Fancy a try at the ancient art of crossing finches with canaries? PADDY DUNNE sets out the basic techniques
EVEN though most canary fanciers will specialise in a single breed, it is never a bad thing to create some additional interest during the birdkeeping year. Rather than introduce a second canary breed, a cage or flight or two given over to some muling pairs will provide some additional interest.
For show purposes, Norwich or colour canaries are recognised as the best partners for crosses with British hardbills. However, even if you keep a different breed, the challenge is still the same and the male mules produced have the potential to be fine singers. I’ve seen some attractive miniature mules produced from goldfinch x Irish fancy crosses, for example.
For miniature muling, redpolls, siskins and goldfinches are all good candidates to be paired to a canary partner. For all of these pairings, you require a cock finch and a canary hen. This is the normal approach, with the bullfinch being the exception to the rule, since only crosses with a bullie hen have been successful.
A goldfinch mule is hard to beat for colour and song, with many fine examples being bred each year. So this would be my preference if I were to keep only one pair for muling.
The best approach is to select suitable young birds and moult them out together. A young cock goldfinch won’t develop his red blaze until December, so when trying to sex birds, you need to pay attention to the colour on the wing butts. A cock will have black wing butts, whereas a hen’s will be brown and these markings will come through sometime between July and October, depending on when they were hatched.
Give them time
When you are confident that you have a cock and hen to pair, introduce them to each other as soon as possible, because pair bonding can take a relatively long time.
Most pairs will be willing to settle in a large double breeding cage with the usual perches at either end. Initially, canary and goldfinch are each likely to claim a perch of their own, as they assess their new surroundings and company. During the initial introduction, it is a wise precaution to double up on feeders and drinkers, to ensure both can gain nourishment without harassment.
As the pair settle down, remove a perch so that the birds have to share. You can even consider replacing the perch with a shorter one every week or so, to create a bond as the pair end up roosting shoulder to shoulder. The final perch will be about the length of a biro pen. Unlike siskins, which will hang on the cage wire to roost, a goldfinch will always spend the night on a perch.
Over time, compatibility and breeding condition will build and most muling pairs will be content enough to go to nest in a birdroom setting. Canary nest-pans can be used as nesting sites, but the square wooden pans are probably better still and for flight breeding there are some nice nest-pan holders which include a roof for shelter and a brim to which plastic Christmas tree branches can be fitted. For both cage and flight breeding, as with most British finch nest sites, a bit of cover in the form of conifer real or plastic will be appreciated.
• Paddy Dunne has kept canaries since 1939. Today he keeps Norwich, Fife and colour canaries.