Canaries - General

By Rick Axelson, DVM; Updated by Laurie Hess, DVM

 canaryGeneral information

The canary (Serinus canaria) is one of the most popular pet birds (second only to the budgie). Canaries are known for their good nature, attractive plumage, and remarkable singing ability. Canaries originate from the Canary Islands, Madeira, and the Azores. The Portuguese introduced them to Europe in the fifteenth century. Numerous varieties are bred in captivity. Some of these birds are bred for their song, while others are bred for their conformation, plumage, and color.

The canary is relatively easy to care for. It is an appropriate pet to teach children (as long as they are supervised) about the essentials of caring for a pet. Canaries are also popular as companion pets in retirement homes and hospitals.

Obtaining a canary

Canaries may be obtained from pet stores, reputable breeders, or rescue organizations.

"Female canaries do not generally sing as well as males."

Generally, female canaries do not sing as well as males. Many people are surprised to find the bird they thought was male turns out to be female when they sing little or not at all. If you want a canary specifically for its singing ability, make sure you have actually heard it sing. Keep in mind that a canary that is stressed, molting, in ill health, or is simply in a new environment may not sing. Hand-raised babies often make better pets, since they have been completely socialized with humans. Young birds are easier to tame and adapt readily to new environments and situations. New birds should be exposed to different events (young and old people, males and females, other pets, car trips, visits to the veterinarian, etc.) early in their life, to help them be calmer and better adjusted. Lively, alert birds that are not easily frightened are more likely to be healthy. After purchasing a new bird, you should have it examined by a veterinarian familiar with birds.

Veterinary care

Canaries require regular, routine veterinary health check-ups. Your veterinarian can perform a physical examination, grooming, and laboratory tests as needed. While canaries will require regular nail trimming, healthy canaries should not need beak trims, and most veterinarians do not advocate wing trimming for canaries, as they might for parrots. During semi-annual check-ups, your veterinarian can identify and address any health, nutritional, and maintenance issues. Veterinary check-ups help prevent disease and aid in the maintenance of a long lasting, healthy relationship between you and your bird.



The native, wild canary is greenish-yellow.

There are over 50 color types and combinations.

Common colors of domestically-bred canaries include yellow, orange, red factor, olive, white, brown, and black.


Same colors as the mature bird.

Immature birds may have plumper baby-like faces and less scaly skin on the feet.



Both sexes look the same from a distance.

Males may have a more prominent nipple-like protrusion of the vent (opening to rectum) that becomes more evident during breeding.

Females’ vents lay flat against their bodies.

Males tend to be better singers.


Difficult to sex before the males mature and begin singing.

General information:

Weight: Average 0.7-0.8 ounces (20-22 grams)

Size: Average 5-5.5 inches (12.5-14 cm) in length

Life span: 6-10 years (maximum reported is 20 years)

Diet: Canaries should be fed a pelleted diet formulated for canaries plus a small amount of fresh vegetables (minced very finely) and a limited amount of seed. See handout “Canaries – Feeding” for more information, and consult your veterinarian for specific recommendations for your bird.

Breeding: Given the right male to female ratio, a healthy diet, minimal stress, and the right light cycles, canaries breed readily in captivity.

Brood Size: 3-6 creamy white eggs will hatch in about 14 days; babies leave the nest in 2-3 weeks

Cage: Minimum size for a single canary is 1 ft x 1 ft x 2 ft long (30 cm x 30 cm x 60 cm). Larger cage sizes are preferable and are required to house more than one canary.

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