How to Care for a Canary? Guide for New Owners

Translated by Nick R

If this is your first time with a pet bird, you are in the right place. Below, you’ll find all the information you need to adopt and take care of your canary. Let’s go!

Why adopt a canary? 

Apart from its beautiful singing and striking colors, these are the reasons to have it at home:

7 reasons to adopt a canary 

  1. They are cheerful and intelligent birds.
  2. Besides the parakeet, they are the most common domestic bird in homes.
  3. Due to its long domestication process, it is a bird adapted to captivity.
  4. It has a simple diet.
  5. Long life expectancy.
  6. Good with children.
  7. Excellent pets for living in small spaces such as apartments.

Get to know a little more about these amazing little animals…

Characteristics and behavior of canaries 

Scientific nameSerinus canaria domestica
Common nameCanary
Place of OriginCanarian Islands
HabitatSemi-arid and sub-humid regions
Size11,5cm to 23 cm
Weight15 g – 30 g
Average sexual and reproductive age7 months
Maximum life expectancy in captivity6 to 20 years

The domestic canary is a beautiful bird that has made humans fall in love with its singing and bright colors of yellow and orange.

For this reason, it has been artificially selected for centuries in captivity as a subspecies of the wild canary (Serinus canaria), which belongs evolutionarily to the passerine order of the Fringillidae family, a wild species endemic to Cape Verde, Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands; hence its name. There have also been found specimens in their natural habitat in places on the African continent.

Canaries are small birds with sizes ranging from 11.5 cm in breeds such as the Gloster, to 23 cm in breeds such as the Lancashire, a traditional UK canary (the largest breed). Normally, most breeds of canaries are around 13 or 14 cm in size and weigh between 15 and 30 grams.

Their life expectancy depends exclusively on the breed, although in captivity they can live on average between 6 and 15 years, some can live up to 20 years.

The wild behavior of canaries 

As I mentioned before, canaries have a wild origin like all domestic animals, and have evolved to adapt to certain environmental conditions.

Therefore, in its natural habitat, the canary can be found in:

  • Areas of low forest vegetation with the presence of pine trees.
  • Areas of scrub, heather, broom, hedges.
  • Semi-arid lands such as Madeira Island where vegetation is not abundant.

They are not migratory birds so they remain in a certain territory throughout their life cycle and are very territorial birds.

In addition, they are social birds, and live in groups and gather in flocks to feed, either searching for seeds on the ground or at high altitudes feeding on fruits, buds and buds of trees.

One of the most characteristic features of the canary’s behavior is its song. This beautiful melody emitted from its inflated throat as if it were an opera singer; so pleasant to our ears, was not designed by nature for our enjoyment, but functionally evolved for communication.

In addition, its song is the male’s way of courting the female for reproduction. The canary is fit for mating after it reaches 7 months of age, usually in the spring, when the day is 12 hours long and there is an abundance of food. During this season, the male will sing and sing until he convinces the female that he is the one.           

The domestic behavior of  canaries

In captivity, your canary’s habits will largely depend on you. 

Although it is a bird that can take care of itself as long as it has the necessary accessories, your care will be essential. Therefore, it is very important that you learn from its behavior in its natural habitat, described above, and adapt it to the conditions of the domestic environment, for example, in terms of its spacing, mating seasons, and feeding habits, as well as its reaction to certain stimuli such as contact with you and the members of your household.

Canaries are a bit shy 

It’s best not to invade their space abruptly or you may scare them away. You should gain their trust gradually and you”ll see how friendly they can be.

They can become territorial animals, so avoid having two or more males in the same cage during the mating season because they may fight for food and perches (branches). However, this does not mean that they like to be alone, on the contrary, they can be grouped in groups of up to 30 individuals.

They need a female 

The importance of not leaving him alone also relates to the mating season, which is in spring. You can let it happen naturally with natural light in this season.

However, if you keep your friend in captivity under artificial lighting, you need to gradually increase the hours of light; starting with 10 hours at the end of winter and then increasing by 15 minutes weekly for 3 months until you reach 12 hours. Lastly, move the female away from the male so that our gallant can make an effort to sing.

If you are looking for a quiet pet, the canary is not your pet 

Keep in mind that especially males like to sing all the time (I’m not exaggerating), so if you want a singer in your house and this doesn’t bother you, the canary is your ideal pet. I reiterate this because if you are like me, having scarce hours of sleep and I love to hear them sing, excellent! Otherwise, it won’t be very pleasant.

Facts are important and must be given…

What you didn’t know about canaries 

It may be one of the most common birds, but surely the following facts were not known to you. Did you know that…?

