Common Canary Breeding Problems, Concerns and Care

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Common Canary Breeding Problems, Concerns and Care

Three Types of Canaries

When you decide to purchase a canary, you may choose from among three basic categories: Song, Colorbred and Type Canaries.

Song Canaries include – American Singers, German Rollers, Spanish Timbrados or Waterslagers. These song canaries are judged in competition on how well they sing.

colorbred canariesColorbreds come in 35-45 different color variations. Many feel the Red lipochrome canary is the most popular. However, there are so many different colors; it is hard to say which ones are the most popular. Everybody seems to like more than one, like potato chips! Colorbreds are judged in competition based upon how well they conform to the standards for size and color.

There are also Type Canaries and those are the birds whose body shape looks different. These include Border, Fife, Gloster, Yorkshire, Stafford, Parisian Frills, Lizards and Northern Dutch Frills to name a few. Type canaries are also judged according to how well they fit the conformation standards.

While all of the male canaries in each category will sing well, one favorite of the Songbirds is the Spanish Timbrado, as it has a beautiful metallic tone, good volume and sings all the notes. The German Roller is still one of the most popular songbird in Europe, as it has a soft, muted song; it sings with a closed beak and is not a loud singer but sings several notes. For more than 60 years, the German Roller was also the most popular bird in the U.S. For a while, the only one available for sale and nowadays, the Roller is not all that easy to find.

No matter which bird you choose, when you first bring him home, you must offer him a clean and safe, stress-free environment. In addition, you must quarantine all new birds from other birds in the home for a minimum of three weeks. Inquire what hours of daylight he is accustomed to and match those. If you decrease his normal hours of daylight, you will throw him into a molt. Never keep your canary in a room warmer than 85-88 degrees.

Canary Bird Cages

canary cages
You should choose a rectangularly shaped cage large enough to allow your Canary proper exercise space, as a physically fit male sings more. The general rule is “the bigger the better” when it comes to cage size. The cage with feed dishes that can be filled from the outside is best. My favorite cage design for breeding birds is the ‘double breeder.’ Double Breeders can be divided down the middle and make two separate units as the need arises. I do not put my birds in a round cage as birds need to be able to go to a corner in a cage when they need comfort or to find solace. Definitely, you should not house a canary for very long in a cage smaller than 18″ square.

All male canaries expected to sing for their room and board should be housed alone. In the wild, male Canaries are solitary birds and need to feel that they have established their own territorial space in order to properly develop their song and their libido. If you get more birds, male or female, each male should occupy his own cage. You can house several females together but males require a lot of space. If you house several together, you will need a much larger cage and an aviary is even better.

Double Breeding Cage

double breeding canary cages
I use a double breeding cage that is divided in the middle. The cage size is 63 inches long, 64 inches high and 19 inches wide. These cages are relatively inexpensive.

If you are breeding your birds, the double breeder allows you to put the male on one side and the hen on the other. The double breeder cage also is great for separating the young babies on one side just as the mother starts to build her second nest. She can then feed through the wire or be fed by the father.

Placement of the Cage

Placement of the CageSince male singers respond best to a well-lighted location, find a place in your home in which you spend most of your day. Most people seem to choose their kitchen or breakfast area. In any case, the room chosen must have a window that allows the bird to see the passage of the day. If the window gets too much sunshine, place the cage about halfway in so so the canary can go the shaded side of his cage whenever he chooses. Make sure you place your bird away from the draft of a door or air vent.

I like to place the cage at eye level as I feel the bird feels a little safer higher up. If you are breeding the birds, the location should provide plenty of privacy. Some hens are afraid to get off the chicks to feed them if there is too much commotion going on. You should also observe the male at this time. Sometimes the hen is afraid the male may hurt the chicks. In this case, she remains on the nest. Quite often though, you do see the male feeding the hen and she then feeds the chicks. Do not be surprised to see the male at times sitting on the nest while the hen is away. Those are the little fathers that just make this hobby so much fun!

