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Canaries are retired doctor's specialty

November 07, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Dr. Joseph Miller, a retired Waynesboro physician, remembers getting his first pair of canaries from his wise old grandmother when he was five years old.

"She was very smart. She taught me how to raise them and I've had birds ever since, even when I was in medical school," said Miller, 77, of East Main Street in Waynesboro.

He keeps a singing canary in the kitchen of the elegant turn-of-the-century home he shares with his wife, Eleanor. Behind the house is a two-story garage. His aviary is on the second floor. In it are dozens of canaries and parakeets - from eggs to breeding adult pairs.

Each spring he raises and sells about 30 birds of each species. His customers include pet shops, other breeders, individuals and sometimes the Greencastle, Pa., Livestock Auction. "Every so often I sell the whole bunch and start over," he said.

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Miller grew up in a western Pennsylvania coal town. He thinks his grandmother raised canaries for the mines. The birds, sensitive to atmospheric changes, were kept in cages in the mines. They quickly died when exposed to dangerous gases. When the miners saw dead birds in the cages they fled to the surface, Miller said.

The birds keep Miller busy in retirement. When he's not caring for them he can be found on his farm on Lyons Road.

Sometimes when a clutch of canaries hatches their parents won't feed them until Miller "stimulates" them with a special diet that they like. Only then will they start feeding their young, he said.

He started raising parakeets in 1953. "They were becoming very popular and I was curious to see if I could raise them," he said. He learned the trick - put a pair together and give them a nesting box. "They won't breed unless they have a box," Miller said.

He said canaries are exotic birds that sing. "They are not pets," he said. Only male canaries sing so there's no point in buying a female canary unless it's for breeding, he said.

Canaries, unlike parakeets, are difficult to raise. "You have to feed them right and keep them clean. I supplement their diet with eggs I get from chickens on my farm. They also get lettuce and broccoli. Greens are important to their diet."

A parakeet can become an attentive pet that can be trained to talk, as long as they are alone. "Buy a pair and they only pay attention to each other, not to you. They won't become your friend," Miller said.

Miller said on occasion he gave birds to older patients who lived alone. "It's good therapy. It's amazing how a bird will bring an old person out of their shell. For one thing they have to get out of bed in the morning. They have to feed their bird," he said.

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