A bird owner's guide to the canary

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The domestic canary is a small songbird. Breeders divide canaries into three main groups: colorbred canaries, song canaries and type canaries. Black canaries and red canaries are examples of the colorbred variant, which are bred for their plumage. Song canaries are bred solely for their chirps and songs, while type variants are bred for their body shapes and physical characteristics, including both size and conformation.

Origins and Natural Habitat

Canary birds originated in the Canary Islands, the Azores and Madeira, and belong to the finch family. They were first domesticated by Spanish sailors, who brought the birds to mainland Europe in the 17th century. The first canary breeders were monks, who would sell only male birds and keep the females for themselves. Thus, the canary was, historically, a prized and expensive pet.

Appearance and Characteristics

Size: Canaries are small, with most birds reaching a size of no more than 6 to 8 inches or so in adulthood.

Plumage: While the canary is usually pictured as yellow or green, colorbred canaries have been engineered in a selection of other colors. Red canaries are popular, and the black canary is a designer bird created by concerted breeding efforts. Other color variants include rose, white, brown and bronze. Plumage is invariably of a single, consistent color.

Song/Chirp: As a songbird, the canary exhibits an intricate, pleasant and cheerful song that uses whistling and chirps to produce an impressive range of notes. They learn to sing from other canaries, so birds kept in pairs or families tend to be the most expressive.


Canary birds don't like being directly handled by humans and tend to be territorial, so if you keep multiple canaries, it's best to cage each separately. Because they're flighty by nature, be sure there's no more than half an inch of space between cage bars. Otherwise, your bird may well wriggle through and fly away.

Health and Care

Feeding: Canaries need a high-protein, specially engineered bird feed. The chopped-up shell of a hard-boiled egg makes an excellent dietary supplement. At its most basic, a healthy canary diet should consist of a mixture of specially formulated canary seed and rapeseed, in proportions of about 70 percent canary seed and 30 percent rapeseed. Mix any vitamin supplements directly into your pet's water supply, according to package directions.

Grooming: As with all birds, grooming is usually simple and taken care of by the bird itself. Give your pet a clean bath to wash in, and watch its nails. They'll need to be trimmed now and then when they get too long.

Health Concerns: Never use cat litter to line a canary's cage to keep it clean – the bird will eat the substance and die. If yours is an outdoor canary (that is, kept in an aviary outdoors), collect its droppings annually so a vet can analyze them for signs of worm infection and other bird health problems. Mosquito bites can be deadly to canaries as well, so make sure your windows are securely screened. If your bird develops facial lesions after possible contact with a mosquito, take it to the vet immediately.

Life expectancy: Healthy domesticated canaries usually live for about 15 years.

Finding Canaries for Sale

When browsing the various canaries for sale at a pet store, take some time to listen to each individual bird's song before purchasing it. Songs are variable from animal to animal, with some canary birds displaying more musical aplomb than others.

Prices range considerably. Some canaries cost only a few dollars, while specially bred birds can cost as much as $350. Canary cages run anywhere from $50 to $100 or so, and it's a good idea not to skimp on this expense. A sturdy, well-built and spacious bird cage will provide your pet with a good home and may even extend its life.

Posted by Violetta on April 10,2013 at 11:10 AM
I did read about canaries stops singing when they are molting, so give it some time and after they are done molting then try playing music to help them get started again. If that doesn't work then call your vet and ask them what you shpould do. I had a cananry that sang all the time and when he started molting he stopped and never went back, but keep researching about these beautiful birds.
Posted by frances on August 11,2011 at 08:47 PM
I have two canaries in two separate cages side by side. Both are female. One has had 3 eggs and sat on them for about 1 month till I took them out because she would hardly eat and I knew the eggs were not fertile. Now, 3 weeks later she has laid another egg and is sitting on it like she is going to lay some more. I don't know what to do. She hardly eats when she sits on them , doesn't bath just sits on them with her mouth open and starring. I'm worried about her, or is this normal and how long should I leave the eggs in the nest?
Posted by Pat on December 31,2010 at 05:16 PM
I am looking for a singing canary and I live in Minnesota can you help me find one? thanks Pat
Posted by Violetta on April 10,2013 at 11:05 AM
If you go or call your local pet store they usally carry male canaries and they are the onesthat sing. I justbought another male canary and he is singing up a storm. My other canary hasn't sang yet but the newest canary will teach him how to do it. Just ask your local pet store for a male canary.
Posted by merle freeman on December 21,2010 at 07:00 PM
i got my canary in aug and it sang wonderful til nov and stopped is this ok can i do something to help him sing.thanks
Posted by Louis on September 27,2010 at 08:56 PM
I will really appreciate if you could help me to find canary breeders in Long Island NY, Nassau or suffolk area. I want to buy some birds and start breeding. Thanks Louis.
Posted by Mauri Formigoni on July 17,2010 at 06:23 PM
I have canaries with babies who are about one month old and are as large as the parents. At what age can they be separated from the parents?
Posted by charlie on February 05,2010 at 04:04 PM
what kind of canaries prefer for breeding?
Posted by cindy on February 02,2010 at 10:39 AM
Where can I find the more unusual colored canaries I just read about?
Posted by wendy macarthur on December 15,2009 at 09:38 AM
my canary enjoyed his bath daily while I changed the food and water. all of a sudden one day he stopped bathing and hasn't now for a week or two. any suggestions on what to do to help or reasons why this would happen? thanks.
Posted by linda m on August 04,2009 at 10:13 AM
My canary was sining about 2 months and started molting a little stopped singing and would like to know when he will start again,does he just sing when its the breeding season.
Posted by NORA C on March 16,2010 at 03:24 PM
My canary was singing beautiful, now he started mouling and has not sang in like 3 weeks. i hear a little chirp here and there but nothing like him singing. Someone had mentioned Mite and Lice to me. He does not seem to be as hungry either, but acting normal otherwise. His singing was so beautiful, I miss it. I have even put on his 2 CD's to maybe coax him and nothing. What should i do???
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