Introduction and History
The Canary is a small bird in the finch family and is native to the Azores, the Canary Islands and Madeira. Depending on its genetic make-up and, most importantly, the quality of its diet, the life expectancy of a canary is between 10 -15 years. Canaries that we all know and see in the pet shops and in our homes are domesticated animals, which means they can no longer survive in nature, having being bred in captivity for so long that they have lost many of their natural instincts.
My love for birds began at a very young age and Canaries are birds that I breed as a hobbyist as breeding of parrots is my livelihood. My daughter Sheetal and son Davi have shown the same interest and have taken over the responsibility of caring for and feeding the canaries. The Roller Canary is one of the types of canary that we breed.
The Roller Canary, also known as the German Roller or Hartz Mountain Roller Canary, was developed in the Hartz Mountain region of Germany and is one of the older and best known of the canary breeds. In the 1800’s its development became centred in the Hartz Mountains where several hundred families were dedicated to the breeding and training of these birds. In the early 1900’s they were considered the finest singers and began to be exported all over the world. By 1922 a song standard had emerged, where they were trained to sing defined passages or type segments. There are thirteen tours by British stands, though no-one bird can sing them all. Each tour is delivered in a continually rolling manner, thus the name of these birds being “roller”.
It is considered a “song” canary and is bred for its beautiful singing, not physical appearance or unusual colour. Rollers are small birds which sing with their beaks closed. Their song is very soft and it has the lowest volume of any canary breed, therefore making it ideal for people to keep as pets. These charming little birds have been praised for centuries for their sweet singing and although not known to many they are quite good at mimicry. Male German Rollers tend to sing more beautifully than female canaries but can be territorial and should not be kept in the same cage. People who enjoy the song of the male roller canary keep them in different cages, as each one will try to out-stage the competition.
Most Roller Canaries are between 11.4cm -12.7cm and because they are bred solely for their song, they can vary greatly in their appearance. However, they are quite consistent in having a rather flat head, straight back and good feather quality. They can be predominantly green or mixed in colour, ranging anywhere between green to a clear yellow.
A Roller Canary’s song is distinct and melodic, and less “choppy” than the songs of other canaries. Both sexes begin to sing a weak song as early as four weeks but females usually don’t sing after six months and won’t have the full long song of a male.
Canaries are timid birds and should not be housed with parakeets, lovebirds or other hookbills that tend to be more aggressive by nature. They are good natured social creatures and do well kept in cages or in a spacious aviary housed with other canaries, finches and other softbills.
Care and Feeding
Provide a roomy cage with vertical bars and two small perches so that they can hop from one perch to the other in order to exercise. Canaries are best left at normal room temperature with lots of natural daylight.
Canaries eat mainly canary seed and rape seed. Canary seed mixes are readily available at pet shops and supermarkets. This provides a good basic but not complete diet. Calcium in the form of cuttlefish or grit should be offered daily. Greens such as chickweed, dandelion flowers and leaves, wild grass seeds or fresh chopped up spinach are enjoyed and must be fed regularly, not once a week in large quantities. Softfoods containing protein, vitamins and minerals to make up for the shortage in seeds must be fed at least 3 times a week to supplement the nutrients lacking in a total seed diet. Just sprouted seeds are excellent for your canaries. Bits of hard-boiled egg can also be offered occasionally. Too much protein is also not good for a canary. Canaries love a daily bath and should be offered a bird bath. Cage cleaning and toe nail trimming is about all the maintenance canaries need.
To keep occupied a canary only needs a swing. They do not require toys, mirrors and other forms of entertainment. Canaries are mostly enjoyed for their beauty and singing. However, some canaries are allowed out of the cage to perch or are show canaries and therefore require taming or training.
The Roller Canary requires a great deal of training for singing contests. They are trained to sing well defined song segments, called “tours”. They can be trained from listening to another perfect adult or from a recording. As they are also quite adept at mimicry, if they develop any faults in the song they must immediately be removed from any other birds being trained.
Roller Canaries are free breeding and are similar to breeding other canaries. Most canaries breed easily and readily if provided with quality food, lighting, secure surrounding and conditioning. They are best bred in breeding cages and lay their eggs in a nest. Nest pans are available at pet shops and they should be provided with material such as hessian sack which has been cut and stripped to provide loose string with which the nest is made by both male and female. The floor of the cage should be laid with untreated wood chips and sprinkled with Karbadust to eliminate the chance of mites, which thrive in warm conditions. The female will lay up to 4-5 eggs, one per day. Breeding season usually commences in late August for all canaries, and it is best to allow a hen to have two clutches.
These birds are hardy and healthy if provided with a good environment and a good diet. Avoid an environment that is wet, cold and draughty. Roller Canaries should be purchased shortly after they have finished their moult. Prices range from R 175 per bird and are sometimes available at pet shops, but more readily can be found through breeders, birds clubs or on the internet. As many of the older breeders have either passed on or have stopped breeding canaries, the younger generation should be encouraged to develop an interest in breeding and keeping of the various types of canaries.
I recommend that when purchasing a canary, or any bird for that matter, it is essential that you purchase young birds and you actually see if the environment in which the bird is being kept is clean and healthy and the birds are being fed well with the correct diet. It is important to be aware of the fact that birds kept in pet shops have been exposed to a number of other birds which might or might not be carriers of disease. Check therefore that the bird you buy is looking good: the feathers must be clean all over, firm and fine, presenting a smooth, well groomed appearance. The area around the bird’s vent must be clean and dry and its eyes must be bright and there must be no “pimples” on the face which could be the sign of the dreaded and fatal Canary Pox.
The second precaution is to quarantine acquired canaries for at least 30 days before you allow any contact with existing birds in your home. By the same token, visit the breeder’s premises and ascertain that the birds he or she is selling you are actually bred by him/her and not just being sold as such.
Once you become familiar with your healthy canary’s behaviour, and his general outward appearance, you should be able to notice any inconsistencies in their normal droppings, or sitting puffed even though it’s not cold, or he may stop singing and his eyes may be half closed. Being such tiny creatures, little birds like these succumb very quickly to disease and treatment should not be delayed.
Purchasing of a canary is a small price to pay for the many years of having an undemanding, cheerfully singing little “live ornament” in your home.
A special note to all breeders and which I believe strongly is that “the hand that feeds, shall reap the rewards”.
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