How to Keep Canaries

Complete beginners guide to keeping canaries as pets. Canaries have always been popular cage birds thanks to their bright colours, cheerful disposition and wonderful singing.

While in recent years they have perhaps become overshadowed by larger and more showy birds like budgerigars and lovebirds, there is still much to be said for the humble canary as a pet…

Cages for Canaries

Canaries are highly active birds. Given suitable space they will be constantly on the move, flying, hopping and exploring their quarters. Unlike “hook-billed” birds like budgies and cockatiels, canaries very rarely climb the bars of their cage, so suitable space for flight must be provided.

Canary cages should measure 60cm in length at an absolute minimum, though it should come as no surprise that the larger the cage is, the happier and healthier your canary is likely to be.

It isn’t just the dimensions of the cage which are of vital importance, but also the positioning of the perches. Most modern bird cages allow one to move the perches around the cage, and great care should be taken to ensure uninterrupted flight.

A long cage filled with dozens of perches is unlikely to lead to much flight. Instead, consider placing one perch at either end of the cage, then placing others much higher or lower in the cage so they do not interfere with flying.

Canaries are quite small birds, and can fit their heads through surprisingly small gaps. When selecting a canary cage, therefore, great care should be given to the spacing between bars. Try to focus your attention on those models which have been specifically designed with finches in mind, as cages for cockatiels and their kin may not be suitable.

Siting the Cage

Like all birds, canaries can be highly-strung, and easily become stressed if they feel exposed. Standard bird cages offer very little privacy for canaries, so it is important to consider how best to provide this in the home.

Here, there are a number of considerations. Firstly, it is good practise to place the canary cage in a quiet area of your home, rather than a noisy or busy area such as near the TV in your living room. The cage should also ideally be placed up against a wall or in the corner of a room. In this way your canary will learn that these areas are safe.

There is a reason why canaries were used by miners in the distant past to check for gas leaks; quite simply because canaries are quite sensitive birds. This means that thought should be given to the air they will be breathing, and the temperatures they will be exposed to.

Firstly, canaries should not be kept in the kitchen, where cooking smells can make for an uncomfortable environment. Secondly, you should avoid placing the cage anywhere where it will be exposed to drafts. This means avoiding windows, doors, or placing it down on the floor.

As you can see, there are many factors that should be carefully considered to ensure that your canaries have a happy, long and stress-free life while living in your home.

Feeding Canaries

Canaries feed primarily on seeds. Most pet shops sell bags of specialist canary mix, which makes a perfect base to their diet. This should be available at all times of the day. The seed can then be supplemented with a range of additional food stuffs, to ensure a varied diet is present.

Canaries tend to be particularly partial to millet sprays and carrot tops, though most human-safe fruits and vegetables can be fed in small quantities. Exceptions that should never be fed are rhubarb, onions and garlic.

Note that canaries can be quite messy birds, scattering food in all directions when eating. This means that providing food in specialist feeders tends to make more sense than using open food bowls, where the food will be thrown in all directions. Such covered feeders also ensure that the food is not polluted with dust or faeces from the daily activity of your birds.

Alongside this varied diet, there are three other dietary requirements to consider. The first of these is the provision of grit. Your canary will consume small quantities of grit, and store it in their gizzard. The grit will then be used in good time to grind up the seeds – which are eaten whole – into a useful form.

The second consideration is a piece of cuttlefish bone, which should be firmly clipped to the side of the cage (rather than left on the floor). Your canary will take small chunks out of the cuttlefish over time, providing not just a rich source of calcium in their diet but also helping to keep their beak neat and tidy.

The final consideration is a mineral block. These are typically pink in colour (as they are rich in iodine) and can simply be attached to the side of the cage.

Canaries for Singing

If you are looking to buy a canary to enjoy their rich singing then extra care should be taken when selecting a bird. The reason is simple; only the male birds sing. The females, in contrast, just chirp. While this is not an unpleasant sound, anyone seeking to enjoy a canary’s song will be disappointed with a female bird.

To make matters even more complex males and females look identical. Unlike zebra finches therefore, where the sexes are quite clearly different, telling male and female canaries apart can be far more difficult.

The trick is simply to watch them carefully. If you’re buying canaries from a pet shop or breeder try not to be in any hurry; you’ll want time to just sit and watch. If you want a singing bird you’ll need to be patient, and watch carefully, until you can identify a male with confidence.

Handling Canaries

Canaries never truly become “tame” as a budgie might. They might just about tolerate human interaction, but never seek it out or encourage it.

In addition canaries have quite fast metabolisms; they breath, digest and act with speed. This means that they can easily get stressed when conditions aren’t right for them.

These elements mean that canaries are not pets suitable for handling. If you do need to handle your canary, such as for health checks, this should be done quickly and efficiently, before they are released back into their cage.

For this reason, there are some disagreements about letting canaries out of their cage for exercise. Some authorities recommend letting your birds fly around a sealed room on a regular basis for additional exercise. However, as these birds get easily stressed, the process of catching them and returning them to their cage may not be the best of ideas. In addition, great care must be taken over “bird proofing” the room to ensure that your canary cannot injure itself while out exploring.

Mixing Canaries with Other Birds

Canaries are surprisingly confident cage birds considering their small stature. They may be kept safely with a range of other friendly birds, especially in aviary surroundings. Canaries can mix well with budgie or cockatiels for example. They may also do well with other finches, though extra care should be taken to ensure that your pugnacious canaries aren’t bullying smaller or less confident finch species.

Complete beginners guide to keeping canaries as pets.