A Guideline on How to Breed and Exhibit Canaries

By Candace Pezzuti

Chapter 1: Terminology
Chapter 2: Selecting Your Breeding Stock
Chapter 3: Breeding Preparation and Introduction of Pairs
Chapter 4: Breeding
Chapter 5: Weaning Chicks Away from Parents
Chapter 6: Moulting Period
Chapter 7: Show Training and Preparation of Young Birds

Chapter 1: Terminology

Feather Quality:

Feather Quality by definition refers to the type of feather that the bird exhibits. A bird will fall into two types of feather quality.

Buff, Non-Intensive, Non-Frosted are all the same terms for a feather that is broader in width and will have white edging at the end of the feather shaft; it will not hold any color. A buff bird will give the appearance of being fluffier than a yellow bird.

Yellow, Intensive, Frost are all the same terms for a feather that is narrower in width and will have the color go down to the tip of the feather shaft. A yellow bird will give the appearance of being shiner in color and will have a deeper color depth than a buff bird.

As a type breeder will use the terms buff and yellow to refer to the feather quality of the bird not the COLOR of the bird.

The other terms that follow buff and yellow are terms that mean the same description only they are used by colorbred breeders.

On the show bench a bird will be judged in the type categories for conformation, feather quality, stance, and performance.

Feather quality will also affect the depth of color you will develop in your stud. Yellow improves the deep rich color you will want in your birds but too much yellow will make your birds longer looking in appearance and they will loose their type. Type meaning their conformation look.

Ground Color:

Ground color refers to the color of the bird without any melanin. There are two types of ground color, one is yellow and the other is white.

Yellow ground birds are classified by the amount of melanin that they show. Melanin is the black/brown color on top of the yellow ground color. The amount of melanin will determine which class the bird will be entered into a show.

Show Classes for yellow ground birds are as follows: Clear to Grizzle, 1/4 variegated, 1/2 variegated, 3/4 variegated, heavy variegated or self-green.

White ground color will include birds that are pure white to also include birds that are blue, blue white variegated. But a breeder will refer to all the white ground birds as white even the blues. It's the ground color the breeder is describing. A white ground bird will also give you fawns, which is a mutation of the cinnamon gene only showing on a white ground bird.

Show Classes for white ground birds are as follows: Clear to ½ variegated, ¾ variegated to self-blue, fawn any variegation of self to fawn.

Chapter Two: Selecting Your Breeding Stock

Before you purchase your breeding stock please go to as many local and National Shows that you can attend prior to buying any birds that you plan to use in your stud.

The biggest mistake a novice breeder will make is their initial purchase of breeding stock. Without attending any shows you won't know what's winning on the show bench and what champion breeders are aiming for in their stud.

A breed has a standard which probably hasn't been updated for years. What was once the popular standard is not what champion breeders today are showing and winning with. Don't be in a rush to buy birds that you think look cute. You'll only end up getting rid of them after paying big bucks and will have to start over.

Do your homework, go to shows look at what's winning on the bench and talk to as many breeders as possible. Most champion breeders are more than willing to help a novice get into the hobby.

No matter what breed you decide on, buy the best stock possible. Remember, its quality not quantity that counts on the show bench. Stay in touch with that breeder and get as much information on the pedigrees of the birds you purchased. You'll need the pedigree information down the road when you are pairing up your birds. A good breeder will always provide this information if requested.

Keep good records of your breeding from year to year. Whether it's done manually or on a computer program …KEEP GOOD RECORDS.

When selecting your stock remember the basics. You want good type/confirmation, as close to the standard as possible, feather quality, which means you, need good yellows as well as buffs. A selection of colors also is important. You don't want all green birds in your aviary. But be careful with color, you need the type and feather first, color can always come later.

White birds can be used as yellows; cinnamons can decrease the size of your birds while increasing the feather quality.

Temperament in your stock is also important. Show birds must be calm and easily trained to stay in a show cage sometimes holding a position for as long as a day or two depending on the show.

Type birds are considered position birds, which mean that they have to hold a certain stance on a perch during the entire show.

If you buy birds that are wild they will not be show birds no matter how long you try to train them. They will never take to the cage and settle down. These birds are usually aggressive in nature and will be aggressive during breeding season. They may harm the hen trying to breed or they might harm the chicks, wanting to go back to nest. If you have these birds don' waste your time and ruin your line, get rid of them. They are pet birds not show birds.

Don't sell your chicks too young. Most type birds don't blossom until they are a year old or more. You don't know what you have until they mature; so give your birds the time they deserve to show their stuff.

Chapter 3: Breeding Preparation and Selection of Pairs

Hens and cocks should have already been separated after the last breeding season. If you haven't separated your birds that will be the first step in selecting your current breeding stock.

