Things To Consider Before You Buy A Canary

The Nature of Canaries
Canaries are spirited, are alert, and are constantly in motion--"They couldn't be any birdier," as an acquaintance of mine said recently. To me, canaries emanate an incredible vitality. They're always cheerful and always ready for action. To make sure that your bird will retain this liveliness you should ask yourself, before you go canary shopping, whether you will be able to meet such a bird's needs. Take some time to think over the following questions, and, if necessary, call a family conference.

Ten Questions to Help You Decide
1. If provided with proper care, a canary can live for 10 to 14 years. Are you ready to assume responsibility for it that long?
2. Do you have a permanent place for the cage in your apartment or house? A canary that is constantly moved from place to place does not feel safe.
3. Do you have enough time to devote to your bird? It will have to be fed and tended regularly.
4. Do you have other pets that might prove dangerous to a bird? A dog can be trained to leave a bird alone, but cats usually don't respond to such instruction.
5. Canaries don't sing with equal fervor all year. When molting, for instance, all their energy goes into growing new plumage, and some birds stop singing for no apparent reason. Will you love your canary just as much if its falls silent?
6. Even if you leave food for your canary, you can leave it alone for at most 2 days. What will happen if you want to take a longer vacation or if you should have to go to the hospital?
7. Are you thinking of giving the canary to your child? If so, you will have to explain to him or her how to take proper care of the bird and will need to keep an eye on it yourself.
8. The daily upkeep of a canary doesn't cost much, but there may be veterinarian's bills if your bird should get sick. Are you willing and able to incur such expenses?
9. A canary should have a chance to fly free in the room every day. Will you be upset if it leaves some droppings here and there?
10. Important: Are you sure that no one in your family is allergic to feathers or feather dust? If someone is allergic, you should not keep birds.

If you are not sure, ask your doctor to test you and other family members before you get a canary.

What Breed?
There is a large variety of different canaries to choose from. Breeders have not been idle during the many years that these birds have been kept as cage birds. However, for the neophyte bird keeper the question of breed is secondary. All canaries can sing; the only difference is in the composition of their songs. Purebred canaries are divided into three groups:
Song canaries. Here breeders concentrate on producing birds with beautiful songs.
Color-bred canaries. These are available in a great variety of colors.
Type or posture canaries. These birds differ in shape from the original, wild canary.
My tip: Basically it makes no difference whether your canary is yellow, has frilly feathers, or is an exceptionally enthusiastic singer. Buy the bird that appeals to you the most.

Male or Female?
I have never been able to detect any differences of character or temperament between "cocks" and "hens," to use the terms by which fanciers refer to their birds. I find all canaries equally lovable, it is true, though, that females sing less than males do. If what you really want is a bird that sings a lot and whose song is varied, you should pick a male. Only males produce real songs made up of distinct parts and incorporating different musical elements.

Sexing canaries:
This is not easy because males and females hardly differ in outward appearance. Song provides the only clue. Males sing for longer periods, and have a larger repertoire than females, which will only occasionally imitate a melody. Generally, breeders and dealers keep canaries segregated by gender. If this is not the case, ask the seller about the sex of the bird you are interested in. Since the dealer will have observed the birds for a longer time, he or she should be able to answer this question for you.

A Single Bird, a Pair, or Several Birds.
I cannot recommend keeping a single canary unless you are planning to devote plenty of time to it. A bird that is left alone all day gets bored and lonely. However, if you are able to play and talk with it frequently in the course of the day, it will come to accept you as a surrogate partner. Canaries generally don't become as attached to people as parakeets do, for instance, but you may have a special talent for getting your bird to trust and respond to you. Keeping, a pair is ideal if you have a full-time job or are away from home a lot for other reasons. A canary is always happier in the company of others of its kind. It doesn't matter if a pair is of the same sex, although having a true pair has its special delights. If you would like to have baby birds, offspring are produced quite naturally in most cases. And if you don't want your birds to multiply, this is easy to arrange. Generally, canaries live together peacefully even though there may occasionally be some harmless pecking or squabbling over food. Keeping several canaries is possible if you have room for a large enough aviary. Canaries are non-aggressive and can in most cases get used to living with different kinds of birds. Perhaps you already have a small avian community and would like to add a canary. Canaries can easily fit in with such other birds as Diamond doves, Superb starlings, all kinds of finches, cockatiels, Peach-faced lovebirds, various cardinal species (e.g., Yellow or Green cardinals), Senegal doves, Pekin robins, parakeets, and Chinese or Painted quail. Larger birds, such as parrots, may bite the canaries.

