Home | Bird Breeding | The Reason We Have Red Factor Canaries – Meet the Red Hooded Siskin – Part 1

The Reason We Have Red Factor Canaries – Meet the Red Hooded Siskin – Part 1

Carduelis cucullataSurprisingly, a rare little bird from South America is responsible for all the red and orange Canaries (Serinus canarius) in existence today.  Known also as the Venezuelan Red Siskin or the Black Hooded Red Siskin, this brilliant songster (Carduelis cucullata) “donated” the red genes responsible for the birds that have come to be known as Red Factor Canaries.

A Pairing of Different Species

New color phases of birds are produced by breeders all the time, but the story behind Red Factor Canaries has an odd twist.  Usually, species within the same genus are bred together during such experiments.  Canaries and Siskins, however, are not all that closely related, and are not even classified within the same genus. 

What About Color-Enhancing Foods?

Although natural foods containing carotene and commercial Color-Enhancing Diets can brighten the reds and oranges in Canary plumage, genes put the color there in the first place.  The same principle applies to other species as well – early on while working at the Bronx Zoo I learned that if I did not mix enough whole red shrimps into the Chilean Flamingo food, the birds took on a “bleached-out” appearance very quickly – which angered the zoo’s director, who had collected the birds himself!

Fertility Problems

Originally, male Siskins were mated to female Canaries, and the chicks exhibited characteristics of each.  These hybrids were then bred back to Canaries, and eventually a bird that looked just like a Canary, but sported the gorgeous plumage of the Siskin, was developed – and thus we came to have Red Factor Canaries.  The male offspring of a Siskin/Canary cross are only partially fertile, and females are usually infertile.

Fertility among Red Factor Canaries is still not high; breeders usually find it necessary to utilize pure Red Hooded Siskins as breeding stock from time to time.

In Part II we’ll take a look at Siskin care and natural history. 

Further Reading

Hobbyists interested in Siskin breeding and conservation can join the AFA’s Black Hooded Red Siskin Project.

Please see my article on Canary Types for more on other interesting Canary strains.

A video showing a colony of breeding Siskins is posted here.



  1. avatar

    Hi! I have had finches fora long period before in my life – so am fairly knowledgable…now I have just gotten two back in my life – Cordon Bleaus – and my problem is I have a small cage due to space limitations and everytime I go to put new water in or food they get out in the room. One is simple to catch but the male is difficult…last time he lost almost all of his tail feathers…probably my fault…didn’t mean to but he is so hard to catch! I would love to let them have more room and fly free in the room and go in to the cage for food etc…can you get that to happen? Can you train them or are they not smart enough to find the opening? will his tail feathers regrow – he is about 1 yr old.

  2. avatar

    Hello Deb, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. You’ve hit upon an old zoo technique. In large exhibits, we always habituate birds to feeding inside a cage, so that we can keep track of diet and capture them when necessary. Even in half-acre exhibits, I’ve found that birds always find their way to small feeding areas, so your finches should adjust well.

    There are other concerns, however. If startled in a large room they may crash into walls or windows (windows especially must be visible to them – use a thin curtain until they adjust; be careful not to open the door suddenly, and install a small bulb on a light timer if there is not a window – turning on a room light in a dark room will cause panic. Chasing is very stressful to them, and will weaken their immune system quickly, so avoid that when possible. You’ll also need to bird-proof the room – close up small areas where they can get stuck, etc. Sanitation may also be a problem unless the room is paneled with easily-cleaned tiles and the floor covered with pine chips/litter. Otherwise, feces, dander and such will build up, creating a health hazard for yourself and others, and parasites and some insects will eventually colonize the room. Overall, it’s a difficult undertaking unless you re-do the room as an aviary. Please check this article on Bird Rooms for more info.

    He feathers will grow back; just check that they have not been broken off with shafts (base of feather)remaining in the skin

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    hi how old do red siskins have to be too breed the male i have has alot of red spots not fully turned yet and the female has no red on her breast yet will they breed in this condation

  4. avatar

    Hello Dinesh,

    It’s difficult to judge breeding readiness by color as different populations vary greatly in coloration; also, there has been much hybridization with canaries, and some with other related birds, all of which affects coloration. They can become sexually mature when only 6 months of age, but breeding is best put off until they are at least 12-18 months old; many breeders prefer to wait until they are 2 years old. Enjoy, best, frank

About Frank Indiviglio

Read other posts by

I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
Scroll To Top