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Falls bird-lover flies high in the wonderful world of canaries and finches

Maria A. Gleason's hobby is for the birds.

No kidding.

Gleason is the president of the International Canary & Finch Society, run out of her house on Van Rensselaer Avenue. She keeps about 100 small birds there.

Gleason said she's trying to increase the number of people who belong to her society to keep the sport of breeding the small birds alive. She asks that people call her at 282-2944 with any questions about the society.

Who gave you your first bird, and how long did you have it?

My first bird I probably bought at a pet store. It was a pair of zebra finches. It was Ollie and Betsy.

How many birds do you have at home of each variety?
I have mostly finches. There are probably 80 finches, about 10 or 15 canaries, and I have one cockatiel and a dove. No partridge in a pear tree.

Do they sing for you?
The canaries sing. The male canaries sing, and the finches have little songs. They're all really different, which is why I really like finches.

How long do canaries and finches generally live?
They generally live between seven and 10 years. Sometimes they live longer, sometimes less.

What advice would you give someone thinking about buying a canary or finch as a pet? How much will it cost, and what sort of work will be involved?
Birds are minimal care. They need fresh food and fresh water every day. You can give them little treats, but you don't have to. From a breeder's standpoint, I would say find a breeder. The pet stores are going to generally charge more. The canaries sell for between $50 and $100, depending on if they sing. The zebra finches, they run $15 to $20 a pair, but there are more exotic finches. They run $100 to $200 a pair.

Don't they make a lot of noise? What about keeping you up at night?
They usually sleep once the lights go down. They stop singing because they sleep. They do make noise during the day. The finches make general peeping sounds or a quiet kind of a song. Finches are quieter. Usually the bigger the bird, the louder the song can get. Our members have mostly canaries and finches.

Some people leave a radio or TV on for their pets while they're gone. Does that work for birds?
It is something that a lot of people do. I don't do that. I have a lot of birds, and they keep each other company. It stimulates them. My cockatiel is imitating my canaries' singing now.

Do you talk to your birds?
That's a good question. I really don't talk to them, except for the cockatiel. His name is Rudy, and he laughs. He whistles the "Addams Family" song.

What's the most unusual thing to have happened with your birds?
I guess I'd have to say some crossbreeding that I have going on. The babies had me puzzled for some time. They did not stay true to their breed.

What do you do if a canary or finch escapes from its cage?
I do have a net. It's a real soft net. It's made for catching small birds.

Can these birds live in the wild or were they bred to be pets?

All of them, except for the society finches, are naturally wild species. There is no such thing as a wild society finch. The finches are all descendants of natural wild birds.

Do veterinarians treat these birds? What happens when they get sick?
There are a couple of avian vets in the area, but they are few and far between. If you catch [the illnesses] early enough, they can provide them antibiotics and stuff. With the small bird, by the time you can tell it is sick, it's too late. It's a natural defense, that they look healthy until it's really progressed. Most breeders have some kind of a setup that they have a hospital cage. That's all you can really do. There are some medications that are water-soluble that you mix in their drinking water.

Where do you meet, and what are meetings like? Do members bring some of their birds to the meetings?
We actually most of the time meet at my house, 726 Van Rensselaer Ave. There's usually only 10 or 12 people that are very active members. Sometimes we'll go to an aviary. We try to either go someplace or have a speaker. We have a show every fall in Hamburg, where we have judges come in and judge canaries and finches, and we have a picnic in the summer. Sometimes we have a baby bird show in the spring. It's very much a social club for people who have canaries or finches. We welcome new people.

How many members are local? Is the society made up of smaller chapters. and where are some of those?
Probably 20 to 25 are local, and between 10 and 15 are not really local. I wouldn't expect someone to drive three or four hours to come to a meeting. It is really just our club.

Are there other canary and finch clubs? Where?
There are other national clubs that people can join. There is a National Cage Bird Society. They have a huge show once a year. Next year's is going to be in Chicago in the fall. I am planning on going.

How much interaction between society members goes on online?
We communicate a lot with e-mail because some of us are a distance apart.

Do you have a Web site?
It is www3.upatsix.com/ics.

Is there a prestigious canary and finch show each year, and have you ever gone?
We have a canary and finch show each year. It is the second Saturday in October. It is going to be at the Holiday Inn in Hamburg. This is the show that our club puts on every year. This is going to be our 12th annual.

What do you see for the future of your society?
We would like to see our membership grow and keep the hobby going. There used to be a lot more people. We enjoy our show every year and the camaraderie between members. We always hope that we have some winners go to the national level.

e-mail: pkowalik@buffnews.com