Red factor canaries* have a gene that makes them capable of turning red if certain foods are consumed. Canaries are not the only birds reliant on environmental factors for color. Flamingos do not turn pink unless they consume carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, which their bodies then turn into a substance called canthaxathin. People generally use canthaxathin or carotenoid products to color feed canaries. A popular canthaxathin based color food is "Quicko Special Red Egg Food Supplement." A popular carotenoid based coloring agent is "Bogena Intensief."
Concern has been raised regarding the safety of canthaxathin, and there are some studies that suggest high doses of canthaxathin may not be safe. Because of safety concerns, some canary breeders adopt natural color feeding methods and use canthaxathin sparingly, if at all. Red palm oil, red lentils, carrots, fresh or dried berries, and low-sodium vegetable juice can be incorporated into your red factor canary's diet during the molt to help keep it red. If you choose to use vegetable juice, do not do so in place of water. Vegetable juice should only be used as an ingredient mixed with another food, such as corn bread or cous cous.
My birds love cous cous, so it is the food I use most often to introduce natural coloring agents. Sometimes I will smash four or five blackberries in the water the cous cous will be added to. I then remove the larger berry clumps and am left with homemade berry juice that will be absorbed by the cous cous as it steams. I also add red palm oil instead of olive oil to the cous cous. It is important to mix the red palm oil with the cous cous right before steaming. Do not add the red palm oil to the boiling water or the beneficial red color agents will dissipate.
I feed my birds cooked red lentils during the molt as well. Some of my birds will eat fresh cherries, raspberries and blackberries, but these foods are often ignored. Sometimes I can get the birds to accept foods they might not normally eat by cooking them in a corn bread I call "red bread." Here are the ingredients for red bread:
1 package of low-sugar corn bread mix. Alternatively, you can buy corn meal and make your own corn bread base. Add all the required ingredients (eggs, etc.), mixing the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. Substitute low sodium vegetable juice or 100% red color unsweetened fruit juice for milk or water. Add the following ingredients into either the dry or wet ingredient bowl:
1/4 cup Kaytee's "Fruit and Veggie" mix. This is one of my birds' favorite treats. They love to pull the little seeds out of baked Red Bread.
1/4 cup Quicko dried egg food. If you have chosen to avoid canthaxathin, use regular egg food or leave this ingredient out. Otherwise, you can use Quicko Red for red-factor birds.
1/4 cup red quinoa
1/4 cup red lentils
3 tablespoon of Kaytee Molting and Conditioning food. This has a small amount of canthaxathin in it.
1/4 cup finely diced dried goji berries
Wet ingredients (eggs and juice go in this bowl)
4 heaping teaspoons red palm oil
3 tablespoon dried greens
1/3 cup grated apple or applesauce
1/3 cup shredded carrots or puree carrot baby food.
1/3 cup diced sweet potato or puree sweet potato baby food
Mix wet ingredients in one bowl, dry ingredients in another; then combine. Cook according to the instructions on the Cornbread box or your recipe. I usually have to cook my bread for a few minutes longer than what it says on the box because of the added wet ingredients.
That's it. It is really easy to make. If you have other kinds of birdie food & treats on hand, I'm sure you could substitute them for some of the above ingredients. Happy birding!
*Please note, I no longer breed red factor canaries. Russian canaries are not red factors and will not turn red if you color feed them.