Preparation is the key to successful breeding. For canary varieties carrying longer feather, breeding preparation includes trimming the plumage to aid mating.
When I remove my birds from their flight cages at the end of February, I handle each one, assessing it individually. I check for good bodyweight, and a nicely plump belly, particularly with the hens. Handling each bird is the only way to assess this, which is a very good guide to condition. Those that are in a satisfactory condition receive a quick bikini trim, cutting away excess feathering above and along the sides of the vent.
Removing excess feathering enables the birds to mate more easily, but always be sure to avoid trimming the circle of guide feathers that encircle the vent, as these are used by the birds as an aid to mating. While each bird is being handled, it is a simple matter to trim overgrown toenails and occasionally beaks, and apply additional anti-mite powder.
Any birds that are less healthy than their companions can be returned to the flights rather than placed into their future breeding cages. They will benefit from another couple of weeks flying, rather than attempting to condition them for what will inevitably be an unsuccessful round of breeding. Those canaries which have passed the fitness test can be placed into individual cages.
I favour double breeding cages, because it provides me with more options as the season progresses. If necessary, I can choose to divide the cage into two single units and accommodate the male in the adjoining cage, where he can get acquainted with his chosen partner.
The cage can also be used to wean chicks after a successful first round, allowing the parents to feed their brood through a wire slide, until they are successfully feeding themselves.
My breeding cages are arranged in four tiers, and I tend to house my cock birds along the top tier, with their chosen partners in the three lower tiers. A small length of string tied onto the cage wires will provide hours of entertainment for the hens, as they tug at the string, flying swiftly from perch to perch with their treasure, which they will soon learn to carry at the back of their beaks. They will call constantly to the cock birds, often squatting in response to the vigorous singing throughout the birdroom.
At this stage, it is prudent to supply a bare nest pan, which the hens will explore, and begin to fill with wood shavings, paper and string.
These constant signs of activity mean that a nest-pan lining can be affixed into the pan, and a little nesting material provided. The hens will build, dismantle and rebuild their nests over the next few days, but as soon as a permanent nest takes shape, they are ready to be mated with their chosen partner.
Cocks need little attention at this stage. Bathing facilities are welcomed by both cocks and hen birds frequently, and of course, softfood can be increased regularly, feeding small quantities every other day.
I tend to provide a finger drawer of softfood at this stage, as it means little waste and is consumed eagerly whenever it’s freshly provided.
Hanging training cages onto their stock cages will encourage then to use these cages for a better view of the hens. They will soon learn that these cages are used to transport them to their partners’ boudoirs for a successful tryst, before returning to their own stock cage or that of a second partner, if she is also in breeding condition at the same time.
As spring time progresses, more and more birds will enter into breeding condition, although this will never be achieved by all birds at the same time. Using the tell-tale signs outlined above, the more advanced birds are mated first, allowing those slightly later in achieving condition to be paired when their own body clocks tell them that the time is right.
There is no magical starting time in which to commence breeding operations, nor is it possible to successfully pair all your canaries at the same time. Those that read the signs best will generally achieve a more successful breeding season than those who don’t.
Brian Keenan is a noted breeder, exhibitor, exporter and judge of Yorkshire canaries.