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Caring For Your Canary

[Having A Bird As A Pet]  [Caring For Your Canary]  [Canary Ailments]  [Canary Breeding] 

( Originally Published 1938 )

Once you get the bird home, there are several rules for you to follow. You should know how to keep the bird in good appearance; how to feed it; how to house it; and something about song-training.

1. HOUSING. The cage for the canary should be large enough to give the bird exercise. For this reason, an oblong cage is probably the best shape. At least two perches (three if possible) should be provided so that the bird can do plenty of hopping about. Wooden cages are taboo-they may harbor mites and cannot be sterilized easily. Cages of wire-enameled steel wire, chromium wire or brass wireare the most satisfactory. The bottom of the cage should have a cleaning drawer. This is easily handled and doesn't involve the major bird upsets sometimes brought about in cleaning the older style cages. Perches should be of cedar wood and grooved or irregular in shape. Bugs don't like cedar, and the variation from a perfectly round perch is better for the bird's feet.

According to H. J. Morley, secretary of the Greater Chicago Cage Bird Club, you will be doing your pet a distinct favor if you take the cute little swing some cages come equipped with and heave it into the ash can. Birds fight with the swings, and generally come off second best with a lump under the eye. Mr. Morley would also add all other playthings to the list of taboos. The amusement doesn't compensate for possible injury to the bird. The cage should be equipped with mesh wire or plate-glass seed guards. The canary will scratch around and throw seed hulls about and the guard keeps this dirt off the floor. Spaces for seed and water cups are standard equipment on all cages. Provide the cage with a floor standard so that you can move the bird about the house.

Some cages have a lot of ornate hocus-pocus in the way of decoration and equipment. For the bird's sake, it would be better to spend the extra money involved on getting a larger cage of simpler design. Chromium cages, though higher priced, have two advantages-there is no paint to chip off and they don't tarnish.

Cages should be cleaned once or twice a week. After tying the drawer, rinse it thoroughly with boiling water. Dry, then give the floor a liberal sprinkling of coarse sand, bits of charcoal, and white grit. The bird needs the sand

and grit to cut food in its crop. Ocean sand usually has too much salt in it to be good for your bird.

Once a week, remove the perches from the cage and give them a thorough scrubbing. Probably a better procedure is to give them a dry scrub with a wire brush or to scrape them with a knife or piece of glass. If you use water for cleaning the perches, be sure that the sticks are thoroughly dry before replacing them. Better have a set of spares to use as alternates. Sandpaper any splinters that may form. If the cage comes equipped with plain round perches, it is a good plan to groove them slightly or to substitute irregularly shaped cedar perches.

Breeding cages are subject to the same rules of construc*14M tion and care except for the seed guards and decorative MMM notes. For the most part, breeding cages are simple in struc 14oJIM ture and oblong in shape-built for racking on shelves in AWJW the breeding room and not for decorative furniture.

2. CAGE LOCATION: For the sake of your bird's health, choose the cage location with care. Pick a spot in the house that is light and sunny in the daytime-not directly in the sun, however. And, above all else, pick a spot that is free from drafts. Drafts cause many canary ills. In winter time, keep the bird away from the radiators-excess heat will put him into a perpetual state of moult. Sudden temperature drops are a source of danger, and direct sunlight, while beneficial for short periods of time, should never be prolonged. Perhaps this sounds as though canaries are weaklings. They are not, but cage life presents a few health hazards that it will be well to avoid. The more even the temperature in the room, the better the bird will thrive. In climates where an even, warm temperature prevails, the birds will benefit from life in an outdoor aviary, but shade should be available.

The value of a so-called night cloth is open to some question, and you will discover that breeders and dealers don't use cage covers. If a room is drafty there seems to be some reason for using a cloth, but otherwise it is believed that a cloth has a tendency to hold in bad air and to concentrate too much heat in the cage, possibly bringing on an offseason moult.

Under normal circumstances, prolonged temperatures above 80 F. are not suitable for the bird, although temperatures above 80 F. are very useful at times for treating ailments. The bird is able to stand cold rather well, provided its exposure to cold is gradual.

3. BATHING: Practically all canaries do a very thorough

job of bathing themselves, although there are a few birds now and then that refuse to bathe. If given the opportunity,

most of them will bathe daily, although there is no harm in restricting the bathing. Little bath bowls are available at all pet shops, and the procedure in most cases is simply to introduce a bowlful of water into the cage and let the bird go to work. A less messy procedure is to provide the bird with a bath cage-a glass windowed piece of equipment that hooks into a cage opening. Water for the bath should be at or near room temperature to avoid shock to the bird's system.

Again quoting Mr. Morley, "Horrible as it may seem, a bird rarely needs a bath, so no alarm need be FELT if he does not take one frequently. When a bird wishes to preen or clean his feathers, he turns around, pokes his beak into the little oil gland near his tail, and draws his plumage through his beak, oiling and cleaning it all in the same operation. If the bird gets dust in his nostrils, usually from the seed or gravel, he will do all the bathing needed by putting his head in his drinking cup. Forcible bathing of a bird is decidedly harmful. If a bird likes his bath-fine! If not-equally fine! Ever see wild birds taking dust baths? That's just how much a canary needs water except at show time when a bird should be hand washed to present the cleanest possible appearance."

4. CARE OF THE CLAWS AND BEAK: Although the idea may ~ have its elements of comedy, your birds' toenails may grow long enough to trip it up. A bird in its wild state has opportunity to keep its nails in trim by scratching or clawing at tree bark. Captive birds have little such activity. The result-long toenails-is a definite hazard to the bird and may result in a broken leg if your pet gets caught in the cage wire.

