The Three Canary Groups - Colour, Song and Type
The Colour Group
Canaries are ideal as a pet, particularly in smaller households. They are quite happy on their own and there is no need to keep more than one unless you want to. While a large cage is obviously nice for a canary, he will cope with being kept in a smaller cage. It really is best though if they are able to fly at least a little. Canaries are entertaining and low maintenance. The males in particular will sing you songs that will lift your spirit on the darkest day.
Canaries belong to the genus Serinus and species canaria thus their scientific name is Serinus canaria. They belong to the finch family and are native to the Canary Islands. While wild canaries are mostly a greenish yellow with yellow underparts, the domestic canary now comes in a wide range of colours with some 200 variations being recognised. Canaries are often classified into one of three groups: 'type' canaries (which have a sub-group, frilled canaries), 'song' canaries and 'colour' canaries. The size, shape, colour, plumage and type of song can vary greatly between these types. For exhibition purposes, Type canaries need to be a certain size and shape, Song canaries are judged on their song and Colour (or Colourbred) canaries on their colour.
Red Factor Canary (above)
Canaries have been kept in captivity since around 1610. By 1790 several breeds had been established and there are now even more. Canaries are named for the Canary Islands which are situated off the northwest of Africa. Spanish sailors on their way to Africa were shipwrecked and washed up on the Islands. They were amazed at the wonderful singing of the little local birds and when the sailors were eventually rescued they took some of the native birds back with them.
Canaries are small and easy to keep so it is no wonder they became so popular.
If you thought most canaries were yellow, you may be surprised to learn there are over 200 colours. The wild canary is a yellowish green with yellow underparts. Even yellow canaries come in varying shades of intensity. Green, orange, red, white, blue and grey are only a few of the colours available.
Many colours will only be seen at a show. Outside of a show or a breeder's establishment, the Red Factor canary is the most common. As a show exhibit, a Colour canary is judged almost exclusively on his colour. Even within the Red Factor canaries there are many different colours and shades.
The Red Factor is the best known of the coloured canaries. It was develop in the early 1900s when a Venezuelan Black-Hooded Red Siskin was crossed with a yellow canary. The jury is out as to whether the 'yellow canary' was a German Roller or a Border but all sources agree it was yellow. While it could be argued that the Venezuelan Black-Hooded Red Siskin is not a canary, there have been so many generations go by since that initial pairing that there can be little of the Venezuelan Black-Hooded Red Siskin (seen below) left in today's Red Factor.
Black-Hooded Red Siskin (above)
The Siskin was used to start the process of adding red to the canary. But subsequent generations have been bred by crossing the crossbreds with purebred canaries so the influence of the Siskin would be very small by now.
Nowadays, 'red' birds are allowed to be fed 'concentrates of carotenoids'. This is called 'colour-feeding'. These supplements ensure that the plumage of the bird stays red. The Venezuelan Black-Hooded Red Siskin gets its brilliant colouring by its diet which is high in carotenoids. If he is fed foods that don't contain carotenoid he loses much of his red colouring. Foods such as greens, red peppers, paprika, berries, cherries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beets and squashes will help maintain an orange to reddish colour in a Red Factor canary. However the only way to get a really deep red is to feed concentrate of carotenoids.
The three main chemicals used when feeding for colour are: canthaxanthin, beta-carotene and other carotenoids.
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Canthaxanthin is the most powerful and can be the sole additive used. However the birds will be a dull brick-red colour. Half and half canthaxanthin and beta-carotene will produce a bird with bright, fire-engine red plumage. Add one teaspoon of the blend to a gallon of water. Only make up enough for about a week and refrigerate what isn't needed at the time. Add a teaspoon of the blend to a kilo of dry ingredients.
Orange carotenoids are fed by mixing a pound of seed with a teaspoon of the product and allowing it to stand overnight. The carotenoids have an oil base and the seed with absorb the pigment.
It is probably easiest to choose a brand that has both canthaxanthin and beta-carotene. Try to get a brand that doesn't have extra additives such as sucrose and/or glucose as these are basically fillers and will only dilute the mix.
Any chemical additives should be fed with due regard to the directions on the product. More is not necessarily better. Don't give more than the recommended dose.
The substances that promote red colour are fat soluble meaning there is no simple mechanism by which the body can remove excessive amounts of the product. As a guide, additives can be fed until a slight pink colour appears in the bird's droppings. This is an indication that excess is being passed through the system rather than being absorbed and utilised.
Changing the water every day is vitally important particularly if colouring products are added to the water. Feed the concentrate immediately before the moult. Continue to feed the same foods during the moult. If you do, all new plumage will be red. If you continue to feed carotenoids, any feathers which are lost as a result of trauma or for other reasons will grow back red.
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Play your hen the male's call and encourage
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Feeding hens should be given food and water, both of which are treated with additives. The young she is feeding will then fledge almost the colour they will be after their first moult. If the chicks are not colour-fed until after they leave the nest they will be 'unflighted' which means that the flight and tail feathers will remain white.
Note Well: Unless a red gene is present in the bird's make-up no amount of concentrates will produce red plumage.
There are some myths associated with red factor canaries. It was once touted that feeding beta-carotene would produce liver disease and other disorders in canaries. Beta-carotene is an anti-oxidant and is promoted as being helpful in the prevention of diseases and the healing of injuries. Canaries can be colour-fed without concern.
Although the substances do not spoil, they should be kept out of the light and heat. Refrigeration is best as, if exposed to heat, humidity and light, the products will lose their potency. Buy from a reputable merchant who has a high turnover and whose products are refrigerated.
Canaries are lovely birds regardless of their colour so enjoy your canary and rejoice in his singing whatever his colour.