The two most popular kinds of cage bird are the budgerigar and the canary. The first is a small Australian parrot and is by nature a roving flock bird from semi-arid grasslands; the other, is a flock bird of the finch family and is native to the forests of the Canary Islands.
The care of budgerigars and canaries varies a little according to their different requirements, but it is true of both that although usually known as cage birds, they are far more suitably housed in an aviary. The two must never be housed together, for the frailer canary is at risk from the bolder and more assertive budgerigar.
These birds are bred in a host of colours and varieties, but four major colours predominate: blue, green, yellow, and white.
ACQUIRING A BUDGERIGAR
The young — with the possible exception of the first two — hatch on alternate days after an eighteen day incubation. At birth budgerigars are blind and without feathers. They are reared in the nest box by both parents, emerging at about four weeks fully feathered and able to de-husk seed. During this period the cock continues to part-feed them and by the age of six weeks they can be rehoused.
It is unfair to keep flock birds singly, but when housed in mixed groups there should be an equal number of each sex. If there is a spare female, one of the cocks will serve two hens, but surplus males will become very frustrated.
Adult budgerigars are easily sexed by the colour of the cere, which is the area just above the beak. Blue denotes a cock bird, brown denotes a hen, but on young fledgelings the cere colouring may be indistinct.
A good seed mixture, supplemented with an occasional segment of fruit or small quantities of greenstuff is a suitable diet. Packeted mitures usually contain canary seed and millet enriched with artificial grains of vitamins and minerals.
Grit is needed by budgerigars as it aids the digestion of seed in the gizzard. Cuttlefish ‘bone’ is a source of calcium and a useful tool on which the birds may trim their own beaks.
In the wild budgerigars may have to go a day or two without water and they may choose to do so in captivity, but clean drinking water must always be available to them.
The type of cage illustrated, which is used by fanciers as a breeding cage, provides good accommodation all year round. It is easy to build and costs less than a traditional wire cage.
It should be made as spacious as possible, with plenty of room for these active little birds to flit from perch to perch and to climb on the wire cage-front.
A size of 100 cm long; 60 cm wide; and 75 cm high (36 x 24 x 30in) will be needed for two budgerigars.
When the nest box is in place and the birds are busy rearing a family, no cage accessories other than the normal perches and the food and water pots will be necessary. At other times the birds may enjoy the added interest and stimulation of swings, mirrors and ladders. Such toys are particularly valuable to a single budgerigar kept in a cage.
Budgerigars are hardy enough to live in an outside aviary all year round, providing they have access to a weather-proof sleeping area at night.
Aviary birds enjoy a certain freedom of movement and association with other birds. As a substitute, solitary budgerigars need human companionship, and some — notably cocks not yet six months old — may learn to ‘talk’.
All caged budgerigars will need daily exercise out of their cage. If it is left open in a safe room for part of every day and providing food and water are never available elsewhere, then the birds will return to their own perch after a period of freedom.
Not all canaries are yellow, although that colour is associated so closely with their name. They are bred in a range of colours, from white to red and in several types, such as the Roller, Lizard, Border, Yorkshire, and Norwich.
ACQUIRING A CANARY
The young are reared in a nest constructed in a nest-pan inside the breeding cage. The parents need to be fed special canary rearing food, which in turn they feed to the young. At three weeks the young begin to leave the nest and most are independent at five weeks and can be rehoused.
As flock birds they should not be kept singly, but it is advisable to keep only one sex unless breeding. The males are in most demand for their song, as females do not sing.
Canaries dehusk seed before eating it, feeding just like budgerigars. However, they need a higher fat content in their food and special canary mixtures provide for this by including niger or linseed.
Although a budgerigar may survive a few days without water, canaries very quickly succumb to thirst and need their drinking water changed every day.
Canaries also need to bathe more frequently and regularly than budgerigars, and must have a birdbath in their cage.
Owners accustomed to the hardy budgerigar — which can tolerate handling and readily becomes finger tame — should note that the canary has a much more delicate and retiring nature. Canaries are not easy to train and many are reluctant to leave their cage for exercise. For this reason they are best housed in an aviary.