Are you thinking to start breeding your canaries? Is it worth trying? Are you wondering if you can do it? What should you know before starting and and what during the breeding canaries period? In this article, we will try to answer these questions and provide step by step instructions until the breading period is successfully finished.
Before you start breeding your canaries
A canary, apart from its melodious voice, offers us its company as well. Many times, though, we are wondering if it also needs a mate. Besides, it would be a great experience for us to watch its canaries be born and raised.
Perhaps we believe that since we have time, money and the necessary equipment for proper breeding, we are ready to move on to it. Certainly all of these factors are very important, but there is something that many do not take into consideration and that is the good health of the couple.
We only mate healthy birds
We must be sure that our couple is strong and healthy in order to be able to successfully complete the breeding process and raise the chicks until they are fully independent. Of course, the good health of the birds should be of concern the whole time. That is why we ensure that we offer them proper support, good nutrition and enough space to keep them in the best physical condition.
Birds that are sick should not breed.
Adequacy of space and equipment
A basic prerequisite to begin is to ensure a stable and quite place for the pair. A single cage, even a spacious one, is not capable to house the breeding. There should also be a place for a second cage where the chicks will be placed after their independence.
- A breeding cage 60x35x30cm, with a compartment in the middle (opaque and mesh).
- An inner and an outer nest.
- Nesting material and felt.
- Liquid calcium (administration to water after 2nd or 3rd egg).
- Plastic eggs for replacement.
- Egg removal forceps.
- Candling lens.
- Hand feeding cream for canary chicks in case we need to feed them.
Time and money
The breeding process, even with most meticulous organization, will require some financial expense, but it will also take up a lot of our spare time. The above must be taken into account in our decision.
What are we going to do with the chicks?
Before we move on to the breeding, we should know what we are going to do with the canaries that will be born. As good as the pleasure of breeding canaries is, we must be absolutely sure that we have found the right people to give the canaries to (especially the female ones that do not sing) or have our own space to keep them.
As a result, more cages, space, time and expenses may be required for their hospitality and care.
When is canary breeding season?
The reproductive hormones of canaries are triggered in the spring, around mid-March, as long as they are older than 10-12 months. The triggering factors are a combination of daylight hours and temperature.
The daily duration ranges from 12 to 14 hours.
In the case of indoor breeding with artificial light, this duration should not exceed 14 hours in any case, because there is a great possibility that the birds may go into moulting, a normal annual condition (around the end of summer), that is incompatible with the phase of reproduction.
The ambient temperature is from 18 to 24 degrees Celsius.
Humidity should range from 60% to 80%.
To avoid the growth of pathogens, it is preferable for the bigger part of incubation to keep moisture at the lowest level and increase it during the last days that the chicks are expected to be hatched, so that moisture can facilitate the rupture of the eggs. The temperature and humidity in the room during the breeding is quite a complex issue.
The role of the sun. Solar radiation is valuable and necessary for birds, as it is exploited through two paths of their bodies, contributing to its proper functioning.
- Through the uropygial gland fat, it spreads to the feathers, producing vitamin D, which penetrates the body and turns into D3, a necessary vitamin for the good metabolism of calcium, an element that is highly associated with reproduction.
- Through the Harderian gland, many important organic functions such as breathing, the quality of the feathers, flight balance are regulated.
If our birds are not getting direct sunlight, either because they are indoors or for any other reason, the strengthening of our installation with special full spectrum UVA and UVB lamps is mandatory. That does not mean that they can replace sunlight fully, which in combination with fresh air has been observed to have a biological, as well as a psychological positive effect on them.
Selecting a suitable pair
Choosing a suitable pair is not always an innocent and easy process. There are two factors we have in mind every time:
Maintaining the bird characteristics we intend to breed.
The limitation and conditions set by the laws of heredity for the production of healthy descendants.
Maintaining or improving the characteristics
Canary breeds are divided into three main categories based on their specific characteristics, their voice, color and type. These birds are the result of many years of effort through selective breeding with the aim of fully defining the layout of their characteristics and controlling their inheritance, as opposed to the so called “common” or multicolor canaries, to which the succession of their distinctive features is random and therefore uncontrolled.
So, if we have a canary of a specific breed, we should make sure that our pair consists of birds of the same breed and adhere to the rule that we should not mate common canaries with canaries of breed, honoring the efforts of centuries old breeders.
Inheritance and permitted mating
The laws of heredity are given and an adequate knowledge of them, directs our choice according to the characteristic that we want to pass on to the next generation. The important thing is to avoid inbreeding or to be very careful with the affinities, as incest is likely to lead to weak descendants and clearly organisms with smaller bodies.
