A Letter From England From My Mail Bag

by Linda Hogan

Dear Linda,

The last two years I have experienced terrible breeding seasons. Can you offer me any advice?
From 7 pairs I have produced only 15 young birds. I have bred border canaries for almost 15 years and never have I had such bad luck until now, only since I have moved home.
My methods are: Feeding a mixed canary seed - hemp, plain canary, rape, teazle and linseed daily, tap water, E.M.P. soft food which I start once a week from January increasing it to 3 - 4 times a week and a mixed condition seed once a week. Over the past month I've added hard boiled egg (ratio of 1 egg to 1 cup full of E.M.P. and a handful of pinhead oat meal.) and soak seed soaked for 8 hours. I have given all the breeding pairs the above egg and E.M.P. daily about 1 tsp. per bird. I did soak the condition seed with wheat germ oil prior to pairing, yet I've had poor fertility and to date from 7 pairs only have 5 young ones in the nest. Can you help me to prevent this next year. My birds always have grit and cuttlefish as well. I will look forward to hearing from you soon. I think your book "A Collection of Canary Tales" is excellent. It has shed a whole new light on the way I see my birds.
Yours Sincerely,
Troubled Breeder
P.S. I do not use artificial light, do you think I should? I do not continue with the eggfood when a hen is sitting only during periods in between incubating although I do give cock birds daily. Can you tell me what my birds diet should have added to improve things.


Dear Canary Breeder:

So glad to hear from you. You are certainly a dedicated border canary breeder. Naturally, it is a little difficult for me to accurately respond to your breeding problems from afar, but I think I have some good ideas about what is most likely wrong.

The basic problem in your letter is infertile eggs. Most infertile eggs are a result of the hen laying before she is in full breeding condition. If the hen begs the male to breed with her, fertility is not generally a problem. An occasional male is infertile, especially when breeding closely related birds, but these can be culled from the stock. It is a common practice to increase the frequency of extras such as eggfood and greens in a well-meaning attempt to rush the birds into breeding. However, successful breeding will come naturally for the birds if we avoid the temptation to rush them into breeding condition.

To be successful in breeding take your clues from the birds. When we study the birds and pick up on their signals, we will produce optimal results. I will give you some general guidelines. Foods are either high in carbohydrates, proteins, or both. Foods that are high in carbohydrates push breeding behavior (egg laying, loss of body confirmation, and loud frequent singing). Greens, canary seed, eggfood (EMP) without egg added are all high in carbohydrates be very careful not to rush the hens with these foods; infertile eggs will result. The more rushing you do, the lower your fertility rate.

Often I receive phone calls during breeding season from people having almost no fertility. Almost always, they are giving the birds everything and lots of it. They fail to understand the birds are being pushed to lay eggs which is not the same as laying fertile eggs. I tell them to stop giving any extras and within about 3-4 weeks they call back and are surprised because now the fertility is almost 100%. You have to feed right to get good results.

Higher protein foods include: hard-boiled egg, wheat germ, petamine, and oily seeds (hemp, rape and niger). Higher protein foods encourage breeding behavior but not egg laying.

In January, feed seed mix daily, fresh water daily, cuttlebone available, and a digestible mineral available (no sand or true grit).

The extras:

  1. Petamine made in US by Kellogg. It is a powder with niger seeds. You probably have a similar product there. It is 21 % protein, 13% fat and is sold as a conditioner because it has lots of vitamins and minerals. The most important ingredients in a conditioner are vitamins, minerals, brewers dried yeast, soy protein concentrate, wheat germ meal, cod liver oil, and fish meal. Feed four days a week.
  2. Toasted wheat germ. 100% natural lightly toasted wheat germ. It is 2% carbohydrate, 2% fat, 4 gms of protein, and is high in vitamin E. Feed three days a week.
  3. Once a week feed a small amount of bee pollen (no more than 1/4 teaspoon per bird). This is high in vitamins, approximately 25% protein and high in carbohydrate.
  4. Hard-boiled egg yolk small amount once a week. DO NOT FEED EMP OR OTHER NESTLING FOOD UNTIL THE FIRST BABY HATCHES!!!
  5. Feed a small amount of greens once a week. Greens are high in carbohydrates. Large quantities fed frequent will push.

Get the males ready first. If the males are lagging behind (not dropping wings and displaying breeding behavior about one month before you plan to breed) coat their seed with a little wheat germ oil and powdered vitamin containing amino acids.

One may also increase toasted wheat germ available to the males. Toasted wheat germ brings birds along more slowly than wheat germ oil. If wheat germ oil is overdone, males become aggressive and mean.

