Kevin Hick has never looked back on his decision to quit smoking eight years ago and it's all thanks to some tiny birds that have not only taken up his spare time, but also his heart.
The Bundaberg carpenter is passionate about his canaries, which are kept in beautifully maintained aviaries and breeding pens at his home in Norville.
It's a hobby that wakes him up at 4.30am every day and, he admits, is something he never thought he would begin- but Kevin wouldn't change it for the world.
“It all started when I decided to give up smoking … I was given advice by Quitline to take up a hobby to keep my mind on something else,” he said.
“I remembered as a kid my neighbour had some canaries so I thought, ‘oh I will get a couple, that will be good…’
“I started with the one little aviary where I kept just a few birds, probably half a dozen, then one hen laid eggs and had babies and …well the rest is history!”
Kevin now cares for hundreds of canaries of all colours and each year said he studied more and more to fine-tune his skill as a bird breeder.
“I read all about them, I joined the bird club, I pick people's brains,” he said.
“Every year I improve and find out easier ways of doing things.
“I enjoy every minute of it and when I sell them to someone, I just can't stop telling them all the information I know.”
Canary breeding season
Kevin said the busiest time of year at his home was during breeding season.
“The breeding season is only from August through to Christmas, canaries are not like other birds who breed all year round,” he said.
“With canaries, the heat brings their hormones on.
“The hens will lay three times per breeding season and can have up to four eggs at a time.
“I try to breed different coloured birds together to hopefully get different coloured babies.”
Kevin said right now his home was a hive of excitement due to a very special coloured canary born recently.
“What I was actually trying to do was to create a grey bird,” he said.
“What came out was a beige and brown bird which I have only ever seen in books so I am rapt with that.”
Kevin said while all canaries are beautiful, the male and females each have a very different purpose.
“Visually, there isn’t a lot of difference between the two, the only time you can really tell is in the breeding season,” he said.
“The hen loses all of her belly feathers and her blood vessels go to the outside of her.
“She will sit on the eggs and wrap her feathers around for protection while the skin of her belly keeps them at the perfect temperature for hatching.”
The beauty of canaries
Kevin said what made canaries so special were their magnificent colours and their beautiful song.
“I love their song, it is very enjoyable but it’s only the males who will sing,” he said.
“There is also a lot of beauty in breeding too. It is a nice purpose to have.”
Kevin said while he loved every aspect of his breeder role, there was a lot of work that went into keeping everything maintained.
“Keeping a clean environment for the birds is a number one priority and takes up a lot of time,” he said.
“There can also be some disappointment in some ways because some of the babies might not survive depending on the weather, the temperature,’ he said.
“However, it is very rewarding. I hope to continue this when I retire and enter the canaries in some bird shows.”
Kevin said the money he had once been wasting on packets of cigarettes were now going to a much healthier habit.
And in the eight years he has been breeding canaries, Kevin said he had never second-guessed his decision.
“Every day I get up early to feed them and not once have I complained about it,” he said.
“It’s honestly a surprise for me. If you had told me 10 years ago that I was going to get into canary breeding I would have said you had rocks in your head!”
“It’s crazy how much your life and your priorities change.”
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