The health of the descendants is the most important thing and it is a direct consequence of our choices. The information we can draw as far as this is concerned, are provided either by mutation or the type of feathers of the progenitors.
The crest – σκουφί is the only unacceptable breeding of mutation. Mixing all sorts of crescent canaries will cause the painful death of a large amount of chicks in the nest.
For white birds, we know that white residuals and all their derivatives have partial to total vitamin A deficiency and need extra addition of it to their diet.
We have to bear in mind the rigidity of the plumage. We choose pairs that, at least comparatively, have plumage of opposite quality (hard-soft). Omissions of such inspections on our part lead to the formation of feather lumps in the case of two soft feathered progenitors, while in the case of two hard feathered ones, lead to a sparse distribution of the plumage with neurological conditions.
An easy way to identify the type of the plumage is provided by the vivid intensive/non-intensive colored distinction that usually, but not always, coincides with the hard-soft one. For specific reasons, special attention is recommended for mosaic canaries.
Finally, it is rare for common canary descendants to face such health issues but they are more difficult to get adopted.
We start preparing the breeding at the end of January and beginning of February, estimating that the process will last 1,5-2 months and will be complete when both canaries are ready to mate, when they are “triggered”.
The main purpose of the nutritional preparation is to strengthen our couple with the necessary nutrients and therefore their immune system, so that they can successfully cope with the upbringing of the chicks.
With nature as the model, we also need to slowly modify their diet and enrich it with vitamins and trace elements, enhancing it alongside with protein. But this change can not be sudden and abrupt. Sensitive organizations need their time. From the sparse diet of winter, we move to a gradual enrichment in the spring with steady steps.
It is important that all the food we provide them (seeds, vegetables, eggfood etc) is already accepted by our canaries before the hatching of the eggs, in order to be sure that they will consume for feeding their chicks.
It is also necessary during the preparation and later on to have chosen an already made, branded and packaged eggfood for the couple and their little ones, paying particular attention to the protein percentage ranging between 20% and 24%, which has been estimated to help the rapid and proper development of the chicks.
We can also add or give alternately a boiled egg (boiled for 15’) with its shell or homemade eggfood.
It goes without saying that during all the preparation and breeding, there should be cuttlefish bones in the cage, which are a a valuable source of calcium, iodine and useful minerals.
We begin with the frequency of providing 2 times a week eggs or eggfood (prepared or homemade), increasing the stages as weeks go by, while at the same time strengthening them with vegetables, fruit, greens or/and herbs in order to provide the additional nutrients every other day when the couple mates.
In addition, we can gradually add some extra sprouted seeds to their diet, which are characterized as energy bombs by many!
The acquaintance and bonding
At the same time, we put the birds in the breeding cage with a separator to begin the acquaintance process.
As days go by, we can see an interaction between the two birds, the male starts to sing more vividly and constantly and tries to get in touch with the other side. They start feeding each other through the bars and the posture of the body of the female (she responds to his chirping by lowering the body) shows the acceptance of the flirting.
The nest, the felt and the yarn are then placed on the female’s side of the cage, as long as the combination of the nutritional preparation and the acquaintance goes smoothly. As a first option, we place an outer nest in order not to reduce the living space of the cage and to offer a variety of materials for her to make it.
The place we’ll put the nest should inspire safety to the female canary and make it easier for us when we will have to act in the long run.
Inside the nest we place a felt (some people sew it), which we spray with a pesticide to avoid lice. We provide a wide variety of materials to make her nest, burlap, cotton, natural hairs and coconut fibers.
The day we give the nest and the thread, we have to clean the couple’s cage.
A ready to breed female canary, can make the nest within 2 hours. In contrast, one that is not ready yet, will start playing with the thread by dropping it and scattering it across the cage, which means we’ll have to be patient for a little longer.
If many days go by and the female canary seems indifferent to the nest, we may have to place an inner one in a relatively high position of the cage, in case it doesn’t accept the existing outer nest.
Shortly before she finishes the “building” of the nest, and after we are sure that both canaries are ready nutritionally and old enough to move on to the breeding, we can pull out the piece that separated them and let them meet.
Start of the basic breeding stage
With the two birds together, we see the male lowering his wings to invite the female with his song and her standing with her tail raised. There is a friction of their reproductive organs that lasts 2-3 seconds and then they sit side by side showing their pleasure. This will be repeated several times a day as the female will continue completing the building of the nest.
Completion of the nest
The female canary finishes the nest very fast and it is a matter of a few days to see the first egg. After the completion of the nest construction, we withdraw the material that was given for its creation.
During the spawning period the female organism has increased calcium needs for the composition of the egg shell. Calcium sources are the cuttlefish bones that should be permanently in the cage, the boiled egg shell, the raw sesame, etc.
