Sunday, February 24, 2013

This Weeks Questions For Big Bird

Mario is smitten with his new bride.
Please post unrelated questions this week here.


Question Do you have any experience using boiled seeds, added to softfood when breeding? Seems more do, as to eliminate contamination.

Answer I tried using them briefly once but did not continue with them. When I add something to my softfood, I evaluate if the birds feed it more and the effect on the chicks growth rate and only keep those things that make a positive difference, I could not see any advantage to adding boiled seeds to my softfood. Perhaps some others can comment on their experience using boiled seed added to softfood.


Question  Does keeping Roller hens near, around, or in the same room with the males, affect the song of the males? Do they pickup faults and undesirable harsh notes?

Answer Breeding selection is the number one reason rollers are faulty. The second most likely source is being in close proximity, same cage or roller team stack, with a faulty Roller male.  In general, hens can have obnoxious call notes which can be learned but this is much more likely if they are housed in the same cage.

Prevention is the best answer. Do not breed birds that are faulty or hens whose fathers were faulty. House young birds from the same nest in the same cage. Separate young males from hens promptly but keep the males always with brothers or if not possible step brothers.

If you are concerned about other noises outside their immediate cage, play a radio during daylight hours. Back when I first started breeding rollers, I would play classical  radio stations and cello tapes. Since I breed a number of kinds, lots of roller breeders figured mine would learn bad stuff and be faulty because they were spoiled by hearing other kinds of birds in the aviary. The first time I showed rollers, five roller judges went in to hear my birds, they came out shaking their heads, saying those birds are clean! Other kinds are not a problem, they probably can't even hear them sing their wild songs.

The secret of my success with not breeding faulty stuff and being careful what cage they were in and not moving them around to other cages. My friend, Janice, once moved birds around from cage to cage and before she realized it over half her young males were singing faulty notes, she was not even sure what bird inherited it and polluted her flock! She had to cull all of them and all their sisters, on the bright side, we learned a valuable lesson, both heredity and environment are important.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Holding The Male For Vent Trimming

When I trim the males vent, I hold him in my left hand with my left thumb across his chest to keep his legs out of the way. My fingers are supporting him in the back and side and my pinky (last small finger) holds his tail back. Then with scissors I  slowly clip away  at feathers around the vent and on his side.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bogena Red Intensifier Now Available in US

 Great News: Bogena red intensifier  500 gram size and 10% carophyll red are now available in the US.


South Florida Pet Products, Inc
Mr. Alfred Iglesias
13130 SW 128th Street, Unit # 5
Miami Florida 33186

ph, 305-251-5550
fax 305-251-4466

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Early March Madness - Floor Fight - Difficult Hen

 Although this young Border hen looks innocent, she is a real scrapper!

 I offered her a nest and she builds in the seed cup.

 I take the seed cup away and she builds on the floor. I put her floor nest in my nest and place it barely off the floor in the very same spot and she ignores it and chooses another floor spot! This fight went on for 4 days!

This morning she laid in the nest I had placed just south of the floor nest she originally built in.

Happily she sits on her first egg.

Papa is very proud!

 A  widespread snow has blanketed  Kansas and the whole state has been declared a disaster area. Lucca loves it, running and jumping even though the snow is way over his elbows.

Still snowing with 10 inches so far!! Looks like we won't be firing up the wood oven today for pizza.

Eight hours later and we are at 14.2 inches. The record is 15 inches and was established in 1962. Wow, it is still snowing but lightly now... Much of Kansas is rural and in those areas major interstate highways are closed (I-70). In open areas drifting is so bad.

Big Bird is going to put out more sunflower pieces for the wild birds and read a book by the fire!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Handy Nesting Material Holder

 Using some extra cage wire my bird friend, Ken Woods made the nesting material holders. They are quite handy!

As I was looking for birds to photograph pulling the nesting material from the holder, this young Border hen surprised me by flying to the open cage door.

Then off she flew and Big Bird was right behind her!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gotta Question For Big Bird? "Waving"

Young Border Hen Not Quite Ready Yet

Please post this weeks unrelated questions here.

