Caring for Your Canary

October 24, 2012

Canaries are noted for their melodic singing and gentle natures. These popular pet birds are small and thus require less space than the larger species. In addition to their song, potential buyers are often attracted to their beautiful plumage. Many varieties of canaries are available. When selecting a canary, it is important to buy from a reputable shop or breeder and purchase a young bird. Youngsters are more adaptable to new environments and new people. Select a bird that is active and has normal healthy plumage and a bright expression.

Common types of canaries include Harz, American Singers, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Scotch Fancy, and Border Canary. Songs vary between the different types. At the time of purchase, have a veterinarian examine your new opera star, and at that time make sure you become familiar with all of the important husbandry and preventive health care practices you will need to know, to help your bird live a healthy, happy, and long life. Some veterinarians specialize in caring for pet birds and exotic species in their practice and this type of veterinary hospital is an ideal choice for your bird. Many small animal hospitals will handle routine bird appointments, but will refer you to a certified avian specialist for involved medical or surgical cases. Your bird should see a veterinarian once a year for professional evaluation and preventive health care. Dr. Robin Roscoe, a certified avian specialist at Linwood Animal Hospital in Ontario also suggests that clients take time to review the Association of Avian Veterinarian bird health pamphlets, which are available from your veterinarian or online at the AAV association website (

The special relationship between canaries and humans goes back to the early days of mining. The old saying "canary in a coal mine" refers to the practice of miners taking canaries into the mines. If the air quality was poor, canaries would show adverse signs first, and so they became trusted as a sentinel species to ensure safe working conditions for people below ground in the era before modern ventilation systems were invented.

On average, canaries live about seven years, though lifespan varies considerably between different types and can range from five to 20 years. At minimum, cages should be 60 cm x 60 cm, and at least that height. Diet varies somewhat between the different types of canaries, and your source breeder or veterinarian can help you understand what detailed feeding program is best suited to your bird's needs. Mixed seeds or crumble with supplemental green food and small amounts of other sources of protein, starch and vitamins, along with a calcium source such as oyster shell should be fed. Water should be provided at all times and changed frequently to keep it fresh.

Important things to know about canaries:

  • Chocolate, avocado and coffee beans are toxic
  • Canaries should not be housed in a kitchen area. Cooking fumes, especially vapours released from frying in non-stick pans are very toxic. Any smoke such as side stream cigarette smoke or that from baking is dangerous. You don't want your bird to have to be a "canary in a coal mine" if your kitchen air quality drops, which it frequently will during meal preparation.
  • Place your canary near a window for entertainment and sunshine; this may help encourage singing
  • Avoid placing anything in the cage containing lead or galvanized metal (zinc); these elements are toxic
  • Birds often hide signs of illness so take note of any subtle changes in your canary’s health or behaviour
  • Avoid sandpaper perches - use natural wood if possible
  • Provide weekly baths (or daily, if the birds enjoy bath time)
  • Elevate food and water dishes to help keep them clean; avoid placing them below perches
  • Canaries are easily stressed by temperature changes so avoid drafts.