The keeping of Canaries for their appearance and song is a tradition that dates back centuries. With proper care, you will enjoy a healthy canary that will sing its heart out for you, and will be a pleasurable companion bird.
Many veterinarians recommend a diet of 80% canary pellets. However, given the poor quality of the available pellets, most of which contain harmful chemicals and additives, a diet that is as close to their natural diet is not only more enjoyable for the canaries, but may pose fewer long-term health ramifications. A high-quality seed mix in addition to plenty of fresh food items (including greens) would be the best choice. Vets usually recommend pellets as they assume that bird owners will fail to provide fresh foods on a daily basis -- in which case, pellets are preferable to a seed-only diet. *Please note: When feeding pellets to your pet, please be aware of the fact that overly feeding citrus fruits (including oranges) or vitamin-C-rich foods to your birds can lead to "Iron Overload Disease" as vitamin C increases the amount of iron absorbed from foods and supplements.
All canaries benefit from a supply of green food such as lettuce, dandelion leaves and nasturtium leaves. They can eat any produce you do, with the exception of avocado. They readily accept and enjoy fresh fruits / veggies a lot, and parsley -- and dandelions are VERY good for them. You can get a lot of free "green stuff" (safe plants please!) from your own garden to feed to them - as long as the plants have not been chemically treated, i.e., pesticides, chemical fertilizers). (For non-toxic ways to control pests in the house or garden, please visit this webpage.) Care should be taken to ensure leaves supplied are clean and have not been sprayed with any chemicals. Canaries also enjoy little bits of fruit, but be careful to offer only what the bird can eat in one sitting, or you may wind up attracting ants, or hornets. (For tips on controlling ants in your house, your garden, or your aviary - in a non-toxic way - please click here.)
During the moulting period it is advisable to supplement their diet with egg food or nestling food (can be bought as a dry mix to which water is added until a crumbly but not soggy consistency is achieved. Some nestling or egg foods can be served dry, others are best served with a soak seed mix; this is a special mixture of seeds meant to be soaked, rinsed, and sometimes sprouted a little, before being served). During the molt season, your canary needs more fat in his diet, such as flax and niger seeds. Cucumber is especially good during molt too. After molt, cut back on the additional fat, and feed your canary niger and hemp seeds as their treat to motivate them to sing. (*Hemp Seeds are often referred to as "super-seeds" as they offer a complete amino acid profile, have an ideal balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and provide an impressive amount of trace minerals - they also have the highest concentration of protein in the plant kingdom.)
Soaked seeds are an absolute necessity for the feeding hen and for the newly weaned young. They are a treat for all birds. Cracked corn, wheat, buckwheat, and safflower, normally too large and hard, are made acceptable to canaries by soaking. Soaking breaks down complex carbohydrates rendering the seed more palatable and more highly digestible. This is done by taking a special soak seed mix and adding two parts, or more, of water and refrigerating. Soak for at least 24 hours. Rinse well and strain before feeding.
Sprouts are not the same thing as soaked seed. Not all seeds can be sprouted. Most bird seeds are treated withpreservatives and vitamins and will not germinate. Seeds for sprouting should be kept separate for various species of plants have different germinating times and requirements. In addition to the regular bird seeds, many seeds for sprouting are available in health food stores. My favorite is the Chinese mung bean which is very easy to sprout and possesses a high degree of palatability for the birds. I have also used soy beans for sprouting. My birds do not like alfalfa sprouts.
Sprouting seed is the simplest way to provide your birds with fresh greens. For a few birds only a quarter cup of seeds should be sprouted at a time. Seeds increase in volume tremendously when sprouted. Place the seeds in a clean glass jar. Fill with tap water and let stand at room temperature for twenty-four hours. Rinse and drain completely. Repeat the rinsing and draining completely daily until the seed has sprouted. If a foul odor or mold develops, discard. Preparations are available to prevent spoilage. Rinsing and draining well is very important. Any surplus sprouts may be refrigerated up to two weeks.
Nestling food can also be mixed with egg. To four cups of dry nestling food, add one pound grated carrots, and one dozen grated hard boiled eggs. Chop the eggs in a food processor shells and all. This is for about fifty feeding hens. Boil the eggs for twelve to fourteen minutes to ensure that no fowl diseases are transmitted to the canaries.
This mixture is given in an amount that the birds will eat in one hour. All birds get one treat cup per day of this egg mix. The supply for birds with feeding young is constantly renewed during the day. The nestling food with egg spoils very rapidly, particularly during the summer. It would be best to prepare the egg mix fresh every day. If this is not possible, refrigerate the excess immediately.
Toys & Entertainment:
To ensure caged birds are happy, toys should be provided and swapped regularly to avoid boredom (which can lead to aggression and feather plucking). Most people keep males and females in separate cages, except during breeding season. When buying pet canaries, great care must be taken to ensure the right mix of sexes in a cage. A mistake could lead to the birds attacking each other, even to the extent that one may kill another.
In general, pet canaries do not require companionship; the canary species is territorial, not social, and does not generally appreciate company in the same cage. It will be seen as an intruder, not as a companion, and although it might take up to two years or so, if they remain in a single cage all year round, usually one or the other will eventually die. A male and a female stand a better chance of getting along amicably, but all too often the less dominant bird will eventually die, although it may take some time.