Monday Waving Border

Question: Jean writes: Some of my borders seem to make, from time to time, like a "wave" with one of their wings. Not stretching a wing but just like a slow big wave, if you know what I mean. Any reason for this?

Answer: Not sure I have ever seen the "wave". When coming into breeding condition, you expect the hens to do some flapping but that is both wings. Is the bird stretching? Is it hot and trying to cool itself? Is it frightened when it "waves"? Do you think the birds that wave have an injury? Any balance problems? Any one out their got any ideas?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Best Predictor of Fertility - Mouth to Mouth Feeding

By far, the best overall predictor of fertility is mouth to mouth feeding. The act of feeding brings on breeding hormones.

This Border pair is an older yellow cinnamon variegated hen with a young buff variegated cock. Wanting the cock to feed the hen I made up some special softfood.

I cooked two cups quinoa and also added hot water to two cups cous cous in a bowl which had olive oil and poppy seeds added. In another bowl I put one package CeDe nestling food plus one tablespoon AA Miracle vitamins and added two cups water and fluffed that with a fork. When the quinoa and cous cous were cool I added them to the CeDe nestling food.  Higher oil and high carbohydrate encourage breeding.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine Treat

For Valentine's Day, I gave my birds some bee pollen. To my surprise this hen decided it would make a great nest!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Predicting and Facilitting Fertility

Every canary breeder has learned from experience the truth in "Don't count your chicks till they hatch"! Certainly, a fertile egg is only the foundation step to raising chicks but never the less I always relax a bit when I feel certain that mating is occurring. Since I work and have heavy dog duty (mostly throwing a tennis ball) with Lucca, like many of you I can't simply wait and watch.

I have learned that the best predictor of mating is seeing the cock feed the hen. When I see it, my heart begins to flutter and I am already anticipating fertile egg in their future!

Likewise, I like to see unpaired birds whether two males or two females feeding each other as it is a sure sign that they are ready for pairing. In fact, I watch for signs of feeding to gauge whether or not they are getting enough vitamin E to stimulate them.

To facilitate feeding behavior, I have begun now offering wheat products. I have used Bruce Gardner's nestling food and a dry mixture of half and half wheat germ and brewer's yeast.

Wheat Germ/Brewer's Yeast Mix

Monday, February 11, 2013

2013 Top Ten List For Breeding Borders

Young Border Hen Flapping Her Wings Getting Ready For Breeding
Special Request: Christel writes Perhaps it is time to write a new top ten list for breeding borders.

Big Bird's Response: Thanks so much for asking, I really appreciate hearing from you. Unfortunately, I can't find the original, if you have it please copy me or tell me where to find it, for now I will just write an update. Christel sent me a link:

2013 Big Bird's Top Ten Tips For Breeding Borders

1. Breed Only the Healthiest Birds. Be selective with your stock and only breed birds that do not exhibit any hint of neurological problem. Watch out for wide tails that never pipe down to a healthy narrow appearance (many will have wide tails at weaning but this should quickly fix at least by eight weeks, problem birds tails never pipe), poor wing carriage (another clue that the bird is not up to fitness), squinting eyes when stressed (approach the cage and challenge just a bit and watch the eyes, does the bird half shut its eyes? Do the challenge test before you buy any bird and no matter how great they appear, under no circumstances should you buy a bird that squints or freezes like a trance when challenged as in time this gorgeous bird will not even be able to perch!), exclude any with hints of balance problems (improve balance with swings and or ferris wheels) but do not breed any bird that is unsteady.

2. Provide Healthy Diet All Year Long. Work for peak health and fitness all year long. Although all breeds need a healthy diet, each breed has needs for extra nutrients but the best supplement level varies greatly by breed. Borders, need a much higher vitamin and mineral supplementation then most breeds, perhaps because of poor absorption. If you supplement all of your different varieties the same, you will have years when some breeds do well and others are big flops so learn each breeds needs and respond to them appropriately. Certainly, my German Rollers need a lot less vitamin and mineral supplementation than my Borders. When supplemented the same, one or the other variety will do well but not both without adjustment for breed.

