The canary is a small bird that is famous for its beautiful song.  Generally the male sings, but some females do.  Breeds with 'roller' in their name are the best singers.

Wild canary in the Canary Islands ©Getty Images

Wild canary in the Canary Islands ©Getty Images

The canary is a type of finch that is native to the Canary Islands.  In the wild the canary is brownish green and looks like a sparrow.  Canaries have been popular pets since Spanish sailors brought them home from the Canary Islands in 1478.

 However, the Spaniards did not let anyone know where the birds came from, and sold only male birds for very high prices. In this way,  rich Europeans had a beautiful pet that sang, but they could not breed them.  Some time after 1500, a Spanish ship loaded with a cargo of canaries was shipwrecked on the Italian island of Elba, and the birds were released, and made a home on the island. There were obviously both males and females, and the Italians were able to breed them and sell them.  

In the 1800s, German breeders began to breed canaries to improve their song. 

Today there are many breeds of pet canary. Breeders around the world have now made the canary very different from the wild bird. Breeders breed to develop birds that have better songs, different colours and for characteristics other than colour.

Life cycle

Canaries can breed when they are one year old. In spring, the male canary sings and dances to attract the female for mating.

About a week after mating with a male,  the female begins to lay eggs in a nest.  She lays one egg a day for about four or five days. The female incubates the eggs by keeping them warm with her body. The eggs hatch after about thirteen days. The young are born without feathers and are blind. The female feeds her babies with partly digested food which she brings up from inside her body. 

After three weeks the young canaries have feathers and can see. They can move about but cannot fly. As they grow, new feathers replace the old and the baby canaries learn to fly.  A canary is fully grown after about 12 months.  Pet canaries can live for 10 or more years.

The canary as a pet

Breeders have now bred birds of more colours ©iStock

Breeders have now bred birds of more colours ©iStock

Housing a pet canary

A canary can be kept in an indoor cage which should be big enough to let the bird fly around. The cage should have a plastic or metal base tray covered with sand sheets or loose sand to collect the bird's droppings.  

Perches in the cage should be at different levels so the canary will get plenty of exercise as it hops from perch to perch. The cage tray should be cleaned every day or two. The cage must be placed in a position away from strong sunlight and draughts.

 Cuttlefish bone placed at the end of a perch for easy reach by the birds.  ©Getty Images

 Cuttlefish bone placed at the end of a perch for easy reach by the birds.  ©Getty Images

Feeding your pet canary

Pet shops sell a seed mix specially prepared for canaries.

The birds should also be fed fresh fruit and vegetables such as apple, broccoli and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and watercress. (Note: do not feed your canary cabbage or lettuce).

The canary should always have fresh drinking water and lukewarm water in which to take a bath. Cuttlefish bone should also be placed in the cage. It is used by the bird to trim its beak.

A note about responsible pet ownership:  

Pet canaries depend on their owners for food, protection and shelter. Before becoming a pet owner think carefully about all the things you will have to do to care for your pet responsibly.

Watch a video about how to care for your pet canary: