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    Article published July 2004

    The following simple terms are often used in books and publications in relation to canary breeding. These explanations may help newcomers to better understand the meaning of the terms more fully.

    The terms are applicable to all canaries, regardless of which variety you keep.

    Initially it is not essential to understand the more 'technical' terms, for example allellomorph, cell, chromosome, gamete, zygote etc, in order to enjoy the hobby of canary breeding. In time, those terms will become commonly understood - and you will be giving lectures on the bird-club circuit, believe me!


    An ADULT canary is one that has undergone its first full moult, moulting out all its feathers, including its wing flight and tail flight feathers.

    The initial moult which canaries undergo, (which generally occurs between two and four months after they have left the nest), is their juvenile moult, which enables them to shed their nest feathers, excluding their tail and wing flight feathers. At this stage they are termed 'unflighted' - because they still retain their initial set of flight feathers.

    An adult canary is approximately one year old by the time it commences its first full moult, and at this stage is properly termed an adult bird.

    Canaries in good condition will moult only once each year, throughout their entire lives.

    An alternative name for an adult canary is FLIGHTED. (i.e. because it has moulted out its wing and tail flight feathers). Another description is OVER-YEAR, relating to the minimum age of the bird.


    Breeding is the collective term applied when attempting to raise young canaries to adulthood.

    Fanciers practice several different breeding methodologies, dependant upon their particular aims and ambitions.

    Breeding methodologies: PAIR BREEDING.

    In this case, fanciers will pair one cock bird with one hen bird, enabling the birds to form a bond for the entire breeding period. Fanciers sometimes leaving the cock and hen bird together in the same cage, throughout the breeding season, whilst others may choose to remove the cock bird, when the hen is incubating her eggs. Fanciers may re-introduce the cock into the hen's cage to help rear the young, once the eggs have hatched. Much will depend upon the temperament of the cock bird, and the behaviour of each individual bird needs to be carefully monitored by the fancier, to ensure accidents do not happen.

    Breeding methodologies: RUNNING ONE COCK WITH SEVERAL HENS

    Fanciers sometimes choose to pair their best cock birds with several hens during a single breeding season. This is known as 'running' the cock bird, which is housed separately, and only introduced to the hen for the purpose of mating. Once a successful mating has occurred, the cock is returned to his own quarters, before being introduced to a second or subsequent hen, and the process repeated. Fanciers generally complete this procedure until the second egg has been laid, at which time, the hen is left to complete her clutch, without the attentions of the cock bird.

    Fanciers using the above method generally do not allow the cock bird to rear any young chicks with any of his 'wives', as they do not wish a pair bond to form. This could impact upon the cock birds interests in mating with other hens, to the detriment of the breeding programme.

    Breeding methodologies: COLONY BREEDING.

    People keeping birds simply for pleasure, more often than not favour colony breeding. A colony generally comprises a limited number of cock birds, and several more hen birds, which live together harmoniously in a large aviary throughout the year. Multiple nesting sites are established, and the birds simply 'get on with it' themselves, without interference from the bird keeper.

    Care should be taken not to overcrowd the colony, otherwise the territorial instincts of the birds will be invoked during the breeding season, causing possible fatalities, and certainly impacting upon the successful production of young birds.

    Breeding methodologies: Breeding methodologies: PAIR BREEDING.

    Many established fanciers practice line breeding, using also out-cross and in-breeding as necessary, in the creation of their stud.

    LINE BREEDING applies to birds which are descended from related bloodlines. Common pairings include Cousin x Cousin, Grandfather x Granddaughter, etc.

    IN BREEDING In breeding is a concentrated form of line breeding, involving the use of much more closely related pairings. Father x Daughter, Mother x Son and even Brother x Sister pairings are frequently used.

    The aims of both Line breeding and in breeding is to establish as far as possible, a genetic purity amongst the stock, to help guarantee more accurately, the qualities of the young birds produced.

    OUT CROSSES. An out cross simply refers to a bird carrying an unrelated blood line, from the original stock. Outcrosses are used to ensure improved 'hybrid vigour', or to introduce new characteristics which were lacking in the original stock.

    Breeding Season.

    The breeding season in the UK extends from early Spring, and continues throughout the Summer. From July onwards, the annual moult commences, signalling an end to canary breeding activities for another year.

    Some fanciers bring forward the start of the breeding season by use of additional heating and lighting, enabling them to bring an end to breeding activities more quickly, in order to have more birds fully moulted in time for the early shows.

    Canaries will complete two and sometimes three nests of eggs (known as ROUNDS) during the breeding season, each nest comprising an average of four eggs, although any number from three to seven eggs per nest, are quite common.

    Breeding season: General pairing practices.

    Many canary fanciers believe in the principle of mating an ADULT canary with an UNFLIGHTED canary. It matters little whether the cock or the hen is the adult bird of the pair, providing its partner is of breeding age, i.e. a minimum of nine months or older. The belief is that the experienced adult bird will teach the young bird to breed more successfully than if another inexperienced, unflighted bird were used to form the pair.

    This may be simply an 'old wives tale'as many fanciers also mate ADULT x ADULT pairs, as well as UNFLIGHTED x UNFLIGHTED pairs, with equally good results.