3. Monitor Weight. Cocks that are too fat will have great difficulty fertilizing the egg. They should not have a large yellow fat layer around the vent. If they need to reduce, drop oily seeds and feed canary seed mixed with untreated grass seed (Connie Gahman), make them exercise by flying longer distance by decrease the number of perches and separating the food and water stations and perches. Also make sure there are at least three cocks in the same cage to encourage them to move.

Often when birds fail to come into breeding condition the problem is that they are too thin. Any thin birds should be separated from others. Even young birds need to separated by sex as soon as possible. When you find a thin one separate it out and only house with similar thin ones. Being thin can simply be a less aggressive bird not getting food or it can be a sign of a genetic deficiency in absorption of nutrients especially selenium.

Thin birds have a very sharp breast bone and their pelvic bones stick out, cocks sing rarely if at all, and the vent development is so poor that it is hard to tell a hen from a cock. Often they are sexed wrongly and only a year or two later does the breeder discovered that they have a cock in the hen cage. Too fatten increase the oily seeds especially thistle (nyjer) and sunflower pieces, offer soft bread, decrease greens and no high protein foods (egg). Decrease flying by putting perches every few inches. Make food and water readily available at perch height and use multiple food dishes to make grazing easy.

4. Start Conditioning Cocks First. As a general rule it takes about six weeks to bring a cock into full breeding condition but only three or four weeks to bring a hen into full breeding condition. Three things bring cocks into breeding condition.

First, sensitivity to longer day light hours. Being light sensitive is lost after birds have been in extended light for a period of time, so it is important that during the summer and fall that birds be on shorter days of 10 hours or less to redevelop light sensitivity. A change in day length changes hormones levels and results in  cocks producing more sperm. It is most effective when the day length changes suddenly. If I had two separate aviaries, I would change the cocks suddenly first but with one aviary, I start six weeks before breeding by increasing the day length by 30 minutes per week. Then on the fourth week I suddenly change forward to 14 hours plus 30 minutes dimmer. My overhead lights are on programmable timers which I set for 14 hours and then I plug another light on a stand into its own separate timer so that it overlaps by an hour and extends the single bulb light 30 minutes after the overhead lights are out.

Second, territorial fighting. House cocks together as territorial fighting also raises brings them into breeding condition. The exception to this is when the cocks are too thin, then first priority must be to getting them to a normal weight.

Third, vitamin E and other foods. Vitamin E and selenium are very important for conditioning and Borders and a few other varieties need a very high level to stimulate them. If you use ABBA Fertility E, start cocks on this product six weeks before breeding and on their fourth week start the hens. This is given as the only water on one day a week. Cocks can receive it throughout breeding season but the hens receive it only till they lay their first egg.

5. Start Food Conditioning  with Vitamin E Coated Seeds. Six weeks before breeding start all birds on wheat germ oil blend (horse supplement with extra vitamin A, D and E) coated seeds. For  50 lbs of seed mix: take 5 lbs of the mix and add one cup wheat germ oil blend and mix several times daily for a couple of days then mix into with the 45 lbs uncoated seeds. Use this as your regular seed mix throughout breeding season.  The regular seed mix can contain a variety of seeds and should include some flax (linseed) as they are high in phytoestrogens.

6. Supplement the Diet with Vitamin and Mineral Products. Be sure to use products with additional calcium and also those with selenium and amino acids. A number of good products are available. For calcium I use the calcium gluconate and during laying Avitech Cal-D-Solve. Other multiple vitamins products include Pro-vital, Orlux, Biodecken with immune support for extra selenium are all good products. For amino acids I use Miracle (ABBA: AAMiracle made in Italy).

7.Facilitate Feeding Behavior. The very best predictor of fertile eggs is seeing feeding behavior. When the cock feeds the hen, mating will usually follow shortly. When I see cocks in the flights or hens in their flights feeding each other, I know that they are fast approaching full breeding condition.