Hold the bird in the left hand, foot extended between your fingers. The nail is translucent and if held to the light you will note the line of the vein down the center of the nail. A regular finger nail clipper may be used. Avoid the end of the vein when trimming, stay at least a quarter of an inch away from it. Sometimes the bird's beak needs care. Occasionally one half or the other (usually the upper mandible) gets too long, or the end of the beak is subject to uneven growth or uneven wearing. A nail scissors may be used to equalize this difference. Use care, clip only a little at a time, and be sure to work with extreme caution at the end of the beak to avoid severing the beak vein. Generally, this is no job for an amateur, and had best be left in the hands of a bird expert.

5. INSECT PESTS: Lice and mites are the two chief bug enemies of the canary. Since for the most part they work at night, you may never suspect their presence unless the bird becomes thoroughly debilitated from the attack. Poorlooking feathers and too much burrowing with the beak are evidences that your bird is in trouble. However, since the remedy and the preventive measures are much the same, you should plan to go through the de-bugging routine as a regular care. The infested bird may be given a hand bath with soap and water, but be sure you rinse the soap out completely. Put the bird in another cage to dry and leave it there while you attack the main cage.

Douse the infected cage in boiling water and leave it immersed for several minutes. After drying the cage thoroughly, give the corners and perch ends a scrubbing with a kerosene-soaked toothbrush. Thereafter, a little kerosene applied to the spots at intervals will discourage the return of the bugs. Oil of eucalyptus does this job too, and has a more pleasing odor. Pet and bird shops will sell you a suitable dusting powder (ordinary pyrethium is good), which may be used on the bird instead of the soap and water bath.

6. WATER: If you could avoid it, you wouldn't drink stale water from a dirty mug. Well, a bird doesn't like the idea either. Give your pet plenty of fresh drinking water. The cup should be cleaned and filled several times a day. Be sure the bird has fresh water before you go to bed. Little chirpsie will be awake before you in the morning and will want a drink. In hot weather a bird may need a drink of water frequently during the day-almost once an hour.

BIRD FEEDING has been open to a good deal of argument, but a little dietetic analysis indicates that the problem is 41p" fairly simple. The canary is primarily a seed-eating bird, but a well-rounded diet must also include some green vegetables or fruit, lime, and probably a little charcoal. These are the seeds most commonly fed:

1. CANARY SEED: A straw colored, longish seed, threshed from canary grass. The preferred variety is called Spanish seed, although so little of it is raised in Spain that the name now simply stands for what fanciers consider "best" seed. Canary seed is rich in carbohydrates, but deficient in albumen and fats. This is a fine starch supply.

2. MILLET SEED: This seed is used for both human beings and birds in Europe; in the United States it is used as a forage crop. Round and grayish, it is rich in carbohydrates and, like canary seed, deficient in albumin and fats.

3. RAPE SEED: The summer variety of this seed seems to be preferred by most fanciers. The seed should be small, round, and of a reddish or purple-brown color. Good seed is somewhat sweet to the taste. Rape seed in proportion to its bulk is a good source of fat and is high in its albumen content. Oil, good for songsters, is found in rape.

Caraway seed, flax seed, poppy, thistle, etc., are often used in small proportions along with the principal seeds. The ordinary diet mixture used by one fancier includes 65 percent canary seed, 30 per cent rape seed and five per cent of some other seed, flax, etc. Seed formulas will vary, depending on what experience the individual breeder has had with his birds. Good seed mixtures are available in package form, or your bird store will sell you the various ingredients in bulk. When buying either package seed or bulk seed, make certain that the seeds are fresh, and free from dust and mold. Avoid seeds that seem to be damp. Even an amateur can tell about a seed's firmness by biting it. But your best insurance is buying from a reputable seed dealer.

OTHER FOODS: Essential to the bird's well-being are other foods, including greens and foods with mineral content. Lettuce in small amounts, hard-boiled egg yolk, oyster shell, and apples are on this additional diet list. Toast or ovencrisped bread crumbs moistened with milk are additions, and there are several prepared bird foods for occasional "treat" feeding.

BIRD MENU: Summer-Seed diet, bulk to consist of starchy seeds. Unless bird is out of condition, no flax. About 70 per vent canary seed to 30 per cent rape seed.

Winter-seed diet, more fatty seeds in mixture with occasional inclusion of some flax seed. Average mix about 60 per cent canary seed to 40 per cent rape seed.

Twice a week-A small piece of lettuce.

Once a week-A small slice of apple about the size of a thimble stuck between the wires of the cage.

Twice a month-Hard boiled egg yolk, mashed. Regularly-Bits of charcoal and oyster shell in the bird's gravel.

Always-Cuttlebone, hooked to the cage bars, for lime. The bird's appetite is the best gauge of its diet. The seed cup should be filled up in the morning and not replenished until the pet has eaten its way to the bottom. Blow away husks and examine food left in the seed cup. It may tell you things about the feed itself and about the bird's appetite.

If the bird appears to be gaining too much fat the quantity of rape seed should be limited. Any seed hulls left after a feeding should be removed. Give the seed cup a thorough cleaning every few days. This avoids the formation of mold spores in the cup, and keeps dirt from accumulating.

NOTE: There are special diets for moulting, for color and for breeding birds. They will be taken up under those headings.

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