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conservation through aviculture

Mules & Hybrids
An Insight to the Sometimes Controversial Part of the Fancy by Gordon M Duncan©

Not being a breeder of these classes of birds myself, this article is based on discussions with successful hybridisers and on research. The more experienced readers will therefore please bear with me where he disagrees, but hopefully the beginner will gain something and perhaps provide us with a show winner or two.

A Mule is a cross between a domestic canary and a wild bird. In South Africa, generally but not always, the “other” parent is one of the indigenous wild canaries. In Britain and Europe, Mules are frequently produced with canaries and their indigenous finches. Hybrids are crosses between two species of birds, where one of the parents is not a domestic canary. Crosses so occasionally happen spontaneously in a mixed collection and some really beautiful “accidents” have resulted. Generally, however, the crosses are as a result of careful planning and a desired result in mind. Mules and Hybrids are frequently sterile and unable to breed themselves.

Before going into the details of the care and breeding of Mules and Hybrids, I feel that it is appropriate to deal with the moral issues involved. Why do we breed Mules and Hybrids? There are three basic reasons, which are:

  • To produce birds which are visually more attractive than either parent.
  • To produce singing birds, which hopefully have the attributes of both parents’ song, rolled into one.
  • To go ‘one up’ on nature, to produce something unique, something nobody has done before.
The successful hybridiser does all these things and the results of these efforts are frequently highly placed on the show bench. He is to be encouraged in his efforts, provided that he keeps within the ethics of the fancy:
  • Our first and primary objective should always be to breed pure examples of our indigenous wild birds and to establish domesticated and free-breeding strains.
  • Birds that are rare, either in the wild or in captivity, should always be mated with their own kind if possible.
  • Odd males, for which females are not available, even of rare species, may ethically be used to produce Mules.
  • The fancier should make sure that he has a ready pet market for his reject Mules and Hybrids. It is totally unethical deliberately to breed any bird that is simply going to be euthanased if it does not come up to standard.
  • All exhibition stock and pet Mules and Hybrids should properly be housed in suitably large cages or aviaries. The permanent housing of these birds in show cages is cruel and abhorrent to every bird lover.
Should you wish to try your hand at Mule breeding, first visit a show or join a bird club. Meet successful breeders and exhibitors of Mules and decide which crosses appeal to you.

The first thing that you must do is to organise your housing in suitably large cages or aviaries. Set up a block of large (ideal minimum size: 1m long by 60cm high and 45cm deep) box type breeding cages, with a wire and solid side to divide them in half. Small aviaries, with visual barriers between them are even better. The reason for the visual barrier is that a bird is unlikely to court or accept a mate that you have chosen if his or her own kind is in sight.

Having set up your housing and selected the birds that are to form your breeding stock, place the solid division in place and introduce the canary hen to the one half and the finch or wild canary cock into the other half of the breeding cage. This is best done by late winter or early spring at the latest. Within a week or two, once the birds have settled, remove the solid division and replace it with the wire division. This will allow the birds to get used to each other without any danger of fighting and also, hopefully to begin courting.

Gradually change over from the winter diet to the breeding diet and make sure that the canary hen is eating a soft food that will be suitable for raising the hybrid young. Generally the canary will quickly accept a high protein soft food (such as Avi-plus Finch & Softbill). If the male will eat too, so much the better! Also increase the quantity of Niger, Rape and (if possible) Hemp in the breeding birds’ diet.

Introduce a nest pan (placed where you can easily reach it) and nesting materials to the hen. As soon as you see her starting to build the nest, remove the wire slide and allow the birds to be together. Hopefully, courtship will proceed normally and fertile eggs will be produced. Gently remove each egg as it is laid, and replace it with a dummy egg. Once all four eggs have been laid, remove the dummies and return the real eggs to the nest. Incubation should proceed normally, but if the wild father causes problems, replace the wire slide to allow the canary to incubate in peace. Once the eggs have hatched you may allow the father to help feed them, but if he is unwilling or aggressive, remove him completely. The canary will manage very well on her own.

Once the young are eating well on their own, remove them to an aviary or very large cage where they can fly and exercise to develop fully. The cock can then be re-introduced and hopefully another nest will follow.

Remember that if you are using indigenous wild birds, you will need to have a permit from your local Nature Conservation Department. No permit is needed for the Mules.

Houlton, Charles. Cage Bird Hybrids; Cage Birds, London, 1939
Lander, P (editor) for the British World Council. British Birds in Aviculture; Saiga Publishing Co Ltd, Surry, 1981


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