To encourage feeding behavior, I feed wheat germ mixed with brewer's yeast and also MannaPro Poultry Conditioner along with nyjer (thistle) and sunflower pieces. Once they are paired they also get softfood to encourage feeding behavior.

In difficult cases, I use a wire divided cage and give the cock the goodies and let the hen beg him through the wire to feed her. When this happens for a day, I remove the divider. It is also a good technique when the cock is trying to bully the hen.

8. Use the Hatching Trick As Needed. Fertile eggs that fail to hatch by noon of the 14th day should be moved to a foster hen who has good incubation temperature. If the chick is alive when the egg is moved, they will hatch within two days, usually the next day. During incubation feed the hen dishes of hemp to help her maintain a good incubation temperature.

9. Rise Early and Feed the Hen As Soon As the Light Comes On. Offering fresh nestling food first thing in the morning will save a few chicks as mom will likely fill up on the fresh food and be ready to feed her chicks as soon as you leave the room.

10. Figure Out the Problem When No Chicks Hatch Before Resetting the Hen. It is disappointing when no chicks result but take a few minutes to figure out how to fix it before pulling the infertile eggs.

Are the egg shells too thin and dehydrated? Then fix the calcium problem and add a humidifier. When the eggs are too thin, do not remove eggs as they are laid.

Good eggs but no chicks? Then let the hen set as long as she will but start giving her nestling food and wheat germ/brewer's yeast and watch to see if the cock will feed her. Check the cocks vent and make sure you have trimmed well around the vent and on the sides so that feathers do not obstruct mating. The cocks vent should be red in color and bulging on the sides so that they are rounded out.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

This Weeks Questions For Big Bird? Infertile Eggs - Start Time -

Stafford Hen

Post this weeks special questions to this posting.


Infertile Eggs

Question: Mohammad writes that he has a pair whose eggs were not fertile, that was their 4th try. The male is singing a lot, I tried vitamin E and wheat germ but next eggs were infertile too. The number of eggs has reduced from five to four.

Answer: The best predictor of whether eggs are going to be fertile is whether the cock feeds the hen. If he does feed her the likelihood of mating is high.

Some males fail to fertilize the eggs because they are too fat or perhaps they are long feathered and need the feathers trimmed around the vent and even on the vent when very long (actually I trim around the vent on all males). Catch the male and examine his vent. If he is under weight, the vent will develop poorly. It should be red and engorged on the sides. Sometimes he is infertile because he is old. I would take a look at him but likely change males.

The best thing to do when a hen has infertile eggs is let her set as long as she will before encouraging her with egg containing food to re-cycle.

Starting The Breeding Process

Question: Vivie writes When do you typically start the breeding process? I live in Southern California, so I was wondering if it had to do with the amount of daylight hours or if you simply watch your canaries closely to see if they exhibit any breeding behaviors?

Answer: Don't laugh but one important factor for me is how long I am willing to get up early before daylight savings time starts! When the first chick arrives, I get up when the light comes on and offer food immediately and this continues until all chicks are weaned. I find that having fresh food immediately greatly increases the odds that the hen will feed them well.

I also take a look at the weather. Have the Spring rains started? Is it an average year for temperature or are the days warmer than usual? Are the wild goldfinch males starting to hint of yellow or are they drab green. Am I going out of town for a basketball tournament?

How do the birds look and act? If I do not advance the lights artificially, I think my birds would be ready for pairing around March 8th.

After some thought, I decided when I want to start breeding and begin extending the lights and working first with the cocks and finally including the hens so that pairing will be about six weeks after I start this process.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Unlikely Stafford Couple

I was so happy to see these two young Stafford "males" feeding each other. Then I noticed it was usually the red one feeding the male mosaic pattern "male". Taking a closer look, it was apparent that the male mosaic pattern bird was really a hen and a nest was in order! She is setting nicely on five eggs and hopefully some chicks are in our future.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Food For Thought - Egg Removal - Jonas Vergauwen Does Mother Nature Know Best?