The song of canaries is a much more complex process than we thought

It’s not only instinct-driven sound patterns but there is a learning process from the parents to the chicks. Both males and females learn by listening to their parents and the environment, which allows males to fine-tune their singing and females to fine-tune their hearing to define their preferences.

Studies have shown similarities to human language acquisition.

Many of us think that all canaries are singing canaries, but they are not.

That’s right, canaries can be classified in 3 ways, grouping different breeds.

  1. Singing canaries, which are the most known and valued for their ability to learn complex melodies. Example: Spanish timbrado canary.
  2. Canaries by color, which as its name says, are classified depending on the color of their plumage. There are lipochrome canaries (white, yellow, and red) and melanic canaries (black, agate, green, bromine, brown). Example: red canary.
  3. Canaries of posture, also called design or shape canaries, which are classified according to certain morphological features in their plumage (curly, tufted, smooth). Example: canary giboso.

Curious fact 

Canaries’ singing has attracted so much attention from experts that they have been widely used in several scientific disciplines such as neurology, in research on neurogenesis, and also as a model species in discoveries related to the functioning of the vertebrate brain.

Ideal housing and space for your canary 

They are very small birds that adapt very well to captivity. However, you must take into account the suitability of their cage since it will determine the quality of their care and will ensure their good health.

The ideal environment at home for canaries 

  • Your home should be a shelter rather than a prison for your canary. Adapt a space that offers tranquility and relaxation, in addition to placing his cage in a place where he can enjoy some natural light, without direct sunlight and fresh air.
  • In summer or sunnier seasons in tropical areas, it’s really important that you take him out to a balcony or open space where he can enjoy the sun, obviously with enough shade. However, you should avoid drafts because they are very harmful to birds and it can catch a cold.
  • The hours of light and darkness are very important for the canary as a measure of molt and reproduction. Therefore, even if it is not outside in the open air as in the wild, its instinct will lead it to seek to establish fixed schedules for this process. So, provide him with a good light/shade balance so he doesn’t go crazy trying to distinguish when to molt and reproduce, which will help him maintain a good quality of life in tune with his nature.
  • As evening falls, he will slow down and relax, so just cover the top of his cage with a blanket.

Cage facilities 


If you want your canaries to live calmly and comfortably, you must provide them with a spacious and wide cage, especially in width, so that your friends can work on their physical condition. Keep in mind their cage will be their home, their gym and a great part of their life will be developed there.

If your canary or canaries don’t have the adequate space, you can cause them a lot of stress and discomfort, putting their health at risk and reducing their life expectancy.

Basic accessories 

In the bird accessories market, you can find plastic perches, which are not bad, but they are very basic. Therefore, my recommendation is that you get wooden perches, either natural or purchased in the market. Wood gives them a better grip, exercises the legs, and wears down the nails.

Your feathered friend will need a feeder as a food bowl, a drinking bowl for drinking water, and a bathtub for bathing and cooling off. Additionally, put sand in the bottom of the cage to maintain a clean and moisture-free environment.

Toys for canaries 

For canaries it’s of utmost importance to have additional accessories in their cage, especially toys since they are very active and get bored easily. Remember to keep the following toys in their cage:

  • Swings for small birds.
  • Bells.
  • Mirror with bell.
  • Rolling toys.
  • Mini frog (bells with a frog to peck at).

Basic care for your canary

There are 5 main elements in the basic care of your canary:

Cage cleaning 

Cleanliness is a canary’s obsession and should become your priority to avoid serious diseases in the future.

Prepare a non-harmful natural disinfectant and thoroughly clean the branches, feeders, drinkers, swings, bottom, and bars of the cage once a week.

Also, don’t forget to pick up the leftover food before it rots inside the cage every time it is necessary and change all the food once a week.

Bathing is essential for your canary 

In case your little friend doesn’t like to bathe himself, you’ll have to wash his plumage regularly so that he doesn’t get dirty and prevent mites; a bath 2 to 4 times a week will be enough. In addition, try to clean its cloaca well so that it does not become clogged. The best way is to clean the dirty areas with warm water and a sponge.

Plumage molting in canaries 

Canaries molt their plumage once a year and it lasts about eight weeks, which is quite exhausting for your little friend and you’ll notice that they stop singing.

During this period, it’s very important to bathe them daily and to fill their bathtub twice a day with warm, clean water.

