written by Marie Miley-Russell
©2005, all rights reserved
Newly hatched canaries do not resemble in any way the
adorable fluffy chicks most people have in mind when they think of a
chick. For several days these little jellybean-sized creatures are
featherless except for a bit of white fluff on the tops of their heads and
backs and their eyes are tightly closed. In a 1994 New York Times
article on canary chicks, they were noted as “look(ing) less avian than
larval” and this is certainly an apt description.
Babies will often have different colored skin- clear
birds will have pink skin while dark birds will have skin which is black.
It often takes a day or two for skin pigmentation to develop; lightly
variegated and ticked birds will usually develop pigmentation later than
more heavily variegated birds.
Newly hatched chicks do not need to be fed for the
first twelve hours. Chicks have some food reserves which they can draw on
during this period. Hens who feed right away generally produce stronger
chicks initially, but later fed chicks will catch up. All hens should
begin feeding by the following morning, however.
You can determine whether chicks are being fed and
are untroubled by mites in the nest by looking at their mouths when they
gape for food. The inside of a well-nourished chick’s mouth should be red
and moist. If the lining of the mouth is pale and dry, then the chick is
anemic from mites feeding on it or it is not being fed enough.
By the second day after hatching, healthy young
chicks should be lively and raise their heads up to beg for food when the
nest is touched. If they are lying listless in a heap at the bottom of the
nest, the breeder has cause for concern.
After hatching, be sure to monitor the breeding cages
frequently for chicks which have fallen or been tossed from the nest. Some
cold chicks which appear nearly dead can be warmed in the hand and
“returned to life,” but others cannot. I have also had success with
tucking cold babies beneath their warm siblings- babies seem to warm up
more quickly in the nest than in the hand. Chilling usually results in
some stunting of chick growth, although the chicks do catch up to their
nest mates eventually. It should be noted that while chick tossing is
usually caused by accident or by the hen mistaking a leg band on a chick
for debris in need of removal from the nest, it can also be a sign that
something is wrong with the chick.
Chicks’ eyes will open on the seventh day after
hatching. The eyelids open gradually and for a day or so the chicks peer
out through slitted lids. Once the eyes have begun to open, the chicks
imprint on their parents- if the chicks’ parents are both dark birds, the
chicks may not accept food from a clear bird and vice versa. Any
introduction of feeder males should be done prior to this time.
If banding chicks with closed leg bands, banding
usually occurs between five and seven days depending on the chick’s size.
Once in a while one chick in the nest will be much larger than the others
and will need to be banded sooner- keep a close eye on the chicks or you
may end up with a chick who is too large to band. Although most books
indicate that banding should occur at seven days of age, I have banded
some chicks at five days old and others at eight days. One of the best
ways to tell if chicks are ready to band is to look at the development of
the flight feathers on their wings- when the pinfeathers are pretty well
grown out but the feathers have not yet opened, chances are good that the
feet will be large enough to hold a band on the chick’s leg. Banding a
chick too soon just results in slipped bands.
When banding chicks, often the band seems a little
tight. Sometimes books suggest using petroleum jelly or something
similarly greasy to lubricate the chick’s foot. Unscented talc works just
as well without the mess.
Many breeders replace the nest the hen built with a
new one when the babies are banded. I usually wait until the day after so
I can make sure no bands have been slipped.
Once the chicks have hatched, the hen will keep the
nest clean of excreta by eating the chick’s droppings- this is normal and
not a cause for concern. When the chicks become large enough to deposit
their waste on the sides of the nest, the hen will cease to do so.
Chicks fledge- leave the nest- at about 18 days,
although 21 days or more is not unheard of. A few adventurous chicks will
fledge earlier while others are “nest bodies” and stay longer. Some chicks
fall out of the nest for one reason or another and will remain in the nest
if replaced, but once a chick is ready to fly it will just pop right back
out when placed back in the nest.
