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Canary egg and chick losses – blame the cock? PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

ImageA few members recently regarding the loss of canary eggs and chicks in their infancy have approached me.  There are a few reasons why a hen may actually hatch eggs and then fail to raise chicks to a stage where they can support themselves.  An immature hen may leave the nest before the eggs hatch, or fail to feed chicks properly. She doesn’t seem to know what she should be doing and almost appears bewildered by the whole affair. These hens often do an admirable job when allowed to go to nest for a second time some weeks later. 

A hen with chicks resents human interference, even from someone they are accustomed to. I have seen my hens standing on the edge of the nest preparing to feed their chicks and they immediately stop and remain unmoving until I move away.  Often the hen will give up the thought of feeding the young and just hop back on the nest as if to protect or hide them from me. Either way, the chicks don’t get a proper meal.  I will try not to enter the breeding room unless I am on essential “business”, such as feeding soft food, checking water, banding chicks, etc.

“Night-fright” is a factor in egg and chick losses.  If a hen is startled at night by loud noise or bright light, (thunder storms are bad news!), she is liable scramble off the nest in panic and unable to find her way back until the daylight comes.  Canaries have amazingly poor night vision and have trouble seeing where they are going even in twilight.  You’ve probably noticed that your canaries roost well before dark, while other birds are still flying around.  The usual result of “night-fright” is broken eggs, chilled eggs, or chicks that have died from the cold. 

A major factor in egg and chick losses is leaving the cock with the hen.  There are some cocks that are quiet satisfied once the hen is on the nest and they are happy to just mooch around for 14 days until the chicks hatch.  There are some, however, who don’t think this is such a good idea and they aren’t content to sit around for two weeks.  They get bored and may try and mate with the hen while she is sitting on eggs or start pulling the nest apart to fill in time.  The result is liable to be broken eggs, or the hen abandoning the nest altogether. 
Worse still is the cock that starts eating the eggs.  If you find eggs are vanishing from the nest, chances are the cock is eating them, usually soon after they are laid and often without a trace was being left.  A cock that has a taste for eggs should never be left in a situation where he has access to eggs again.  In my opinion, many cases of chick deaths in the early days are caused through starvation.  That is, through the parents failing to provide youngsters with adequate nutrition.  Here too, the cock may be partially to blame.  Some cocks will feed the hen while she is sitting on the nest, which seem like a nice thing for him to do.  However, problems can rapidly arise if he continues to do this after the eggs hatch.  As the hen is being fed, she doesn’t get hungry and feel inclined to get off the nest to get food.  The movement of the hungry chicks beneath her will probably stimulate her to eventually go and get them something to eat, but she can tend to stay sitting for far too long.  The result is that the chicks do not get fed as often as they should and will weaken and die.  To resolve these problems, put the slide back in the breeding cage to isolate the cock, or remove him from the cage altogether. 

The hen is quiet capable of raising the chicks on her own and will often do a better job of it without the cock “helping”.
There are other problems which can beset even experienced breeders that I haven’t mentioned here, but I think the points which have been covered are once that are of particular concern to novice canary breeders.
It can be very distressing to lose chicks when you are first starting out, particularly if you only have one or two pairs breeding, but persevere and you will find that those that do make it through to adulthood will boost your confidence and have you looking forward to the nest breeding season.

By Peter Sanson

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