Don’t try to breed birds in a busy location as they need to feel secure and have a sense of calm and privacy. You can put a tea towel over the part of the cage where the nest is located to offer her more privacy. Make sure the birds are not in the direct line of an air conditioning vent. Canaries can adjust to cold temperatures but not a cold draft. The perfect temperature is 74 degrees. Sudden spikes in temperature are not good for birds. Make sure you protect them from extreme cold and heat. Certainly, do not place birds where the door opens all the time and allows a cold draft. You must also not put your birds outside where mosquitoes will bite them.

Cover the Cage at Night

It is best to cover his cage at night to keep the night wind off of him and especially if there will be light in the room after dark. If your bird is in a room where no one will be at dusk or for the rest of the night, you would not have to cover him but if you only have a single cage or two, it would be best to cover them. It is thought that your bird will sing more if you cover him at night. If you are up late or have to return to a room, covering them would prevent you from startling him with turning on the light. It is also suggested that canaries see into the pixels on television. Be sure to place your canary facing away from the tv. The ordinary noise in the room will be fine, just the light keeps them awake.

If you try to keep your Canary on your screened porch, be very cautious. Canaries suffer dehydration from the heat and also suffer stress during thunderstorms and are at risk from vermin. I do not recommend you ever try to keep your birds outside, except for a brief time while you are with them. Mosquitoes, snakes, and hawks are attracted to the birds. Keeping them outside exposes them to the elements of wind, rain, heat and cold, not to mention the neighborhood cat or dog.

Canaries take time to get comfortable in their new home. Avoid moving the cage once the Canary has started singing. In many cases, it could take two weeks before he gets adjusted and every time you move him, he must get reacclimated to feel comfortable enough to sing. By all means, protect them from other pets in the home that will be very curious, if not harmful to your new feathered friend. If your singer has not sung within two weeks and you have provided him with his own cage – not one shared with another bird and he is in a safe, well-lighted area with no loud commotion–you may not have a male singer. But some little stubborn males have been known to hold out for a very long time before they sing.

Bath Time

Canaries love a bath. They would take a bath every day if you provided one. Do try to provide bath water at least once a week, preferably in the morning. Birds prefer the morning bath time because they then have lots of time to dry off before they go to roost at night time.

A small dish around two inches deep will suffice for a bathing vessel. Use cold tap water, as they prefer cooler water – not warm water. You could also put a few drops of Listerine in their water; it is good for their feathers and will kill any feather lice. Frequent baths will also cut down on the dander in the room. In hot and damp weather, you must be on the lookout for mites. It is not a bad idea to use diatomaceous earth (food grade) around the cage, especially under the cage paper.

Air Quality Concerns

The bird should always be removed prior to cleaning the oven. I have permanently removed Teflon pans, candles, room and carpet deodorizers. Also, birds must be kept inside protected from the heat and mosquitoes, especially Canaries. Of course, they would enjoy fresh air on the patio while enjoying the day with its owner to watch over him a screened porch would be ideal.

If you keep your Canary in the kitchen, make sure you do not expose the bird to any Teflon pans (Teflon is odorless but can kill) or strong cleaning agents, like oven cleaners or Clorox, ammonia, cigarette smoke, etc. These have proven deadly. Do not use your self-cleaning oven with birds around! A canary friend told me how he lost 121 Gloster canaries to Teflon fumes. He was boiling water in a Teflon pan and forgot to turn it off. When the Teflon overheated, his birds died very quickly. In the old days, coal miners would bring a canary into the mine shaft as a way to check air quality. If the bird suddenly died, the miners left the area as it was too toxic to remain down there. Canaries need clean, fresh air to survive- no scented candles, no cigarette smoke. I cannot emphasize quality air enough.