Preventively, as soon as the female gives birth to the second egg, we can give liquid calcium for two-three days, according to the dosage of each preparation to avoid dystocia.
Females give birth to 4-6 eggs usually. The birth of the eggs happens every morning until the laying is complete. There are instances where gaps in the daily laying of eggs have been noticed, usually due to insufficient preparation of the female.
Most female canaries, after many generations of captivity, start incubating after the first or second egg, as opposed to nature where this happens after the birth of the fourth. As a result, the chicks have a 3-4-day age difference and therefore the oldest ones claim more food causing the death of their younger siblings due to starvation.
There are plastic eggs in the market that we can buy in order to make a daily replacement with the special forceps and in this way give equal chances of survival to all chicks, since they will hatch at almost the same time or a few hours apart.
Every morning we carefully remove the new egg with the special forceps, we keep them by placing them with the air chamber upwards in an open pot with seeds in a cool and shady spot and return them on the fourth day.
*The replacement of the eggs is optional.
Candling is the inspection of the eggs with a special led flashlight in the dark to see which ones have been fertilized. The inspection usually takes place between the 5th and 7th day without that being a rule, because the female may be sitting on her eggs the first days, without having started the incubation. We grab the eggs with the special forceps we can find in the market.
In the fertilized eggs we will discern the veins and the heart of the fetus beating. If we are not experienced, it is advisable to avoid egg candling, because there is a risk of breaking the eggs due to inattention.
*Candling is optional.
Incubation of the eggs
The incubation lasts 14 days. We start counting the moment the female stays permanently in the nest and raises the incubation temperature. There may be a 1-2 day deviation due to the ambient temperature. We do not remove the eggs from the nest before the 18th day of incubation. During this time, the male will feed the female in the nest and her exits will be minimal.
During this period, the usual tactic is to reduce the amount of eggfood the we administer to the couple and stop adding supplements to their water. It is speculated that contiguous protein supply may lead to aggressive behaviors or a new short series of eggs.
On the 14th day of the incubation and with a few hour difference, if we have replaced the eggs, the chicks will come to life. The female eats or removes the shells from the nest.
The mothers are exclusively responsible for feeding the chicks the first days of their life. The male feeds her and she feeds the chicks. Later they both feed them until the male takes fully over, since the female canary will want to give birth again around the 15th or 16th day.
In the first 24 hours the chicks will take the “breast milk”, a liquid mixture in the form of saliva from the female to shield and activate their organism.
During this period, their diet should be particularly high in protein and high quality seed mixture, boiled eggs and eggfood should be given on a daily basis.
After the 6th-7th day of their lives, we gradually offer the chicks apple, spinach, broccoli etc..
The nest management
Any dead chicks should be removed immediately because they are a source of microbes. A first cleansing of the nest can be done on the 6th-7th day of the chicks’ life with the placement of the rings.
We lay a clean felt in a new clean nest and transfer the chicks carefully.
On the 11th-12th day of the chicks’ life we can clean the nest for the second and last time. Every interference from there runs the risk of the life of the little ones, because a chick that goes out of the cage at an older age hardly ever returns to it.
After the second week of the chicks’ life, the female is in the mood for the next birth. The male faces more and more the burden of feeding the chicks. The way we will handle the male depends on if we really want to go on to a next birth or not.
The independence of the chicks
The chicks after the 21st day of their life, observing their parents’ behavior start slowly to eat. At the same time, they keep asking from their parents to feed them until they can exclusively feed themselves. This usually happens at the age of 30 days. Since we are sure that the chicks can feed themselves, we think about moving them to a more spacious cage.
Ending the breeding or choosing to have a second round
If we do not want a second birth, we leave the whole family together, we give a second cage to the couple and remove the eggs every morning replacing them with fake ones. We allow the female to incubate the fake eggs for a few days and we remove the nest stopping the breeding.
If we do not want to throw away the fertilized eggs, on the 14th-16th day of the chicks’ life we separate the couple and leave the chicks with one of the parents depending on their behavior.
The option of the 2nd birth
Usually, after the second week of the chicks’ life, we need to be observant about the behavior of birds and to provide early nesting material to avoid the plucking of the chicks.
If we want to go on to the second birth, we leave the whole family together until the chicks get out of the nest. We put a second nest in the cage and give material to the female to move on when she feels ready for a second birth.
Once the firstborn chicks come out of the nest, they will visit the second nest with the risk of dirtying or breaking the eggs. Our solution is given by the separating grid that we will place between the couple and the chicks.
