Caring for Your Canary




Canaries are actually a type of finch native to the Canary Islands. They have been bred in captivity and kept as pets for over 500 years. These happy, nimble little singers are one of the easiest pet birds to keep. Their small size and unconcerned nature allow them to fit into just about any caregiver’s home. A canary’s colour may range from greenish brown to bright yellow, orange or even red! It is rare to find a female canary that will sing; she instead will vocalize with a “peep-peep.” It is the male canaries who are known for their melodious voices!
One Canary, Two or More?
Canaries are solitary birds, so a lone male will do quite well on his own, singing to his heart's content. Two male canaries, when kept in separate cages within hearing distance (but out of sight) of one another, will sing back and forth, almost in competition. Canaries can also be prompted to sing by playing recordings of other males singing.
Molting – Your canary typically will undergo one molt per year, immediately after breeding season, which is the middle of summer to the middle of fall. During this time, your canary may not sing or be as active as he usually is.
To provide a happy, healthy atmosphere for your canary, Petland recommends the following necessary and fun accessories. We have listed them as your new canary’s four basic needs: Environmental, Nutritional, Maintenance and Behavioural. When these needs are met, along with a loving environment provided by you, your canary can live a long and happy life. Typically, a healthy canary may live between 10 and 15 years.
Your Canary’s New Home – When purchasing a cage for your canary, keep the following in mind. Unlike hookbills that can climb around their cages, canaries get their exercise by flying from perch-to-perch; therefore, your canary will require a home that is wider than it is tall. Get the largest cage that you can! A roomy home with lots of area for flying, perching and sleeping is ideal.
You may want to hang his cage or place it on a cage stand, but either way, make sure the room in which he is placed is draft free, away from heat or air-conditioning vents, and not in direct sunlight; near a window is best. A cage cover will allow your canary to get the rest he needs. Remember that birds wake at sunrise and sleep at sunset. Your pet counsellor can show you the homes available made specifically for your canary.
Lighting – In their natural habitat, canaries will get 10 to 12 hours of bright light. Your canary will need the same in your home. Your canary will require exposure to ultraviolet light on a daily basis. Since it is not possible in our climate to have him outside on a daily basis, and placing him in front of a window only allows ineffective filtered light inside, the use of a full-spectrum light is vital. UVA and UVB is necessary to prevent calcium and vitamin D3 deficiencies, which can cause a tremendous amount of health problems. As well, depriving your canary of UV light will make them colour blind. It has also been suggested that UVA light is beneficial in reducing or eliminating abnormal behaviour, such as feather damaging disorders, and phobias among just a few. An avian floor lamp and UVA/UVB bulb will be a necessary part of your canary’s basic environmental need. For more information ask a pet counsellor for a copy of the Ultraviolet Lighting for Birds and Reptiles tip sheet.
Perches – Birds were not meant to stand on the same diameter of a tree branch or perch. Your canary must have a variety of perch sizes to allow his feet proper exercise. Sandpaper perch covers should be used on only one out of three perches. These covers will help to keep nails trim and are fun to pick at. Your canary will need not only the perching that comes with your cage, but also branches, which will provide him with an uneven surface. These may be purchased or you may collect the following branches from outdoors provided they have not been sprayed: fruit trees, willow, poplar, elderberry and maple. If you do use natural branches, they will need to be replaced frequently. The size of perching for your canary shouldn’t be too thin or too thick (3/8 to ¾ inch diameter is good). Their feet need to encircle the perch comfortably.
You must give your canary a balanced diet if he is to live a long and happy life!
Staple Diet – Fresh canary seed mix should always be available. Check his seed twice daily, and don’t be fooled by the empty husks he will leave in the dish! Blow them off into the garbage, stir, and top up as needed. Clean his dishes and refill them daily.
Egg Food – Protein is a very important part of your canary’s diet (about 12%). Since canaries are mainly seed eaters and not insect eaters, their protein is found in canary grass and rapeseed (both found in his canary mix); however, his diet should be supplemented with protein egg food. Remove the cup after an hour or so.
Daily Salad – A healthy mix of vegetables, shredded into pick-up-and-fly pieces should be offered daily and removed within an hour or two. Fruits should be considered a treat and offered minimally. Your canary will benefit by offering him daily a cooled, mashed-up boiled egg in a separate cup. Mix it with a bit of dry, fine bread crumbs so it isn’t mushy. Every bird has different tastes. While some canaries may love shredded carrots, others may prefer romaine lettuce. Keep trying, and give him variety. Obesity can be a problem in canaries, and for that reason “people foods,” such as mashed potatoes, peanut butter and the like should not be offered.
