Spanish monks in monasteries on the Canary Islands for started breeding canaries (Serinus canarius­) as far back as 1402.  Today’s canary fanciers pursue a wide range of activities, including preserving old and rare breeds as well as breeding new color mutations.  An important aspect of their hobby is showing and judging their birds, which fall into 1 of 3 groups:  song canaries, color canaries and form canaries.

Pet AppealCanaries are tidy, nondestructive and easy to care for and require a minimum of space.  Their song, color variations, size, shape characteristics and feather traits are the basis of their appeal.  Because they don’t like to be handled, canaries may not be ideal pets for children.

Canaries may be appreciated most for their pleasant melodious song.  Male canaries start singing around 3 months of age and will demonstrate 1 of 2 styles:  “chopper,” with loud trills and distinct component notes, or “roller,” with a long, rich, recurrent trill in which the notes are soft and continuous.

DietCanaries are primarily granivorous birds and may consume up to 30% of their body weight (BW) daily; their basal metabolic rate is 65% higher than that of nonpasserines.  The recommended diet consists of high-quality, toxin-free, canary-specific formulated foods (pellets) with alternate feeding of a variety of fresh pesticide-free seed mixtures.  In Belgium, seed mixtures for canaries contain canary seed (62%), niger seed (2%), rape seed (22%), hemp seed (3%), peeled oats (8%), and linseed (3%).
Sometimes additives are used to manipulate the color of the plumage.  For example, red color canaries are fed beta-carotene 2 weeks before breeding season until the end of the molt period.  Yellow color canaries are supplemented with lutein for enhancing he desired yellow color for exhibition.

Soluble grit, such as cuttlefish bone (Sepia spp.), oyster shell, limestone (calcium carbonate), marble (crystalline sulfate), and gypsum (calcium sulfate), offers a good calcium source and is usually completely digested by birds. Small amounts may be offered to egg laying hens. Vitamin/mineral supplement should be applied to moist food rather than added to seeds or drinking water, but is not necessary when feeding a pelleted diet.

During reproduction and molting, a high-protein commercial “egg food,” consisting of mashed hard-cooked egg and finely-chopped chicken or insects (fresh or commercially available powdered insects marketed for finches) should be fed on a daily basis.
Clean, fresh, uncontaminated water must be provided daily for drinking and bathing.  Most small canaries drink 200-300 mL/kg BW of water daily.

Housing RecommendationsCanaries are rarely social birds.  Considered “skittish,” they will fly away when approached.  One bird kept as a single pet will be content and may bond with it’s keeper.  Males must be housed separately from other males to prevent fighting, but they may be kept within visual or auditory range to stimulate singing.  Group housing for mixed ages and both sexes will work only if the cage has sufficient perches and many feeding stations.

Housing for a single pet canary should be indoors or protected by mosquito screening if placed outdoors.  The cage should have dimensions of at least 25 x 25 x 46 cm (10” x 10” x 18”) and be constructed of durable nontoxic material; it should contain multiple perches.  The cage setup should be clean, secure, safe and easy to service.

SubstrateSuitable substrates include newspaper, butcher paper and plain brown paper.  Avoid using pressure-treated wood, cedar or redwood cage substrates as well as synthetic fibrous nesting material or fine thread in the nest box.  Natural materials are preferred for lining nests:  sisal (from Agave cactus), cotton fiber, moss or jute.

Environmental EnrichmentCanaries spend a great deal of their time eating and flying from perch to perch.  Fresh food and water must always be available, and multiple, small-diameter perches are important accessories.  Because they enjoy taking a bath on a daily basis, a bathing area should be available away from the feeding area for a limited time in the morning.  During the breeding season, nest pans made of plastic, stone, wood or wire with ventilation holes are provided and must be changed after every clutch.

If there is a continuous source of stress in the canary’s environment, such as fear, cage mate competition, infections, major changes in environmental temperature or daylight length, the bird’s feathers will not molt properly.  Instead of all the plumage being replaced once a year at the end of the breeding season, the feathers will be shed over the entire year.

Vital Statistics

11-18 cm

Body weight
12-30 grams

Body temperature
41 C (105.8 F)

Water consumption
200-300 mL/kg BW/day

Food consumption
Up to 30% BW/day

Average captive life span
5-9 years

Heart rate
Resting: 265-325 bpm
Restraint: 400-600 bpm

Respiratory rate
Resting: 60-80 breaths/minute
Restraint: 80-120 breaths/minute

Environmental temp.
Greater than 15 C (59 F)


Age of sexual maturity
8 months

Eggs per clutch

12-14 days

11-17 days

What Every Canary Owner Needs to Know

  • Before adding new birds to a collection, they must be quarantined, tested and treated for parasites and infectious disease.
  • Protect outdoor aviaries from mosquitoes, free-ranging birds and predators.
  • Avoid using synthetic fibers for nesting materials as they may entangle feed, toes, or other body parts.
  • Weigh birds as least semi-annually or quarterly if they are breeders.
  • Feed a diet formulated for canaries or supplement high-quality seed with canary soft food.