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    Article published April 2004

    As a canary breeder, I am often asked "when do you move the chicks?"

    The question relates to those chicks that have fledged, and at what age they should be removed from their parents. My reply is always "when they are ready."

    Canary chicks usually fledge at anything from 17-24 days. Much will depend upon how well they have been fed, and on how many chicks there are in each nest. I find that broods of three, four or five chicks tend to fledge much earlier than if there is only a single or couple of chicks in the nest. There are exceptions of course, but I am speaking generally, here.


    Breeding canaries successfully calls for a high degree of observation on the part of the fancier. Constantly checking nests to see that all is well, and taking immediate remedial action when problems loom, is one of the recipes for a successful breeding season.

    Moving chicks is simply another critical time on the canary breeding calendar. Much will depend on the breeding methods employed by the fancier. For example, has the hen been left to rear the chicks single-handedly, or is the cock kept with her, as a pair?

    My practice usually is to allow the hen to rear without her partner. I re-introduce the cock bird until mating occurs, from the time the chicks are about fourteen days old, and I remove him immediately afterwards. I do not want to risk him harming the chicks, in his eagerness to attend to the hen.

    Similarly, I do not allow the cock to play any part in rearing the fledgling chicks, once they have been removed. Instead, my practice is to move them to a clean cage, ideally housed with another next of chicks, and keep them in small groups for the next ten days or so. Kept in this way, the chicks will encourage each other to feed, to bathe and generally keep alert. I like to see my young birds active and bright eyed at all times, and do not separate them into individual cages until they have enjoyed a little communal living for a short time, as part of their educational process.

    Age immaterial

    The age at which chicks are removed from their mothers is dependant on when I have seen each one picking up soft food unaided by the hen. Only then can I be sure that there are no 'cry babies' among the nest - those that constantly give a plaintive peep, seeking attention. If necessary, I have delayed moving chicks until they are four weeks of age, although this is certainly an exception. Most are fine by the time they are 23 or 24 days old, and many sooner, particularly in the height of summer.

    If I do need to leave chicks for longer with their mothers, then this does not mean that the hens breeding cycle needs interrupting. She will still have been mated with her partner, and she will be preparing to start her breeding cycle again, regardless of whether her chicks are feeding correctly or not. My rule of thumb is to have the chicks away by the time their mother is ready to incubate her second nest of eggs. There is rarely any problem in achieving this, particularly if the straggler has enjoyed outings with his more advanced brothers and sisters into a communal nursery, even if he is returned to his mother after a short outing, each day.

    Those preferring to pair breed have a different problem, and that is to ensure that the cock bird does not pluck or bully the chicks, whilst he is housed with them. Some cocks are perfect fathers - they will feed better than hens, and will school the chicks correctly as soon as they are old enough, whilst still attending to the needs of the hen. These birds are worth their weight in gold. However, others can turn on the chicks at a moments notice, so a careful eye needs to always be kept, on the lookout for trouble.

    Nursary cage

    A practice favoured by many breeders, is to hang a nursery cage onto the outside of the stock cage, or simply to divide the stock cage into two, to allow the parents to feed the chicks through the cage wires, whilst physically separated from them.

    This method certainly works, although at some stage, the chicks will need to fend for themselves, and so you are perhaps only delaying the inevitable, if you follow this practice.

    Whatever method you adopt, remember some simple rules. Always keep the bottom of the nursery cage clean - use paper trays for the first few days, which you can replace at every feed, to avoid the chicks from accidentally picking up stale food. Secondly, be careful if using perches. At less than a month old, young birds feet are extremely tender, and can be easily damaged, if the birds are frightened momentarily. Better to rely on the birds perching on the floor for a few days, which allows them to more easily find the feeding pots, than to risk them harming themselves.

    And finally, do not be fooled into thinking that you must follow the clock. Many books suggest you remove the chicks at 21 days of age. My advice is to simply allow the birds to tell you when they are ready, which is when you see them eating soft food for themselves, at every new feed. Only then can you be confident that you stand an excellent chance of rearing those chicks to maturity, rather than risk losing them at the last hurdle.

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