Jonas Vergauwen, A PhD student at the University of Antwerp Belgium, is doing his thesis on The Effect of Yolk Testosterone on Canaries. Needing cover photos for his thesis, he searched the internet and chose a couple from my blog. I was thrilled and ask him for a posting of his research conclusions when he had time and to my surprise he promptly sent this summary for us.

Jonas writes:

In short, we know that removing eggs causes a delay in development and by returning them on the same day, you will actually invert laying order. This effect is not only supported by yolk androgens, but also by temperature effects on egg development. It is not completely clear yet whether returning all eggs on the same day will increase the survival chances of the entire clutch. It for sure helps the chances of the chicks of the last laid eggs (which typically contain more testosterone in canaries, as testosterone concentrations increase over the laying order), but therefore may even decrease survival chances of the eggs originating from the first laid egg. I will explain this briefly:
Yolk testosterone is believed to increase growth and begging behaviour of chicks. As the yolk testosterone concentration increases towards the last laid egg, it therefore helps the chicks from the last laid eggs to compete for food with their (most likely) earlier hatched and therefore larger sibling in the nest. Faster growth and increased begging behaviour will support its survival chances. However, if you reverse laying order by delaying the development of earlier laid eggs, you decrease early competition in the nest, but still the chick hatching from the last laid egg, has this testosterone driven support on begging and growth (and many more behaviours/traits). So actually, the chances that the last chicks now outcompetes the first chicks are much more increased. I am (personally) therefore not convinced that delaying eggs and returning them on the same day is always the best, as nature development a compensatory mechanism for the hatching asynchrony in the clutch, with which people mess by delaying development. Of course, in canaries, it has to be taken into account that they are highly domesticated, that breeders have been applying this “delaying method” for years and there is abundance of food available in the cages, which again counterbalances the negative effects of delaying egg development. Canaries may have been well adapted to these strategies. That is exactly why I think the benefits or costs of egg delay are not entirely clear yet. I again underline that this is a mixed scientifically supported and partly personal opinion, but worth thinking about it, I guess. My feeling tells me: Mother Nature knows best.

Thank you so much Jonas for sharing with us!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Questions For Big Bird? Flaky Skin - Lighting Conditioning and Decreasing - Finding a Specific Bird

Sunday - Decreasing Day Length During Breeding Season

Question: My cock birds are on 13 hours total daylight and my hens are on 11.5 hours.  I am getting a couple of pairs shipped to me this week. The new birds, cocks and hens, have been on 14 hours plus 30 minutes dimmer. I am planning to gradually decrease the new birds lighting to conform with my shorter days. Is that a problem?

Answer; You should not decrease total day length this time of year as that is the natural signal for birds to start molting. Increasing day length brings them into breeding condition but decreasing brings on the normal molt.

Monday - Finding A Specific Bird In A Flight When They All Look Alike

Question: I have some large flight and invariably I will want to catch a specific bird and without catching them all, I can't get the one I want. Frustrated.

Answer: The easiest way is to pack a pistol in the aviary! That's a kids water pistol! Just squirt the specific bird with water and catch the wet one you identified!

Wednesday - Conditioning With Light

Question: Luke writes I write to you seeking your advice on the use of artificial lighting, having been referred to you by a top Border Canary breeder.

I write to you to ask for your opinion on the use of artificial lighting in the bird room. It is a factor that seems to be getting more prominent amongst fanciers each breeding season.

Having had a relatively successful breeding season last year, myself and my father are keen to get a similar return from our hens this year, except to have them breed a little earlier than last year. It is with this in mind that we are considering the use of artificial lighting as a means of bringing the birds in to condition earlier than normal.

I have read your article on Day Lengthening and having previously only been aware of the Gradual method, the Abrupt method did come as a surprise to me, with such a change in daylight hours being suggested. However I did note that the Gradual Day Lengthening system "produces less sperm production than the abrupt method", this is something that I would be nervous of, however I would also be somewhat uneasy using the Abrupt method, as it appears that it is something that could go right, but could also go very wrong.

Would you have any system in mind that could suit us? having not installed an automatic dimmer system yet, but at present have been giving 1 hour extra light by manual dimmer switch.

