild-caught bird. This is an example of misplaced economy. It takes great patience to tame a wild bird. If the bird was trapped as an adult, it generally never accepts people as friends. A captive-raised bird is naturally tame and will very likely already say a few words. By buying a domestic bird, you will not be contributing to the destruction of the rain forest. A wild-caught bird will always have been subjected to a great deal of stress, if not outright abuse. With birds, as with most everything else, what you see is what you get. A bird that is not tame, without professional training, is unlikely to become tame. Patience and expertise is no guarantee-many wild-caught birds are impossible to tame.

Remember, acquiring a Blue-Fronted Amazon is a long term commitment; these birds easily live to be fifty years old. Make sure that you want to be a bird owner at least that long.

Blue-Fronted Amazons are very easy to feed. Basic nutrition is supplied through any of the many fine vitamin, mineral, and protein enriched large hookbill seed mixes or pellets available at your local pet shop. This is just a start. Most parrots, and all Amazons, require fresh food. This might be any healthy human food. The exceptions are chocolate and avocado. Chocolate and avocado are poisonous to parrots and should never be fed. Amazons are particularly fond of beans and corn. All items should be fit for human consumption. When you are cleaning out the refrigerator, think of the trash bin, not your parrot! The owner of one or two parrots will find it very easy to simply give the birds a portion of his own dinner.

All birds must have fresh water daily. Many good vitamin preparations are produced for pet birds. If you place any of these in the water, put special emphasis on cleaning the water dish. Treat the bird’s dishes just like your own.

Most Amazon parrots are extremely healthy. Make sure your bird gets eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Any temperature that is comfortable for you in a shirt will be fine for the bird. Don’t subject the bird to quick changes of temperature or to a draft. A draft is a moving column of air, hot or cold. I know of a fine collection of parrots that was unintentionally destroyed by a well meaning owner. During an especially hot New Jersey summer, she placed a high speed fan in the birds’ room in the morning, right before leaving for work. When she returned home, all the birds were already extremely ill. By trying to treat them herself, they were not given a chance. An air conditioned room is fine, as long as your pet is not directly in the path of the cold air.

You may want to speak with your avian veterinarian about inoculating your parrot for Pacheco’s disease, particularly if it will ever be housed near a conure.


Though the article focuses on parrots, the same foods may be offered to most seed-eating birds. The cooked beans can be mixed with cooked brown rice or whole wheat bread crumbs. For birds that eat their food whole — like doves — first grind the larger beans before mixing them with bread crumbs to form a granular meal.

By David Poole

A whole host of pulses are extremely good for providing excellent levels of protein and carbohydrate as well as fibre. However, they *must* be cooked because many contain enzymes which inhibit protein assimilation. I use the following on a daily basis and find that they are excellent dietary constituents: Haricot, Black-Eyed, Lima and Garbanzos, yellow and green Split peas, Lentils of any colour.

Most weekends I have a big ‘boil-up’, having soaked a cup of each overnight. The beans and peas are all cooked separately and if I feel so inclined, throw in a few chillis for flavouring. When the beans are tender, they are drained and allowed to cool before packing and storing in the deep freeze. My CAG gets a heaped teaspoon each, of any 3 of the above every day to which I add broccoli, carrot and frozen peas. The whole lot is nuked until piping hot and allowed to cool for around twenty minutes.

Occasionally a small piece (1cm.cube) of hard cheese is finely diced and sprinkled over the top and sometimes, finely diced chillis and/or ripe bell peppers are also added. As a especial treat, a teaspoon of low-salt, homemade tomato sauce which contains onions and garlic is poured over the top before nuking. This makes a very acceptable baked-bean ‘taste-a-like’ and my CAG goes wild over this. Fruit in some form is also available every day and of course constant supplies of pellets. I do not now offer any sunflower at all, but I do provide millet which contains the lysine that is missing from pulses.

Jalapenos are perfectly OK for all parrots that will eat them and you need have no worries about the ‘heat’ that we experience with chillis. The pinkest M2 that I’ve ever seen is given 2 or 3 hot chillis every day and his owner claims that they were the cause of the bird’s vivid colouration. After 15 years the bird is in rudest of health and has never plucked or bitten a single feather in all of that time.

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.

Don’t feed your fish fish food!

Flake foods sold for aquarium fish are VERY expensive! The so-called large economy size can easily be $36 a pound! What you’re really getting the most of is AIR and PACKAGING!

For many years I’ve been feeding my fish canned cat food — mostly 9 Lives and Friskies. You want to get the regular chopped (pate) without gravy. For most tropical fish, just place a small chunk or two in the tank. For very small fish, use a plastic knife to crush a little piece into small particles.

One downside when giving canned cat food to cichlids is that the big guys “chew” their dinner. This spreads a cloud of food bits into the water. If there’s a number of guppies in the tank, they will clean this up.



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.

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