Care during the Moult – Courtesy Wout van Gils
The moult is well-known to every bird fancier and he recognizes it as an annual event in the live of his canaries.
A novice does not place much importance on this at first but quickly notices that something is happening to the coat of feathers of his birds. The moult has started and this is a very important period in the life of the birds as well as us fanciers. A bird which does not properly moult lacks something in his metabolism and will never become 100% fit and cannot be expected to excel. During the moult all the weaknesses that the bird harbours will come to the fore, but also all its good points, particularly when you see the coat of feathers changing and how beautifully the colours and markings have become.
On the other hand the bird’s health may have suffered and the bird has not come well through the moult or the feathering and markings have not come up to expectation. In brief, the moult bodes an interesting time for both bird and fancier.
The moult normally starts mid to late January; this depends on when the breeding season was started. Early breeders will have their birds moulting before late breeders, who have started in October. Nature also plays a role in this and you need to finish your breeding in a timely manner to enable the moult to commence and finish before the onset of cooler weather. The moult cannot and should not be forced and the bird needs its energy reserves to bring it to a successful conclusion; it is beneficial for the bird if this occurs at a time of reasonable weather. Subject to these conditions being fulfilled the moult will be fully complete between 6 and 8 weeks.
Young birds will generally not shed their tail and wing feathers. Older birds have a much harder time as they need to replace all their feathers. At times you even feel sorry for their dishevelled appearance, but with proper care you will be surprised as to how quickly the bird recovers. People often remark that a bird in moult is not really ill, but very susceptible to disease, particularly if deficient in food, minerals and adequate peace and calm. A lack of any of these elements can be outwardly detected from the appearance of the quills; it becomes therefore very important to maintain proper nutrition and continue observation.
Care during the moult
As described above for a proper moult it is necessary to maintain a largely constant temperature, low humidity, fresh air, well-balanced nutrition and eggfood three times a week. It is also very important not to overpopulate your flights; birds need space and calm and this will also help prevent featherplucking. Also important is that the perches are separate from one another to allow birds to sit without being disturbed by others. Distractions should be provided – suspend small bunches of strands of sisal rope or even better regular sprays of millet. Add vitamins regularly to the drinking water and supplement the food of recessed whites with vitamin A.
A further recommended measure is the weekly addition of half an onion. It will take the birds a little time to become used to this but, once accustomed, will relish it and onion is of particular value when taken during the moult.
In addition fruit can be offered two or three times a week. Only provide enough to last 2½ hours; any longer may cause the fruit to become mouldy with adverse consequences. A good seed mixture should always be included and should always be available in sufficient quantity.
More recently various companies have begun offering products to assist birds through their moult.
It is up to the fancier to ensure that his birds come through the moult with no lasting ill-effects.
Baths and the moult
I have intentionally avoided mentioning the use of baths until now in order to stress the importance of providing regular baths. During the moult baths should be provided at least three times a week and once a week bath salts should also be added. Another recommendation is the application of a good flower spray bottle or atomiser to mist up the birds several times a week (over and above the use of baths). The birds love it and it does not only benefit the birds and their plumage, but also has a calming effect on them; the latter is particular beneficial when they are being taken to an exhibition.Thus for the moult never skimp on providing baths – your birds will thank you for it. And the flower spray does wonders!!!!
The soft moult
The soft moult is not particularly prevalent amongst canary breeders, but occurs more often in a home where only a few birds are kept for their song. It is also common with people who are careless with their artificial lighting. Here therefore a few words about the so-called soft moult.
At the beginning I described all the factors that one must consider when caring for a canary. One of these factors is to maintain the daily light hours at about 11 hours. When this is not done, for instance, 11 hours one day and 16 the next and more or less of the same ongoing then you will not enjoy your bird for very many years. What is happening?
The pineal gland of the bird reacts to the number of hours of light; in other words birds in nature reach breeding condition as the hours of daylight lengthen; the temperature has little effect. Similarly as hours of daylight shorten the bird will stop breeding and begin replacing its coat of feathers.
Now what happens inside a home where the bird is not placed in a darkened area at a specific time. The activity of the pituitary will fluctuate and the bird will not realize whether it is spring, summer, autumn or winter. In short the bird is totally confused and will start to moult, but because his system is out of synch he can no longer move out of the moult – he will no longer sing, breed, etc. and the feathers will continue to fly around the room.
The bird is now in the so-called soft moult, a condition difficult and often impossible to recover from. After a long road the bird may no longer be able to generate the required amount of energy, emaciate and die.
Hence the importance of exercising proper control over the number of light hours!
As mentioned above the provision of baths is essential, but you must also provide proper floor materials, constant grit, distractions through the suspension of sisal rope strands or millet sprays.
Regularly remove the loose quills as these can lead to bad habits. A golden tip is the leaning of a small plank against the wall at the back of the birdroom. Air movements will cause the feathers to float and these feathers will come to rest behind the plank. After a few days the feathers can be picked up by the handful and few if any feathers will be left flying around your birdroom. Very easy and handy.
I hope that this article has again drawn your attention to the need for proper care during the moult. It cannot be said and written too often that a large amount of attention needs to be paid during this period as many good birds are established here and some through lack of attention and care are ruined and that is not our goal.
The moult is an exciting time. Most breeders realize this and manage accordingly.
I hope that your birds will do you proud through the moult and on to our exhibitions.