Canaries A Life-long Hobby


"'l V ~en the days begin to grow
wb~ighter and the world shows
signs of wakening from winter, something
stirs within. It's the old desire to
participate in the process, an urge to
be somehow a part of the eternal
promise of new life. I used to tell
myself that next year would be different.
We would take a trip and not be
home-bound all spring. But every year
that same old feeling returns, and I
can't help wondering what this or that
combination will produce. No use to
fight it. I've decided simply to yield
and enjoy it. Once again, the birds are
paired up and I'm sticking close to
home for the season.
At the urging of a friend, I have
attempted to record a few things that
have worked for me. These are things
that I have learned, mostly the hard
way, over the last 50 years. These
habits have brought me satisfaction
with my backyard hobby. (It took only
one season in the house to convince
my wife that the hobby should be
backyard, not spare-bedroom!)
My bird house consists of three
major parts. On either side of the
center walk-in storage area are two
walk-in flight pens that are 8' x 10' in
size. The roof covers all and extends
well beyond the walls to add further
shade and protection. The back wall is
solid. Three sides are partially covered
with wood that extends from the concrete
floor up 3-1/2'. This protects the
birds from our bird-hunter cocker
spaniel. The outside open part of the
house is covered with screen for protection
from mosquitoes which can
and do bring a pox if they get to the
birds. The screen makes it more difficult
to see the birds, but I consider it a
necessity. I have used a vaccine
against avian pox, but find the screen
more satisfactory.
On the inside of the flight area, and
separated from the screen by three or
four inches, I use common 5/8" aviary
wire. This works well to keep the
birds off the screen in which their toes
might become entangled. The space 

between the screen and the wire also
keeps the birds away from any cats
that get past the cocker spaniel. Cats
may be trusted to be interested in
birds! Their fish-hook claws can snag
a bird against aviary wire and tear it to
I am very careful to guard against
anything on which the birds may
catch a claw or snag their seamless leg
bands. Small, stiff wire ends, if long
enough and in areas where birds light
and hop around, may result in a bird's
ensnaring itself and twisting off a leg
in an attempt to become free.
The center section entry, which
leads to either of the flight pens, is a
lifesaver and prevents the loss of birds
that might dart out an open door. It
also is handy for storing seed and
other items used in the flight pens.
When it's time for identifying young
males in late August or September, I
set up a series of cages in which I put
three or four young birds that are
marked or colored differently enough
from each other that I can identify
which ones I hear and see singing.
These I mark with a blue plastic band
on the left leg, then return them to the
flight pen. My memory being what
it is, I find it helpful to make a diagram
of the cages being watched and to
record which birds have sung. This
gets us started. The process goes on
through the fall. It usually works for
me. Of course, in breeding season the
vents of the sexes begin to show
marked differences. I usually check
these. The vent area of the cock bird
protrudes markedly and in older
cocks is rather easily identifiable. The
female's vent area is broad and flat
and, as laying time approaches,
resembles somewhat the area of the
laying chicken's vent and abdomenbroad
and full. I have never had success
with needles on strings and some
of the other gimmicks by which some
swear to tell sexes. For me, the only
sure way is to hear and see the male
sing. Of course, if a singing hen
(almost a non-happening) lays an egg,

one would need to rethink the matter!
One needs to remember that caged
birds can feed their babies only from
the foodstuff made available to them
by their keepers. They will not reproduce
effectively if they are not properly
fed. Along with a good roller mix
of seed and cuttlebone, I offer my
birds a formula given to me by Great
Aunt Clara about 40 years ago. The
mix included two finely chopped
hard-boiled eggs, shell and all; two
heaping tablespoons of finely rolled
bread crumbs; two heaping tablespoons
of any kind of dry baby cereal;
one heaping tablespoon of wheat
germ and about one-quarter spoon of
sugar (optional). These I mix well in
quantities large enough to last four or
five days and store in covered containers
in the refrigerator. I feed as much
as the birds will clean up, twice a day.
This varies according to the number of
babies; I start with one tablespoon at a
time. I also feed a round slice (quarter
of an inch thick) of boiled carrot, a bit
of broccoli flower and chickweed, in
season. The birds are fond of romaine
lettuce, raw cabbage, orange and
apple. I have not had a problem with
apple as some people report they've
had. My birds seem to like the softer
varieties of apple better than firm ones
such as Granny Smith. A quarter of an
orange, especially in hot weather, is
another way of giving your birds the
liquid they need.
For nests, I have offered a variety of
cup-like containers including tuna
cans and cottage cheese cartons. Now
I use commercial plastic nests onto
which I sew or tape a bit of flannel
cloth for a bottom liner. If screen nests
are used, cloth covering is especially
important so that the birds do not
catch their toenails and hang themselves.
I shred 3" x 4" squares of burlap
and give them to the birds so that
they can fashion their own nests. They
also like to use horse hair and make
beautiful nests from it. In the past
when I kept Shetland ponies, an
abundance of hair was readily at
Banding, as well as identifying,
gives your birds a sort of class. The
babies' feet will be right for banding
sometime between five and eight days
old, depending on the kinds of birds
you have and the rate at which the
birds are growing. Some parent birds
are better feeders than others, and
their babies do grow better than those

from poor fe eders . Some breeders
look for the little feathers forming on
the wings as a sign for size for banding.
I simply watch the feet. In large
clutches, not all babies from the same
nest will be ready on the same day. If
you band too soon, the band comes
off and may be lost. If you wait too
long, you may injure the foot or not be
able to band at all. Pushing three toes
forward and through the sea mless
band and pulling the band over the
foot , and over that toe that extends
backward, and up the leg until that
last toe slips through, requires dexterity
and skill. The reward comes later
when you spot a bird and think ,
"That's my bird." Sure enough, the
band confirms it (or blows a hole in
your self-confidence).