May 25, 2016

Newspaper Article ... about Savoy Singers!

December 30, 2015 edition
of the
Blaine County Journal/News/Opinion, our local newspaper:

Debbie Stout: Bird Lady of Savoy
By Steve Edwards  BCJ News
Reporter ’s note: Paula Reynolds, who handles advertising at the “Journal,” recently laid a  copy of an upcoming ad on my desk. The ad was  for “Singing Canaries” and listed only a name and phone number. Paula said, “This lady has  canaries for sale, there might be a story there.”  I called the number on the ad and got Debbie  Stout, who lives on a farm in the Savoy area. I  figured maybe she was selling a couple of canaries and a cage to go with them. Turns out Stout  doesn’t have just a couple of canaries for sale,  she’s selling 40 of the current 90 she has.  90 canaries! There definitely was a story there and here’s what I learned about our area aviculturist (someone who raises birds).   

Wanting a canary = Starting a business
    Debbie Stout wanted to buy a canary. She explained, "When I was a kid, lots of my cousins had pet canaries, some cousins even bred and  raised the birds. For a time my dad had a canary.  I decided, after 20 years without a singing bird  around, I wanted a canary. I visited several  stores, as far away as Great Falls, and canaries just weren’t to be found."   
    She ended up buying three pairs of canaries, on an Internet site, and from that modest beginning in 2010, she reached the current point where she has 90 canaries. Stout didn’t explain her motivation from three pairs to her current  inventory of the popular singing birds. She did say, “I’ve decided that 5O canaries is my limit.  I plan to sell 40 before the next breeding season begins in January.”  
    She sells them through her own website and ships the birds all over the country. Once down to 25 pairs of breeding birds, she will start the cycle again in early 2016.   

Some general information about canaries
    In a phone conversation it was obvious that Stout enjoys birds and educating others about them.  “First,” she explained, “there are three varieties of canaries— ‘colorbred canaries’ are bred for  their color. Not all canaries are  yellow. The ‘type’ canaries are bred for a desired shape and conformation. That includes unusual feather conformations and birds of varying sizes. ‘Song canaries’  are bred for special or unique song patterns.” She added, “With all the possible combinations there are 600 types of mutations that are commonly produced through breeding programs. I raise only four or five of the possible choices.”  
    Most of her customers buy only a single male, for the singing, or one pair. She said, “Canaries adapt well alone as a pet or in an aviary with other birds. They don’t do well with  parakeets, other hookbilled birds or larger birds in an aviary.  Canaries are of the finch family of birds. 
    Generally speaking, according  to Stout, only the male canary really sings. She added, "You  can tell the sex of a baby bird when they start singing, if they sing, they’re male."  Chicks begin to twitter at about three to five months and are singing at five to six months. By seven or eight months the birds are  mature and ready to be sold if  not kept for breeding stock.  A  pet canary will live to about ten years of age, breeding stock has a shorter life.
    The pairs begin to breed “as the days lengthen.” For Stout that means her birds begin to lay eggs in late January. A typical mating pair will hatch four to six eggs and hatch them after about two weeks. The hen, often before the first hatch are able to eat on their own, begins a second  nest, to lay more eggs. The male canaries (cocks) take over feeding the first nest, if they are not yet completely self sufficient,and feed the hen while she is incubating the second nest. Stout said,  “The baby chicks have to be fed and attended constantly by the parents for a fairly long time, compared to what we are used to with baby poultry chicks. Once the breeding season is over I separate the hens, to give them a chance to recoup and get back in shape.  It is an exhausting process keeping up with two nests of chicks."  Then decisions are made about which new birds to sell and which to keep for future breeding pairs in the next breeding cycle. 

Raising Canaries
    Stout said early on she had cages sitting around the living room.  As the numbers of birds increased, she said, "The singing got so loud we would have to quit talking or turn up the TV to hear it."   Recently she converted a utility room to her 'bird room'. She explained that works better for family life and the birds are easier to care for in one  place.    
     Canaries eat a combination of  bird seed and fresh vegetables and fruit. During breeding season, she said she goes through a 25 pound sack of bird seed in a week and about 25 pounds of seed a month other times. A bag of good quality bird seed is about $65. She supplements the seeds with apples, carrots, kale and other raw vegetables which  make up about a third of the birds’ food needs. 
     There are a few household hazards that affect canaries.  Stout said any kind of aerosol spray can be a problem and Teflon pans, when overheated, give off a vapor that is fatal to canaries (Some readers may be  familiar with the phrase “canary in a coal mine.” Before the  advent of electronic air monitors,  miners carried caged canaries  into the mines when working.  If the birds began to exhibit signs  of stress it was a signal to leave the mine because the air was bad. There are now “climate canaries,” species that show signs of stress before surrounding  species are affected by changes in the climate.  

A canary-based business

     A typical price for a canary is about $75-150.  Pedigreed birds and special varieties can run to  several hundred dollars. Pedigreed birds bring a higher price  because the band certifies they have a certain blood line. Stout belongs to the American Singers Club that helps assure the bands are used properly and that each bird is registered and noted when it was hatched. 
     Stout ships the canaries she sells via the Postal Service. She said there are special shipping  containers and the birds do well in transit.  She recently sold six birds to a customer in Virginia  and said the birds would be there in three days or less.  Stout described her interest in  raising canaries as a hobby. Then  she corrected herself and said,  “It’s really an obsession. People ask how I can stand all the birds singing. To me their songs are beautiful and I learn something new every day watching the birds and their behavior.” As to the reaction of her family, she said, “My husband and our grown son are very understanding, they let me do my thing.  If l’m on the phone with a customer they know supper may be delayed and they are ok with it.”
     Another benefit of getting serious about canaries has been  meeting other enthusiasts. She  mentioned an older “mentor” who lives in Billings, he’s been  raising canaries for 50 years. He said there are fewer breeders of  canaries and he wants to be sure canaries are available.” Stout’s enthusiasm for the enterprise  seems to be a good sign the beautiful songs of the canary will survive.    
     You can see Stout's canaries for sale, and a lot of other information about canaries, at her  website: She has links to other websites with relevant information.  You can call her at 353-2468 for more information about purchasing or caring for canaries.