BY Dr. Gianluca Todisco

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FEEDING correctly represents a crucial point for canaries and birds in general, many breeders, make crucial mistakes in managing the feeding of their birds.

Unfortunately, most of the food offered, consists only of mixed seed which contains high levels of fat and are very poor in proteins; and these few proteins, are also very poor in amino acids (lysine and methionine). Most seed mixtures are also very poor in vitamins A, B2, B12, E and K and are low in minerals such as sodium, iodine, copper, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. The fats that are present in high levels in the seed, as well as favoring obesity, will tie up calcium and make it less bio accessible to the bird.

One known practice, rarely used, is the so called "cafeteria style” this consists in offering the birds a great variety of different feeds, giving them the freedom of choice, in the false conviction that the birds pushed by their instinctive intelligence, would chose only what they need, asserting that they will get a balance as per nature. But nature, never provided so much food 365 days per year, and unfortunately this alimentary practice, induces these birds which have completely lost their natural instinct, to choose only specific feeds that they prefer, and always the same type, for example black seed.

The microbiological build of the finch family, is different from those of other avian species, in 1989, the researchers Dorrestein and Gerlach proposed their "sterile bowel theory" according to this, these birds, have a sterile intestine, meaning that it does not contain any type of bacterial flora.

Further research, however confirmed the contrary, in canaries it is possible in normal and not pathological conditions, to isolate some Gram positive bacteria.

In wild finches, during the breeding season, it is also possible to isolate some Gram negative bacteria: this is because at this time they will also ingest some insects.

Other animals, including humans, have in their intestine various types of bacteria that produce a healthy rapport of mutual assistance: these bacteria on top of producing group B vitamins, and also prevent the development of pathogenic germs, simply by occupying space inside the intestine and competing with them for the nutrients.

The sterile bowel theory, or a change in intestinal microflora, explains the high sensibility to bacterial infections of the intestine in canaries, contrary to other species of birds like sparrows or poultry and, for this reason, drinking water for canaries, has to be kept constantly clean.

The food quality is of vital importance to keep our canaries in good health, canaries are seed eating birds, and will consume each day a quantity of food roughly 30% of their body weight. Their basic metabolism is approximately 65% higher than other non-Passeriformes species. For these reasons, contaminated food has a rapid negative effect in canaries compared to other species of birds.

Fresh food of good quality is a stepping stone for a good breeding season and attention to hygiene is also very important.

Additives and alimentary supplements are important outside the breeding season, but become almost essential during this time. It is important to consider the administration of these additives, preferably choose those in powder form to add to the egg food, as if mixed to the seed, will only end up in the bottom of the hopper because of their small granularity, while, if diluted in the water, as for the liquid additives, can alter the microbiology of the birds intestine favoring bacterial proliferation. Hence the need to change the water on a daily basis. For this reason it is also best to give additives only in the food and not in the bird’s drinking water.

Cuttlefish bone, or soluble calcium represent a good form of minerals and should be always available, to the contrary, grit is insoluble and worthless, can be damaging as it risks partial or total obstruction of the intestine.

Fruit and vegetables, offer an ample variety of nutrients (water, vitamins and minerals in a bio disposable form). Most importantly offer the birds a clean mixture of different seeds, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and a supply of fresh water daily.


Reprinted here with the exclusive permission of


Dr. Todisco, who is a veterinary surgeon specializing in birds.

He lectures Veterinary medicine at the University of Matera, Italy.

He is also a breeder of Norwich and Gloster canaries, and is an O.M.J. Judge & I.G.B.A. UK Parent Club Sanctioned Judge.

    His website is:



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