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Getting a Gift Canary
by R C McDonald
The first thing you need to know is how to go about finding a
healthy, well-raised canary who is not too old or too young.
Canaries are seasonal birds, and can seem mighty scarce indeed if
you are looking for one during the spring or early summer; the
reason being that most adult canaries are breeding just then,
while the youngsters they've hatched are barely weaned, probably
in the middle of their juvenile moult, and not old enough to have
developed their true song yet.
Moulting generally lasts for from 8 to 12 weeks. Once canaries
are a year old this should happen from mid-to-late summer. The
moult is a highly stressful time for canaries. All birds are at
their worst then, in their weakest and least adaptable of all
A moulting canary should never be moved to a new home, if at all
possible - it is just too stressful to have to adapt to new
conditions while undergoing a moult. Besides, most moulting
canaries rarely sing much, if at all, and they will take much
longer to adapt to a new situation well enough to begin singing -
if indeed they don't actually get sick! - if moved during the
That means that the best time of year to buy a canary is from the
fall through to mid-winter or so, when the youngsters have had
time to develop their adult songs, and it is possible to guess
more accurately what gender they are.
Young hens often sing quite as well and as much as the young
males. This can be true until they are more mature, and in some
cases, the hens will even sing when they are adult! So whether a
bird sings or not is rarely an accurate way to tell gender -
although it IS true that most (or all) of the best adult singers
will usually be males.
So unless you find yourself hunting for that special canary
during the right time of year for canaries to be available, you
might want to consider getting that special person a 'voucher' as
a promise that you will get her a healthy, singing canary, when
they become more available.
Then all you need to do is find a good source.
Your best bet is to find a reliable breeder, rather than looking
in pet stores, and you might want to put some thought into
considering that it is often best, once you have actually found a
good breeder, to arrange to take your special person to visit,
and allow him or her to choose their own bird.
Buying a bird for somebody else is rather like adopting a child
for somebody else... everything just seems to work out better if
people get to choose their own pet.
You can do the legwork of finding a good breeder, though, and you
can also provide transportation, a good sized cage, etc... these
are thoughtful details to include in such a gift, and will help
ensure that the chosen canary is cared for properly and will
remain happy and healthy enough to sing for many years.
I would suggest you look for a bird club near you - that is one
of the best ways to find a good breeder. A good place to start is
at the A.F.A. website's 'affiliated clubs' listings. You will
find a link to this site and more in the 'Clubs and
Organizations' area of my 'Links' web pages, which start at
You will also find a great many bird clubs listed at
You may notice that some breeders advertise online and promise to
ship your birds to you. I do not recommend purchasing a canary
this way, as shipping is highly stressful on canaries. If
something should go wrong in transit and the bird becomes ill or
dies, which can happen, you will be out-of-pocket for the
shipping AND the cost of the bird. And neither is cheap.
Some breeders will offer to ship UPS. The problem is that it is
illegal to do so in many states, and some post offices may reject
the parcel, or not handle it properly. Worse, it might take
longer than planned in transit. This last can mean that you might
find a very weak, suffering canary when your package finally
arrives - or even a dead one.
So, you're back to locating a local breeder, via your local bird
clubs. Do note that no matter which species the local clubs focus
on, they may still be able to help you - bird people tend to know
other bird people near them, no matter what species they keep. So
don't limit yourself to looking for canary clubs - talk to
somebody from every club in your area, if you can, and you may
just find a good breeder faster than if you limited yourself to
canary clubs only.
Once you've found a club, ask the members about who they think
the best local canary breeders are, and why. Then arrange to
visit them. Your goal is to learn a little about which breeds
they keep and how they care for their birds - some breeders are
more reliable than others, and a good breeder is more likely to
supply you with a healthy bird who will live a long life.
Here's some of what I look for when visiting a canary breeder
(from here on out, I will refer to the breeder as 'he', even
though it is just as likely 'he' could be 'she').
Will he allow you to see the kind of set-up he has? Even if you
are not allowed too close to some areas, he should be willing to
allow you to give the premises a quick look-see. If not, he could
have something to hide - and I would not buy a bird there.
Are his birds bright-eyed, tight-feathered, healthy and active,
with clean vents, and bright colors? Or are the birds dull,
scraggly-looking, and lethargic? If I see the latter, I don't
What kind of condition are the cages and general premises in? All
birds can be rather messy, but this is quite different from just
plain dirty - it should be obvious that the premises are cleaned
thoroughly on a regular basis.
Is he interested in what kind of home you will provide for his
youngster, or does he just want you to buy and scram? I find good
breeders care quite passionately that their youngsters will be
properly cared for.
Less often seen, but a habit which earns a big plus mark in my
estimation - is there toys for the birds to play with? Canaries
are quite intelligent for their size - stimulation which
encourages play is a healthy part of their environment, and helps
encourage proper development.
Most will manage to play even without toys, with whatever they
have - paper, seed, greens, water - but if there's safe toys
around, you know the breeder cares about his birds' state of
mind, as well as their beauty and song.
Do the birds have greens and/or vegetables as well as seed and
water? This also earns the breeder a big plus in my mind, as
feeding greens takes a little more trouble and time than just
tossing some seed or pellets into a cup.
These are just general guidelines, and of course there are
different variables in any given situation. But if these basics
are met, you can know that you have found a canary breeder who
should have strong, healthy birds.
Once you find a breeder you like who seems reliable, you may need
to reserve a bird until he is ready to sell his stock. It's
usually possible to request that your name be put on a waiting
list. Then just get a nice card stating that your giftee has a
top-quality canary on reserve for them. Add a cage and a ride out
to the breeder's to choose their bird when the time is right, and
you will have a very impressive gift indeed!
Finally, you can recommend your giftee learns more about the
basics of caring for a canary by reading the articles linked to
the webpage at www.robirda.com/basicpg.html
This kind of approach can make the process of giving a gift
canary a fun and easy one for everybody involved - even the
canary! Have fun, and enjoy your gift of 'Cheep Trills'!
by R C McDonald
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