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Unseasonal Molting in Canaries
by R C McDonald
Copyright © 2004
Winter feather-loss problems are very easily caused by drafts from
a heating system, either directly, as in a draft from a vent - or
indirectly, say, from some air bouncing off a wall into a corner,
or blowing down from a duct, or some such. Sometimes heat rising
from a heating vent can get trapped under a cage cover, and
when that happens, it is most definitely very stressful on the bird,
and will almost always cause feather loss and cessation of song,
due to the widely-ranging temperatures it can cause.
So particularly if you find fallen feathers in the morning when you
uncover your bird, be sure to check that there is no hot air rising
from a nearby register into his cage, at night. Generally all you
need to do to solve such a problem, is either to block the draft
so it no longer reaches him, or sometimes just to provide a
sheltered area where he can step out of the draft.
Most canaries will stop singing when they begin to drop their feathers,
whether due to an unseasonal moult, stress, or illness. Only an
exceptionally well-nourished canary will sing while he is growing in
feathers, because doing so takes quite a lot of energy and nutrition.
And if there is feathers missing, his body will be trying to grow in
more, even if you can't tell!
If you can manage to find and stop the problem that is making him
drop his feathers in the first place, you will probably find that he
will resume singing within a couple of weeks or so of the time
when he finally has all his feathers back.
Missing feathers around a canary's neck is a sign of what the old-timers
used to call a 'stuck moult'. The most usual causes are a draft that
he can't get out of (the most common cause for this symptom), or
lack of adequate nutrition for growing in new feathers (another
fairly common cause), or stress. Stress can be caused by many
things, including being harassed by another bird sharing the cage
or even living nearby (especially if the cage and perches in the
nearby cage are higher than those for the canary's cage) - or
just general stress.
That leads us to another important cause of stress, his regular diet.
(All of it, including treats, greens etc... ) It is almost always necessary
to take a good overall look at diet as well as environment when
trying to solve problems, as even small items missing or given in
too large quantities can make a huge difference in a canary's health.
One of the biggest problems that can be caused by the diet is
fatty liver problems, from feeding too much fatty foods. Most often,
this is due to offering too much treat seed. These mixes are usually
VERY fatty - one teaspoonful of one of these mixes for a canary,
is the equivalent of you or I eating an 8-inch, fully iced, double-layer
chocolate cake, all by ourselves. As I am sure you realize - to do
so might make him very happy, but it certainly won't do much
for his health!
So try to make sure that your canary doesn't get more than a teaspoonful
or so per week of any song food mixes or other such treat seeds,
combined. A too-fatty diet can easily cause a bird to become too
fat to sing, and/or too sick to sing, from stress caused on his heart
and body by a fatty liver or heart.
Moulting food, song treat, eggs and egg food or egg biscuits, honey
treats, millet, and all those kinds of treats tend to be very high in fat -
often 60% fat or more. Even a heavily moulting bird should receive
no more than a tablespoonful per week or so of all such treats
combined. Outside of the moult, he should see no more than a
teaspoonful or so per week, again, not of each, but of
Another (very common) cause of loss of feathers is skin problems.
This can occasionally be caused by mites or even a fungus growing
on the skin, but the most common culprit is long term lack of vitamin A.
The fact is, vitamin supplements are always necessary for a seed-
eating bird. Especially over the longer term (for a canary at least) not
being given enough dark leafy greens can lead to problems too.
Most people don't realize it, but most canaries can literally eat their
weight in greens every day! (Spinach and chard are fairly high in
oxalic acid, which binds with and prevents proper digestion of,
calcium, so they should be given sparingly, if at all.)
Even if you think your canary has been getting adequate amounts of
vitamin A is his diet, there should be no harm in increasing the
amount of foods in his diet that are known to aid the body in
producing its own vitamin A, to see if it makes a difference or not.
Much of the time, it can make a rather astonishing difference in
quite short order, in actual fact!
