Canaries as Pets
by Ginger Wolnik
Published in Winged Wisdom, October 1998.
American Singer Canary (yellow variegated)
photo by Ginger Wolnik
Canaries can be the easiest pet birds to have. Even the smallest apartment has room for one. They are simple to care for and do not require much attention. Canaries are solitary in nature, so a lone male is perfectly content by himself and will sing whether you are there or not. It can be your only pet, or part of a household menagerie.
These birds are a type of finch that is native to the Canary Islands, after which they are named. The wild canary, which still exists, is brownish green and looks like a sparrow. Captive bred for 500 years, the yellow mutation has long been the most popular. Today, canaries are available in many colors and a range of sizes, shapes, and patterns.
Like dogs, many breeds of canaries have been developed. These breeds are classified as either song, type, or color canaries. The German (or Hartz Mountain) Roller is the classic song canary and was the most popular breed in the world for many years. The American Singer is a newer song breed that was developed in the United States. The Waterslager is a song breed from Belgium that is now spreading world-wide. Type breeds are less common as pets, but are popular with hobbyists who exhibit them at shows. Some of these birds are large or unusually shaped, although many do not sing much. Type canaries include crested and frilled breeds. Colorbred canaries are becoming popular since they include a striking red-orange.
Canaries were the most common cage birds in the world for many years. Although not difficult to breed, they require a special diet and lighting to reproduce and are not as prolific as budgies or some finches. For that reason, they tend to be more expensive. Usually somewhat aloof in nature, most do not typically bond to people, although some people have tamed their pet canaries. However, this characteristic makes a canary more suitable for someone who does not want to spend a lot of quality time with their bird.
As with any pet, it is best to buy a canary directly from a breeder. For referrals, contact a local bird club, veterinarian, or pet shop that only sells supplies. A good breeder should band their birds in order to identify them and prevent inbreeding. They should also provide you with care instructions and a food sample. It is a good idea to get your own book on canary care for reference.
It is difficult to determine the sex of a canary, especially if less than a year old. Even experienced breeders get fooled. Adult male canaries usually sing, but some hens sing and so do young birds of either gender. Canaries usually hatch in the spring and become mature in the fall or winter, but are not old enough to breed until the following spring.
If a songbird is what you want, get a mature male and ask for a guarantee that he will sing within two weeks. Do not put any other bird in the same cage, not even a female canary. Never clip their wings, they need to fly for exercise. The normal untamed canary should not be let out, so get as large a cage as you can. A daily check of food and water is best, although they can be left alone for an occasional weekend trip. Let your canary sleep after sunset, either move him to a dark room in the evening or cover the cage with a blackout sheet. In the summer when the days are long, it is natural for them to molt (replace all their feathers) and they do not sing for a few weeks during this process.
A well cared for pet canary may live for 10 years or longer. Their song and beauty can provide a bit of cheerful nature in our homes. As our lives become increasingly urban, a canary can be a soothing pet for anyone!
To learn more about canaries, visit the Canary List Homepage.
If you would like to hear what show-quality canary songs sound like, visit Ralph Howland's site where you can hear the song of the Waterslager Canary or Kim Kubasek's page for a sample of the Roller Canary song.
Winged Wisdom Note: Ginger Wolnik breeds and exhibits American Singer canaries as a hobby. She is active in the national American Singers Club as well as local bird clubs.
Return to PAS article index