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Canaries

Canaries in Brief

Scientific Name: Serinus canaria (wild canary, from which all domesticated canaries descend)
Adult Size: 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm)
Weight: 0.4 to 1 ounce (12 to 30 g)
Life Span: 5 to 10 years on average
Canaries are beautiful, bright little birds commonly kept as pets. Even if you can't recognize one in a lineup of bird photos, you've probably already been introduced to a canary. Remember Tweety Bird, the famous cartoon character? He's a canary.

Let's learn a little more about canaries to help you decide if one is right for you.

Appearance

There are a few types of domestic canary. Each "breed" has a different appearance or manner of singing. Canaries are broken down into three categories: song, type, and color. The song canaries are bred to sing well, and each breed has a different way of singing, with different notes and patterns. The type breeds are bred for how they look. Lastly, the colored canaries are bred specifically for the many special color mutations in which this type of bird can come.

Canaries are small birds, but some varieties are larger than others. They all have a variety of feathers that make up their beautiful plumage.

In the Wild

The canary is a domesticated companion bird, unlike other commonly kept birds, such as parrots. The captive bird, though, is quite different from his wild counterpart. The wild canary is native to the Canary Islands, Madeira, and the Azores. He is much smaller than the domestic canary and occurs in one color: a variegated greenish-grayish-yellow, with blackish-brown striations on the wings, back, and flanks. He looks like a sparrow but smaller, and he has a lovely singing voice.

Canaries as Pets

A canary (or a few) makes a fun pet for the right family. While these birds are colorful and active and the males are pleasantly vocal, they are not "hands-on" pets. They are too small, fast, and nervous to be handled. However, if you enjoy watching birds and listening to their interesting sounds, a canary is likely the perfect pet for you.

One Canary or Two?
Unless you're going to breed canaries, you only need one canary per household or per cage. Canaries are the "lone wolves" of the bird world; they actually prefer to be alone. They are extremely territorial, especially the males, and will squabble with and even injure other birds in their territories. Even male/female pairs will fight outside of breeding season.

Canary Supplies
You can keep a canary in a cage or aviary, which is essentially a room-sized cage that can house several birds. (Remember, though, it's better to keep a single canary.) An aviary can be located indoors or outdoors. If outdoors, it must offer protection from the sun, harsh weather, and predators, such as cats and hawks. An aviary should have two doors so that it is more difficult for your canaries to escape when you enter and leave. Aside from these considerations, aviaries are much like normal cages.

If you are using a cage, like one of the ones Kaytee offers, buy the largest one you can afford; horizontal space is more important than vertical space because it gives your canary more room to fly. The best cages are made of wrought iron or powder-coated steel. Make sure that the bars are spaced so that your canary cannot get his head out, or he may escape or become stuck.

Your bird will need several perches in the cage. Vary the sizes and materials that the perches are made of to provide his feet with exercise. Natural wood perches with bark still on them are an excellent choice, but wooden, rope, and concrete perches are fine as well. Space them out so that your canary has plenty of space to fly.

The bottom of the cage should be lined with newspaper or plain paper towels. Do not use gravel or corncob, as these are dangerous if your canary ingests them.

You may want to get a birdbath because canaries tend to like to splash about. You can use just about any clean, shallow dish, however.

Diet
Seeds make a great base diet for your canary because it's the base diet for his wild cousin—this bird is genetically programmed to do well on seeds. Plan to feed your bird a mix of seeds along with some fruits, vegetables (especially leafy greens, such as spinach, dandelions, romaine, and parsley), and perhaps live insects. Use a seed mix packaged for canaries, and check it for freshness. For more nutritious and possibly more palatable seeds, sprout them yourself. Your canary should have seeds available at all times. Provide fresh fruits and vegetables in the morning, and remove them in an hour or so before they spoil.

Canaries must always have access to fresh, clean drinking water.