Please post unrelated questions and tips to this blog post.
1. Owain from the UK says "You talk greatly about vitamin E for bringing birds into condition what foods are vitamin E in"?
Vitamin E is commonly called the fertility vitamin and is an excellent breeding conditioner. Since it is a fat-soluble stored vitamin it is important not to overdose. Care should be taken not to do every method but chose just one.
A number of foods contain some vitamin E. One of the best natural foods sources is Wheat germ and birds will eat it either raw or toasted, just as it is. I feed it often to males but have found that it causes hens to lay eggs prematurely before they are fertilized. Other food which contain much less such as Spinach are a safe level even for hens.
Another successful approach is to treat seed with products that are high in vitamin E, such as Cod Liver Oil. Mix one tablespoon cod liver oil with approximately 2.5 lbs of straight canary seed. Let stand overnight before feeding. Use this cod liver oil coated seed to supplement the males regular diet to help males come into full condition.
Many people like to use wheat germ oil. Mix 1/3 cup wheat germ oil to 25 lbs of canary mix and then add some bird vitamins. This is a light enough coating that it can be used for both males and hens but should not be given to hens after they lay their first egg.
Critical Concept: Conditioning males can continue through the breeding season but hens should not receive concentrated products containing vitamin E after they lay their first egg.
2. Laura writes: I have recently acquired a new hen about a month ago. Was very excited about the possibility of her improving the quality of my waterslagers. I have about 40 birds who have always been very healthy and problem free. As soon as I got this new hen, I noticed soft down feathers on her cage bottom. I thought it strange but figured she was starting to lose her brooding patch feathers. I've been keeping a close eye on her and have her separated from my others birds. Turns out more by more she is actually pulling out her chest feathers. She seems healthy in every other way, eating and pooping normally, normal activity, no signs of mites, not fluffy, just very bothered by her chest feathers, messing with them constantly. Chews them up and then spits them out, turning her chest into sad looking bald patch. I've giving her some nesting material to see if that will stop the feather plucking, so hoping that will help. Any tips or comments would be greatly appreciated. Love the blog - has helped me and by birds tremendously!
Laura, although self-mutilation is common in some types of birds. In solitary birds such as hook bills, it is often stress-induced and has been called the "new bird syndrome". It is not, however, not common in canaries, this is the first case I have heard of.
As you mentioned, it is normal to find soft short breast feathers on the cage floor when the hen develops her brood patch. It is also common for them to play and even chew on feathers and use loose ones to line their nests. At times, they will pluck feathers from other birds sometimes from their own chicks, but not self plucking.
Being a new bird in the aviary, I assume she is isolated from your other birds as there are a number of things which might cause this problem. Please examine the birds skin, is it glossy or dry and scaly? If it is dry and scaly, I would suspect malnutrition which in general is multiple nutrients as single deficiencies are very rare. I would either get the bird on poultry vitamins (package will say vitamins and electrolytes) or a bird vitamin. Also give the birds lots of greens to chew on and spray millet to nibble on. Provide swings to keep the bird busy.
Other causes include mites and other parasites or even bacterial or mycotic dermatitis. In older birds, it might be hypothyroidism or endocrine imbalances.