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Weaning Canaries – Encouraging Fledglings to Accept the Adult Diet

Canary NestingWhether they are hand or parent-reared, young Canaries usually need some encouragement to switch from the nestling to adult diet.  This change-over period can be quite stressful, but there are a number of steps you can take to ease the transition.

The Transition Period

Pet Canaries feed their chicks largely upon sprouts, soaked seeds and Egg Food or hard boiled eggs.  Once the young fledge, which usually occurs at age 16-20 days, they will be fed by their parents for an additional 2 -3 weeks.  During this time, they will also begin to pick at food and eventually learn to eat on their own.  Fledglings benefit from watching their parents and siblings…chicks that are hand-reared are at a disadvantage in this respect, but will also respond to the ideas and foods mentioned below.

Hard seeds are a novel food for young Canaries, and acquiring the skill needed to open them takes practice.  A high protein diet remains important right through the first molt (which usually begins within 2 months of fledging), but eventually seeds should replace egg-based foods as their staple.  Read More »

Breeding Canaries, Waxbills and Other Finches – The Importance of Insects

Red-billed FirefinchWild finches of almost every species consume beetles, spiders, caterpillars and other invertebrates throughout the year, and in large quantities both before and during the breeding season.  While those we keep as pets may thrive on seed-based diets, providing them with a variety of insects will improve their health and encourage breeding.  A reader’s note concerning his success with Bronze-Winged Mannikins and the onset of the spring breeding season here in the Northern Hemisphere have sparked me to take another look at this important topic. Read More »

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.


The Reason We Have Red Factor Canaries – Meet the Red Hooded Siskin – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article to learn about the role this brilliantly-colored bird played in the development of Red Factor Canaries (Serinus canarius). Also known as the Venezuelan Red Siskin or the Black Hooded Red Siskin (Carduelis cucullata), it is highly endangered in the wild, but fortunately breeds well in captivity.

Natural History

Red Siskin
Red Hooded Siskins barely top 4 inches in length, but make up in color what they lack in size.  Males, clad in vermillion, red and black, are simply spectacular.  They are native only to northeastern Columbia, northern Venezuela and Trinidad, where they favor dry scrubland and semi-wooded savannahs.  Read More »

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.


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