This is because the dominant bird will feel the need to constantly 'oversee' the less dominant bird of the two. It will never be able to eat, sleep, or drink its fill in peace, and eventually the stress will take its toll.
If a bird is present in the home and a companion is bought, it must be kept in a separate cage for at least couple of weeks, both for quarantine, and to ensure the birds get used to each other; the new bird can then gradually be introduced to ensure that no fighting ensues. A male and female will often get along reasonably well if introduced in this way, but should not be allowed to remain together all year round; each should have some privacy, during the period from midwinter until the start of breeding season in early spring, at the very least.
Two males will very rarely be happy together, although keeping them permanently in separate cages will prompt them each to sing more than they probably would on their own - however a good recording of canary song will work equally well. A cage with a number of males may work as long as no female is present, but again, they should not be expected to live in peace all year round, and each should be separated into an individual cage during the spring/early summer breeding season at the very least.
Male canaries can mimic sounds such as telephone ring tones and door bell chimes but only if they hear these sounds while young. Canaries can be taught tricks over time but great patience is required as they are fairly timid birds. To get the birds to play with toys, toys must be safely constructed (no sharp edges or parts the bird's feet could become entangled upon).
Many people keep canaries for their song. But what if they don't sing?
Are you sure your canary is a male? Frequently, hens are being sold as males, as it is difficult to sex them when they are young. The beautiful song of the male only develop as they mature. Many females do sing quite well, but lack the long trills and warbles of the male. Talented males and females can learn to mimic sound -- so much so that with a little training, a female's song can't be distinguished from that of a male canary.
Is your canary molting? Canaries don't sing during this time. Canaries molt (change plumage) once a year - usually during the summer. A molt should take no longer than 6 to 8 weeks. If it takes longer, then a vet should be consulted as your canary could suffer from a feather disorder. Since molting can be stressful and uncomfortable, some birds experience a decrease in appetite. However, an increase in metabolism to accommodate the production of several thousand new feathers can cause an increase in appetite. Whether they lose their appetite or eat more during the molt probably depends on their comfort level. Molting birds benefit from more quality protein in the diet which can be provided in the form of well done eggs, well cooked meats and seafood, as well as cooked beans and rice, which together form a complete protein. Additional protein and good fats are needed to create strong and lustrous feathers. This is a good time to grind and sprinkle flax seeds over the birds' food. Hemp seeds also provide beneficial oils and the essential fatty acids (EFAs) necessary to produce quality feathers. (*Hemp Seeds are often referred to as "super-seeds" as they offer a complete amino acid profile, have an ideal balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and provide an impressive amount of trace minerals - they also have the highest concentration of protein in the plant kingdom.)
How is your canary's diet? Is the diet appropriate for the canary? Do you provide a quality canary seed, fresh fruits and veggies / greens; calcium / mineral & vitamin supplements? The basic, cheap seed mix at your local grocery store is not going to keep your canary in good health and singing. Click here for information on proper diet.
Is your canary sick? Is your canary protected from draft? Is he or she lively and social, or fluffed up and sleepy. A sick canary won't sing. If there is reason for concern, you need to take your canary to the vet.
Diseases / Illness / Toxicities at Home:
If pet canaries become ill they will rapidly lose weight and this is why it is essential to treat disease as quickly as possible. It is wise to have glucose powder and an eye dropper in store to administer drops of diluted solution via the beak if a canary stops eating. When a bird is sick, it puffs up its feathers to stay warm; give it gentle heat. You can often drape a heating pad over or under the cage, but be sure the bird can also get OUT of the heat if it wants.
Common household hazards include fumes from the kitchen (cooking fumes and especially fumes from non-stick pans)- canaries should never be kept in a kitchen for this reason. They are also sensitive to smoke from cigarettes, aerosol sprays such as deodorant, air freshener and polish.
Plug-in air fresheners or stand-alone fan fresheners are very toxic, as are some candles, especially scented ones (except unscented beeswax candles).
Avoid placing a canary's cage where it is in a draft, or be in full glare of sunlight without any shade available. If you let your canary out to fly about for exercise, always cover mirrors and windows, as they may fly into them and break their neck.
A number of houseplants/cut flowers are very poisonous to canaries (as are some herbs), so never let them nibble leaves of houseplants. Be very wary, as canaries love to eat greens of all kinds! Safe plants include spider plants, african violets and boston ferns. Clean water must be available for drinking and separate water should be made available for bathing.
Food dishes/cage parts can be safely sterilized in a hot dishwasher or in baby-bottle fluid such as diluted Milton. When it comes to disease, prevention is better than cure. Canaries should be examined for mites and, if mites are found (especially easy to spot around the neck and rump) they can be treated with over-the-counter medication (canary mites don't bite humans). Abnormalities of the skin and feet may be caused by mites and this can also be treated with over-the-counter pet medication. Be aware that dietary problems can cause skin, foot, and feather problems that may look as if they are due to mite damage, so before treating with any drug, get an experienced opinion from a good avian vet on the actual cause of the condition.
Canaries love bathing and should be allowed to bathe often. Offer cold water for them to bathe in, as it improves their feather condition. Warm water, on the other hand, will strip essential oils from the feathers, and may encourage itching and picking, rather than preening. Plentiful time to bathe is especially important to a canary during the moult.