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Before you start into the hobby of breeding canaries you have to consider what it involves. It's easy to start out - You just need a male and female canary, put them both in the same cage with a nest and let nature do the rest. However, problems can arise. Sometimes the male and female will fight and have to be separated into two cages. Put the cages side by side until they get used to each other and then try to put them back together again. Minimal fighting is OK but in some cases the male can nearly kill the female. Make sure you have a male and female and not two males! One year I had a pair that kept fighting and finally, after they had been separated for over a week, the both started singing! (two males - not a pair!) I prefer breeding cages with a slide-in divider. This way you don't have to put a bird through the stress of catching it and moving it.
Room for Young
Another thing you have to consider is if you have room for the young canaries. One year I had one pair of canaries raise 23 young! Usually a hen will lay four to six eggs and can lay a nest a month. Most people usually stop breeding after two or three nests to keep the hen in prime condition. Often times the canaries will keep breeding no matter what you do! Even if you separate the hen she will still lay eggs. I usually breed for a few months and then put all the breeders back into the big open flight to help strengthen the birds and to give them a break from breeding. I will often put a nest in the big open flight and sometimes the hens will lay eggs but I have never had any babies raised this way. The best way to breed is to separate pairs into breeding cages.
Extra Food to Prepare Breeding Pairs
During the breeding season I usually increase the variety of foods to include apples and oranges. I also use conditioning food at all times in a separate cup. Hard boiled eggs are a must for rearing young and should be mashed up with a fork and offered in a separate cup. You can start out with one egg feeding a day until the eggs hatch. When young are just a day or two old they need constant feeding. The hen will do this for you but be sure to keep a fresh supply of egg food in the cages during this time. I usually change the egg food twice or three times a day during this period. Also keep in mind that feeding eggs can make your bird room smell bad if you don't do a bit more frequent cleaning of the cage bottom.
Nests and Nesting Materials
When I started breeding I always had a problem with nesting material. It seems that different canaries like different materials. Some like shredded paper, some burlap, some dryer lint. Some birds will build up the nest so high that the eggs can get lost in the lower layer of the nesting material and fall away from the warmth of the hen and die. This year I went to a plastic canary nest and sewed in a breast pad liner. These liners are cheap and if you sew them in the canaries won't be able to pull them out. Use white thread to keep the birds from picking at it. I don't use any other nesting material at all. The hens will often try to pick at the newspaper in the bottom of the cages but usually settle down and lay eggs right in the liner. This way all the eggs are sure to roll to the center of the nest and they all get the heat from the hen so no eggs are left cold. This ensures a good percentage of eggs hatching. If your hen lays six or seven eggs you can also slip another egg to a hen that is already sitting on one. But be sure you remember where you got the egg. Last year I had one of my yellows raise a red factor - I must have moved the egg and forgot where I got it from! Be sure to keep good breeding records.
Canaries are sensitive to light. Their breeding cycle is regulated by the amount of light and duration of light received. The lights should be gradually changed over the course of the year. Mid September you should have the least (9 hours) and mid March you should have the most light (15 hours). Change your light 1/2 hour twice a month (one hour per month) to condition your birds for breeding in January or February. The following schedule will work well:
Jan 1 - 12.5 hours of light
Jan 15 - 13 hours of light
Feb 1 - 13.5 hours of light
Feb 15 - 14 hours of light
March 1 - 14.5 hours of light
March 15 - 15.0 hours of light (Maxiumum Exposure)
April 1 - 14.5 hours of light
April 15 - 14 hours of light
May 1 - 13.5 hours of light
May 15 - 13.0 hours of light
June 1 - 12.5 hours of light
June 15 - 12.0 hours of light
July 1 - 11.5 hours of light
July 15 - 11.0 hours of light
August 1 - 10.5 hours of light
August 15 - 10.0 hours of light
Sept 1 - 9.5 hours of light
Sept 15 - 9.0 hours of light (Minimum Exposure)
Oct 1 - 9.5 hours of light
Oct 15 - 10.0 hours of light
Nov 1 - 10.5 hours of light
Nov 15 - 11.0 hours of light
Dec 1 - 11.5 hours of light
Dec 15 - 12.0 hours of light
Last year I had one of the worst years since I was forced to move my canaries into a room with no windows. I didn't have enough light to initiate the breeding cycle and only had a few babies. This year I added shop lights above every cage (two 40 watt fluorescents) and within a couple weeks the hens started laying eggs! Adequate lighting is a must!
Males or Females?
Most people wait 6-12 months to determine if their birds are male or female. The males sing, the females don't. If your bird lays an egg, it's a sure sign that it's a female! I do DNA testing on my birds which perhaps is the one thing that makes raising canaries fun and easy (see my DNA link above). If you can determine gender from the start you can sell them earlier and be sure of your pairs for the next year. My second year breeding canaries I sold all but three pair. It turned out that one pair was actually two males and I was short females. I had to buy more canaries to increase my stock! It's nearly impossible to tell the males from the females unless they sing or lay eggs. Some people say they can tell by their eyes, veins when young, a pendulum over the head, how far they jump from the nest when young, etc. but I've had professional breeders often times make mistakes when I buy them (more than once!) usually to their loss as I buy females and they turn out to be males among them (males are more expensive). DNA testing not only prevents this costly mistake but also reduces your feeding as you can sell birds when they are much younger.
Singing During Breeding
When you pair up your birds for the breeding season the males may not sing quite as much but they do sing! The song is really to attract the female and when they are paired there is no need to sing (at least that's the theory). I've heard some say that you ruin a birds song by breeding it. That is just not so! In the spring after the breeding season is over my birds sing so much they drive me crazy! In the late fall when they molt I sometimes wonder if I have any birds at all as they are so quiet! During breeding they sing a bit more but in the spring - get your ear plugs!
One good thing about breeding canaries is that the hobby pays for itself. The extra birds you sell will pay for extra cages and food. It would take a lot of birds to really make a living at it and turning it into a big business would take the fun out of it. Many people I know who have done this have gotten burned out on breeding and have since sold all their birds and equipment.
Above all you should enjoy breeding your birds. It can be a wondrous experience watching the parents feed and raise the young. Personally I like a short breeding season as I can put all my birds back into the big flight which makes chores a lot easier every day!
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