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    Canary Clinic

    Yorkshire Canaries are one of several canary varieties where it is permitted to enhance their natural plumage, a process know as ‘colour feeding’. There are several other canary varieties which are also colour-fed, including Norwich, Coloured canaries, Lizards and Stafford canaries.

    Colour feeding is easily accomplished today, and has never been simpler.

    To most people's minds good colour greatly enhances the birds appearance, although it remains of limited value according to the exhibition standard, where a maximum of 10 points are awarded for colour – so the difference between a moderately coloured specimen and one brimming with strong, evenly distributed colour is only slight, but it can be enough to tip the scales, if the birds are otherwise evenly matched.

    How to colour feed

    To successfully colour a canary's plumage, the colouring agent needs to be in the blood-stream at the same time as the bird moults. It is common practice to remove first round young birds from their parents when they are three or four weeks old, housing them in small groups for the next two or three weeks of their lives, until the better birds are caged separately to begin their training as potential exhibition stock.

    The fancier should begin colour feeding between the time the stock is weaned from their parents and when the young birds are caged individually. Because the birds are not actually moulting at this stage, their nest feathers will not show the new colour until they are moulted out, but any odd feathers which do appear, replaced because they have been plucked in the nest perhaps, will carry colour, as the colouring agent will already be in the bird's blood stream. This is important, because colouring should always be even, carried throughout the entire body, and not patchy, which will detract from the end result. A similar pattern is followed for later hatched birds, and finally, once parent stock has finished breeding, they are colour fed as soon as they are removed into their flight cages for mouting out.

    Colour-feeding parent stock whilst they are rearing young birds in the nest, will not cause the young birds any harm whatsoever. It will however, partially colour the plumage, including the juvinile bird's flight feathers. Unflighted birds displaying colour-fed wing flights, could potentially disqualify themselves from the unflighted classes if viewed by an inexperienced judge, as he or she may consider the bird to have undergone a second-year moult, to have achieved coloured flights. For this reason, colour feeding is best left until the birds have feathered-up and left the nest, rather than risk disqualification.


    Today, almost without exception, breeders use a branded product named carophyl* (Trade mark of Roche Products). Only minute quantities are required to colour-feed canaries, and when used as such, the product is completely harmless.

    There are three derivatives: Carophyl Yellow, Orange and Red. Yorkshire Canary breeders use the Carophyl Orange product, although some continue to use it's predecessor, Carophyl Red. Carophyl Yellow provides no benefit to Yorkshires, whilst Carophyl Red is too intense for use by all but the most experienced, having been developed for use with red-ground rather than yellow-ground coloured birds. Carophyl Orange however, is a blend of both Red and Yellow, and is designed to deliver exactly the right amount of colouring agent that can be absorbed by the bird. Even potentially overfeeding the colouring agent will not distract from the end result, although it may of course unnecessarily damage the fancier’s wallet!

    Various ways to feed

    Most experienced fanciers have developed their own methods of feeding carophyl, and all achieve effective results. Minute quantities are required, and a rule of thumb is one gram of carophyl per bird, fed throughout the entire moulting season. The effect is immediate, and as soon as the bird consumes the carophyl, the digested results will show in the new feathering. As the bird moults, the new colouring is displayed in the wing butts, down the breast, often showing vividly, until the newly emerging feathering opens fully. The new feathers continue throughout the body, then finally the head and neck areas, with the small areas around he eyes being the last to be moulted out.

    Fanciers may choose to place a few grains of carophyl into boiling water (which breaks down the oil-base of the product), and use the cooled water to mix their soft food. Alternatively, others allow the boiled water to cool, then mix with further cold water, and feed through the drinking water supply, although this often results in a badly stained bird room floor. Others mix the dry grains of carophyl with boiled egg yolk, and stir this into their soft food mixture, in the knowledge that their birds will pick out the yolk first, and so pick up the colouring quickly, whilst others place carophyl into a salt or pepper-pot, and apply a small amount to the standard soft-food, on a daily basis.

    My method is a combination of the above, initially sprinkling a few grains using a pepper pot onto my ‘standard’ soft food mix, because it saves me making up two different batches of soft food when only a few birds need to be coloured. Once my second round gets underway however, I make up a separate colour food mix, adding carophyl into a carrot base, allowing this to absorb the colouring before mixing it into the softfood base and refrigerating overnight. In the morning, the softfood is a rich orange, and eaten with relish by the chicks. Clear, variegated (including cinnamons) and dark birds are all colour fed, although white ground birds and self or foul green birds are not colour fed. Carophyl will enhance the wing bars of a dominant white canary, resulting in ‘pink’ wings tails and wing butts, which looks attractive, but debars the exhibit from competing on the showbench.

    Enhancing the colour of non-fed greens is simplicity itself, and needs no magic potions or special skills. Just hang the bird in a training cage in the sunshine for a few minutes on warm, sunny days. The effect of the sun’s rays will deepen the green body colour, and make the striations blacken and stand out to the best effect. Now everyone enjoys a little sunbathe, from time to time, don’t they!

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