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Canaries are amongst the most popular cage birds kept and bred today.  Some of the oldest breeds of canary can date back to the latter years of the 18th century or early 19 th century.  Most types bred in the early days were local in their origins, hence some of the names given to different varieties Fife, Border, Norwich etc. Of course over the years the type has changed in size, colour, deportment etc.  Each specific type of Canary is bred to a standard and/or type usually laid down by the specialist societies.  So when choosing a type of canary to breed it is recommended that contact be made with that society.

Wild canaries are much duller in colour than many varieties of domesticated "man-made" canaries being bred today. Domestic varieties have been selectively bred to give the different size and shapes to their bodies, head and colour.

Many books have been written over the past 200 years, some containing valuable information when breeding and colour feeding some varieties, but basically they will all outline the typical methods for housing and breeding canaries.

The keeping of Canaries is not a complex or secret mystery, but something which can be done by anyone who is interested enough and is prepared to devote a little time to looking after and attending to their needs.


Canaries are extremely easy to feed.  Today, many seed Distributors produce ready mixed canary mixtures. These mixtures usually contain "plain canary" seed, black or red rape, linseed, hemp, gold of pleasure and blue maw seed.  When purchasing canaries, you should ask the seller, which type of seed is best suited to your type of canary. Tonic seed and also soaking seed should also be offered at least once a week during the non-breeding season.

Popular in the US, but far less so in the UK and Europe is the use of pelleted food. There has been an on-going debate on this subject for many years. This is for a number of reasons including cost, quality and a desire to feed birds on a 'more natural' seed based diet. It does however raise its own problems and you should talk to a specialist who will be able to give detailed advice on the best solution. Birds fed on a predominantly seed diet may require vitamin supplements to ensure maximum health. It is possible to buy seed which has been pre-treated with vitamin supplements, usually in the form of dusting or powder addition but this can prove to be an expensive and fruitless exercise as the canary will generally discard the seed shells, therefore throwing the vitamin supplement away. A better solution would be to provide the vitamin supplement mixed with your soft food for maximum benefit. A vitamin supplement which contains Amino Acids may be of particular benefit.

Some fanciers like to offer their birds millet sprays, however canaries can become overweight if given too much millet. Greenfood, carrots and even watercress add an interesting change to the seed diet. Many breeders provide fresh produce on a daily basis, and care should be taken to ensure that it is changed regularly to avoid potential disease or poisoning problems associated with spoiled food. Canaries can eat most forms of fresh produce but care should be take to avoid dangerous foods, in particular Avocado or Cocoa.

Drinking water should be available at all times and be changed daily. Some cage fronts have special holes in them, these are big enough to allow the canary to push its head through but not escape through. Water containers can then be placed on the exterior of the cage in glass "top-hat" drinkers. This ensures that clean water is available to the birds and they are unable to foul it. Care should be taken with small bullet-shaped water bowls as these regularly become fouled or blocked. There are also available ball-and-tube feeders which generally prove to be much easier to keep clean.

Cuttlefish or soluble mineral block and an iodine block should be available at all times. There is a school of thought which proposes that these can be replaced with liquid mineral supplements but this debate is beyond the scope of this guide. Should you have concerns, contact a specialist. Cage-grit should also be available. Care should be taken to monitor birds carefully as there is a small possibility of impaction problems, particularly in the crop with Cage-grit. Some studies have shown that cage grit is of reduced benefit in species which 'hull' their seed such as Canaries. Colour food may also need to be fed, depending on the variety of canary chosen. Colour food is beyond the scope of this guide.

Canaries as Pets

Canaries can make an excellent pet. They not only look colourful but they sing beautifully. It is this song which distinguishes the cocks from the hens. Hens do not usually sing but there is always the exception to the rule. Some varieties of canary, like the Roller, are specially bred to perform a song. Young Roller canaries are taught to perform the "rolls" of song passages by a "master".

If kept as pets canaries should live at least 10 years, some pet birds have been recorded as being over 20 years old. An inexpensive simple wire cage can be purchased from your local pet centre. Birds should be kept out of draughts and temperature extremes. Never place your bird in direct sunlight for too long.

Types of Canary


Probably the most popular breed of canary. The variety originates from the common canary bred on either side of the Anglo-Scottish border hence the name.


The Fife is often described as the minature Border. In general it is a neat, active and nicely rounded little bird.  The fife may have arisen when some Border breeders became dissatisfied with the increase in size of the Border and decided to deep the breed small in nature.


Probably the best know canary. It is accepted that Flemish refugees first introduced the hobby of breeding canaries into the east Anglian region during the 16th Century. The Norwich canary soon developed in the area and soon the breed was being sent back to Holland.


The history of the Gloster canary is not too well documented. Most breeders believe that the variety was bred during the 1920's, and originates from a cross between the Roller and smallest Border Canaries.  The two main types of Gloster are called Corona (with a crest) and Consort (without a crest).


This is the oldest and least changed variety. It is unusual amongst the canary breeds because it is bred for the pattern and markings on the plumage.


This type of canary originated in the mining and woollen communities of Yorkshire, during the 1850's etc.


The history of this breed is not well documented. Most of what we know of the breed has been passed down verbally through generations. The type was well established by the 1820's and became a very popular breed.

Coloured Canaries

This variety is fairly new, having been established in the present century. Many colour differences are available, including Red, Rose, Pastels etc.


This variety is an ancient breed, its popularity is on the increase at the moment.  It is the crest itself that is the single most important feature on a show bird.

Roller Canary

Bred for its songs not for its style or looks

Other types of canary are also available including: Parisian/Dutch/Milan Frills, Staffordshires, Scots Fancy, Gibber Italicus etc.


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