The more birds you keep, the more dander will build in the room. Dander is the white powder that helps them ward off parasites. Too much dander causes respiratory problems for you and the bird and should be removed each day. You can purchase an air cleaner or make an inexpensive one from a box fan and air filter. I use a $19 box fan in the room with a standard air filter attached to the back. You will need to change the filter or vacuum the filter often. You will be amazed how much dander and other material this inexpensive air filter traps each day. Use more fans if necessary. There are also whole house air filters available to clean the air and also trap dander.


Canaries are seed eaters. Use a good brand of canary seed mix and feed it daily. Most any commercial brand will work fine. Some canary seed mixes are vitamin coated; actually, generally, only the oat seed is treated. The other seed shells are too slick for the vitamin solution to be absorbed. Some breeders are now using Canary pellet food rather than seeds. If you decide to switch over to pellets, make sure it is gradual and that your bird is seen eating the pellets before removing the seeds. I will say that a canary on a pellet diet and no seed, do tend to lack that nice sheen that canaries on a seed diet get; however, the pellet diet is deemed to be superior to seed. – See Canary Food Recommendations

The Importance of Green Food

Offer something green about three times a week. The very best type of greens is sprouted seeds. Birds that eat sprouted seeds are usually in top condition. But you can use green peas, romaine lettuce, spinach, broccoli or cucumber. Don’t use iceberg lettuce as it is too watery and offers no nutrition whatsoever. Be careful to wash any fresh foods even if the package says it is prewashed. Never feed anything fresh if you do not know where it came from as pesticides would be harmful for the birds.

About once or twice a week, offer a small piece of orange or apple. Each bird should not receive a piece of fruit larger than a 25 cent piece. Almost any fruit except avocado is enjoyed. Avocado is to be avoided by any bird. Bee pollen is also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals as is the green algae product called Spirulina. You do need to be careful that fruit left in the cages does not attract ants, if they are around, they will be in your cages.

Do not overfeed your bird as Canaries will get fat and lazy. They become fat when they eat too many carbs and get too little exercise. Avoid too many carbs from bread products. They do enjoy corn, sweet potatoes, brown rice, and all the good veggies but feed in small amounts as a treat. Feed no sugar, caffeine, avocados or too much sodium. No canned veggies, use fresh or frozen.

Egg Food Recipe

If you decide to breed your canaries, you will need to purchase ready-made egg food or make it yourself. I bake cornbread, grind it up and then add green peas, grated carrots, hard-boiled eggs, dry vitamins, and spirulina. You can use your favorite recipe of cornbread by using plain yellow cornmeal, substituting water for milk, canola oil for shortening, omit the sugar and add an extra egg or two to the recipe. Grind up the carrots very fine, they will not eat chunks of carrots.

When you have colorbreds, you can use the basic cornbread mixture but you will need to add the colorfood. After cooking the cornbread, I add Canthaxanthin color powder to this mix and work it in well. If you add to hot cooked cornbread, the entire product will turn beet red from the canthaxanthin. I serve this egg food early in the morning and refill as necessary. Don’t let the egg spoil by leaving it in the cage overnight or in a hot room for very long. If you do not add the canthaxanthin at this time (while the cornbread is hot) but add to cool cornbread or veggies later, you will need to heat a small amount of water to dissolve the canthaxanthin so it will turn the food red.

Cuttle Fish Bone

Cuttlebone should be kept in the cage. It helps keep the beak trimmed, as well as, adds needed calcium and other minerals. Iodine blocks are also available at most pet outlets. Iodine blocks are inexpensive and provide additional minerals. Sometimes, the lack of iodine causes feather loss around the neck and head area.


proper perch sizeWhile wood perches are revered as “top of the line” (with a cost to match), I prefer to use plastic perches in the cage. The best ones have a variable diameter from narrow to semi-wide and its top is flat. Wood perches can house leg mites and plastic perches are less likely. Do not use a sandpaper type perch. These cut the birds feet and do little to keep nails trimmed. If you buy a concrete perch make sure the top is flat and smooth with the back and front rough. Birds cannot stand on rough, cobbled cement as it will give them a sore foot. Can you stand on cobbled cement with your bare feet for very long? It is also best to put perches on different levels to encourage more exercise. Some pet stores are still selling sandpaper bottoms for cages, do not use these.