On the 13th day of egg incubation, offer eggfood daily only if babies are expected. EMP with hard boiled egg will work fine. (Eggfood should be high carbohydrates and high proteins. High protein discourages the hen from laying the second nest too quickly.) The first five days or until the chicks are banded, also feed 1/4 of a hard-boiled egg to each pair. If the hen feeds poorly, the hard boiled egg yolk will sustain chicks until she feeds more. If you continue to offer pure hard boiled egg after the chicks are banded, watch the vents. This may be too rich and cause sealed vents. If this happens, increase carbohydrates (greens) and stop the pure hard boiled egg. Offer green and sprouted seed daily after the chicks are banded. When weaning, feed the young eggfood, hard boiled egg, greens, sprouted seeds, and couscous. I prefer wheat couscous. To one cup of couscous, add one cup of hot water. Stir and let set about 5 minutes, stir again. If it is lumpy, break it up with your fingers. Couscous prevents weight loss and going light. (Separate male and female babies to prevent females from going light.)

Wheat germ oil should be added to eggfood when birds reach peak breeding condition. This will prolong fertility and breeding, but be sure to stop adding it about a month before molting. If you don't the hens will keep laying. Also discourage egg laying by taking away greens and increasing rape seed. During molting feed more oily seeds and proteins. Add some carbohydrates when you trying to stop the molt but be careful not to overdue it as that will destroy the type confirmation.

From your letter, I can see you are offering your birds a good diet. Unfortunately, you are overfeeding foods that push the hens to lay infertile eggs before they reach breeding condition. When this happens, hens lay lots of single dark blue eggs, skip laying for a few days, lay eggs off the perch, abdomens are not red and do not feel hot, fail to build good nests and desert their nests. Be more patient. Breeding is natural if we don't rush egg laying. Always slowly and progressively bring the birds toward breeding condition.

As far as lighting it must be a consistent total daily photoperiod and progressively longer days as breeding season approaches. In the US, Borders breed best at 14 1/2 hours of total daylight. I don't know about your area. I have heard that your days are much longer. Make no lights are coming on at night. Artificial lights are not essential but adequate lighting is necessary for the hens to see the chicks begging for food.

Let me know your questions and thoughts.... You know all the right things to do for the birds, you only have to adjust when you do them to have tremendous breeding success.

* My e-mail address is: canarytales@juno.com

Linda S. Hogan, Canary Tales



Dear Linda,

Thank you for your reply to my letter, it has given me a lot to think about. I am thinking of not using green food this year.
I cannot gather any wild green food due to contamination. I also think that commercially grown grains like lettuce is being sprayed with to many pesticides. I am hoping that soak seed will replace the greens. I know of a fancier who does this and has good breeding seasons.
Could you give me your opinion on what I am considering to feed my birds on from January'98. Mixed canary seed, topped up twice a week, containing plain canary, rape, linseed, hemp and a small amount of greens. it is a Belgium mix by "Buyers". A hard boiled egg mixed with one dry wheetabix biscuit, fed once a week? Soak seed (soaked for 8 hours rinsed and left in a sieve, and fed over a period of days during rearing and moulting, so they get the benefit of soak seed I sprouted seed.) During conditioning fed once a week? and sprinkled with P.Y.M.
Do you think this will be sufficient? If not what do I need to add or change, some of the products you mention are not available around here?
I will feed E.M.P. or Ce'De with hard boiled egg from the 13th day of incubation. Should I feed a condition seed? the usual mixture is hemp, niger, poppy seed, etc. I think it might cause the birds to go fat, especially as I already feed a mixed seed. I also offer oyster shell grit daily and a cuttlefish is always available. I add crushed iodine blocks to the grit.
I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on my proposal.
Myself and a couple of my friends are a little concerned over the hens not feeding the young with the soft food when it is offered on the 13th day of incubation. Because canaries can be very fussy, have you had any problems? Would you suggest feeding any soft food prior to breeding just so the hens get a taste of it?
Yours in the Fancy.
Troubled Breeder
P.S. I have a pro-biotic on hand in case of any ill birds, do you use this, I don't like antibiotics. I let nature take its course. I only offer a little help with the pro-biotics. Have you used P.Y.M.? Is it a sufficient vitamin and mineral supplement. It contains the following: Dried brewer's yeast, calcium carbonate, dicalcium phosphate, magnesium sulphate, manganese sulphate, potassium iodide.
P.P.S. Your book is excellent reading. Thank you for your time and knowledge.


Dear Canary Breeder:

I so wish you had e-mail. Do you have a son or daughter with e-mail? Surely, there is a computer buff near you. If so, my e-mail address is canarytales@juno.com

I enjoyed your letter very much and will respond to your questions.


