Newly hatched canaries do not resemble in any way the adorable fluffy chicks most people have in mind when they think of a chick. For several days these little jellybean-sized creatures are featherless except for a bit of white fluff on the tops of their heads and backs and their eyes are tightly closed. In a 1994 New York Times article on canary chicks, they were noted as “look(ing) less avian than larval” and this is certainly an apt description.
Babies will often have different colored skin- clear birds will have pink skin while dark birds will have skin which is black. It often takes a day or two for skin pigmentation to develop; lightly variegated and ticked birds will usually develop pigmentation later than more heavily variegated birds.
Newly hatched chicks do not need to be fed for the first twelve hours. Chicks have some food reserves which they can draw on during this period. Hens who feed right away generally produce stronger chicks initially, but later fed chicks will catch up. All hens should begin feeding by the following morning, however.
You can determine whether chicks are being fed and are untroubled by mites in the nest by looking at their mouths when they gape for food. The inside of a well-nourished chick’s mouth should be red and moist. If the lining of the mouth is pale and dry, then the chick is anemic from mites feeding on it or it is not being fed enough.
By the second day after hatching, healthy young chicks should be lively and raise their heads up to beg for food when the nest is touched. If they are lying listless in a heap at the bottom of the nest, the breeder has cause for concern.
After hatching, be sure to monitor the breeding cages frequently for chicks which have fallen or been tossed from the nest. Some cold chicks which appear nearly dead can be warmed in the hand and “returned to life,” but others cannot. I have also had success with tucking cold babies beneath their warm siblings- babies seem to warm up more quickly in the nest than in the hand. Chilling usually results in some stunting of chick growth, although the chicks do catch up to their nest mates eventually. It should be noted that while chick tossing is usually caused by accident or by the hen mistaking a leg band on a chick for debris in need of removal from the nest, it can also be a sign that something is wrong with the chick.
Chicks’ eyes will open on the seventh day after hatching. The eyelids open gradually and for a day or so the chicks peer out through slitted lids. Once the eyes have begun to open, the chicks imprint on their parents- if the chicks’ parents are both dark birds, the chicks may not accept food from a clear bird and vice versa. Any introduction of feeder males should be done prior to this time.
If banding chicks with closed leg bands, banding usually occurs between five and seven days depending on the chick’s size. Once in a while one chick in the nest will be much larger than the others and will need to be banded sooner- keep a close eye on the chicks or you may end up with a chick who is too large to band. Although most books indicate that banding should occur at seven days of age, I have banded some chicks at five days old and others at eight days. One of the best ways to tell if chicks are ready to band is to look at the development of the flight feathers on their wings- when the pinfeathers are pretty well grown out but the feathers have not yet opened, chances are good that the feet will be large enough to hold a band on the chick’s leg. Banding a chick too soon just results in slipped bands.
When banding chicks, often the band seems a little tight. Sometimes books suggest using petroleum jelly or something similarly greasy to lubricate the chick’s foot. Unscented talc works just as well without the mess.
Many breeders replace the nest the hen built with a new one when the babies are banded. I usually wait until the day after so I can make sure no bands have been slipped.
Once the chicks have hatched, the hen will keep the nest clean of excreta by eating the chick’s droppings- this is normal and not a cause for concern. When the chicks become large enough to deposit their waste on the sides of the nest, the hen will cease to do so.
Chicks fledge- leave the nest- at about 18 days, although 21 days or more is not unheard of. A few adventurous chicks will fledge earlier while others are “nest bodies” and stay longer. Some chicks fall out of the nest for one reason or another and will remain in the nest if replaced, but once a chick is ready to fly it will just pop right back out when placed back in the nest.
Chicks instinctively take to the perches, where the parents will continue to feed them. For a few days the chicks will return to the nest to rest for short periods, so do not remove the nest right away. Within a couple of days they are flying quite well from perch to perch and between the cage floor and the perch.
Parents become very anxious when chicks first leave the nest- some look like nervous wrecks! Giving them some space by not hovering over the cage can make the transition easier for them.