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The Basic Care of Canaries.

by Mattia Felice 2001.


Over the years of Canary breeding a big number of books have been written. These books contain a wealth of knowledge accumulated over hundreds of years, which I have found so important for the framework of this handbook.

To many people canaries are just cute little yellow birds with a sweet song, the scope of this handbook is to introduce people to the world of canary culture apart from teaching them the basic aspects of canary care.

I do hope that this handbook will be the means by which the pleasure of the canary will be introduced to a new section of the bird-loving public.


The ancestors of all canaries which exist in the present time (serinus canaria) have all sprung from the wild canaries (serinus serinus) which can be found breeding freely in the Canary Islands and in the north-eastern parts of Africa. Canaries are not native to the Canary Islands, but were accidentally introduced. A galleon with a number of cages loaded with canaries foundered near the Islands and a sailor set the birds free (wishing not to see the little birds drown). Many made it to land and there they found plenty of food and a nice climate and quickly established themselves. When the Spaniards got to know about the canaries they started trapping them and breeding them. Canaries were much valued cage birds and quickly became popular, especially when the new yellow, brown and red varieties were created.


First of all never keep a canary in a round cage (it will give it physiological problems). The ideal cage for a canary should be at least forty inches long and fifteen to twenty inches high, a distance of forty centimetres is necessary between perches as a canary needs to fly around. A metal cage is recommended as it is easier to clean and disinfect and is less vulnerable to a mite infestation.

Feeding and Watering:

Seed should be as fresh as possible. A good canary mix should consist mainly of canary seed ( skalora), the rest of the mix should consist of canola, hemp, niger seeds, millet and some nice aniseed flavouring. (usually the mix contains small coloured bits, these are good for a canary as they contain vitamins and colour agents.) Fresh water must be available at all times, if a canary is left without water for more than sixteen hours he may not survive. It is important that the bird's food and water vessels should be clean at all times.

Health and Hygiene:

Cages must be kept clean as much as possible.
A dirty and shabby cage might attract mites and will make the birds sick. The cleaning of the cage should commence once every week in winter and twice a week in summer, as the droppings may tend to smell. The perches should be regularly disinfected and it is very important that nests are frequently cleaned and after a number of uses disposed of as nests are popular breeding place for mites. It is vital that a canary is kept out of draughts as they can make him seriously ill. It is normal that in the summer months the bird moults, in moulting the bird drops its old feathers and grow new ones. During this period the canary will stop singing, this is the time to colour-feed red canaries. It is important to keep a bird in the cage so that the bird would be able to wash and maintain its plumage.


The canary breeding season starts in January. During the breeding season different foods have to be added to the bird's diet, for example, you have to add grit to the hen's normal diet as it contains calcium which promotes a strong eggshell. The addition of eggfood to the diet is also important because with it the parents will feed the youngsters. You can tell a cock canary from a hen because the cock is capable of singing a long warbling song, a hen can sing quite well but she can't warble like a cock does. When you have chosen the pair (which should not be of related stock) and put them in a breeding cage (which is a normal canary cage but has a mesh wire divider in the middle) you must give them some time to get accustomed to each other through, and then remove the divider, after a number of days a nest pan must be provided for the hen, together with some nesting material like a special brown, string-like material, shredded paper, leaves or twigs. Two weeks after the nest is completed the hen will lay from two to six small, pale blue eggs with small brown spots on them, after two weeks of incubation the eggs will hatch, revealing small pink chicks, without feathers and without an eyesight. When all the eggs would have hatched the hen will start to feed the chicks (make sure that a bowl of fresh eggfood is present at all times. Two weeks after hatching the fledglings (feathered chicks) would have a coat of feathers and will start to leave the nest, one by one. A hen canary can raise up to three nests in each breeding season.

Different Breeds of canaries:


The Border canary is the most popular of all. Their usual colour is yellow but they can be found in some different shades of brown and white. Borders are small compact, very hardy birds with a very sweet voice. The Border canary is a very free-breeding species.


This breed is very similar to the Border. It looks very much like the Corona variety but the Consort lacks the crest on the head. It is found in different colours; yellow, brown, cinnamon and a number of other colours.


The Corona is a small compact bird with a very round head and it also has a `corona` on its head it is also found in the same colours mentioned for the Consort. This variety is very popular on the show-bench.


The Yorkshire breed is very popular, in fact it is found next to the Border in worldwide popularity. The head pound and firmly set on the body, with the eyes are well rounded, the tail and the wings are kept in tight with the body. The legs are longer and more `stilt-like` than the ones of the birds mentioned above. It is found in colours such as; yellow, orange, white, cinnamon, red and `green`. This variety is the most common in exhibitions.


The Lizard breed is one of the oldest breeds in existence, at a certain time they became scarce, but thanks to some keen breeders the breed got restablished and became popular once again. Lizards are quite small birds with a brownish plumage, hence they got their name from the markings on their backs that look like the patterns on a lizards skin. There are different kinds of Lizard canary, these are the; Gold, Silver and clearcaps.


This breed originated in England, this breed is liked because of its robust appearance. It is very much similar to the Border, but the Norwich is not such a free breeder like the Border. There are a lot of colours to choose from, It is available in; yellow, Red, Orange and other colours. This breed requires colour feeding to obtain certain colours.


Over the years of canary breeding hundreds of colours were obtained, but breeders never managed to obtain a red plumage. In 1920 Dr. Hans Duncker discovered that a cock red hooded siskin (spinus cuculatus) would pair with a hen canary, the hybrids raised by the pair were the first Red Factor canaries. During the moult, you have to add colour food to the bird's normal seed diet.

MULES (Baghawla):

To many people a canary with dark markings is a mule, a real canary mule is the result of cross-breeding a European finch (preferably a cock) such as a Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet or Serin (Wild Canary) with a hen canary. Their young will have a beautiful coloration and the cock mules will have a particularly sweet song, combing the melody of the canary and of the finch.

The European Goldfinch.

The European Greenfinch.

Donated by Mattia Felice

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