Water Drinkers

I prefer bottle type drinkers; they stay more sanitary and just last longer. Be very careful not to change the bird to a water bottle without ensuring he knows how to drink from it. You will lose birds who do not know how to drink from the bottle. Also, bottle drinkers (like Lixit) sometimes stick and do not release water, so keep a check on it. Until you are sure he is drinking from the Lixit bottle, continue with the traditional water drinker. You also can mark the lixit bottle with a marker to see if he is indeed drinking from it. The lixit bottles should not be filled to the top, as no water will flow. Also, make sure it is hung at the proper angle to allow water flow and that water is actually flowing. Always make sure the bird knows how to drink from this type before leaving as the sole water source, there are actually some birds that do not try it. To entice them, I fill with ice cold water and tap it a few times, most often a thirsty bird will try it.

It is not necessary to use bottled water. You can use tap water from the sink. As long as humans can drink it, birds can too. Spring water is thought to be better than distilled water because the minerals are still in spring water. Whatever water vessel you use, please use one that attaches to the cage side, not an open vessel, it just becomes pea soup as they will bathe in it. Keep the water bottle clean and potable.

Toys – Lots of Toys!

Canary love toys like swings, bells, string toys, spinner toys, and rings. I have read that others claim they do not really enjoy mirrors-like parakeets do, however my canaries love this! If you hear of a toy that your canary likes, please let me know. I have a dear friend in Houston who says her canaries will play with a single strand beaded toy. I’ve read that a mirror can intimidate the male canary and he will not sing as he sees another canary. Actually, anything near or in the cage that makes a noise can startle a little bird and also cause males not to sing. There are some safe fiber toys that I have seen and it gives a cage of birds something to pick at rather than their nestmates feathers!


Most American Canary breeders do not use bird grit as an aid to the bird’s digestion. If you feel you must have grit, I recommend ‘Miner-grit’ that dissolves in the crop. Min-er-grit contains many minerals and trace elements and can be purchased from various suppliers. Please make sure you only use the miner grit, any other could bind in their stomach or make them feel so full that they do not eat. Also, keep cuttlebone in their cages. I do keep some of the miner-grit on hand if I have a little bird that seems to have some indigestion and feel it may help in that regard.


If you are feeding a balanced diet that includes bee pollen, greens, some fruit, a good seed mix, you will be supplementing some vitamins already. If you use vitamins, I recommend that you put in their soft food. If you decide to feed in their water make sure you change it out and wash the drinker at the end of the day. Vitamins will cause a bacterial growth inside the drinker. Feeding once a week for vitamins is plenty. I have also heard it mentioned recently that you could use Childs Poly Visol with Iron. Quite often we have these things available so we do not have to wait to order online. Human grade

Color Feeding

If you have purchased a Red ground canary and want to maintain its red color, you will need to feed food that contains beta-carotene. Many foods contain carotene, but I like to use a concentrated form of carotene called Canthaxanthin and Bogena. It will bring out the best color.  A little lasts a long time, of course depending on how many birds you have to colorfeed.

The best time to use a color enhancement agent is during the molting time and several times a week throughout the year. When babies are being fed and as new feathers come in, they have a blood supply to them and therefore the color can be changed. Once the feather hardens off, you won’t be enhancing the color. If you are raising babies, start feeding the Canthaxanthin from day one until they finish their baby molt and the feathers harden off (no longer have blood supply to them. Feed each day.

