Canaries are natural seed eaters, as can be seen in their strong, short, and wide beaks that are designed to pick up and de-husk seeds. Their special digestive systems also are designed to deal with mainly vegetable foods. Canaries are able to obtain all of their essential dietary constituents- proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals from a mixture of seeds and green food, plus a little animal food and grit. There is no single kind of seed in which all of these dietary essentials occur in sufficient amounts, so a seed mixture is necessary to make the diet of your birds as varied as possible.
The most important group of macro-nutrients consists of proteins, which are used in the body for the growth, repair, and replacement of body tissues. Proteins also are necessary to aid the performance of various bodily functions, and include enzymes, hormones, and antibodies.
Proteins form the most important part of the egg; they must be present in the diet of the developing chick as well as the adult. Proteins are indeed so important, that a deficiency of these nutrients in the diet will cause an immediate loss of condition and deterioration in health. It is estimated that about 10 percent of a canary's diet must consist of proteins, so the greatest portion of the food must be protein-rich seeds.
All proteins are built up with various forms of amino acids, which are changed by various enzymes into other acceptable forms of amino acids during digestion. These amino acids can then be transported around the body in the bloodstream until they can be used somewhere in the tissues. There are about 24 different amino acids, but, luckily, the canary does not require all of them. It gets by with about ten and also can manufacture some in its own body.
As a seedeater, the canary misses out on the excellent animal proteins found in insects. Such proteins generally are easier to absorb than vegetable proteins. Canary breeders use this fact by offering egg food to both young and adult birds. It is the main food used for rearing young birds and the breeder who uses it can be sure his birds will not be lacking in proteins.
The second group of macronutrients consists of the carbohydrates, which come in the form of sugars and starches. These also occur in the seeds that you feed to your birds. As sugars are more soluble than starches, the latter are turned into sugar by the action of the enzyme amylase, which occurs in the saliva of the bird. It is then absorbed into the bloodstream, via the small intestine. In the tissues, the sugars are burnt up to produce energy and body warmth.
The final group of macro-nutrients consists of the fats, which, to a certain extent, perform the same functions as carbohydrates; they are the fuels for warmth and energy in the bird's body. Moreover, they carry vitamins A, D, and E, the latter being the fertility vitamin, which really makes fats essential to the diet. Most fats in the bird's diet are in the form of vegetable oils from the various seeds it eats. The digestion of fats takes longer than carbohydrates and they are thus useful in the winter when they can help keep the canary fuelled-up through the long nights.
Rape seed, canary grass seed, hemp, oats, and flax form the most suitable seed mixture and it is therefore not surprising to learn that these seeds play an important role in the diet of your birds. The "oily seeds" mentioned in the table are those that the canaries can receive more of in the winter.
Calcium and trace elements are the mineral part of the diet. In combination with phosphorus, calcium, a very important element, is essential for the structure of the bones and for the formation of the eggshell. Trace elements (for example, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, cobalt, molybdenum, sulphur, iodine, manganese) are also important but are only required in minute quantities. However, the absence of even some of these minute quantities of minerals (usually in salt form) in the diet can cause certain malfunctions in the metabolism. However, you need not worry too much about the trace elements.
Vitamins are organic materials that are found in small quantities in various foodstuffs. Vitamins are very important, but the owners who feeds their birds a good seed mixture and fresh greens need not worry too much about them as they will be contained in the food. A deficiency of one or more important vitamins will result in one of the avitaminosis diseases.
Vitamin A is necessary for growth; it prevents night blindness and is found in cod-liver oil, green food, germinating seeds, milk, root vegetables, and so on. The vitamin B-complex consists of 14 vita- mins, most of which are found in yeast, cod-liver oil, liver, milk, lean meat, eggs, vegetables, legumes, corn, bananas, beans, and peanuts.
B-complex vitamins help in the digestion of carbohydrates, promote growth, and prevent anaemia. Vitamin C is produced by the bird itself. It also is contained in fresh, leafy greens, oranges, and lemons. Vitamin C fortifies the immune system and thus helps protect against disease. It also plays a major part in the healing of wounds.
Vitamin D is formed in the bird's body in conjunction with the influence of sunlight. It also is contained in cod-liver oil and milk. This vitamin is essential for the healthy development of bones; calcium can only be processed in the body with the help of it.
Vitamin E is found in germinating seeds, especially in wheat germ. It is important for healthy reproduction. The role that vitamins play in the metabolism of the bird's (or any animal's) body is very important.
As long as canaries receive such a balanced variety, there will be no worries as far as vitamins are concerned. They require only tiny amounts of these various vitamins and these certainly will be present in such a food mixture. There is therefore no necessity to give your birds supplementary cod-liver oil or other vitamin preparations.
Drinking water is, of course, a very important item. Canaries should have fresh, clean water available at all times. A canary's muscles are composed of about 75 percent water and there is a lot of water in all other parts of the body. Water is also important in the blood, for excretion, and in the egg.
Renew the water at regular set times each day as unclean water can be the source of disease, or the means of transferring diseases from one bird to the next. The drinking vessel is best made of glass or porcelain so that it can be cleaned easily and sterilized.
In the winter, one must be particularly vigilant as the drinking water can freeze over (it is best to give the water in the night shelter to help prevent this). Also, in the winter, do not provide an open bath of water, as bathing in freezing weather can be very dangerous for canaries.
A canary in a cage should be given green food at least once, preferably twice a week. It can be given a lettuce leaf, some spinach, cress or dandelion leaves. Some birds may even like a piece of carrot. The ideal of course, would be to offer a small amount of green food daily. All greens should be fresh and crisp and any left over at bedtime should be removed and discarded. Bought greens should be washed thoroughly in cold, clean water before being offered to the birds.
Most canaries will take fruit in one form or another. Pieces of sweet apple, pear, pineapple, cherries, plums, peaches, melon, grapes, tomatoes, and grapefruit will be picked at eagerly. Large pieces of fruit are best impaled on a nail that has been driven into a piece of wood, so that the fruit does not become soiled on the floor. Fruit also could be placed in a small wire basket that is hung on the cage wire.
A number of very good treats for canaries include seed mixtures with various dehydrated fruits and vegetables, egg, nuts, animal proteins, and so on. These aid as a pick-me-up and help condition the bird after breeding, moulting, and so on. Such treats may be given in addition to the normal diet, but in a separate container. Pieces of fruit, freshly grated carrot, honey sticks and similar items are all regarded as treats. Be careful with bread, cake, and cookies, which will make the bird fat and unhealthy. Treat these treats as treats! This means that you don’t give it them every day!