Domestic Canary

Domestic Canary
Domestic Canary
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Fringillidae
Genus: Serinus
Species: S. canaria
Subspecies: S. c. domestica
Binomial name
Serinus canaria domestica
(Linnaeus, 1758)
In a cage

The Domestic Canary, often simply known as the canary, (Serinus canaria domestica) is a domesticated form of the wild Canary, a small songbird in the finch family originating from the Macaronesian Islands (Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands).

Canaries were first bred in captivity in the 17th century. They were brought over by Spanish sailors to Europe. Monks started breeding them and only sold the males (which sing). This kept the birds in short supply and drove the price up. Eventually Italians obtained hens and were able to breed the birds themselves. This made them very popular and resulted in many breeds arising and the birds being bred all over Europe.

The same occurred in England. First the birds were only owned by the rich but eventually the local citizens started to breed them and, again, they became very popular. Many breeds arose through selective breeding, and they are still very popular today for their voice.



Canaries are named after the Canary Islands, in Spain. However, the real etymology of the Canary Islands do not actually mean the "Islands of Canaries", deriving from Latin Insula Canaria (first referring just to Gran Canaria), with the meaning of "Island of Dogs" because it contained "vast multitudes of dogs of very large size".


White Andalusian Canary

Canaries are generally divided into three main groups: Colorbred Canaries (bred for their many color mutations - Ino, Eumo, Satinette, Bronze, Ivory, Onyx, Mosaic, Brown and Red Factor etc.), Type Canaries (bred for their shape and conformation - Border, Fife, Gloster, Gibber Italicus, Raza Española, Berner, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Mexicana, Australian Plainhead, etc.), and Song Canaries (bred for their unique and specific song patterns - Spanish Timbrado, German Roller (also known as "Harzer Roller"), Waterslager (also known as "Malinois"), American Singer, Russian Singer, Persian Singer).

While wild canaries are a greenish color, domestic canaries have been selectively bred for a wide variety of colors, such as yellow, orange, brown, black, white, and red. (The color red was introduced to the domesticated canary through hybridisation with the red siskin, a type of South American finch.[1])


Canaries are judged in competitions following the annual molt in the summer.[2] This means that in the northern hemisphere the show season generally begins in October or November and runs through December or January. Birds can only be shown by the person who raised them. A show bird must have a unique band on its leg indicating the year of birth, the band number, and the club to which the breeder belongs.

There are many canary shows all over the world. The world show (C.O.M.) is held in Europe each year and attracts thousands of breeders. As many as 20,000 birds are brought together for this competition.

Miner's canary

Canaries were once regularly used in coal mining as an early warning system.[3] Toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the mine would kill the bird before affecting the miners. Because canaries tend to sing much of the time, they would stop singing prior to succumbing to the gas therefore alerting miners to the danger. The use of so called miner's canaries in British mines was phased out in 1987.[4]

Hence, the phrase "canary in a coal mine" is frequently used to refer to a person or thing which serves as an early warning of a coming crisis. By analogy, the term climate canary is used to refer to a species that is affected by an environmental danger prior to other species, thus serving as an early warning system for the other species with regard to the danger.[5]

Use in research

A white canary nesting

Canaries have been extensively used in research to study neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons in the adult brain, and also for basic research in order to understand how songbirds encode and produce song. Thus, canaries have served as model species for discovering how the vertebrate brain learns, consolidates memories, and recalls coordinated motor movements. Fernando Nottebohm, a professor at the Rockefeller University in New York City, New York, detailed the brain structures and pathways that are involved in the production of bird song.


  • Canaries have been depicted in cartoons from the middle 20th century as being harassed by domestic cats; the most famous cartoon canary is Warner Brothers' "Tweety Bird".
  • Norwich City, an English football team is nicknamed 'The Canaries' due to the city once being a famous centre for breeding and export of the birds. The club adopted the colours of yellow and green in homage. Jacob Mackley, of Norwich, won more than 9,000 prizes with birds of the local variety and shipped about 10,000 Norwich to New York every year. In the early 1900s, he opened his aviaries to the public for three days and 10,000 people turned up.


Inexperienced breeders find it difficult to determine the sex of canaries by appearance, intensity of colour, or demeanor. Most males sing and most females do not. As spring approaches physical changes are observed in the vent area. The abdomen of the hen becomes more rounded and that of the cock becomes larger and protudes downward in the same direction as the legs.

Canaries are only fertile when the length of the day increases to about 12 hours. This occurs naturally in the spring but can be induced earlier through artificial lighting and heating. Good nutrition is essential. Cuttlefish bone is often used to provide calcium for the formation of egg shells. Liquid vitamin drops help guard against deficiencies. Greens are a staple, such as chickweed, seedy (lawn type) grass heads, dandelion, carrot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and apple. There are many recipes for soft food that include ingredients such as hard boiled egg, gelatin, bread crumbs, or biscuit crumbs. A protein-rich soft food, together with sprouted seed, is the fundamental diet of canary chicks.

Canaries are best suited to breeding in a controlled environment with one pair per cage. This is essential for any pedigree show varieties. They can also be bred successfully in an avaiary situation if there is sufficient room, excess nesting sites, and a plentiful supply of nesting material.

