Song Development Written by Marie Miley-Russell copyright 2007, all rights reserved by the author
Song development in American Singer canaries begins at hatching. As he develops in the nest he listens carefully to the songs of all adult males singing in the aviary and studies the notes and compositions of his father especially (if the father is caged with or closest to him). The young male will begin singing by 6 weeks of age - occasionally a chick will even begin singing in the weaning cage. Most chicks will be enthusiastically burbling away by two months of age. (The gurgling, burbling, and general babbling sounds young chicks make is referred to as "baby song".)
American Singer canaries are bred first and foremost for one thing- to sing - and the song drive is very, very strong in them. For this reason, young AS hens often sing and singing older hens are not uncommon. Due to this, sexing American Singers before the age of six months is sometimes difficult.
It is vital if one is to breed top quality Singers that one understand the importance of early song training. Song training must begin immediately upon hatching- if you have no tutor birds or your adult males are not singing while they are caged with hens in the breeding cages, you must play high quality song tapes. Any old song tape will not do- the songs must be of he highest caliber that you can acquire.
The window during which a young canary will learn from a taped song is very small- wild bird song studies have suggested that the maximum time during which a young bird will learn from a tape is about five weeks. After this, the birds are able to distinguish between taped song and "live" song and show a distinct preference for learning live song. Most experienced breeders use high quality tutor birds for teaching new song to young males and reserve song tapes for helping males become accustomed to different songs during formal show training.
The only information I have ever come across about how much of a canary's song is genetically inherited and how much is learned came from Linda Hogan about German Rollers. She indicates that approximately 75% of a canary's song is genetic and 25% is learned. It is my suspicion that American Singers may have a higher proportion of learned song in their repertoires as they do not have hundreds of years of line breeding behind their songs, but I have never seen any research about the subject.
American Singers are more likely to learn new notes than many other breeds of canary and should be exposed only to those sounds which are pleasing and musical. For this reason, segregation of American Singers from other breeds of canaries (or other birds) is vital. American Singers can be housed with Waterslagers and Rollers as their notes are not a problem (indeed, the water notes sung by the Waterslager are prized) - but the chopper songs of type and colorbred canaries will quickly damage the song of American Singers and ruin them for exhibition. That said, there are some AS which seem incapable of learning new notes- good or bad- their genetic song is all they ever sing. These birds seem unaffected by being housed with other birds. Overall, however, American Singers are more likely to mimic whatever they hear- I have heard of a few which imitate the sound of a telephone ringing and I personally own a bird which sings the opening bars of the song "Low Rider", which my husband whistles frequently.
Canaries also have a period during the molt when they are soaking up new song- if there is any point during which one might try to introduce new notes into one's aviary it is during the molt. Breeders hope each year that tutor males will not begin molting too soon or come out of the molt too late to fulfill their tutoring responsibilities! Many second-year males will emerge from their first full molt with a very different song than that which they sang during their first year. After the second year, the song is "set" for the most part. (For this reason, purchasing year old birds for tutors is inadvisable as often the young "tutor" learns the song of the new aviary rather than teaching his song.)
Some canaries develop very young. These "child prodigies" mature weeks, even months, before their fellow canaries and sound fantastic before the song contests even begin in early fall. Unfortunately, they tend to peak long before the end of the show season and are in hard song before the shows are finished for the year. These birds also tend to have less quality song than some of their more slowly developing peers, who spend a longer period of time in song study before setting their songs. (Song study is the period of time during which young birds are learning and trying out new notes and renditions. During this period, a young bird's song is "plastic" and changes frequently as he works out his favorite tunes. )
On the other end of the spectrum, some canaries develop too late- needing a year or more to develop completely. These birds require a considerable investment of time, energy, and resources while they slowly mature. This can be a problem if one tends to sell young birds or if one has no space to house and feed these males until they reach maturation.
It is a fact that some of the most renowned American Singer breeders in the club's history have shown mostly old birds (those which are in their second year or older). This is due to the better quality of an older bird's song. An older bird's song tends to be more polished and developed. Additionally, older birds seem to possess a greater level of composure when in the show cage.