Canary Respiratory Systems & Mite FAQs

By Connie Soto


Why did people use canaries in coal mines, was it for air quality?


Canaries were used for years in coal mines as an indicator of the presence of carbon monoxide and methane gas. Although this warning system was a bit crude it was a clear indicator of air quality and ventilation problems. It is my belief that canaries continue to be sensitive to the effects of the quality of the air we breathe and a true indicator of the quality of the environment.


Why did canaries succumb to the gases in a mine before humans did?


The respiratory system of a canary is a little more than twenty percent of its total body volume. Having a larger respiratory system than do humans or other animals makes it more susceptible to toxins or air borne diseases.


What is the purpose of air sacs?


In birdís air sacs serve a dual purpose in which they help to keep a bird cool and they provide efficient oxygen to the cells and tissues.


What is an air sac mite?


An air sac mite is a bloodsucking arthropod.


Does an air sac mite only attack the birdís air sac?


No, the air sac mite attacks the birds air sac, trachea and lungs.


What are the symptoms of air sac mites?


Air sac mites cause problems with breathing; this can be observed with clicking sounds, noisy breathing, difficulty breathing with the mouth open, sneezing and wheezing, coughing, loss of song, beak wiping and tail bobbing.


To eradicate air sac mites for a canary is it safe to use Sevin?


Sevin was widely used for many years and in my opinion is not a good solution to cure your canary. Sevin is a poison and it may kill your canary.


If Sevin is not a safe method to eradicate air sac mites then what alternative methods can be used?


The first thing to understand is that all your canaries must be treated at the same time for any success. If you only treat the bird with the symptoms then the other birds have a higher susceptibility. Ivermectine and Scatt (Moxidectin) is a safe treatment if used as directed, Scatt is my personal preference.


Are some canary birds more susceptible than others for air sac mites?


Some canaries have a better immune system than others and some canaries can be carriers and not be affected directly by the air sac mites. I have seen it happen in several generations of the same families.


What can be done for chronic air sac mite attacks?


Provide good basic canary care which include and is not limited to; cleanliness, a balance diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, and the daily replacement of fresh food and water. Provide vitamins, bathing, the isolation of new birds, fume prevention, draft prevention, and a preventative maintenance program. Control room temperature and the type and amount of lighting according to the season.


Treatment and the proper care of your canary may not completely eliminate periodic air sac mite problems. It will provide the best quality of life that is possible to achieve for the canary. When in doubt consult your veterinarian.


What is scaly face?


Scaly face is caused by burrowing mites and as the name suggests attacks the face. The legs and feet can also be a target from these mites called Knemidokoptes pilae. If left untreated a rough scaly growth can appear. Most notably is the birdís bill which can elongate in its growth with a rough appearance making it easy to identify. The disease is usually not life threatening but very annoying and deformities can form. Scatt use can be successful in keeping this mite under control.


Can red mites, Dermanyssus gallinae kill a canary?


Red mites certainly can kill canaries and seem to be prevalent during the nesting season. The red mites can cause the parents to abandon the nest and then easily wipe out all the nestlings in the nest.


What can be used successfully to keep red mites away?


Pyrethrin can be used to eradicate red mites very successfully and the label on this product does not warn that it is toxic to cats. In one of my other canary FAQs I have provided the following statement that is worth repeating here.


Pyrethrin solution is a commonly used product for birds. The label cautions highly toxic to fish but they neglect to mention cats. Maybe they do not believe people have cats and birds in the same household but that simply is not true. Keep your cat alive, use with caution when using Pyrethrin for your birds!


Pyrethrin is derived from the extract of chrysanthemum flowers, and is an excellent control for insects. Chrysanthemums are toxic to cats so it makes sense that this product should have a warning for cats.


As a side note, the label should also warn the gardener that Pyrethrin is toxic to honey bees.


How do red mites attack the canary and how can you tell that it is a red mite?


Red mites suck the blood from the host canary only during the night. During the day they hide in all the nooks and crannies of the cage. This behavior makes it easy to verify that it is red mites. Cover the cage with a white towel before night, take it off and inspect it a little while after day light. If the red mites have eaten they will be filled with blood and although they are very tiny, the white background of the towel makes them quite distinctive and you will notice movement. The other thing that you will notice is that the red mites irritate the canary making the bird scratch and become extremely agitated once it gets dark.


What is the intent of this document?


Opinions in this document only serve as a guide from my personal experience learned by caring for my own Canaries. Always seek professional care by a qualified veterinarian.

Billy Boy - Waterslager

Connie Soto 2008 ©≠