Canary Mania

Americans are lately come to the world of canaries and bird shows. In Europe, the pastime has been in full swing for centuries. The shows are huge and competition is fierce. Judges are held in high esteem and wooed to come to particular shows with praise.

Canaries came to Europe in the 17th century by sailors who had visited the Macronesian Islands and enjoyed the songs of the little finches. Monks began to breed them but only sold the singing males. This way, no one else could compete with them. Then the Italians had to go and ruin it all by getting their own hens and breeding a bunch of different types of canaries. It’s all here:

In my corner of California, I am honored to know Johan Otter, who grew up raising birds in the Netherlands, and David Benites, who grew up raising canaries in Peru. They bring such a world perspective on bird shows and bird keeping. Both raise canaries now, and David is one of the most respected judges in the area. He spoke at the North County Aviculture’s January 2017 meeting.


Mr. Davod Benites


David is also the best breeder of canaries in the county. He brought some beautiful birds and demonstrated the way to set up a breeding cage. The way to get your birds into breeding condition is to regulate the amount of “light” they get. Provided you have a room for your canaries, this can easily be done. My canaries are in a room used pretty much all day long. This gives them a mixed signal about what time of year it is. Poor babies.

In this hypothetical canary room, give your birds 8 hours of daylight through October or so, then increase by 15 minutes per week until you get to 12 hours. Do not go to more than 14 hours of daylight. In the mornings, it’s okay to turn the lights on all at once. But at night, turn lights off slowly. Dim or only shut off a couple at a time. Otherwise, hens might be caught in the dark away from their nests, unable to get back to eggs or babies. Not good, very bad.

David looked at the dog crates that collapse to store flat and created a breeding cage along the same lines. His cages have a bottom tray, a grate, and a divider. With the divider in, make sure there is a water source and a seed cup on each side. David only feeds canary grass seed during the breeding season so that flax seeds don’t get stuck to egg shells.


If you look at this drawing of a canary, you can see the body shape is like a cone. This shape alters somewhat when the birds are ready to breed. But that isn’t really necessary to tell boys from girls. The boys will sing. So there you are, a boy on one side, a girl on the other of your divided cage. The male is wooing his heart out and the female is ignoring him. The ideal fabric for canaries to make a nest out of is burlap. Because they can shred it into strings and keep busy until time to lay eggs.

Now you put a canary nest, a white plastic cup, in with the female. David doesn’t use the felt liners, he has sources in Peru who knit liners for him, really nice liners. Washable liners so you can reuse them. How cool is that?

Just be sure you have a good supply of the burlap when you give a nest to the birds. Because otherwise the hen will pluck the male and then herself. The drive to line the nest can’t be stopped. If she has a half-grown clutch, she will pluck them, and the tail feathers will not grow back at the correct length.


Border canaries, a very old and rare canary type.


If the male is feeding the female through the bars of the divider, it’s time to let them be together. They will mate and in a day or two, the hen will start to lay one egg every day. Some people remove the eggs and store nearby. If you have a large number of canaries, be sure to have a way to remember which eggs came from which nest. Most of us don’t bother to remove the eggs. The hen seems to be fine with chicks that hatched days apart instead of all at once.

David mentioned that he feeds only fresh apple and fresh broccoli along with the seeds. As we get older and have more birds, it’s important to keep things simple. These fresh foods are nutritious and the birds don’t know that any other treats exist. He does recommend boiled chicken eggs with the shells crunched in for calcium.

Also for nestling food, he provides cooked Quinoa with a commercial egg food mixed in. He will add in Petamine and Calcilux David mentioned that there’s not enough money in raising canaries to have our own shop. Judd’s is a pigeon supply company that carries lots of products that are good for canaries too.


Part of a typical opportunity table offering.


Now let’s say you have a nice clutch of eggs in the nest and they hatch out. Two weeks in, put another nest in the cage. Mom will build another nest there and lay another clutch while Dad finished feeding the hatchlings. Two to four weeks after that, the first nest clutch will fledge and be feeding themselves. Put them in the flight cage with the other juveniles and let Mom go for a third clutch.

However it goes, stop breeding after May 30th. Birds that hatch after that will not be in condition for showing in October. That pretty much covered the breeding information. We learned that canaries can live about 8 years if they are bred. And 14 or more if just kept as pets. If you can’t tell for sure if your bird is male or female by the singing test, try iQ Bird Testing for a special price of $10 now.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back next Sunday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s