Your canary will need a “clawicure” 

Normally, their nails are filed naturally with their daily activity in perches and so on. But, you have to trim their nails periodically, when they are long and you notice that it is difficult for them to walk as they could trip over their own nails, deform their legs or get caught in the cage and hurt themselves. This procedure should be done backlit so that while you cut the nails you can see the internal blood vessels that you should not touch.

Take care of your canary’s beak 

Canaries usually have a very large upper beak. Therefore, if you want your canary to continue eating comfortably, you should file the beak very carefully without affecting its small tongue or Ask for the help of a veterinarian to help you with this care or to advise you on how to do it.

Healthy food for canaries 

The main and infallible food for our feathered diner should be canaryseed, representing 65% of its diet, since it contains seeds rich in carbohydrates. You can also incorporate the other 35% of the diet by mixing canaryseed with other seeds that offer a good supply of proteins such as:

  • Negrillo
  • Hemp
  • Reddish turnip rape
  • Canola
  • Oats
  • Hemp

A canary’s “daily bread” basically consists of a mixture of seeds; yet, apart from the seeds, our little friend can eat vegetables such as:

  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli.
  • Brussels sprouts.
  • Vegetables such as grated carrots.
  • Fruits such as apples, pears, and oranges.

Our friend should always have enough food and fresh water to drink.

Prohibited foods for canaries 

Since processed foods, sugar, avocado, garlic and onion are harmful to canaries, they are totally forbidden!

Basic health care for canaries 

In this section you’ll learn about the care you must give your canary in order to keep him healthy in the face of invisible threats.

We want you to be fully aware of these afflictions so that you can work on prevention and not just sit on your hands before sending your canary to the vet. So, I reiterate! Hygiene in his cage is fundamental if you don’t want him to get sick.

Most common diseases in canaries 

Health ProblemsSymptoms and CausesWhat to do?
CatarrhOne of the most common and deadly diseases in canaries. You can tell it has a cold because the crop will become soft and the skin will turn purple.This disease is short-lived and if you don’t go to an expert urgently, it could cause the bird’s death. The best way to prevent it is to give quality food and maintain good hygiene in the feeder.  
ColdRespiratory ailments such as colds are among the diseases to which they are prone. One of the most obvious symptoms is tiredness, you will see your winged friend sleeping much more than usual.Keep the cage away from strong winds. You can offer first aid by placing a lamp near the cage to provide warmth.  
Avian poxvirusFowl pox, also known as diphtherovirus or canarypox, is a deadly viral disease so I make a special call for prevention. When it’s too late, the beak and legs will be full of pockmarks and in the worst cases, it will have respiratory difficulty.In this case, to protect your little friend you must vaccinate him against smallpox because there is no cure for this disease.
Egg retention or poor layingIt affects females, causing one of the eggs to get stuck in the uterus or cloaca. You’ll notice that she is suffering from this disease because her tummy will be swollen and very weak.You must take her immediately to the veterinarian before it is too late.
AcariosisMites can normally attack the plumage, but in some cases also the lungs. They are evident in the plumage and our friend will remain clean, as you know they are very clean. If you do not want to fail as a caregiver, keep the mites away from your pet.  If you don’t want to fail as a caregiver, keep mites away from your pet by keeping its cage clean and bathing it regularly.

5 tips to know if my canary is in good health 

1. Look at its plumage and make sure that its feathers are NOT hollowed out.

2. A canary is lively, remember that they are very active. So, if you see it with uncoordinated movements and stop singing, take it to the vet.

3. Watch carefully how much your canary sleeps; canaries do not sleep during the day.

4. Turn on the alarms if your canary has an unbalanced diet or diarrhea.

5. Pay attention to its breathing, if it whistles, sneezes, coughs or breathes with its beak open; it is a bad symptom.

Where can I buy a canary? 

Buying a canary 

Before buying a canary you should ask yourself: Am I prepared to take care of a canary all its life? And what this implies.

Once you decide that you are, there is no turning back, you must take care of it until the end of its days. With that clarification, comes the advice.

I advise you to buy your canaries in stores specializing in birds since in these places they receive the proper care. Then, you just have to choose one of their different varieties.

It’s advisable to buy your canary between November and March, which is when they have already molted their feathers and the adults and chicks are singing at the top of their lungs.

Breeding canaries 

First of all, it is recommended to breed them in groups (up to 30 canaries), obviously, taking into account the size of the aviary. The space should allow them to fly freely.

If there are more females than males, so much the better! This way there will be no problems between rough boys.

During the mating season the food supply must be constant and of good quality, both to the parents and to the chicks, which will help the young to grow up healthy and begin to form their plumage.

We have reached the end of our conversation, I hope you liked it. Now that you know about canaries, adopt yours.