    A male canary (adult or unflighted)


    Canaries have two distinct feather types. These are known as YELLOW and BUFF.

    Alternative names for Yellow and Buff are: Non-frosted (Yellow) and Frosted (Buff) Jonque (Yellow) and Mealy (Buff) Gold (Yellow) and Silver (Buff)

    Yellow feathers are narrower and include colour throughout to the edge of each feather. Buff feathers are broader, and include a white tip to each feather edge, which when overlaid against other feathers, dilutes the colour, providing a paler, more frosted appearance.

    Common practice amongst canary breeders is to pair yellow-feathered birds with buff feathered birds. This helps regulate the feather quality produced amongst the offspring, and results in a theoretical production of 50% buff-feathered birds, and 50% yellow feathered birds.

    A common mistake is to confuse the descriptive names Yellow and Buff with the colour of the bird, when they more properly apply to the feather-type of the bird.

    Feather markings

    Canaries have the ability to display plumage markings, known as VARIEGATION. These markings are simply the outward expression of melanins, displayed against the basic ground colour.

    The amount of variegation can alter significantly, from the smallest mark (often known as a TICK) that can occur anywhere on the head, tail or body, to a bird that is completely covered in variegation, to the extent that it appears to be entirely green coloured.

    Generally speaking, dark coloured birds will produce more dark coloured birds, although over a number of years, this can be reduced, by continually pairing these birds and their offspring, to birds devoid of variegation.

    Birds with no discernible markings are known as CLEAR birds. They carry factors in their genetic makeup however, to be able to display variegation, and so can produce a variety of attractively marked young birds, when mated to suitable partners.


    See ADULT.


    A female canary, adult or unflighted


    Describes a bird which has not completed its initial moult, and hence still carries its juvenile or nest feathering.

    Nest Feather

    Describes a bird which has not completed its initial moult, and hence still carries its nest or juvenile feathering.

    Nesting Rounds.

    The first nest of the year is known as Round One, the second Round Two, and so on.

    This is solely for the convenience of the fancier, and helps him understand immediately just how well a particular hen, or pair are performing, throughout the breeding season.

    Generally speaking, canary hens will successfully rear two rounds of chicks each year, although some breeders allow them to nest for a third time, particularly is one of the earlier rounds is unsuccessful.


    See ADULT


    The genetic background of the bird, which many breeders can trace back through accurate records, for several generations.


    A loose term applied to a particular fancier's stud of birds, which have been line-bred for several generations.


    The term UNFLIGHTED is applied to a young bird, until it has completed its first adult moult, which takes place approximately one year after it was born. The initial moult does not include the wing and tail flight feathers, hence the term 'unflighted'.

    Common breeding practices

    Egg Removal

    Many canary breeders remove the eggs as they are laid, replacing each with a pot or plastic 'dummy' egg, to encourage the hen to incubate. The eggs are returned when the clutch is considered complete, generally on the evening that the third or fourth egg was laid.

    The reason for this practice is to help ensure that the clutch of eggs all hatch out within a very short time of each other, to give every chick an equal chance of survival.

    Egg candling

    After canary eggs have been incubated for five or more days, it is possible to determine whether they carry an embryo chick or not.

    FULL eggs when held against a bright light, will appear opaque, whilst 'CLEAR' eggs will allow the light to shine through, unhindered.

    Following this practice, fanciers can determine which hens are more likely to hatch chicks, and which can be prepared for a subsequent nest, or used as foster parents, as required.


    Incubation is the term applied to a hen which has completed laying her clutch of eggs, and is sitting on them, in preparation for hatching.

    Canary eggs take approximately 14 days from the start of incubation to hatching. During cold weather, or if the hen spends a frequent amount of time away from her nest, then the eggs may take longer to hatch, and periods of seventeen days are not uncommon.

    Dead in Shell.

    This term describes eggs which contain an embryo, but which fails to hatch. The problems causing dead-in-shell are many and varied, such as night fright, bacteria, punctured shells, etc.


    This is a descriptive term loosely applied to the basic rearing preparation supplied to canaries, from which to raise their chicks. There are many different proprietary and home-made recipes for soft food, all of which can be used with success, to rear canaries, under the correct environmental and hygienic conditions.

    Soaked Seed

    Applies to seeds that have been soaked for a number of hours, then allowed to germinate before being offered to feeding canaries, as part of their rearing mixture.

    h3>Egg Food. See Soft Food.

    Green Food.

    Applies loosely to all forms of vegetables and plants that are commonly fed to canaries, particularly during the breeding season. Green foods typically include dandelion, chickweed, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, peas, cress, watercress etc.

    Weaning the young.

    From hatching, it generally takes between seventeen and twenty-one days for a chick to fledge, i.e. to leave the nest. At this stage, the chick begins to pick up feeds for itself, instead of relying upon its parent(s) to feed it. When chicks are seen to be self sufficient as far as feeding goes, they are removed or 'weaned' from their parents, and often kept in small groups until they are old enough to crack and digest hard seeds, (often at about six weeks of age) by which time they are considered to be fully weaned.

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