  1. Does sprouted seed substitute for greens? Basically, yes. You will need to consider how you will color your birds. Even though you do not color fed with dyes, the color still comes from the natural coloring agents in the foods especially greens and carrots. You could use spirulina in the egg food. This a blue-green algae and would be available at health food stores. Frozen peas are also good.
  2. Your seed mix. It is important to control the portions of seeds. Linseed and hemp need to represent a small portion of the mix since they are high oil and therefore fattening. A thin layer of fat is desirable but excess can cause problems for both the males and females. A second and equally important consideration is the percentage of canary to rape seed. Canary seed, being a high carbohydrate seed, encourages breeding and egg laying. The rape seed holds them back. In January about 40% canola rape is appropriate. Gradually decreasing the amount of rape and increasing the amount of canary until at pairing you have about 20% rape. The rape must be the canola type. Other kinds maybe the industrial type rape seed and toxic. Taste your rape seed. It should be nutty flavored but never bifter!! Bitter rape seed causes diarrhea and may result in bird loss. A simple way is to use your basic seed mix and then add more canola rape to it. When you increase the rape seed you will notice the hens stop setting in the seed cups. Increasing the amount of rape seed in the seed mix is also a good trick when you want them to stop breeding. Likewise, increasing canary seed will encourage the birds to stop normal molting or soft molt.
  3. Hard-boiled egg mixed with dry weetabix biscuit fed once a week. I am not familiar with this biscuit but it surely adds carbohydrate and depending on the amount you give, can push your birds. I would prefer that you not add anything to the hard-boiled egg. Offer only the hard-boiled egg yolk once a week. Since you don't have petamine, this will be your protein source to condition the birds without pushing them to lay eggs.
  4. Soaked seed soaked for 8 hours etc and fed during rearing and molting. During conditioning once a week sprinkled with P. Y.M. Soaked seed need not soak that long especially when the weather is hot, it is better to cut it back to 3 or 4 hours. Yes, feed it during rearing and molting. Begin offering it when the babies are five days old. During conditioning, once a week would be good since you are not going to be feeding greens. I like P.Y.M. although I haven't been able to get it lately. I used it a lot since it is high in vitamins and minerals etc.
  5. Is this sufficient? Some of the products mentioned are not available in England. You should also add vitamins to the water during conditioning, breeding, and molting. The best is to go to a farm feed store or veterinary supply and buy the poultry vitamins. They are very good, concentrated, and not expensive. Use about 1/4 tsp. to 1/2 gallon water. Make fresh daily. Change water daily. Maybe you cannot find petamine or a similar product with 21% protein and fish meal but toasted wheat germ should be in the cereal section of your grocery store. If not, raw wheat germ should be easy to find at a health food store. The wheat couscous is a common middle-eastern product. Our health food stores sell it. I buy it in 25 lbs sacks. I think you need at least one wheat product even with P.Y.M. You could sprout whole untreated wheat. Be sure it has not been treated for planting.
  6. Condition seed can be fed during breeding and molting. Yes, they are fattening. Niger is known for making the birds more active. Hemp will make them more active until you overdose them on it. Hemp builds up for four weeks in the tissue. Overdosing will sedate the birds. I use soaked hemp to get lethargic males going and for the setting hen to increase hatch rate and encourage her to set tight on the nest. Since seed is deficient in vitamins, it is not a good conditioner. Can you get bee pollen at your health food store or from a beekeeper? It stimulates and conditions.
  7. Concern about hens feeding egg food if it isn't offered until 13th day of incubation, what about fussy eaters? Bird are choosey about what they eat when they have been given large amount of extras. They, just like kids, will pig out on their favorites and not eat a well balanced diet. Birds feed a plain diet will readily accept egg food!! The first 5 days, I would rather she feed the hard-boiled egg yolk. I think I told you about cutting the hard-boiled egg so that it has a sharp ridge. They love to nibble on the ridge. If it scares you, offer a very small amount (no more than 1/4 tsp/bird) of you egg food mix once and watch them go for it!!
  8. Pro-biotics. I too do not use antibiotics. I add pro-biotics to egg food during breeding season and sprinkle on soaked seeds periodically.

This is a general guide to breeding your birds and basically what I do. I make minor adjustments for individual birds who seem to be lagging behind or are going too fast. I mostly hold the hens back from egg laying and bring the males into breeding condition first. I watch the birds and respond to them.

One last thought, be sure your nests are secured several inches out from the cage sides so that nest mating is easy. Some breeders secure the nest in the middle of the cage floor for the same reason. We also like square and oval perches for the same reasons. This is especially important when breeding larger birds.

It is great that you have so many bird friends to discuss these ideas with. Being in Kansas, I am pretty isolated and have only one local bird friend. Many days she has patiently listened to me expound on the birds and ask me some very good questions. I learned to breed canaries by researching scientific literature on ornithology and veterinary medicine, and by experimenting and observing the birds..

Your Friend in the Fancy

Linda S. Hogan
Canary Tales

Last modified: January 26, 2010

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