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Canary Chicks Learn “What to Expect” from their Mother…Before Hatching!

A recent study at the University of Cambridge has shocked ornithologists and bird hobbyists alike.  Writing in the March 12, 2010 edition of Science, researchers revealed that female Canaries (Serinus canaria) influence the behavior of chicks that are still developing in the egg.

Chemical “messages” deposited in the egg somehow communicate what type of environment, in terms of food availability, the chicks should “expect” upon hatching.  By switching eggs among the nests of parents with access to differing amounts of food, the researchers established that the chicks’ begging behavior was established prior to hatching.

Food Rich vs. Food-Poor Habitats

CanaryWell-fed and malnourished female Canaries provided different information to their chicks.

Chicks that will be raised in a food-rich environment are primed to beg vigorously, so as to get the most food possible and grow quickly (the loudest, most aggressive “begger” will get more food from its parents than quieter siblings).

Chicks whose parents will be unable to provide food in abundance are more subdued in their efforts.  In theory, by conserving energy that would be wasted on “pointless” begging, the chicks can put more of their limited resources into growth.

In each situation, rapid growth and quick fledging are encouraged by the chicks’ behavior.

It has been known for quite some time that birds can influence the development of egg-bound chicks.  However, it was always assumed that messages provided by the mother would be for the purpose of assisting her survival…this is the first evidence that chicks can also benefit.

Take-Home Message for Bird Owners

This newly discovered information reinforces the importance of providing your Canaries and other birds with nutritious foods in generous proportions, especially as the breeding season approaches.

Useful foods for pre-conditioning potential Canary parents include fresh sprouts (our Sprout Pot is an excellent source) and greens, egg food and small live and Canned Insects.

Further Reading

The background research that eventually led to this interesting discovery can be found in this National Academy of Sciences article.

You can see a video of a pair of Canaries feeding their chicks Here.


About Frank Indiviglio

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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.
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