December 15, 2021

Questions & Answers #1 --- Letter to an American Singer buyer

Topics in this post:

  • Hens laying few or no eggs.

  • Chicks dying at week of age.

  • Increasing egg laying and fertility.

  • Color Intensity really is Feather Type.

  • American Singer song varies with individual bird.

A customer searching for American Singer canaries had a few questions and I am sharing my thoughts with my blog readers.  I reference articles and show results found on the American Singer Club website.

Dear M---,

Q  #1)  When I asked WHY you wanted American Singers, you said you wanted yellow birds.  And you were disappointed when a breeder sold you dark birds including heavily variegates and a green self.

First, American Singers are not predominately yellow.  The American Singer canary is a cross between a German Roller and an English Border Fancy.  The American Singer canary comes in all colors and melanin, including clears, variegates, and self birds in yellow and white grounds.  There are provisions for red factor colored American Singers and I have seen cinnamon birds on winners lists in the past 20 years.

The point show score system points does not give points for color, and there is to be no preference by judges for color.  If you look over the list of recent show winners, you will see a few clear birds, but many more self or variegated birds.  You may be interested in looking over the current year's list of winners at the ASC song contests in 2021.

Second,  there is the term of 'yellow' being used for hard feather type, or it may be called intensive. 'Buff' is the term for the soft feather type.  Traditionally, most canary breeds and types are bred with a yellow (or hard feather) bird paired with a buff (or soft feather) bird.  

The purpose of breeding 'hard/intensive' to 'soft/buff' is to produce the best possible feather qualities.  A hard feather bird carries color to the very edge of the feather, and produces a tight smooth line.  A soft feather bird will have a paler edge to the feathers, and produces a more fluffy, rounded outline.  Pairing one of each type does keep a very nice feather and carries good bright color in both feather types.

I think this is one important aspect of breeding that is most often ignored by novices and more experienced breeders alike, of all canary breeds!

An article on the American Singer Club website is quoted as "Some breeders claim we have bred the yellow out of our American Singers..." and goes on to describe a buff - rich description of feather.  I agree with this, and have seen the buff - rich effect in my own American Singers.  For a good, short article on this topic, see Yellow Ground Color in Canaries.

Buff/Soft Feather

Intensive/Hard Feather

All breeders have personal preferences for different song notes... AND for birds with certain appearances or color.  Of course , that is as it should be.  But to say:  'American Singers should be yellow' is not a part of the American Singer Club constitution.  At the very beginning in the 1950's, song contests were divided into color classifications, but within a few years, the classes in song contests became Old and Young.

Yellow Variegated Buff

Q  #2)  You mentioned purchasing birds from a certain breeder, and being disappointed by their color. 

I want you to know, I have been wishing to get birds from this breeder!

All I can say to this is:  if you breed those birds together, I would be interested in buying from you!  His reputation is established by his numerous, repeated show wins.  His Facebook page has great videos of his young males in training for the song contests.  It will be worth a look at his videos;  you will be glad you did.  (Please send me a Facebook PM for a link to this breeder's page.  I am not publicly mentioning any names.)

American Singers do NOT naturally all sing the same song.  The ideal song has tones/notes sang with a closed beak, as the Roller canary does..... and open beaked notes, as the Border canary sings.  There are aspects of freedom, variety, creativity and volume, for which points are scored during judging at a song contest.

I have purchased from 5 AS breeders and each one's birds are different in song. 
And there are GOOD points and BAD points.... so don't assume all American Singer males sing alike.  American Singer males' song is influenced by what they hear as well as what they inherit!

Self blue (all dark white) Intensive

Q  #3)  A breeder told you to use young birds.... the reasoning being that they will produce more birds. 

Nothing wrong with using young birds, but I like to keep the very best birds... the ones that produce the best chicks,  for multiple years.  As long as they produce chicks and are good parents, I will keep good birds.

I breed by a line breeding plan grouped by families... and without keeping some of the best older birds, I could lose a good trait in a matter of a year or two!  Continually selling year old males and replacing them with young males could completely change the song, or other trait, in my birds within several years!  I've seen it happen in other breeder's birds!

I am breeding toward a goal... for quality birds.  I don't plan for quantity.  Usually, your motivation, your reason for being a canary keeper, will show itself in the QUALITY of your birds.  If you continually plan for improvement, you will have better and better birds.  If you are breeding for larger numbers to sell, and not paying attention to what the birds produce, your birds will be less than an ideal representation of the American Singer canary.

Clear Yellow (all light) Buff

Q  #4)  You feel your pairs didn't produce as many chicks as  you expected this past season.  Some chicks died at about a week of age, and some hens didn't lay any or many eggs.

I am sorry you didn't have a great breeding year!  I am always ready to find 'WHY' for my own problems and I do have several suggestions for you.  I am just talking breeder to breeder, as I realize you have bred many birds for many years.  I do not believe anyone can say:  This is wrong, for sure!  Nothing is 'for sure' and there will always be things that happen that cannot be explained.

First, let's talk about the chicks dying.  Usually, by the time the chicks are a week old, I can give a sigh of relief as they are well on their way to growing up!  But, I have received many questions by people who are worried about dead in nest.  So, this is a frequent problem.

