Domestic canary

This article is about the pet variety of the bird. For the wild bird that inhabits islands off western Europe, see Atlantic canary.
A red factor canary
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Fringillidae
Genus: Serinus
Species: S. canaria
Subspecies: S. c. domestica
Trinomial name
Serinus canaria domestica[1]
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The domestic canary, often simply known as the canary (Serinus canaria forma domestica[2]), is a domesticated form of the wild canary, a small songbird in the finch family originating from the Macaronesian Islands (Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands).

Canaries were first bred in captivity in the 17th century. They were brought over by Spanish sailors to Europe. This bird became expensive and fashionable to breeding in courts of Spanish and English kings.[3][4] Monks started breeding them and only sold the males (which sing). This kept the birds in short supply and drove the price up. Eventually Italians obtained hens and were able to breed the birds themselves. This made them very popular and resulted in many breeds arising and the birds being bred all over Europe.

The same occurred in England. First the birds were only owned by the rich but eventually the local citizens started to breed them and, again, they became very popular. Many breeds arose through selective breeding, and they are still very popular today for their voices.

Typically, the domestic canary is kept as a popular cage and aviary bird. Given proper housing and care, a canary's lifespan ranges from 10 to 15 years.[5]


The birds are named after Spain's Canary Islands, which derive their name from the Latin Insula Canaria (after one of the larger islands, Gran Canaria), meaning "island of dogs", due to its "vast multitudes of dogs of very large size".[6][7]

A white canary nesting
A yellow canary perched in a tree


Canaries are generally divided into three main groups:

While wild canaries are a yellowish-green colour, domestic canaries have been selectively bred for a wide variety of colours, such as yellow, orange, brown, black, white, and red. (The colour red was introduced to the domesticated canary through hybridisation with the red siskin, a type of South American finch.[8])


Canaries are judged in competitions following the annual molt in the summer.[9] This means that in the Northern Hemisphere the show season generally begins in October or November and runs through December or January. Birds can only be shown by the person who raised them. A show bird must have a unique band on its leg indicating the year of birth, the band number, and the club to which the breeder belongs.

There are many canary shows all over the world. The world show (C.O.M.) is held in Europe each year and attracts thousands of breeders. As many as 20,000 birds are brought together for this competition.

Miner's canary

Canaries were once regularly used in coal mining as an early warning system.[10] Toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, methane [11] or carbon dioxide in the mine would kill the bird before affecting the miners. Signs of distress from the bird indicated to the miners that conditions were unsafe. The use of miners' canaries in British mines was phased out in 1987.[12]

The phrase "canary in a coal mine" is frequently used to refer to a person or thing which serves as an early warning of a coming crisis. By analogy, the term climate canary is used to refer to a species that is affected by an environmental danger prior to other species, thus serving as an early warning system for the other species with regard to the danger.[13] (See indicator species.)

Use in research

Canaries have been extensively used in research to study neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons in the adult brain, and also for basic research in order to understand how songbirds encode and produce song. Thus, canaries have served as model species for discovering how the vertebrate brain learns, consolidates memories, and recalls coordinated motor movements.

Fernando Nottebohm, a professor at the Rockefeller University in New York City, detailed the brain structures and pathways that are involved in the production of bird song.[14][15] Canaries were used by SINGARENI coal company of Telangana STATE of India for detection of carbon monoxide under coal mines.


See also


  1. Index to Organism Names (ION)
  2. NCBI
  3. Arnaiz-Villena, A.; Ruiz-del-Valle V.; Areces C. (May 2012). "El Origen de los Canarios" (PDF). Ornitología Práctica. 53: 3–11.
  4. Arnaiz-Villena, A; Gómez-Prieto P; Ruiz-de-Valle V (2009). "Phylogeography of finches and sparrows". Nova Science Publishers. ISBN 978-1-60741-844--3.
  5. Animal-World. "Canary Care". Animal World. Retrieved 2016-02-27.
  6. John Hudson Tiner (12 January 2009). Exploring the World of Biology: From Mushrooms to Complex Life Forms. New Leaf Publishing Group. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-89051-552-5. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  7. Pliny the Elder. "Natural History". Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  8. Birkhead, Tim (2003). A Brand-New Bird: How Two Amateur Geneticists Create the First Genetically Engineered Animal. NY, NY: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00665-6.
  9. Hogan, Linda S. (1999). The Complete Canary Handbook: A Collection of Canary Tales. self-published. ASIN B0006RK73W.
  10. Page, Walter Hines; Page, Arthur Wilson (August 1914). "Man And His Machines: Resuscitation Cage For Mine Canaries". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XXVIII (May to October 1914): 474. Retrieved 2016-09-19.
  11. Biggins, Peter; Kusterbeck, Anne; Hilt, John (2001). Bio-inspired Materials and Sensing Systems. p. 6. ISBN 1849731217. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  12. "1986: Coal mine canaries made redundant". BBC News. 1986-12-30. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
  13. "'Plutoed' voted US word of year". BBC News. 2007-01-08. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
  14. "Fernando Nottebohm, Ph.D.". The Rockefeller University. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
  15. "Neurogenesis in Birds". Neurogenesis. Retrieved August 11, 2012.

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to the domestic canary.

Domestic canary at DMOZ

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