The lead up to the breeding season is very important, as this is where the birds gain their fitness and vigour, so that they can go through the breeding cycle and support multiple nests of young birds, without becoming run down and either leaving the nest or dying.
Preparation runs for the 3 months of June, July and August and continues through the breeding season.
During the preparation you should feed your birds well, including different types of seed and plenty of greens. I use a mixture of 2 parts Canary with 1 part canola. This I supplement with a small quantity of Hulled Oats in the winter months. I am told that Hulled Oats can be detrimental in summer as the birds put on too much weight and get too hot.
It is important to give your birds plenty of exercise during winter. This can be done in an aviary or in indoor flights. Keeping the birds in small cabinets year round reduces the birds’ overall breeding fitness and although breeding is possible, the reduction in fitness will reduce the breeding potential.
It is important to ensure that the birds receive natural light in the lead up to and during the breeding season.
Breeding and keeping birds year round in artificial light requires special lighting and also you need to control the variables for the changes in light that occurs depending on the season. This also could involve temperature control depending upon your climate, as this will also affect the breeding cycle.
Because my birds only get a small amount of natural sunlight, I supplement using fluorescent tube lights, which I control via a time switch. I increase the amount of time the light is on in relation to the seasons. I don’t attempt to alter the season to trick the birds into a longer breeding season.
Fluorescent lights are used as they generate less heat. Too much heat at the wrong time can start the birds moulting out of season, which is not good.
I only breed with hens under 5 years and males less than 7 years; as outside this age range reproduction rates are low. I also find that birds that are only just 1 year are also finicky, particularly if born late in the previous season.
In August you should give soft food – Egg and Biscuit – about once or twice per week.
Separating the sexes prior to breeding
The expert breeder would most likely separate the males and females during this preparation period. This is to avoid the males fighting each other and to avoid early mating.
Preparing the Cage/s for Breeding
If you are breeding in cabinets, make sure that the cabinets are clean and free from mites. You may wish to use a sterilising liquid and something for pest control. Make sure the cabinets are dry and no food comes in contact with any sterilising or pesticide liquids or gas.
For aviary breeding, you also need to clean the aviary and my preference is to put up some partitions in the closed off area that does not have a base. Attach your nest pan securely to these. For aviary breeding I prefer 1 male to 3 females; this avoids the males and females fighting each other. 1 male will easily service 3 hens. Unfortunately the results from breeding in an aviary are not as good as cabinet breeding.
Pairing – the Selection process
This can be as hard or as easy as you like. First of all, I tag all my males when they sing or I am sure that they are boys; by putting a blue plastic split ring on the opposite leg to the fixed ring. This means I don’t get the similar looking males and females confused. I then do the following steps:
Assuming that you have the males and females separated,
1. I split the cocks and hens again by feather type, i.e. I have one group of males that are yellow or yellow ground and another group of buff (this includes Cinnamon). This now means I have four groups, namely yellow males, buff males, yellow hens and buff hens.
2. Now for the white ground birds including blue and fawn, I have a look at the feathers and if they are long and thin and tight against the body, they go with the yellows and if the feather is more rounded and softer then I put them with the buffs.
3. I select the best male bird from the yellow group. This is usually the smallest with the best overall type.
4. I then pick the best hen from the buff group. At this point I also consider if there is cinnamon or white involved and the degree of variation.
This gives me my first pair and I place them in separate sections of the cabinet, separated by a solid slide. If I am going to use 1 cock to two hens I would pick the next most suitable hen from 4 above. I would place the next hen adjacent to the cock on the other side.
5. I repeat this process until all the yellow and buff males are matched.
6. I then review what I have done. I often charge my selections slightly as I am never happy.
Pairing – the Bringing Together
I usually bring the hen and cock together on the first week of September as I find this gives me the most satisfactory results for the climate. Before I bring them together I add the nest pan to each hen and give the hen material to make the nest. If the hen looks like she wants to breed, i.e. she starts carrying nesting material and looking for the male: I then put a wire slide between the hen and the cock. If I don’t have a wire slide, l slide out the solid slide just enough to allow the hen and cock to see each other but not get through. I then observe and they are friendly towards each other, I take away the barrier and continue to observe. If they fight I return the slide, but if they don’t I leave them together until the hen has laid all eggs, then if I am using the cock with another hen I will remove him.