All birds have faults, some you can live with, others you can't. A spilt down the back of the neck, an oval shaped corona, buffing around the eye, are all faults that you don't want in your line. Once these faults get into your line they will show up again and again. Do not breed these birds, they have faults that you cannot live with or work with. Too big a bird, poor feather quality, you can always improve by using better breeding techniques.

You should trim the vents and toenails on all your breeding stock prior to pairing them up. Do not trim or pull out the guide feather on the vent of the bird. These are the feathers that come directly out of the vent. You want to trim all around the vent area. Trim the toenails so that the hen or cock cannot puncture the eggs in the nest.

Always pair up your best birds to your best birds. Remembering the type, feather, well centered rounded corona; if it's a consort than a nice well rounded head with depth to the back of the skull. Show birds don't produce show birds. A good breeder will value the Stock bird, which is a little larger than the show birds but has the extra of everything the breeder is looking for in that show bird. If you keep breeding all small birds than your line will get to the point that the birds will loose their type.

Remembering that too much cinnamon in your line will reduce the size and make the feather too fine and you will loose the depth of color in your birds. Too much yellow will make you birds look long and narrow and you will loose the type in your line. Too much buff and you will have big, loose-feathered birds with washed out colors.

So there is a lot to remember when pairing up your birds. Refer back to your pedigrees and be careful as to how much buff, yellow and cinnamon you have in that particular pairing and what you expect to get from that pairing. Have a plan. Take your time and write down on the breeding card why you thought this would be a good pair and produce chicks you were expecting. If you don't get the results you were looking for; then these notes will come in handy for the following breeding season.

A hen will display type better than a cock. The cock bird is usually bigger, but you don't want a big rough type cock bird paired to your small type hen. The cock should also display the same qualities as the hen but somewhat larger.

Always breed your birds in pairs. The cock is a big help in feeding both the hen when she sits on the nest as well as feeding the chicks. I find that some of my cocks are better feeders than the hens.

I do not suggest breeding more than two clutches a season. If you over breed your birds then you will not have these birds to breed next year. Breeders get greedy, and wind up hurting themselves when they don't have these birds breeding for them the following year.

My last suggestion if you are really interested in breeding good quality canaries whether you plan on exhibiting or not is to attend shows where you can see the difference in a Breeder's line and speak to these breeders and really get to know the hobby before spending a lot of money purchasing stock from any one particular breeder. You'll save yourself money, time and frustration by having to start over again with different stock because what you though looked cute wasn't even a good quality pet bird. If you educate yourself before hand and avoid all the pitfalls, you'll probably stick with the hobby.

Talk with Champion Breeders that have done all their winnings for a number of years. These breeders have nothing to loose by giving the Novice truthful and useful information. It's their reputation that is on the line and they don not fear any new competition from a novice. It has taken them years to build up their particular line of birds and they know how hard that can be.

Join all the specialty clubs pertaining to your breed of bird. They need your support and will provide you with valuable information in their newsletters and websites.

Take pictures of birds you like at the shows and hang them on the wall of your birdroom as reference to what you're aiming for in your stud.

Remember a judge's opinion is subjective and only one person's opinion on any given day. Do not get discouraged. Go to another show and see how your bird does under a different judge on a different day. Ask the judges why they placed your bird on the show bench the way that they did. You can learn a lot by asking the judges after the show what they think of your bird and what suggestions they have as to what you need to improve your line.

Showing your bird is competitive, but it's also a social hobby in which you should enjoy the company of your fellow hobbyists, win or lose.

Chapter 4: Breeding Requirements:

Breeding Season: Once a year

Depending on where you live in the country most Breeders setup in February and breed through May.

In Las Vegas because of our hot climate we breed from January to Beginning of May.


Canaries need 14 hours of daylight to breed. We increase the artificial lights 15 minutes every week starting in the December.

Remember do not go over more than 15 hours of daylight or you will throw you birds into a moult.

Nutritional Requirements:

To bring canaries into breeding condition we feed greens, niger seed, ground hemp seed and eggfood.

Every Breeder has their own receipt for eggfood. I have attached a copy of mine at the end of this article.

When preparing to feed green rinse them in white vinegar or salt water before using to destroy any bacteria that may be on the produce.

Birds love frozen green peas, zucchini shredded, broccoli, cabbage, corn on cob, apples, carrots, whole wheat bread, rye bread, corn bread.

I do not sprout seed because of bacteria concerns. I do however cook my seed just until the seeds pop open.

Do not feed spinach; the iron content in spinach blocks the formation of calcium.

Seeds that canaries eat: Canary Grass Seed, Niger, Hulled Oats, Hemp, Roller Mix (canary grass seed, rape and flax), when feeding rape seed only use the red canola rape. Black rape seed is a commercial grade seed and not good for canaries.

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