I prefer to offer a good handful or more per canary, daily, of
chopped dark leafy greens like kale, leafy endive, rapini (broccoli raba),
and other similar greens. I usually mix them with coarse-grated
carrot, which ups the overall nutrient content tremendously. Most
canaries will usually like and eat a mix like this fairly well, unlike if
you offer grated carrots separately. That usually just gets a 'what in
heck is that' look from your bird, who will then proceed to ignore them...
As mentioned above, regular vitamin/mineral supplementation is
necessary if your bird is eating a seed-based diet - it is utterly
impossible to supply an indoor bird with all the nutrients needed
through a seed-based diet alone. I prefer a good basic supplement
such as the Vetafarm products, but perhaps the best on the market
is 'Prime', made by Hagen. It is sold in many pet stores, and most
who carry their products can order it in for you, if you ask.
If you do buy some Prime be very sure to open the box and check
the expiry date on the bottom of the bottle - many stores don't
know to check this, and so sometimes you will find an expired
bottle still on a shelf - but Hagen will replace such bottles with
fresh, so don't let them fool you and tell you that they can't - they
CAN return them and get you a fresh one instead.
I like to serve vitamins dry, on a soaked seed mix - this is the
closest my birds ever get to a 'song food mix', and they love it!
Basic instructions on what soak seed is and how to serve it are
posted at www.robirda.com/soakseed.html
If the seed mix your canary eats has lots of dark seeds in it, then
it is too fatty - the darker seeds are all quite high in oil. If you do
see a lot of dark seeds in his mix, you might consider changing
to a plainer brand of seed mix.
As for drafts - I couldn't tell you how many times people have
been totally certain there was no draft anywhere around their bird -
but when they tested using the following method, they found one.
Drafts tend to frequent the vicinity of windows, and heating and
air conditioning vents can cause problems too. The fact is, that
while many people worry about exposing their birds to drafts,
most don't realize that there is a very simple and effective way
to check any area for drafts - simply use a lit candle!
As long as you are careful with the flame, this is a very easy
and effective way to check for the presence of an unsuspected
draft. Simply remove the bird's cage from where it usually sits,
then put the lit candle in the place the cage usually occupies.
Wait for a few minutes for the candle flame to steady down, then
observe it from a little distance. Is it flickering? Then it is certain
there is a draft.
If it is not flickering, there is still some checking to do - open and
close nearby doors or windows, and turn furnaces on and off,
watching the flame all the while.
Whenever it flickers, a draft has gone by; make note of its source
and direction (from the way the flame leans) and remember to
provide your bird with shelter from it which he can use if he so
desires - a draft is no problem, as long as the bird can step out
of it if he wishes! Often this can be as simple as a cloth draped
over one corner of the cage.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that many kinds of cookware
can produce fumes that are harmful to birds. Even a tiny trace
of some of these fumes can cause problems, even if they were not
strong enough to cause death or noticeable damage. Because of this,
your canary should be anywhere but nearby if you do any frying,
and of course, any kind of appliance with a non-stick surface is
anathema in any home with birds.
Non-stick surfaces can be found on oven mitts, baking pans,
muffin or bread tins, cookie sheets, irons, ironing board covers,
drip trays under stove elements, and other similar items. It used
to be thought that these non-stick materials were only dangerous
under high heat, but recent research has shown this not to be true -
under certain conditions, normal cooking temperatures can suffice.
So you will want to be extra careful that there is nothing of the
sort in your kitchen, if you have a canary living in your home! (Or
for that matter, any other kind of bird...)
Finally, remember that canaries sing to claim ownership of their
territory. They need to feel that they are "Lord and master of all
they survey" in order to feel like singing about it. Once his feathers
have grown back in again, you will want to see if you can make
him feel like "The Boss" so that he will be more liable to want
to brag about 'his' home.
Take a good close look at his diet and environment, and it won't
be long before you have found the cause - and solution - to your
pet canary's feather loss and lack of song.
by R C McDonald
Copyright © 2004 Reprinted with Permission
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