Chicks instinctively take to the perches, where the
parents will continue to feed them. For a few days the chicks will return
to the nest to rest for short periods, so do not remove the nest right
away. Within a couple of days they are flying quite well from perch to
perch and between the cage floor and the perch.
Parents become very anxious when chicks first leave
the nest- some look like nervous wrecks! Giving them some space by not
hovering over the cage can make the transition easier for them.
written by Marie Miley-Russell
©2005, all rights reserved
Most breeding resources indicate that chicks should
be weaned at around 28 days, but this is rarely practical for first clutch
babies as their mother becomes focused on her next round. Babies from the
last clutch can generally be given more time, but in my experience babies
begin weaning between 21 and 25 days. This is of course largely dependent
on the development of the chicks. The longer they remain with the parents
the better, but if they are pecking at food and being harassed by the
parents they can be separated. If the chicks are being plucked, but are
not ready to wean they may be placed in a cage which is hung on the side
of the breeding cage and the parents will continue to feed them through
the cage bars.
Fathers will generally feed chicks longer than hens
will. In my experience, usually the chicks fed the longest turn out to be
hens. When chicks begin eating on their own breeders should watch feeding
males carefully as they may attack young males.
After chicks have been seen eating for a couple of
days they can be removed to the weaning cage. No dramatic change to the
diet should be made when chicks are placed in the weaning cage; only foods
they have been reared on should be provided. Do not crowd weaning chicks-
no more than four or five chicks to a double breeding cage. Perches should
be placed as low as possible in the weaning cage- as chicks become more
independent the perches can gradually be moved higher. Food in the weaning
cage should be placed on the floor in shallow dishes- chicks will walk
through the food and peck at it when it sticks to their feet. Small glass
ashtrays and glazed plant saucers are good feeding dishes as they are
heavy and flat.
Some chicks able to manage on their own in the
breeding cage can regress when placed in the weaning cage so they must be
monitored carefully. Chicks refusing to leave the perches to eat can be
restricted to a single perch placed as close to the floor as possible.
Chicks being weaned which peep continuously are
starving and should be attended. They can be placed back in with the
father or the father may be placed in the weaning cage for some time.
Placing an older bird with an easy-going disposition
in the cage with chicks being weaned can help teach the young birds to eat
on their own by allowing them to mimic feeding behaviors.
Good first foods are well-cooked carrots- the bright
orange color attracts the chicks and it is easy to eat. Other foods should
include soft foods such as eggfood or nestling food, shredded wheat
moistened with carrot or apple juice, cooked couscous, soak seed, and
greens. Some small pellets for finches and canaries should be offered as
well as they will be able to eat these before they can crack seed. Some
breeders scatter rolled oats directly on the clean cage floor; chicks seem
to notice it and peck at it.
Chicks will not be able to crack seed for at least
six weeks and probably will not be able to fully support themselves on
seed until a few weeks later. During this time they must have access at
all times to foods they can eat. The introduction of unlimited quantities
of hard seed too early can result in the loss of chicks- don’t rush them
onto hard seed too quickly. I introduce small amounts of seed at five
weeks or so but continue providing soft foods right up until chicks begin
the baby molt.
Chicks in the weaning cage tend to become fascinated
by each other’s tail feathers. Providing young birds with plenty of toys
will help alleviate this. Chicks which continue plucking their cage mates
must be separated. Placing them with other aggressive pluckers usually
solves the problem as pluckers will generally not allow themselves to be
Some breeders insist that chicks cannot receive a
bath until they are six weeks old out of concern that they will inhale
water and develop chronic respiratory problems, but I routinely allow
birds to bathe from the start and have not seen any problems arise from
Chicks can easily be lost during the weaning period
due to illness. Careful husbandry can largely prevent such losses.
Diligent attention to ensuring that cage papers and perches are clean and
that all scattered egg food is removed from the cage is vital. Take care to
not become absorbed in the tending of second clutches to the detriment of
first clutch chicks.