About the Song of Canaries
Many people find the song of canaries sweeter than that of just about any other cage bird. A canary singing at the top of its voice seems like joy in life personified. Of course, the singing of a bird is not at all the same thing as our whistling when we are in a good mood. On the contrary, it is a male bird's way of establishing and defending its territory and attracting a female.

Analyze your expectations: Most bird lovers who decide to get a canary look forward to having a bird that will sing a lot and vocalize in varied tones. This is a perfectly legitimate desire, of course, but I would like to enlist sympathy for all the birds that--for what-ever reason--are more reluctant singers or suddenly stop singing altogether. This happens now and then, and the higher the owner's expectations were at the outset, the greater the disappointment is later on. Whenever I hear of such complaints, I try to reconcile the owner to the situation by pointing out that every creature has its own unique personality and cannot be programmed to behave absolutely predictably in spite of the most painstaking selective breeding. Nature has a way of getting the better every so often of our human ambitions.

Avoid keeping a single bird: I allways feel sorry for male canaries that are kept alone in tiny cages so that nothing will distract them from singing. Contrary to widespread opinion, male canaries also sing if they are kept in large cages and in the company of other birds. A male canary sings even if it shares a cage with a female--although not as frequently, since there is no need for it to attract a partner. To compensate for the lack of singing displays associated with courtship, however, you will be rewarded with especially varied songs during the incubation period.

If you want a singer
Take plenty of time when buying the bird, and listen to the various songs of different canaries. Some singers that are bred for attractive color have very loud and shrill voices. In the long run such a voice might grate on your ears.
If it matters to you to have a canary with a beautiful voice, ask the advice of an expert who is knowledgeable about song canaries.
Buy a young cock in November or December from that year's breeding. These birds have already learned to sing. Although singing comes naturally to all canaries, many breeders provide young cocks with a "song master" whose performance serves as a model for the younger generation.

What to Do with the Bird During Vacation or If You Get Sick:
You need to give some thought ahead of time to what will happen to your bird if you want to go on a trip or if you should have to go to the hospital. Being left at home would always be your canary's preference. It feels happiest in its familiar surroundings. But this means that you have to start looking for a trustworthy bird sitter in good time. You can leave your bird alone for up to 2 days. If you do leave it, make sure it will have enough food and water. Don't rely on small food dispensers, which sometimes become clogged. If that should happen, your bird could starve to death even though there was plenty of food still left in the hopper. Farming the bird out to a friend or relative is another possibility, assuming that it will receive the same loving care you give it and will be allowed to fly free just as much as at home. If you don't know anyone to look after the bird, contact an animal shelter. Many shelters have names and addresses of animal lovers who are willing to take in birds temporarily. Pet stores are also a possibility. They will often provide short-term accommodations for a bird for a small fee. However, your canary won't be able to fly free there. Taking your canary along is fine if the place where you are planning to vacation meets the bird's needs. Transport the canary in a cage covered with a light cloth to protect the bird against drafts and to prevent its getting frightened by the landscape "whizzing by" outside. If you travel by car, stop every couple of hours, remove the cover, and let the canary eat and drink at its leisure. If you travel abroad, find out ahead of time from the appropriate consulate whether canaries are permitted to enter that country and whether you need a health certificate for it. You should not take along birds that live in an aviary. The sudden changeover to a small cage would be highly upsetting to a bird that is used to having enough room for flying.


E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



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