The best way to feed them the color food is in their soft food. Take a small amount of powder and dissolve it in a small amount of hot water. Pour a few drops of the red liquid over a small square of bread. Store the remainder in the fridge. Major pet stores and online stores do sell a commercial nestling food for both the yellow birds and ones for the color birds as well.

My Canary Won’t Sing!

A Canary male sings to attract a mate so he broadcasts his song. Some have more volume than others do. Some canaries are great singers and some less so. I find the use of a canary training recording to be very helpful. Sometimes your bird needs a little encouragement. If your bird has quit singing for some time, he might restart while listening to the CD. Many of our customers report their bird likes classical or country music! There are many pet owners who are musicians and they play their piano, organ or musical instrument and the little canary is very interested and tries to sing along!

When you first bring him home, be patient; give your new Canary at least two weeks to adjust to his new environment and to begin singing for you. Make sure you do not put your new male in with other males as the alpha male will dominate and prevent the other from singing, eating or will even fight. Also, do not put the bird in with its intended female mate. Give them time to adjust to each other. She may not appreciate a new bird in her space. She wants to also hear his song first. Avoid placing your canary near loud larger birds that may frighten or stress him. Other animals in the home may also intimidate the little singer. Once he becomes more accustomed to his new surroundings, he will begin practicing his song. Male Canaries do not sing all day long, year round. While they are exchanging feathers once a year during their molt, they will stop singing altogether. The molt usually starts in early summer and may last 12 weeks. During the molt offer more protein and avoid unnecessary stress. The molt is hard on their system as they will begin to replace some 1,000 feathers!

Another reason your Canary may stop singing is his declining health. If you keep the cage clean, keep his air quality good and offer clean water and good food, he should stay healthy and sing a lot. Single males generally live around 7-12 years. Any noticeable change should be evaluated. Make sure he does not have a pasted vent, see if he feels thin (thin keel bone). I like to offer a bath and most birds that are accustomed to bathing will welcome a bath unless he does not feel well.

My Bird is Sick

If your bird becomes listless and tired acting or sits fluffed up on the perch, the bird may be ill. It could be a passing bout of indigestion, taking a nap, or just a downer day. However, if the bird doesn’t go back to normal in a day, he may be coming down with something more serious. My best advice is to remove to his own stress-free environment and give him extra warmth from a heat lamp. Often if he does not look and act right, he’s not and you need to take immediate action, do not delay; they can go down very quickly.

Some possible causes of illness are mites, bacterial or viral infections or poor environmental conditions, like bad air quality. Give him an immune booster such as 2 drops of cod liver oil in the beak or on some food he is eating. If he is really listless, avoid stressing him. If no improvement, begin offering a broad spectrum antibiotic medicine right away. You can get this antibiotic sold at every pet store. It is a good idea to keep medicine on hand for emergencies as they always seem to happen at night or on weekends when help is not readily available.

Double the dosage of vitamins. Leave a small amount of apple and a slice of orange along with his seeds. Remember to change the water vessel often with the use of vitamins. This is the only time I recommend putting vitamins in the water. Pediatric electrolyte will ensure your birds stay hydrated. Alternate the vitamin drinker with the electrolyte during the day. I use one-third electrolyte to two-thirds water. If you travel the bird always use electrolyte in his water during the trip and for a day or two before and after the trip. Also, leave an orange in the cage for moisture and energy. If you think your bird got overheated definitely use it.

What is Causing the Illness?

Check around the cage to see if you have somehow made him sick. Is the air quality good? Poor air quality is a key factor in causing illness. Is he in a cold draft situation? Did he get bad food, like spoiled egg food? Spoiled egg food will kill your bird, so always remove it within two hours; remove even sooner if the room is very warm. Is his food fresh and clean? Is his cage and perch clean? Have you just added another bird that was not quarantined properly? Has he been able to drink his water normally? Is the bottle drinker stopped up? Check it daily. Is he in a new drafty location? Is he being stressed out? Stress is a major killer of canaries. Make sure any other animals in your home are not stressing your little canary.

