Feeding a Canary
There is a lot of information available about diets for pet birds and as time goes on, our knowledge continues to improve. This is due to heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition plus increased research involving pet and wild birds. As with all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water.
It is not enough to feed a Canary just to keep it alive. Proper nutrition will help it thrive and flourish. Your bird’s health will depend on how well it is fed.
What does my canary naturally eat?
Canaries are generally seed eaters and eat a variety of plant seeds, especially from grasses. Since season dictates seed availability, there are times of the year when insects and certain vegetation will constitute the bulk of the diet. A well balanced and varied diet must be maintained at all times.
What should I feed my Canary?
Seeds are available everywhere, remain fresh when stored properly and are very convenient to feed. Although Canaries do eat seeds, they would naturally consume a far greater variety of seed types in the wild as different plants come into season than they do in captivity. An all-seed diet tends to be high in fat and provides an imbalanced source of nutrients that will lead to ill health and potentially shorten the life expectancy of your Canary. Commercial seed mixes may contain from 2-5 different kinds of seeds. The problem that exists when offering a large container of seed to a canary, is that the bird proceeds to selectively eat 1 or 2 of its “favourite” types of seed only. This, of course, leads to further malnutrition. The Red-factor canary’s colour is influenced by genetics and colouring agents found in a variety of foods sold in pet stores.
How much do I offer?
As a guideline, most Canaries can be maintained on 1-2 level teaspoons of seeds per bird, per day in a shallow dish depending on the size of the bird. If there is more than one canary in the cage, separate dishes should be used for each bird to ensure those birds at the bottom of the “pecking order” have a chance to eat. This may not be possible in a flock situation. Any seeds left over in the dish at the end of the day could suggest that too many seeds were offered originally. As a general guide, if a smaller amount of a good quality varied seed mix is offered then it is likely the bird will eat a greater variety of seed. Offer less and they will eat better.
Fresh foods such as fruit and vegetables are important components of the canary’s diet. They are useful in enriching the diet rather than providing essential nutrients. So small amounts of green leafy vegetables and may be offered - they should be about ¼ of the diet. They must be washed well to remove any chemical residues and cut into suitably sized pieces for your canary. It is best to offer a wide variety of fruit and vegetables to encourage your canary to eat them if he has not been exposed to them before. Do not be discouraged, even if your bird refuses something one day, try it again on another day. As a rule, the dark-coloured, leafy vegetables (such as Spinach) are much more nutritious than light-coloured ones (such as lettuce). Some commonly fed fresh foods are: peas, beans, snow peas, corn-on-the-cob, broccoli, sprouts (e.g. alfalfa or mung-bean), romaine or other dark-coloured heavy-leafed lettuce, grated carrot and Jalapeno chilis. Fresh seeding heads of dandelions, tall native grasses/reeds or chickweed may be given as well.
Foods to avoid include: celery, iceberg or other light-coloured high-water content lettuce, onion, avocado, apple seeds, tomato, mushrooms, chocolate and caffeine.
Formulated or mash diets
Pellets, crumble and mashes have been developed to meet nearly all your bird’s nutritional needs (reputable manufacturer’s recommend that their pellets form 70-80% of the diet with the balance made up of vegetables). Due to their small size, the powdered or mash presentations of these formulated diets are easier to feed. Different formulations are available for different life stages and for the management of certain diseases. Baby birds are the easiest to start on a mash diet but it appears as though they may not thrive on a diet consisting exclusively of formulated product. You are encouraged to make formulated foods part of your canary’s diet. It can be very difficult to convert a seed-eating canary to pelleted diets, because your canary does not recognize them as a food item. See the handout on “Converting Birds to Pelleted Feeds” for hints to help your canary convert to these useful pelleted diets. Please be patient with your bird, as it can take weeks to months for your bird to accept this new type of food. If you feel your bird is not eating enough and is refusing to eat the pellets, please talk to your veterinarian.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day, especially the tube or gravity water containers.
Will my bird have any different needs throughout its life?
Birds that are extremely young, stressed, injured, laying eggs or raising young may have certain special requirements. Commercially available “Egg and Biscuit” food may be provided for breeding birds, as it a source of factors such as animal protein and calcium that are required for egg laying and rearing young, during the breeding season. Consult your vet with regard to these situations.
Do I need to use a vitamin-mineral mixture?
If your bird is on a great diet, does it need extra vitamins, minerals or amino-acids? There is much written about supplementation. The powdered supplements are often regarded as more stable. Mix these products with water or preferably apply directly onto moist food. Placing these powders on seeds or dried foods is of little value since it will ultimately end up on the bottom of the food dish. One opinion suggests that a bird eating 75 - 80% of its diet in the form of mash or formulated food may not need supplements. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at various times during a bird’s life (i.e. egg laying - requires calcium supplementation). Certain supplemental mixtures are available to help enhance the yellow, orange and red colour.
Does my bird need gravel or grit?
In the wild, a bird would naturally consume small stones, gravel or grit whenever it wishes to. This is to aid in the mechanical digestion of seeds and nuts. Controversy exists over its need in captivity especially with formulated diets. Offering a small amount in a separate dish will allow the bird to decide if it needs or wants it. Never place gravel on the bottom of the cage as the bird is then forced to eat it out of its “toilet”, the dirtiest part of the cage. Gravel with charcoal in it is reported to absorb certain vitamins from the digestive tract making them unavailable to the bird. White oyster shell may be part of some gravel mixes, to provide a source of calcium. Some sick birds will eat inappropriate amounts of grit, causing digestive problems and in some cases blockage. So grit should only be available in small amounts for any sick bird. If irregular or excessive consumption is witnessed, consult your veterinarian.
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