A canary, when laying properly, lays 3 to 5 eggs (but usually 4), pale blue in colour with dark reddish spots. Each egg is laid in the morning and should be on consecutive days, but sometimes a day may be skipped.
The more experienced breeder steals each egg the morning it is laid and replaces it with a dummy egg or marble. The last egg laid is slightly darker blue and this information can be used to allow you to replace and remove the dummies. The reason why the eggs are removed and replaced altogether is so that all the eggs hatch on the same day, which gives each chick an equal opportunity to survive, rather than being hatched up to 4 days apart You can in fact delay putting back the real eggs for a week or 2 and as long as the hen keeps sitting you will have no problems.
The eggs hatch on the thirteenth or fourteenth day and this variation occurs because of how tight the hen sits. I have known hens to go to 16 days, so don’t get too hasty to throw out the eggs.
When the hen has been sitting about 7-9 days you can test to see if the eggs are clear. This is done by holding them up to the light, or by using a light box. At 7-9 days you should be able to 300 darkness inside the shell rather than clear. By knowing if the eggs are clear you can stop the breeding cycle immediately and start again in about a week. Hence you saved about 5 days.
This occurs mainly because the hen does not have sufficient calcium in her diet. This can be avoided by keeping shell grit available all year round. If soft shell occurs, give your birds an avian calcium mixture and make sure they get sufficient greens and light, preferably natural sunlight.
Dead in Shell
If you find that some of your eggs don’t hatch it could be that the chick has died in the shell. This can be caused by the hen leaving the nest during a thunderstorm or for some other reason, long enough for the egg to cool and the young to die. Some breeders also believe that it can be caused by the eggshell being too hard, and the chick was unable to peck its way out.
Some breeders use a hand held water spray and spray the eggs at around 12 days in the hope that it softens the shell. I personally think this is a waste of time.
This is the most frustrating part of breeding, when the eggs are clear, i.e. no chick develops because the egg has not been fertilised. The causes can be many but it usually comes down to the hen or the cock not being ready to breed or, as some would say, not breeding fit. The second nest is often found to be better than the first because we’re too anxious to start breeding. If a hen doesn’t took fit and well, or the cock is not singing in a vigorous way, then they are not ready and should be kept separated until they are fit.
As a breeder, I always trim the feathers around the vent on both the hens and cocks. Now you need to be very careful and cut away the excess feather underneath the tail, but not the part known as the feeler feathers, which stick out right at the vent and are smaller and finer. Now I said cut away the excess, not give the bird a shave.
The first thing to be said about egg binding is that it rarely occurs.
If during the hens’ laying cycle you find the hen weak and what appears near death, it could mean that she is having trouble passing the egg and has collapsed due to exhaustion. The best treatment is to place the hen in a hospital cage or something similar and raise the temperature. This alone is often all that is required, however if the egg has not passed in an hour, a little olive oil can be dropped into the vent. It is not wise to attempt to remove the egg manually as this usually results in death.
The good news is that when the egg is passed the hen usually recovers to normal within hours, and often can finish the clutch. In extreme cases it is wiser to stop her breeding till the next season. The best method of avoiding egg binding is to prepare the birds well during the winter.
Removing the Male
As mentioned above, if I am using one cock with 2 hens, I take away the cock after the hen has completed laying. This, however, is not the only time. If the cock continuously hounds the hen or pulls apart the nest, remove him and rebuild the nest for the hen, replace the eggs, and the hen should continue to sit.
Returning the Male
Once I take the cock away I usually don’t return him unless the hen is struggling to feed her young, and even then there is no guarantee that the male will assist.
If you do return a cock, or a different cock that you want to use for the next nest, then you need to observe their behaviour for a while to ensure that they are not going to fight and abandon the chicks completely. For the next nest I usually return the male about 15 – 18 days after the chicks are hatched.
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