I offer my parent birds a smorgasbord of different foods when they have chicks. I usually feed soak seed along with hard boiled egg smashed with carrot and broccoli bits and sprinkled with Kaytee handfeeding formula until the youngest chick is five days old. I replace the mixture every four or so hours to make sure it does not spoil. I feed quinoa mixed with texturized vegetable protein, lentils and a little cous cous and broccoli bits during the first five days whenever I have to leave for an extended period of time. As the chicks become older, I add small amounts of other types of food. Crushed nuts, dried and fresh fruits, dried coconut and fresh vegetables, greens, cous cous, Bob's Red Mill 10 grain cooked cereal (mixed 1/4 cup cereal to 1/4 cup water), soak seed and dry nestling food are usually fed on a daily basis. Do not feed commercially prepared nestling foods for the first few days after chicks hatch. It has too much sugar in it, and young chicks have trouble processing sugar. Abba nestling food, available at www.abbaseed.com, is not loaded with sugar. Many breeders feed it successfully from day one.
I also offer whole grain or corn-based nestling bread (that I make) to the chicks every evening so that I do not have to wake up early the next morning to feed my birds.
I continue to offer my chicks a wide variety of foods well into the first molt. High protein foods are not advised for canaries outside of chick rearing, the nestling period, and the molt, so I cut back on high protein foods after the chicks experience their first molt.
Occasionally a hen may not feed her chicks. I usually cycle several hens at the same time so I can foster out chicks whose parents will not feed. I also usually foster the fifth chick of a clutch to a mother with fewer chicks to care for. Since I do not pull eggs, the fifth chick is always smaller and sometimes doesn't make it unless it is fostered.
Canaries can be hand-fed, but it is a daunting task. Chicks must be fed every two hours for the first couple weeks of their lives, and then feedings can slowly be spaced out from there. I use Kaytee handfeeding formula and feed with a 1ml syringe.
I close band my Russian chicks when their eyes begin to open and their pin feathers are just starting to break through the skin and open at the tips. I buy my bands through L&M Bird Leg Bands. My bands include the hatch year, my initials, my state initials and a unique number to identify each chick. Banding can be tricky because the chicks are so small. The front three toes are gathered together and the band is slid over them and up the leg, pushing past the back claw.
I have found that it is very important to color band chicks as well as close band them. Giving each chick a unique color (or combination of colors if you have lots of chicks) will help you to identify singing boys as the chicks get older. Color banding is especially useful if you keep your juvenile chicks in large flights, as I do. Make sure to color band your chicks when they are young and can't tell the difference. I like to color band when I close band (and yes, I do end up with some pink banded boys). If you wait too long, the chicks will spend days pecking at the bands and may end up with a sore leg.
Problems with Chicks
Slip claw may occur in some of your chicks. In this condition, the back claw begins to grow forward with the three claws that point forward. This condition seems to be more common in single-chick nests. I have had luck treating this condition by taping the slipped claw to the back of the leg with a small strip of packaging tape. It will take several weeks before the claw naturally stays in the proper position. Change the tape whenever it becomes soiled.
Deformities may occur in chicks as well. This is one of the biggest reasons I am against in-breeding and line-breeding, which are two common practices that put a canary's health at risk for the sake of the owner's desire to obtain a certain look or song. I have heard of blind canaries doing well, and one-legged canaries can survive and even breed (though breeding should be avoided if the bird was born deformed). Canaries with severe deformities should probably be put to sleep.
Feather plucking is not uncommon in canaries. When preparing a second nest, I have found that some canary mothers prefer the nice soft feathers of their fledged chicks over any other nesting material. I've had fathers pluck their chicks as well. I have noticed that some parents will focus their plucking on a certain chick and leave the other chicks relatively unscathed. This was the case with my most severely plucked chick, whose father plucked its entire underside bald within a couple hours. It is shown here in the picture with its sibling, who hasn't a feather missing.
To prevent feather plucking, make sure to always have quality seed, vitamins, and minerals available to your breeding birds. Give them toys and make sure the hen has a wide variety of nesting material available to her as well. Even if you take all of these measures, you still may end up with some feather plucked chicks. Don't worry too much, as the feathers will grow back.
If your chicks are being severely plucked, you will have to separate them from their parents. Divided breeding cages are a good choice in this situation. The chicks can be moved to one side of the cage and the parents can be put into the other compartment. The parents will still feed their chicks through the bars but will no longer be able to pluck their feathers.
Failure to thrive may be the problem if you have a young chick that lags behind its nest mates. It is normal to occasionally have a runt in the nest. However, if you have a weak, sickly chick that is grossly smaller than its siblings, you have a baby that is failing to thrive.
Chicks can fail to thrive for multiple reasons. The chick may have a defect, disease or disorder. In these cases, the chick may not survive. Sometimes a chick fails to thrive due to being fed commercially prepared egg food at too early of an age. Commercially prepared egg food is often loaded with sugar. Feeding it within the first few days of life (especially unmoistened) may result in dehydrated chicks that are too weak to beg. Their skin will appear red and dry. They will often be constipated and can be seen struggling to produce a bowel movement.
Chicks that fail to thrive because they were fed sweet egg food at too early an age can be helped. Handfeeding these chicks every 1-2 hours around the clock with a watery/creamy mixture of Kaytee handfeeding formula and 70% pedialyte, 10% water and 20% applesauce will sometimes turn these chicks around. The pedialyte will replace fluids and electrolytes while the applesauce will soften the bowel movements. A tiny pinch of licorice root* added to the mixture several times a day will help the chick conserve salt and water.
These dehydrated, constipated chicks often develop pasted vents. Washing the vent with warm water after every feeding will help the chick move its bowels and should always be done.
Once the dehydrated chick appears healthy and begins to beg, you can return it to the nest to be cared for by its mother during the day. However, you will still need to feed the chick every couple of hours during the night or you will awaken to a dehydrated, weak chick all over again. You can gradually space out nighttime feedings as the chick gets older, as long as the chick seems lively, healthy and hydrated at each feeding. If the chick ever appears weak while trying to space feedings, you will need to go back to the previous feeding schedule until the chick can tolerate not eating for longer periods of time.
*I use Solaray licorice root. The capsules can be broken open to expose the brown, powdered root. Whatever brand you buy, make sure it has glycyrrhiza glabra in it. This is the ingredient that will help the chick retain salts and water.
If you have a chick that has labored breathing, loss of appetite and looks puffed up, you may be dealing with a respiratory illness or infection. Take the bird to the vet as soon as possible. Birds with respiratory infections will require antibiotics.