Males will often be ready to breed before the females. A cock may pursue a hen relentlessly or fight with her. In these situations the pair is separated until the female has most of the nest built and is more likely to accept the male. Many breeders use a "double breeder" cage with two compartments separated by a removable wire partition. The partition is removed when the pair is observed "kissing" (the male trying to feed the female) through the bars.

An open (uncovered) 4" nest cup is previously installed in an accessible position above the height of the perches. Nesting material such as hessian, plumber's hemp, cotton wool, burlap, and tissue paper is provided.

The hen lays four or five eggs, on successive days. She rarely leaves the nest during the two weeks of incubation and relies on the cock to bring food. Some breeders remove the first two or three eggs and replace them with dummy eggs. They then return the real eggs when the clutch is completed. This causes the eggs to hatch over fewer days and gives a higher survival rate due to less disparity in the size of the chicks. Fresh soft food and sprouted seed is provided regularly until the chicks are weaned to hard seed.

The chicks leave the nest at about 18 days and are fed by the parents for another week or so. The hen then commences a second round and may attack the first one. At this point the partition is returned in a "double breeder" cage so that the fledglings can be housed in one side. Their parents in the other side feed them through the wire while also proceeding with further breeding.

See also


  1. ^ Birkhead, Tim (2003). A Brand-New Bird: How Two Amateur Geneticists Create the First Genetically Engineered Animal. NY, NY: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0465006656. 
  2. ^ Hogan, Linda S. (1999). The Complete Canary Handbook: A Collection of Canary Tales. self-published. ISBN B0006RK73W. 
  3. ^ "Man And His Machines: Resuscitation Cage For Mine Canaries". The World's Work: A History of Our Time XLIV (2): 474. August 1914. Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  4. ^ "1986: Coal mine canaries made redundant". BBC News. 1986-12-30. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  5. ^ "'Plutoed' voted US word of year". BBC News. 2007-01-08. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  • McDonald, Robirda, "Brats in Feathers, Keeping Canaries" ISBN 0-9730434-4-X
  • Miley-Russell, Marie, "The Practical Canary Handbook, A Guide to Breeding and Keeping Canaries" (especially useful to American Singer canary owners) ISBN 1-59113-851-5
  • Excellent sources of further reading are Linda Hogan's book Canary Tales and GB Walker's wonderful reference, Colour, Type, and Song Canaries. Some commercially published (but less reliable) resources are David Alderton's books Birds Care and You and your pet bird, The Canary Handbook and Canaries, both published by Barrons, Health Care for Birds by Tim Hawcroft and Fife Canaries by James Blake.

External links

Domestic Canary at the Open Directory Project

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Canary — Taxobox name = Canary image width = 240px image caption = status = LC status system = iucn3.1 status ref = [IUCN2006|assessors=BirdLife International|year=2004|id=53391|title=Serinus canaria|downloaded=12 May 2006 Database entry includes… …   Wikipedia

  • Canary (disambiguation) — The word canary is used to describe a number of things: *The Canary Islands. *The wild Canary bird, and the Domestic Canary derived from it, named after the islands. *Canary, or Canary yellow is the name of a particular shade of yellow, named… …   Wikipedia

  • Canary Islands in pre-colonial times — The Canary Islands have been known since antiquity; the islands themselves are estimated to be 30 million years old. [cite book last = O Brien first = Sally authorlink = title = Canary Islands publisher = Lonely Planet year = 2004 doi = isbn =… …   Wikipedia

  • canary — [16] Small green finches (Serinus canarius) native to the Canary Islands were introduced as cage birds in England in the 16th century (the domestic breed is now for the most part yellow). They were called, naturally enough, canary birds, and by… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • canary — [16] Small green finches (Serinus canarius) native to the Canary Islands were introduced as cage birds in England in the 16th century (the domestic breed is now for the most part yellow). They were called, naturally enough, canary birds, and by… …   Word origins

  • The Canary Islands —     The Canary Islands     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► The Canary Islands     The Canary Islands form an archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean facing the western coast of Africa, between the parallels of 27°4 and 29°3 N. lat., and the meridians… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Lateralization of bird song — Oscine songbirds produce song through the vocal organ, the syrinx, which is composed of bilaterally symmetric halves located where the trachea separates into the two bronchi. Using endoscopic techniques, it has been observed that song is produced …   Wikipedia

  • Hybrid (biology) — In biology and specifically, genetics, the term hybrid has several meanings, all referring to the offspring of sexual reproduction.[1] In general usage, hybrid is synonymous with heterozygous: any offspring resulting from the mating of two… …   Wikipedia

  • Tweety — WBToonChar name = Tweety image caption = Tweety first appearance = A Tale of Two Kitties ( November 21, 1942) created by = Bob Clampett voiced by = Mel Blanc, Bob Bergen (Space Jam), Eric Goldberg (), Joe Alaskey (current), Samuel Vincent (Baby… …   Wikipedia

  • Canaries — may refer to:*Canary Islands, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean belonging to the Kingdom of Spain *Canaries, a village on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia * The Canaries , the nickname of two British football teams: Norwich City F.C. and… …   Wikipedia