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Frequently Asked Questions 


The Answers to Popular Questions About Canaries 


The Fife Canary Book - by Terry Kelly

To find more answers to questions, like those here and much more information, buy The Fife Canary Book and Fife Canary DVDs.
 All by Terry Kelly.


Purchase of Stock

The time to purchase Fife canaries is from late October until the end of the year. By this time, the established fancier has sorted out the youngsters he or she wishes to retain and has surplus young Fifes and one-year-old birds to sell. No one sells good birds in March or April as, since they have been kept for almost a year, there is little point in disposing of them just as they are about to breed.

Distinguishing Between Old and Young Birds

One good way of distinguishing and old bird from a young one is by examining the legs. Those of young birds are quite free from scales and the skin looks soft and smooth. However, individual scales can be seen forming on the legs of the more mature birds. It is also usual to find that the young birds’ feet appear cleaner than those of the older ones.


A question, which is often asked, is, “How do you tell a cock from a hen?” Although there is no certain method going by appearance alone, generally a cock has a bolder carriage than a hen, his position is more erect, his appearance bolder and he will be livelier in his actions. As a rule, a cock’s head is larger and his plumage has more depth of colour.

Another way to find out the sex of healthy birds, especially during the spring, is by handling them and examining their vents by blowing away the feathers beneath the tail. The vent of the cock bird protrudes, while that of the hen does not.

Obtaining the Best

You cannot purchase a fancier’s best Fifes as he needs them to keep his stud at a high standard. At the National Exhibition as long ago as 1988 I was offered £200 for a self green buff hen Fife – which I refused. You certainly cannot purchase birds that have won shows or done well at the National Exhibition.

However, you can buy siblings and cousins of such birds. My National winner of 1987 was a heavily variegated buff cock, and his brother, a self green buff cock, went to my friend Tony Garvey of Darlington who, for many years, had had one of the top Fife studs in the country. Tony claims he can trace his best Fifes back to that one cock.

The best way to start a small stud is to purchase several pairs and a couple of spare hens. That way, if a hen dies, there won’t be a cock without a mate; a cock can be run with more than one hen.

Always purchase the best birds you can afford and start with pairs, which are far easier to manage in the breeding season.

Producing a Quality Stud

Once you have purchased some good Fifes from a leading fancier, they should be over wintered with the sexes kept separately so that a pair doesn’t form a bond you have not planned.


With line breeding it is essential to keep good records. It is no use relying on memory as, hopefully, in time your six clear yellow cocks will be almost identical.

Most fanciers keep a record book and record every bird under the headings ’Yellow cocks’, ‘Buff cocks’, ‘Yellow hens’ and ‘Buff hens’, giving colour of ring, ring number, strong and weak points, quality of siblings and so on.

Definition of Terms

A clear bird shall be clear, but the presence of dark flue, which cannot be seen without disturbing the bird or the natural discolouration of legs and beak, shall be entirely ignored.
A ticked bird shall be one with one mark, coverable by one new penny, on the body, or three dark feathers on the wing or tail, side by side to form a solid mark.
Those birds which have other markings in addition to the clear plumage.
A self bird shall be one having no light feathers visible.
A foul bird is the opposite of a ticked bird.
After the first 16 classes, which are always the largest at any Fife show, the classification accommodates the cinnamon and white ground birds.

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(c) Terry Kelly & SL