Fall is the time of year when most people are busy enjoying their bird’s songs, rejoicing that the molt is over – many are preparing their birds for shows, or happily attending them, learning more about the various breeds and species or just enjoying seeing all the variety of birds usually present at such shows.
Few people are thinking about the breeding season yet – that is a long way off, with months to go, for those of us who keep canaries. Even those of us who keep species which are not seasonal breeders are not usually thinking of new babies in the flock just now – the birds usually react to environmental conditions, and normally fall weather won’t trigger much of a breeding response.
But the truth is that how your birds are cared for now, can and definitely will affect your breeding season, whenever it comes – it is the results of your actions now which can, in due time see you asking (or not) that so-often-heard newcomer’s question;
Several months before you want the breeding season to start is actually the time when you should be paying close attention to the birds you will be kept for breeding. What with fall being such a busy time for many of us, too often our birds will be put into a cage, (some larger, some smaller), fed and watered every day, and the papers changed daily or every other day – and that’s about it.
Other than this minimalistic attention, it is very easy to not spend much time watching your birds, especially if you are busy. But if you want to encourage a good breeding season, this is just exactly what you should be doing.
One of the first things you want to be looking at is the interactions between the cage’s inhabitants. Is there a lot of ongoing arguments? Then perhaps the cage is too crowded – you may need to remove some of its inhabitants to another cage.
Another common problem with shared flights is not enough perching room – especially with birds who tend to be territorial like canaries are, this can be very important.
If you see a lot of arguing over who is going to sit where, and for how long, especially during the middle of the day, then the chances are that you have too many birds in the cage for the amount of foot-room in perches that you have – or else maybe the perches are placed incorrectly.
One high perch and several lower ones, for example, will often lead to a great number of arguments in an aviary – everybody will want to sit on the highest perch. Placing several perches at the same height will often help to allay such a problem. Don’t forget to include some lower perches too, these are also necessary – one of the ways a less-dominant bird will avoid harassment is by using these lower perches. Do try to make sure that they are placed so as to avoid becoming covered in droppings from above.
Another often overlooked factor in successful breeding results is the amount of flight time the birds are allowed to put in over the winter. Particularly in the smaller species, such as the waxbill family, this can literally mean the difference between life and death for the hens!
These tiny birds lay huge eggs, compared to their overall body size – it can take a lot of muscle to force such a relatively huge item from their bodies – and to do this they use the exact same muscles which power the wings.
Adequate flight time, therefore, means a strong, healthy hen, who with a proper diet will have no problems laying her eggs, when the time comes. It also means that the male birds will have developed the power and skill it takes to hover over the hen for that critical moment of split-second timing which successful fertilization requires.
Even pet birds can benefit from extra flight time – I like to encourage new pet bird owners, particularly if they have one of the smaller species, like canaries or finches, to train their birds for occasional free flight within a limited and controlled area of their home, if they can’t afford the cost or the room a large flight cage requires.
The benefits are generally almost immediately obvious – the birds are happier, healthier, and more resistant to all sorts of problems. I couldn’t tell you how many times this has been remarked on to me, often in a surprised manner, due usually to the fact that it is SO obvious, even to the inexperienced eye!
Particularly if you have a pet hen, this can be very important and is a simple and yet effective step to take, in improving her care system and overall health.
Properly controlled lighting is very important to those species of birds which are photo-sensitive. The canary is probably one of the better-known species which can show dramatic results from a well-balanced system of lighting.
These birds have a nervous system which responds to the changing lengths of the day throughout their year, to allow their bodies to physically respond to the demands of the season. To them, the breeding season comes when the days, which have been short, begin to gradually lengthen.
Confusion can occur when a bird is moved from one system of caretaking to another differing system which is on a different lighting schedule. Such stimuli will often be responsible for a newcomer’s puzzled queries as to just why his birds are trying to breed now, and not then …
The answer, “Because they think it’s Spring” often just confuses its audience – after all, all you have to do is look out the window, to know that it is not spring!
But birds don’t think like us – they have their own ways, habits, instincts, and reasoning powers, which will apply whether we are aware of their existence or not. It is up to us if we want to learn to successfully be able to care for our birds, to learn how to understand them.
The long and the short of it all is that it is the birds themselves who will, in the long run, be counted among your best teachers.
So do try to remember to grant them at least a small part of your time and attention every day, and simply watch their actions and interactions. Watch what they do, and try to understand why.
Put yourself in their ‘shoes’, as it were, and you just may find yourself becoming ever more entranced with the beauty and complexity of this wondrously interactive, continuously evolving dance which Nature – and your birds! – will present to your wondering eyes.