Their feeding will continue though the bars until their independence. We provide both sides of the cage with food, because the chicks will slowly start experimenting starting with soft foods (egg, eggfood). Once the female gives birth to the third egg we can put the male on the side of the chicks for better feeding, if we want to.
Attention: We do not exhaust the birds during the breeding period.
Although until recently up to three births each season were considered tolerable by the female, especially in terms of health, in recent years the experts’ views refer to two births maximum, in order to further remove the additional risk for the parents but also to avoid frequent problems of health and development of the chicks, especially of the third birth, that are occurring at a higher frequency.
Because it is the love of our canary that led us to the decision to mate it, we need to know that multiple reproductions reduce the life expectancy of the parents up to 5-8 years and may cause health problems to them as well as to their descendants.
The use of rings will help us in the record of our birds and most consider it necessary. There are rings of open and closed type (aluminum, plastic, silicone).
Open type rings can be placed on birds at any time of their life, while closed type rings are mainly used by breeders who get them from the clubs that own them and are placed on the 5th-7th day of the chicks’ life.
The archiving in the breeding of birds that we must adhere to is a very useful tool for us, with plenty of information about our couple, their births, their chicks etc. Also, records of mistakes, conclusions and tests should not be omitted in order for us to improve.
We will realize its significance in the future when we will have to go there in search of information.
Possible problems of breeding
No matter how hard we try to avoid them or how well prepared we are, there is always the possibility of problems during the breeding. We will mention the most common problems and try to give short solutions to them.
The birds are not mating
- At least one of them is not ready yet (wrong season, poor preparation) or age-unfit for breeding (in teenage or aged).
- Inconsistency in lighting (mainly during the day), inappropriate temperature or season, lack of space or nest construction materials. See when the breeding starts.
- External effects that create fear- anxiety.
- They are same-sex birds.
- Diet poor in essential nutrients or obesity issues.
- Hormonal disorders, diseases, sexual atrophy, hereditary diseases.
Birds mate but do not make eggs
- There is one of the above reasons.
- Reproductive system infections of the female.
- The female exhibits a weakness in the extrusion of eggs – dystocia. Lack of calcium and a very threatening condition for bird life.
Eggs are not fertilized
- The birds did not mate.
- Taking medicines that cause metabolic disorder, hormones or infertility.
- The male is young and infinite.
- The female is much larger in size than its match (size incompatibility).
- The male has long nails and hurts his mate when trying to fertilize (instability).
- The presence of a dense bed of feathers in the sexual area of the male or the absence (due to a mistake in the haircut) of the appropriate drivers in the pseudo-penis.
- There is no suitable, stable twig to make the mating or is too high to leave enough room for the male to take his place.
- Lack of Selenium (Se) and Vitamin E, leads to azoospermia or weak sperm.
The eggs did not hatch
- External disturbances during incubation: intense voices or fuss, cats, mice, insects, other birds including the future father and descendants of the previous birth.
- Eggs are cold (e.g., many eggs in the nest are not sufficiently covered, the females get up for other reasons (see above) or stay very long outside the nest).
- Damage of the egg shell from very sharp uncut toenails, vibration in the cage or inadequate quality (problems with calcium malabsorption and other essential ingredients) or when handling them by the breeder (egg candling, egg replacement).
- Infectious agents such as some bacteria. Salmonella, for example, penetrates the egg shell, infecting the embryo.
- Parental deficiencies in parents or inherited diseases.
- Low humidity.
- Fetal death due to poisoning. It can occur in an atmosphere with high carbon dioxide (CO2) or vapors of chlorinated hydrocarbons.
- Rotten/spoiled eggs: they are a huge source of infection in a nest, especially under the high temperature conditions due to hatching and should be removed immediately.
- Failure of the chick to escape from the egg that may be due to:
- Low temperature in the nest, resulting in slowing the chick’s metabolism.
- Hard/coarse shell. In this case, parents often can not help unless the egg has already been ruptured by the chick. Also, the time and effort of the chick to escape from the egg is often a death factor of exhaustion in these cases.
- Eggs whose shape is far from the oval. They are usually more spherical than normal and lead the fetus to suffocate because of the problematic air chamber they contain.
- The position of the chick in the egg is also a predisposing factor that may be associated with the failure of hatching. For example, if the fetal head is trapped on its left wing, it can not move in the opposite direction of the egg as it exerts pressure on the latter to cause it to be unblocked. Something similar happens when the fetal legs are above his head.
Weakness and death of the chicks in the nest
- Negligence in fulfilling parental responsibilities – illness or death of parents.
- Lack of cleanliness in the nest and in the surrounding area, inadequate supply of parents with appropriate food for chicks, contaminated food, lice, ectoparasites.
- Other reasons that are described in detail in our article on the mortality of chicks in the nest.