April 25, 2023

Questions and Answers #3 -- I don't want to breed, just have a group of colorful birds to watch!

"I don't want to breed canaries;  I just want a colorful group to watch!"
When I hear this comment, it sends chills up my spine. 

Most often people who start out by saying these words end up coming back for more birds in a year or two!  "I don't know what happened.. they just seemed to die one at a time.  Oh, it was heartbreaking!  It will be so much fun to have a cage full again!  I want to buy another dozen!"

There go the chills again!  I am learning to say NO to these people. 

One local lady had a very pretty corner acrylic-enclosed aviary, medium to small sized.  She owned larger birds such as Amazons and cockatiels, each in their own cages with lots of space and play tops.  But she put 8 canaries, one hen and seven males, in her 'small' acrylic 'aviary'.... and watched them chase that poor hen mercilessly, continuously.  One by one the males were found dead or fatally injured.  Finally, the lone survivor at the end of a year's time died too.

When she came back for more canaries, the first time, I dropped some very obvious pointers that maybe a bachelor's-only house would be best suited.  Nope, she wanted that little hen too. 

A year passed, and when she came looking to buy again, I told her no.  And I didn't sugar coat it with half truths about not being ready to sell.  I told her I was not sending my birds home with her to their certain death.

LET ME TELL YOU THIS TRUTH:  Even if YOU have made the decision not to raise young canaries, your birds will not understand!  Instinct, as Nature intended, tells them to nest, lay eggs and all of the other behaviors of reproduction, including territorial fighting!

These behaviors include building nests, laying eggs, and mating with the opposite sex.  These behaviors are perfectly harmless... even laying eggs.  A hen is so happy and content building a nest, and then incubating eggs.  She won't mind at all if you replace her real eggs with any type of small fake egg or marble. You can leave the nest and fake eggs under her for two or three weeks or until she decides the eggs won't hatch.  She will be a little thin after sitting on the nest with no activity.  But, that is just the cycle of nature and she will gain weight soon enough.  If she wants to nest a second time, put the nest back in and swap the fake eggs for her eggs.  She will be happy, doing what she was born to do.  :)

However, some behaviors of birds in a group are destructive!

Canaries, both males and females, are territorial by nature, in the wild.  Wild song birds are also.  We see wild birds flock together for migration, but nesting adults are separated by yards, often miles in some species.  We've all seen robins dive bombing cats, dogs and other birds that get too close to their chosen nesting space.

So, multiple males together in a flight will fight!  Even hens will tear into each other over a favorite nesting spot or perch.  And no cage or flight, no matter how large, can duplicate the wide outdoors in allowing space to get away from competing birds.

Because they are COMPETING!  Nature provides an instinct for survival, for defense, and for aggressive behavior to scare away other birds that would compete for a mate, for food, for that quiet hidden perch on which to relax and sleep.

These instincts, natural urges, will vary with the seasons.  A group of mixed sex canaries may co-exist calmly during the winter, when they are in their natural rest period.  But, as soon as the longer days of spring come, their hormones will switch to breeding mode.  Males will begin chasing the hens and fighting with each other.  Hens will fight with each other over nesting spots or to be first at the seed dish.

Canaries chasing each other all around the cage or flight are NOT playing tag!

The answer?  Rather than debate and wonder about how to build the flight larger, it is WISE to BUY a colony species, such as finches that prefer the comfort of a group all together. If you must have canaries, a group of all hens or all males MAY (?) get along  better if they are the same sex.  A pair MAY (?) get along most of the year, but not necessarily always. Be prepared to remove any aggressive bird, male or female into a separate cage.

Temporary solutions include: put in MANY perches, at different levels, so competing birds do not have to look at one another.  Put in fake greenery to subdivide the space, allowing one male to be quietly eating out of sight of any bird looking for a fight.  Use multiple feed dishes, also at different heights or out of sight.  Use multiple water dishes and bath dishes.  

I repeat:  Birds of the same sex may co-exist peacefully together during the winter and during the molt.  But keep an eye on their behavior:  as soon as their hormones say it is Spring and time for breeding, there will be fighting, serious fighting!