Mites/Parasite Infection                                  

Canaries can get mites or lice on them and in them. Leg mites are common and cause leg scaling. The product “Scalex” is used for this problem. Rubbing Vaseline on the scaly legs will also smother mites. Air sac mites are common Canary pests in Texas. The bird seems to have labored breathing. If you place the bird close to your ear you can hear a clicking noise. You will need to use a product called “Scatt” or Ivermectin to relieve breathing difficulty in birds.

Scatt is applied one drop to the skin on the back of the neck. Ivermectin is given one time in the water. I dissolve 7 ccs of Ivermectin to a gallon of water and offer as their sole water source. Repeat this step again in 10 days. You can use either Scatt or Ivermectin one depending on the number you are treating, do not use both at the same time. Using Ivermectin is like mixing oil with water – they do not stay mixed, you must keep mixing. (There are other products similar to this that I understand does not have this mixing problem).

Frequent bathing opportunities are encouraged. Canaries love to bath in cold water, preferably in the morning hours. Bathing helps the feet and legs deal with any parasites; it also keeps the feathers in top condition and improves insulation with their feathers.


By keeping the cage and perches clean, you will eliminate most causes of infection. You should rinse the water drinker daily to prevent a slime build up inside the tube. Washing your drinkers about once every 5 days is preferred. Always wash your hands before you handle the bird or touch its food. Do not bring in branches from outside unless you know it is a safe wood to use AND unless you have washed and baked in the oven to kill any critters living on the tree branches.


In a book written by the avian biologist, Bernard Poe entitled “The Cage Bird Handbook,” (Bailey Bros & Swiften, London, 1950), his chapter on ‘The Circulatory System” provides a big clue on why Canaries under stress will often die from heart-related problems, including outright heart failure.

“The human heartbeat is a standard 72 bpm, a chicken is about 145 bpm while canary’s heartbeats have been measured at rates from 300 to 1000 bpm.”

If you have ever handled your bird you can almost think he is purring like a cat! That is his heart in overdrive. Constant stress will eventually kill the bird as it can not relax and be calm.

Poe continues that the Canary has the highest heart rate in the bird world and with one exception, has the highest body temperature at 110 degrees.
During incubation, the canary hen’s temperature can reach 116 degrees!
That is another reason not to breed canaries outdoors in the heat.

My Canary is Molting

Crested Canary Molting

Once a year, usually in the hot summer, all canaries will begin to lose their feathers. Since feathers are made of protein, you will need to feed more protein-rich foods for the 12 weeks or so it takes him to lose and replace all his feathers. Anytime your bird goes from one environment to another, he may suffer a “soft” molt as it is not possible to exactly duplicate his former environment.

Not only will he not feel up to singing, but he will act sleepy and tired during this very taxing process. Many canaries die during this time as they have lower resistance to disease. Avoid any stress on the bird at this time.

Hard boiled egg pushed thru a sieve or ground up in the food processor, shell and all, is an excellent source of easily digested protein. Be careful not to leave spoiled egg in his cage as he may eat it anyway and then become sick.

Remove the remaining egg after about one hour. That is the time it takes to spoil in a warm room. About a half teaspoon per day of egg is sufficient.

The Soft Molt

The soft molt can occur at any time during the year. The bird will shed body feathers, not wing or tail feathers. Hot temperatures or stress will cause them to drop some extra insulation as will a change in lighting conditions. Soft molts are generally nothing to worry about.

Breeding Your Canaries, Step by Step

Breeding Your Canaries, Step by StepFor more than 500 years, most Canaries have been bred in people’s homes. Therefore, I strongly recommend Canaries be bred indoors as they have become very domesticated and are not as strong as wild birds. Canaries do not do well outside in all types of weather, especially the Texas heat. Thunder and lightning storms will scare the birds so much they will abandon their nests or die of fright.