Vitamin/Mineral/Amino Acid Supplement – In the wild, a bird is free to fill all of their nutritional requirements. A good example of why vitamins must be added is the lack of vitamin A in their diet. This fat-soluble vitamin is virtually non-existent in seed, so you must offer other sources of it. While egg yolk and fresh greens are rich in vitamin A, your canary may not accept these foods, or eat enough of them. To make sure your canary is getting the vitamins his body requires, we recommend the addition of a high-quality powdered vitamin. This may be administered on top of his salad or sprinkled on his millet. A liquid vitamin may be used instead of the powdered if your canary snubs the vitaminized foods you are offering.
CuttleboneCuttlebone is a convenient way to supply your canary with calcium, phosphorus and other minerals necessary to keep him in optimum health. Change it every two months, as they are very porous and absorb smells and tastes in the environment, such as smoke and cooking fumes. If your canary does not show any interest in his cuttlebone, grind it up into powder and mix with his salad or favourite treat.
Iodine Block – Provides iodine, copper, and many other minerals in small quantities that are insufficient in a seed staple diet. The iodine block is fun to chew, tasty too.
Spray Millet – Millet is the only food available for birds that they would typically find in the wild. When you bring home your canary, you should provide spray millet for them on a daily basis. This may be the only thing that your canary will feel comfortable eating in the beginning. Once your bird had adjusted to their new home, offering them spray millet once or twice a week is fine.
TreatsPackaged seed treats, honey sticks, egg biscuits and spray millet provide your canary with the variety he craves and the behavioural requirements he needs, such as foraging.
Bird Bath – Most canaries will enjoy an early morning splash in a bird bath that consists of a large shallow dish of warm water. If your canary is timid about his bath, try putting in a damp lettuce leaf for him to roll around on. He’ll soon enjoy this ritual!
Additional Food Cups – Food and water should always be available for your canary. Hooded cups may seem threatening to a bird accustomed to open cups. If your bird does not readily eat or drink, remove the hood from the cup and replace it for a few hours a day until he is used to it. Your bird will need one additional cup for salad, another for seed treats, and one more for egg food.
Substrate Cage paper is easy to remove and will not become a soppy mess like paper towels or newspaper when water is inevitably splashed onto it. Bedding such as Eco Bedding or carefresh® may be used if there is a grate overtop to prevent the canary from close contact amongst its feces.
Nail Clipper and Coagulant – Your canary’s nails will grow continuously. If your canary’s perches are too thin and smooth then his nails will have no chance to wear down (see Perches; Environmental). Nail clippers made especially for birds must be used to manage the length. Take care not to over trim or cut into blood vessels running through each nail. Have a blood coagulant waiting and ready to use. If you prefer, ask your pet counsellor to make an appointment to have this done for you.
Toys – In the wild, canaries spend much of their time flying, preening(generally after a rainfall), foraging for food, building a nest, rearing a family, defending their nest site and so on. Domesticated canaries transfer that time spent doing these life-skill necessities into things that mimic their inherent needs. If they are left to their own devices within a barren cage, they will grow bored. To alleviate this boredom, fighting (if housed with another) and picking at themselves and each other will be a natural activity to fill the void.
This is why canaries need activities available to them that encourage their natural habits, such as nest building, and foraging. There are many products available that canaries will enjoy. A pacifier toy is fashioned to encourage preening. Small rope toys with bells, and beaded toys also may be appreciated. Hanging plastic plants serve as hiding places, which will help to make your canary feel more secure.
Nests and Nesting Material – Providing a nest for your canary will be appreciated. A cozy, secure spot to hanker down for the evening will allow him to rest comfortably. Nesting material may be provided for a male and a female canary that you want to breed.
Please ask your pet counsellor what other items pertain to your canary’s needs.
Cleanliness and Safety
All pets can potentially carry diseases that may be contagious to people. Young children, infants, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk of infections and should use caution when in contact with pets or their environments. Regular cleaning of your pet’s environment with a pet safe cleaner may help avoid the spread of contaminants.
Hygiene procedures such as washing your hands before and after handling your pet and/or after having any contact with their habitat, is a necessary routine. Children should be assisted with hand washing and always have adult supervision when interacting with pets.
Attention: Certain cookware, aerosols, incense, aromatic candles and household cleaners may be harmful or worse to your bird’s health. Ask a pet counsellor for a copy of the Safety Tips & Household Hazards tip sheet.
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