Managing the moult

By Valentino Cherubini. M.D

The moult is a very demanding period for birds and, of course, also for breeders. Once the breeding season is over, most breeders are happy when the number of chicks is considered high, others are disappointed if the number is low. Even if the number is not what I was expecting, I do not like to extend the breeding season beyond the end of June.
Since my bird room is located right under the roof and the temperature rises quickly at the end of the spring, I stop breeding in June with the last hatching occurring during the first week of July. I have changed my way to manage the moult period many times over the past 30 years, and I tried to learn from books, the Internet, friends, and most of all from my mistakes.

Moulting period
Border canaries usually moult from July to November. Although most people believe that the canary moult lasts less than 8 weeks, I consider the moulting period of my Borders to be much longer, around 12-14 weeks. If you blow over the breast feathers in a young bird you can see a hairless skin, the moult starts when small hair follicles appear in this area. In the adult birds the moult starts with the tail feathers or the wing flight feathers. At the end of the moult a bird is ready for the show season with all the roundness and fine feather required for a winning bird.
Only fit birds will moult and failure to moult is a sign of illness but the speed at which they moult depends not only on their health but also on their age, diet and the weather. The later a chick hatches the quicker it will moult; it is a way of nature letting it "catch up".

Preparing birds for moulting
Preparation for the moult starts after weaning for young chicks and after their last nesting for adults. Before housing my Border canaries for the moult, I sprinkle anti-mite powder on them and put a couple of drops of Frontline on their upper back. I repeat this treatment in mid-September. There is nothing that will undermine the condition of a young bird quicker than mite, and we all need to be very watchful.

My bird room consist of 76 single space cages with removable slides; I can put together up to 10 single cages into one space. Some years ago I used to house each young bird in a single cage, thereafter I convinced myself that canaries, as most birds, are prey animals. Adaptation to the environment of preyed animals influences their behaviour to maximize their ability to obtain food and avoid being eaten.
I prefer housing young birds in large flight cages, at least in a three single-space cage, and better if in a six single-space cage. I put four young birds in a three single-space cage and 8-10 birds in a six single-space cage. Adult hens are housed in large flight cages, ten single-space cages , and cocks in a single cage. Avoiding overcrowding is a "must" for both young and adult birds.
During the last two weeks of August and the first two weeks of September I prefer to put one bird per cage, especially if they are cock birds.

Temperature and light
When daylight becomes shorter the birds’ reproductive phase ends and they begin moulting. Many breeders suggest keeping birds in a dark setting but I am not sure that this works. I prefer to keep artificial light on during the all-normal daylight period. I see that my Borders are active and I think that this helps them to grow nice new feathers. Even if this system can extend the moult period I do not worry because they have more time to build up their definite shape.
The drop in temperatures, signalling a change of season is also very helpful for the moult. A low temperature is probably the most useful condition to complete the moult in Border canaries. The extension of warm weather throughout September and October is not an advantageous condition for finishing the moult of our canaries.
Unlike Frilled Canaries, possibly all Type Canaries can benefit from low temperatures to finish their moult. This is probably why Type Canaries reach their highest quality in northern countries and Frilled Canaries in southern countries.

Our birds need a variable and complete diet during all the moulting period. With feathers being primarily protein, supplying extra protein in nestling food helps speed up the process initially.
I like to use a soft food prepared with 14 spoons of couscous soaked in warm water, 8 spoons of Orlux (Versele-Laga, Belgium) dried formula, 3 spoons of wheat germ, 3 measuring cups of Mutaskin and 2 of Biovit, 2 spoons of Calcium D-E plus (AvesBioPharma, Italy), 4 spoons of camelina sativa seeds, and 2 spoons of wheat germ oil. Sprouted seeds and marigolds are available every day. Greens, such as frozen peas, broccoli and broccoli leaves, are fed three times a week. I use Prestige Premium seed mixture (Versele-Laga).
When I clearly see a broad tract of pinfeathers on the top of the birds’ head, I know it is time to cut back on the amount and frequency of protein and increase the carbohydrates in their diet. At this time I add half part of canary seed and oatmeal to the canary mixture and I gradually reduce soft food to two times a week.

General health
Since I started to acidify the drink water, I have seen a great improvement in the health of my canaries. During the last two years I have used two products for pigeons, Improver and Antifungal (Pigeonvitality, Norway) every other day with Orego-Stim (Meridien Animal Health, UK). Throughout the moulting time, birds enjoy bathing together with their brothers and sisters, and this helps ensure their feathers remain in the best conditions. Learning to bathe at an early age means they will continue to bathe readily throughout their adult lives.
Soon after weaning, I like to hang up an old show cage in the aviary so that the birds can enter and exit; this cage is removed at night.