Best Temperature to Keep Canaries

Canaries do best at 64F to 74F degrees year round. If the temperature goes over 90F the birds will not do well. You will notice a soft molt, labored breathing and other signs of stress. If the hen is feeding chicks or is incubating eggs, she will most likely stop, that is why it is best to breed them indoors where you can control the temperature.

Stock Selection

If you wish to purchase a pair of Canaries for breeding purposes, the most important thing to do is to purchase the best birds you can afford from an experienced Canary breeder. Purchase canaries from a person who breeds them and knows how to take care of them.

Do not let price dictate what you purchase. (You get what you pay for). You should make the investment in young, healthy birds in beautiful color and feather. These birds will produce the best quality babies for you. Most breeders I know want you to succeed and are willing to help you with the many questions you will have during the breeding season. They will also recommend the right equipment, food and techniques.

Intensive versus Non-Intensive Feathered Birds

Colorbred canaries come in two different feather types, Intensive and Non Intensive. You must always breed an Intensive bird to a non Intensive bird for best results. The Intensive bird has a narrow feather that is colored all the way down to the tip and therefore appears to have deeper color than the non Intensive.

The Non Intensive feather is wider and is not colored all the way down to the end. The color goes around three-quarters of the way down with the end appearing white or uncolored. All the white tips layered on top of each other give the bird a ‘frosted’ or veiled appearance.

You want to mate a narrow feather to a wide feather so that the babies will average the right feather width. Half your babies will be intensive and half will be non Intensive on average which is what you want.

If you breed wide to wide, the bird will get too big looking and may develop feather lumps. If you breed narrow feather to narrow feather, the bird will get too thin looking. Your breeder will get you the right feather combination when you purchase breeding pairs.

Time of Year to Breed

You have two choices: Use artificial lighting and start in January or wait until springtime when daylight is around 13 hours long. I use an artificial fluorescent (full spectrum) light above my cage because I want my breeding season to be over before the hot weather sets in. I take a 48-inch fluorescent fixture and place two Sunshine stick bulbs in it. Use full spectrum light bulbs only. Make sure the light source is at least 12 inches above the cage.

Starting in January, set the timer on 10 hours a day, say from 6:30 am until 4:30 pm. After that, advance the timer 15 minutes each week until the light is on for 13-14 hours. Birds wait until the photo period is 13-14 hours a day before they will go to nest.

Step by Step Breeding

Place your male in a cage next to your hen. I use a double breeder for this purpose. If you are a serious breeder, you will need a double breeder to use as it has many good uses.

The male should be in full song if you conditioned him properly. That means for around three months prior, he is kept by himself in a single cage under a fluorescent light that has gradually increased to 13.5 hours per day. Use a timer so there is consistency in the on and off time. Start the light at 10 hours three months before breeding time and gradually move it up until you come to 13.5 hours daily.

Provide the hen with a cage and material with which to build the nest. I like to place the nest in the back or back corner of the cage. When you see the hen take food from the male, allow them together. The hen will build a nest in about a week. Continue to supply burlap until she is finished as she will waste a lot during the process. You must also prevent mites in the nest. You can use an avian safe spray sold at different websites or 5% seven dust placed under the nest pad. You will need to check periodically and reapply the insecticide.

You may or not see the male mount the hen, but in about a week or so, she will begin to lay one egg each morning until she lays the final egg which will be blue. After the third egg is laid, she will reach her incubating temperature. During the 14 days she sits on her eggs, only feed seed and water, no rich foods. You may have chicks on the 13th day, it just depends on how soon she begins sitting and how tight she sits.

If the male doesn’t bother her, he can stay in the same cage and he will most likely feed her while she sits. If he bothers her, remove him to the other side of the cage until the chicks start hatching and then let him back in with her as he will assist feeding the babies.

