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An overview of canary keeping, breeding and showing

An Overview of Canary Keeping: Breeding and Showing Tips

The canary fancy is quite different to many other branches of the bird keeping hobby. People keep either a few Canaries just for fun, some will breed with them and others will take it far more seriously and show them.

Canaries – keeping them, breeding them and even showing them can accommodate everyone.

Keeping canaries

We might think they are yellow birds – but not just yellow – there are clears, ticked, variegated, heavily variegated and “greens”. In simple language that means they can come as clear yellow birds, and there are degrees of dark markings which is what we call variegation. Just to confuse the whole issue – we even get white ones and they can come with variegation too.

We must explain about “Yellows & Buffs”. ALL birds come as Buffs or Yellows and it means nothing about the colour! It’s a description of the feather. The Yellow is a slightly smaller feather and the colour is somewhat more concentrated on the feather. The Buff feather is slightly larger, and a bit more “fluffy” around the edges. It makes the birds appear a bit bigger and the colour is slightly less concentrated so it’s always a softer colour. The theory is to pair a Buff feather with a Yellow feather when we breed with them. It does not matter which is the cock and which is the hen. Enough of all this technical bit – let’s just enjoy the birds!

Under the umbrella of the birds we call Canaries, there are many different varieties. They come as small, large and middle range sizes. Simply, the smaller the variety – the easier they are to breed. So, always start with the smaller varieties if you are new to breeding them. The smaller birds include Fife Fancy and Irish Fancy. The middle range includes Glosters, Coloured Canaries and Borders while the larger birds are Norwich and Yorkshires.

There is another sub-group that we describe as “colour-fed varieties." These include what used to be called New Colours but are now called Coloured Canaries, Norwich, Yorkshires and Lizards. There are more but that’s enough for now. Colour feeding is a bit of a mystery for most people but really its quite simple. Varieties that are colour-fed, such as Coloured Canaries, Norwich and Yorkshires for the shows are all given a colour-concentrate either in the drinking water or the softfood. It’s absorbed into the blood of the bird and as the new feathers grow, the colour appears. Colour-feeding has to start before the Canaries start to moult. Colour-feeding is not as easy as it sounds and needs the experience to achieve total success.


Haith’s has a long and distinguished history of supplying feed to the most successful of the canary fanciers over the years.

Canary Mix

The basic seeds for canaries is a “Canary Mix” which contains plain canary seed and rape. It’s those extra added seeds that make a mix most specific to particular periods in the year.

Condition seed

Canaries need special seeds to bring them into that top breeding condition and this comes with Haith’s Condition seed. There are individual seeds that experienced fanciers use to bring their birds into breeding condition and these are all available from Haith’s on mail order.

Germination or soak-seed is another mix that is used by many breeders. It’s a mixture that is soaked overnight, thoroughly washed through with fresh water and then either given to the birds at that stage or it’s germinated. Once it’s germinated, it sprouts and the food value of the seed is greatly increased. All serious canary breeders will use either what is called softfood or eggfood. Simply is a biscuit mix with additional egg, plus a few extras. There are several commercially available softfoods and Haith’s manufactures its own brands, and they are all popular. Some fanciers make their own softfood but the vast majority of fanciers use a commercial product. They are all high-protein foods and help the hens rear their chicks with this rearing food.



People who keep Canaries just for fun in an open aviary tend to offer nests and allow their birds to find their own partners. The birds usually breed well if they are given some protection, fed properly and the birds are in breeding condition.


Serious breeders who breed for the shows will keep their hens in breeding cages with a nest pan. Some breeders leave the cock with the hen all the time and others just run the cock in with the hen night and morning until fertile eggs appear. Many breeders believe the cocks are a problem for the hens when they are rearing and just use them to fertilise the eggs and his job is done. If he is an outstanding cock, it does offer the chance to use him with several hens during the breeding season.

Nesting pan

The nest that is offered is usually plastic with an added nest felt. Hens are provided with nesting material and some will build an elaborate nest – others make just a token effort!

The hen lays eggs early in the morning on alternate days until she produces four or five eggs. The incubation period is 14/15 days, and the chicks are ready to leave the nests in 21 days so they grow quickly and therefore need the best rearing food if they are to do well.


Exhibition breeders don’t like the idea of when the first chick to hatch is several days old, and the last egg hatches. It means that last chick does not get the best chance of developing as well as the first couple which demand most of the food from the hen. It's why many breeders remove the first eggs and put them all back at the same time.

The first four eggs are removed early on the morning they are laid and replaced with “dummy” eggs. In the evening of the day when the fourth egg is laid, all the eggs are put back in the nest, and the dummy eggs are taken away. It means all the chicks should hatch at the same time and they all get an equal chance of developing properly.


Hen and chick

This is probably the most difficult stage when breeding. It’s the time when the hens stop feeding the youngsters and they have to feed for themselves. Some fanciers keep feeding just softfood and introduce what is called “hard seed” a bit later. Most will continue to offer soak-seed or germinated seed at this stage. It’s a difficult time for young canaries and they need lots of attention.

When the adults have finished breeding they moult, loose their feathers and grow new ones. The cocks stop singing and all their energy goes into growing new feathers. It’s a time for plenty of baths, good food and leave well alone. Don’t stress the birds!


Young birds start to moult at around ten weeks old. It seems very early but they lose some of those head and body feathers but not the flights. It’s a stressful time for these youngsters so it’s important to care for them well.

From October to the end of the year – sometimes into January and February are the shows. There are two sections – for young birds, what are called “unflighted” and for adult birds, what we call “flighted”.

Clubs and societies:

There are lots of clubs and societies around. Check out the internet for local clubs and look at Cage & Aviary Birds, a weekly magazine that lists most of the club meetings that are taking place around the country.

Clubs are the places to learn about Canaries. The clubs will hold meetings to help new fanciers, run shows and get you enjoying your birds and caring for them properly. There will always be plenty of experienced fanciers who you can chat with and sort out any problems you might be having with your birds. Clubs are the places to enjoy your birds, other than in your own birdrooms.

Showing Canaries:

Once you are involved with clubs you will become exposed to shows and showing. Shows are not for everyone – many people enjoy keeping and may be breeding Canaries but showing is not for everyone. However, if you are competitive and you decide to show your birds, you are likely to become enthralled by shows and showing.

Reading and magazines:

There are many classic books on canaries - keeping them, breeding and showing but there are very few new books. Producing new books is not commercially viable but the classics are still well worth reading.

I have reservations about the internet for information about all birds. It’s so easy to add something to the internet and not all of the information is correct. Read it, but be careful and don’t believe that because it appears, don’t believe it has to be absolutely correct!

There is only one weekly magazine – Cage & Aviary Birds. There are always lots of interesting features about canaries and all other birds. There are plenty of advertisements for birds, feed and equipment but for any new bird-keeper, it’s the information about clubs and societies that’s invaluable.

If you have a question you would like to ask about Canaries – send you question to Haith’s and we will try to get one of our Canary Experts to answer it on the website.

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