Answer: Both gradual and abrupt work well. If I had two rooms, I would do abrupt on cocks and gradual on hens. One hour a week will bring them in sooner than natural lighting. I have two systems working, one I program for the overhead lights and the second is just a plug in one that you can program, I have it come on about an hour before the overhead lights go out and then stay on 30 minutes after they go off so that the hens can use the dim light to find their nests. The overhead are on 14 hours and the dimmer single plug in light extends that by 30 minutes.
Three things bring the birds in to breeding condition: light, heat, and food. When the temperatures are below 65 F, hens will hold off laying.
Vitamin E, I like the ABBA one that is given in the water once a week and stopped when the hen lays her first egg. I also have the recipe for coating seeds with wheat germ oil blend ( extra vitamin A, E and D given to horses).
Calcium and multiple vitamins containing D3. Biodecken or Orlux are good vitamins.
Amino acids: I like an amino acid high vitamin called Miracle from Italy. I use 1 tablespoon to 4 cups dry nestling food as a conditioner several times a week.
As time gets close, I use wheat germ and brewer's yeast but first to cocks as any wheat product will push egg laying if temperature is warm enough.

Saturday: Hen Flaky Belly Skin 

Question: In examining my birds for nesting, I have discovered some birds with dry, flaky skin on their bellies. They are fed a diet of seed mix with flax, pellets, and the Biodecken products. Greens are fed a couple of times per week. The Biodecken is new to their diet. What do you suggest?

Answer: If the hormone balance is not correct you will see flaky dry skin on the belly. Typically, it is more common in older hens. I would give the Biodecken multi-vitamin and immune support in the water daily for at least two weeks to help condition them better. If you have the Biodecken Fertility E make a mix (for 3 liter add 30 ml of each multi-vitamin and immune support and 10 ml of fertility E) use this for water till breeding season is over.

I would also coat the seeds with the horse wheat germ oil blend. Recipe is on the blog. Basically for 50 lbs, you add one cup of the wheat germ oil blend (fortified with extra vitamins) to 5 lbs of mix. Set a day or two and stir frequently. Then mix into the rest of the 45 lbs of mix. Feed wheat germ oil coated seeds throughout breeding season. If you are not using Biodecken fertility E, use ABBA fertility E once a week, I would get that started, preferably the birds get it a minimum of three weeks but better if six weeks.

Add Manna Pro Poultry Conditioner. Just process in the food processor to fine and offer in a separate dish. This is 22% protein, multiple amino acids and other nutrients. Sold at feed dealers, mine costs $6.95 for 5 lbs.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hunky - Where Did My Round Curves Go?

This young Border male won his class at the National Cage Bird Show in November. He had a very rounded back, excellent break between the head and back, well rounded head and generally a darn good looking fellow!

I had hand feed him from birth with Orlux hand rearing formula (Higgins) and I proudly showed him to a number of exhibitors at the national.

Today, he looks tubular and more and more like the Columbus Fancy that he is looking at next door. So what happened?

Typically, as Border males come into full breeding condition they loose their roundness and take on the sleek cool dude look!Looking forward to using this stud!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Share A Favorite Recipe - Bruce Gardner's Never Fail Old Fashion Nestling Food

 Bruce Gardner's Never Fail Old Fashion Nestling Food

Equal Parts: Whole Wheat Bread Crumbs, Gerber Mixed Baby Cereal and Wheat Germ.

Add enough Shredded Wheat Biscuits to make it course.

Add Hard Boiled Eggs

With all the wheat products in this recipe it is a great food for paired couples that are getting ready to nest or bringing the cocks into full breeding condition. It is very light and my birds ate it well!

Bruce shared that he has used this egg food recipe for many years and it has never let him down!

Bruce is a well respected canary breeder especially of Old Varieties such as Northern Dutch Frills and Old  Crest.

Thanks Bruce for sharing with us!

Sent your favorite recipe to

See post comment question/answer below regarding a hen who stops feeding after chicks are banded.