From the first day on, feed the egg food you purchased or made. Add color agent from the first day so the chicks get red right away. Keep feeding the red egg food for about three months. Feed longer if you plan to show your color birds in competition. Most breeders will feed until they are finished with the show competitions. You will also want to feed a couple or three times a month throughout the rest of the year.

Breeding Behavior

If you place the male in the same cage as the hen, he will not sing as much except when he wants to mate with her. When he wants to mate, he will sing lustfully rocking back and forth on the perch, moving ever closer to her.

When the hen is receptive, she will squat low on the perch and lift her tail while fluttering her wings in anticipation. If the hen fights with the male, remove him. Removing the male is very easy if you have a double breeder where you can place a wire divider between them.

At the same time, you need her or the father to continue feeding the chicks until they start cracking seeds. If you place the chicks on the other side of the wire divider, the father will feed them through the bars and she can go ahead and finish getting ready for the next round. Supply her with plenty of burlap or nesting material and a clean nest to use. He stays with her all this time as long as he is helpful and not harassing the female. There are some males that do not get involved in chick rearing or may harass the female, however, they generally are very good fathers and make excellent feeders.

Once you observe the chicks cracking seeds, they will be OK. I sometimes place apple, orange or millet in their space (on the cage floor) to entice them to eat the food. Once they realize they can feed themselves, all is well. They learn fast. But be careful and make sure they are all eating on their own, if one begs, make sure he is getting fed by a parent.


I use a 4 or 5-inch diameter plastic canary nest and a felt liner. I like the larger nests for the bigger birds and for hens that have larger nests of chicks. The felt liner will keep the eggs warm while she is off to eat. I also buy burlap wash it once then cut it into 3-inch squares. I pull the burlap apart and leave the strings in the cage for her to use to spin the nest. Burlap has been used by Canary breeders for a few hundred years. Do not use cotton string as it will wind around the birds leg and cause great damage. The birds love the burlap.

We use the felt liners but they must be secured into the nest as the females can easily pull them out. You can sew or super glue them in

Nesting Material – Burlap

While many materials have been used by breeders over the years, for example, goat hair, by far the most popular material used for nest building has been washed and cut burlap. You can get Burlap at any fabric store. Cut it into 2-3 inch squares, wash it in your washing machine and then put it all in the dryer. The burlap will look like cotton candy. Pull it apart and give to the hen. You may also use sterilized coconut fiber.

Banding Your New Chicks

Unless you know the breeder you are purchasing birds from, choose close banded birds. The close band has the year of birth printed on it and can only be put on the leg when the chick is around 6-7 days old. The day varies depending on how well the parent(s) have fed. By contrast, open bands or split bands can be put on the leg at any time. The closed band guarantees the age of the bird.

I must admit that some of my birds are not banded due to my fault. I simply missed the opportunity to get the band on before the leg was too big for the band to go on. If you try to force the band over the foot, the most likely result is a broken toe- simply not worth the risk.

Some birds will not tolerate any bands on their legs. I have had to cut the band off on some birds because they became obsessed with it. They keep picking at it all day long trying to get it off. A few mother birds may throw the chick out of the nest because it has a band on the leg. This happens very infrequently and it is thought best to band the babies just before bedtime. Also, some breeders will put a colored string in the nest the same color as the bands. Such as 2008, the color is green and some will put some green string in the nest so the hen is not distracted by the colored band.

Open/Split bird bands also come in different colors which can be used to color code your birds. You can use one color to identify a certain family of birds or use blue for male birds and pink for hens, etc.

How Long Do Canaries Live?

Generally speaking, Canaries live 7 to 12 years. Much depends on their environment. Single birds tend to live longer because they are not exposed to disease from another bird and the overall stress that comes with breeding and caring for chicks. Breeding females generally last 3-4 seasons due to the extra burden of raising the chicks. Males have been known to be fertile at 7 years, of course, all is relative.

We hope this brief overview of breeding canaries is helpful to you. I have also provided a Canary Questions & Answers post, be sure to check it out!

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