Many people say it's because a hen is sitting too 'tight'.  This doesn't mean the hens sat too heavily on the chicks or suffocated them.  It means they sat in the nest too long, without feeding their young.  

When I see dead chicks in nest, I first think the hen/parents may not be feeding well.

Always check the chicks' crops to see how well the hen/parents are feeding.  And sometimes the late afternoon check is the most important.  Most hens will feed well first thing in the morning, if they have fresh soft food set before them.  They are thirsty and hungry and after satisfying themselves, they will pack breakfast to their chicks.

You mentioned the soft food was usually gone by noon.  Do you feed more soft food in the afternoon?  The chicks need to go into the long hours of nights with full crops.  Don't forget to have soft food in their cage throughout the day.

If you do have a hen that does not seem to be feeding as well as she should, simply adding something new to the soft food, or in addition to the soft food, will encourage her to feed chicks.  Broccoli is hard for a hen to resist.  If you are using a commercial soft food mix, adding a real hard boiled egg (either as a quartered egg or mixed in the commercial mix) will make them feed more often.  If you are making your own recipe of soft food, adding a fruit flavored/fragrance commercial mix, will make them happy.  I add ground anise seed to my homemade mix.. they really go for it!

And I've had several hens who did not like any soft food I tried and preferred feeding seed centers to their chicks.  It doesn't happen often but I have seen it.  These hens will usually nibble on pieces of whole wheat bread... but mostly they hull seed to feed their chicks.  And it can go well, as long as they always have a fresh, simple canary mix in their dishes.

Another possible reason for the hen to stay on the nest is the male may be harassing her every time she gets off.  How is his behavior?

And there may be some other environmental factor that causes the hen to feel she has to protect her chicks.  One year, I had a fan in my bird room... that was blowing onto one hen's nest.  I suppose she felt she had to protect the chicks from the wind!  Luckily, I noticed her feathers moving in the draft, and turned the fan's face away from her cage, and she resumed feeding.

Occasionally, I have seen breeders losing chicks when they are mixing their own soft food recipe and there is not enough protein in the food.

So, my advice here is to check the chicks' crops, and if they are empty, you should watch the male's behavior and try feeding a new food. 

Q  #5)  How to increase egg laying and fertility?

This doesn't have a simple answer... some people say you just need minerals.  Most often, a lack of minerals will be seen as a soft shelled egg or an infertile egg.  

To produce an egg requires more than minerals.  The hen's body must be screaming It's Spring and time for mating season!  A hen must be 1) healthy, 2) stimulated by environment, 3) stimulated by diet, and 4) stress-free.

I firmly believe in seasons for our canaries.  In Nature, song birds have a winter rest, then as their environment turns to spring, so do their bodies.  I have written about this in other blog posts.

The 'freedom from stress' is a factor most people do not think about.  Maybe they are in a group aviary without privacy.  Maybe there is some distraction like barking dogs, vibrations of public transit nearby, or maybe they are not happy with their mate. 

So, my advice here is to make sure your hens are healthy, which does include vitamins and minerals... and then make sure they have had a winter rest before Spring conditions which are longer days, richer diet, and introduction of a mate.

Q #6)  You asked where to buy supplemental minerals and granules that you often see included in a canary seed mix.

There are so many companies producing good supplements.  In fact, there are entire websites selling thousands of bird supplements.  European products are available here in the US.  New research has introduced herbal supplements, oils and health stimulants.  Commercially packaged soft food mixes and many seed mixes contain vitamins and minerals coated on the seeds/oat groats or as added colored granules.

Most breeders do not agree on which is best.  Everyone has found this or that product that works for them.

Personally, I found several products that my birds just love, and those are the ones I use.
When my birds get so excited for the Ilford/DufoPlus supplement in their water, I feel there must be some ingredient they need.  

Here is a list of the supplements I have found produced a good response in my birds:

Ioford/DufoPlus: I combine the two in drinking water for consecutive two days, 1x - 3x each month.
If anyone wished to use a single supplement, this combination is my recommendation.
DufoPlus is a basic vitamin supplement without sugar so it may be left in their water tubes for two days.
Ioford contains iodine, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and vitamin D3.

I use Megamix or apple cider vinegar once a week during breeding and molting seasons.
Our water is alkaline, hence the acidifying additive.

I do not add mineral/vitamin powders to the soft food.   I feed any powders in a separate dish.

I am testing Van Min-vit powder.  So far, they look at it and may peck at it a bit. Consumption varies by season.  Time will tell how it works.
I have used FVite powder in the past.  The birds seem to enjoy it on a regular basis.  

For intestine health and immune response, this year I used Pantex Pantochol just before breeding, after any antibiotic treatment, and once a week during the molt.

You asked about crumble supplements:   A breeder recommended offering our birds ZuPreem FruitBlend pellets.  I find my birds will often toss them around and waste them if I include them in the seed mix.  If I include them in the soft food, they will eat them.  However, I do not feed soft food every day all year.  I feel I do not need them for health, since I am using other supplements.

The vitamin-mineral biscuit crumbles may be found in seed mixes such as:
Volkman Avian Science Diet
custom mixes such as Fortified Canary Mix by Herman Bros Seed