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Canary Food and Flamingos

My first pet was a green budgie and I was not amused! For one thing I had wanted a cat or a dog but this was apparently out of the question.

My second issue was the choice of colour. If I had to have a bird why did it have to green? My favourite colour was red because I was football crazy and supported Liverpool. I asked my mother if we could have a red bird. She said that I might be allowed to have a canary. Now I was really confused!

I knew that canaries were yellow. They were definitely yellow because Norwich City played in yellow shirts and their nickname was the Canaries. Liverpool were not called the Canaries.

Think Flamingo

Then Mum showed me a picture of a red canary. I asked her why some canaries were red and she told me that it was because they were like flamingos. I thought she had lost her mind! The little red canaries were nothing like the enormous pink birds that I has seen at the zoo and flamingos stood on one leg!
I decided to seek clarification from my teacher. The next time we had a nature class I asked why canaries were like flamingos. Everybody laughed but it turned out that Mum was on the right track.

The Red Factor and Canary Food

Red factor canaries were first bred in the 1930’s. The striking red colouration was the result of cross breeding with the Venezuelan red siskin. However, the red factor canary needs to eat a special diet to maintain its striking red plumage. These birds require the balanced diet provided by good canary food but also additional foods or supplements which are high in carotenoids, Canthaxanthin and Beta-Carotene.

Beets, berries, tomatoes and cherries contain carotenoids. It is also possible to feed cayenne pepper and paprika. Canthaxanthin and Beta-Carotene can be fed in the form of commercially produced supplements. It is important to provide the right balance of canary food, fruits and supplements as the birds can have too much of a good thing.

So what does all this have to do with flamingos?

Pretty In Pink

Well here’s where Mum was partly right even if she failed to explain what she meant!

Flamingos are born with grey feathers. The gorgeous pink colouring of the older birds is the result of their diet. They eat mainly organisms like shrimp and algae which are high in carotenoids. The carotenoids are the reason that shrimps and prawns turn pink when they are cooked. If flamingos were to eat a diet of seeds and insects like many other birds then they would eventually turn white or very pale pink.

So red factor canaries are like flamingos after all, at least when it comes to their colour. I never did get one but I always smile when I see them. They are reminders of the younger me trying to make sense of the natural world. It is shame that I never had a canary as apparently they make very good pets are easy to care for. All you need is a cage, some canary food and a little cayenne pepper.

I was given a cat instead but it wasn’t red. The red cat came later but that is another story


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