Basic Information Sheet: Canary

Canary – Serinus spp.


Natural history

Originating from the Canary Islands, the canary’s song captured the attention of Europeans, who started importing these birds in the late 1500’s. Although breeding for desirable traits has produced many variations, the wild canary is a small, green bird. Free-ranging populations are strong and are found in a wide variety of habitats, which is why the canary was placed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List category of “Least Concern”.


Class: Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Fringillidae

Serinus canaria

S. c. domestica – Domestic or song canary


There are over 200 breeds of canary. Canaries are bred for color (e.g., red factor canary), song (e.g., the Waterslager, German roller, American singer), and form (e.g., frills, crested, or shape groupings). Most canaries sold in pet stores are not of any specific breed, and are often called “common canaries”.

Physical description

  • Full plumage is seen in fall and winter when mature feathers are in and birds are ready to mate.
  • Color canaries are divided into a melanin group (brown, black, etc.) and lipochrome group (white, red, and yellow).

Sexual dimorphism

  • Canaries normally sing during the fall, winter, and spring. Most canaries stop singing while they molt during the summer months.
  • Males have a more melodious song.


  • Canaries are granivores. The diet should be supplemented with fresh fruits, vegetables, and a protein source like egg food.
  • Color additives from commercial products or a diet high in pigmented foods added to influence feather color, especially for red factors.
  • White canaries have a higher dietary vitamin A requirement.
  • All-seed diets are deficient in vitamins, mineral, and protein including calcium and vitamin A.
  • Canaries do not require grit, however they should be offered a cuttlebone.


  • Canaries are mostly a “hands-off” pet, although they can recognize their owner.
  • Provide a large cage measuring at least 18 in (46 cm) long and wide.
  • Cage bar spacing should be approximately 3/8 in (1 cm).
  • Perch diameter should range from 53/8 to 3/4 in (1-1.9 cm) in diameter.
  • Provide a bird bath at least twice a week.


  • Canaries are lively birds.
  • During summer molting, singing may decrease or stop in canaries.

Normal physiologic values

Temperature 108°F 42°C
Resting heart rate (beats/min) Approximately 274
Respiration (breaths/min) 60-80
Body weight (g) 12-30
Mean life span (years) 6-12, up to 15
Mean number of incubation days 12-14
Average number of eggs laid (clutch size) Type canaries (most common canary that can be identified by their shape or appearance) 4 eggs
Color canaries 4-7 eggs
Fledgling Age (days) 14
Weaning Age (days) 21
Puberty (years) < 1
Food intake Up to 30% of body weight (BW)/day Basal metabolic rate 65% higher than non-passerines.
Water intake 250-300 ml/kg BW/day May die if water withheld for >48 hours.
Target environmental temperature About 75°F (24°C) Canaries can be acclimated to colder temperatures.
*Routine avian exam does not include measuring body temperature

Anatomy and physiology

Song canaries utilize both bronchial ends of the syrinx to produce two sounds at once. Canaries share the following anatomic traits with other members of Order Passeriformes:

  • Very high metabolic rate.
  • 7 air sacs: the cranial thoracic air sacs are fused to the single median clavicular air sac.
  • Neopulmo and paleopulmo divisions of lungs well developed.
  • There is no communication between left and right nasal sinuses.
  • An anisodactylous foot well-developed for perching: one toe (the hallux) is behind and the other three toes are in front.
  • The spleen is oblong, not spherical.
  • The ceca are rudimentary or vestigial.


  • “Lights out/perches out”: To catch up a canary, place the cage on the examination table. Turn the lights off and catch up the bird quickly before it acclimates to the darkness.
  • Restrain the canary’s head between the index and middle fingers. Use your thumb and little finger to gently control the body.


  • Using a 27-to 30-gauge needle and a 0.5 or 1.0 mL syringe, draw blood from the right jugular vein. Collection of up to 1% of body weight is acceptable in the healthy patient.
  • The predominate white blood cell in passerines is the lymphocyte.

Preventive medicine

  • Obtain a complete history and perform a thorough annual physical examination.
  • Ensure proper nutrition and husbandry.
  • Recommend quarantine of newly acquired birds.
  • Perform additional testing for select diseases based on history and physical exam findings
  • Determine origin and history of newly acquired sick birds to contain and prevent further spread of disease.
  • Poxvirus immunization is indicated for canaries housed outdoors.


Intramuscular (IM) Reasonably safe, most accurate.
Inject middle of muscle mass.
Ideal location –Pectoral muscle mass
Subcutaneous (SQ) Large volumes can be injected, poor absorption. Location:  Inguinal or precrural fold
Intravenous Effective, narrow safety range. Right jugular vein

Important medical conditions

Infectious Diseases

  • Atoxoplasmosis (non-specific signs of illness, diarrhea, neurologic signs, death)
  • Avian gastric yeast (M. ornithogaster)
  • Chlamydophilosis
  • Coccidiosis (Isospora canaria)
  • E. coli diarrhea in nestlings
  • Enterococcus faecalis (tracheitis, pneumonia, air sacculitis)
  • Listeriosis (neurologic disease)
  • Mycoplasmosis (respiratory disease)
  • Paramyxovirus-3 (poor condition, CNS signs especially torticollis)
  • Poxvirus (dry, wet, and septicemic forms)
  • Salmonellosis (granulomatous enteritis)
  • Toxoplasmosis (acute respiratory disease, chronic neurologic signs,)
  • Yersiniosis (peracute mortality)

Non-Infectious conditions

  • Cataracts
  • Feather cysts
  • Male baldness

**Login to view references**



Carpenter J (ed). Exotic Animal Formulary. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO; Elsevier Saunders; 2005. Pp. 278-279.

Harrison GJ, Lightfoot TL (eds). Clinical Avian Medicine. Palm Beach, FL: Spix Publishing; 2006. 583-585, 879-911. Print.

Mitchell M, Tully TN (eds). Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2008. 250, 262, 276. Print.

Morgan, Diane. Bird Care. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications, 2005. 13, 14. Print.

Lafeber Company. The Canary. Lafeber Pet Birds Web site. Available at: Accessed May 16, 2011.

Maslin WR, Latimer KS. Atoxoplasmosis in canary fledglings: severe lymphocytic enteritis with preferential parasitism of B lymphocytes. Avian Dis 53(3):473-476, 2009.

Morgan D. Bird Care. Neptune City, NJ: TFH Publications; 2005. Pp. 13, 14.

O’Malley B. Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species. Edinburgh: Elsevier Saunders; 2005. Pp. 156-157.

Tully TN. Birds. In: Mitchell M, Tully TN (eds). Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2008. Pp. 270-271, 276.

Tully TN, Lawton MPC, Dorrestein GM. Avian Medicine. Oxford; Butterworth-Heinemann; 2000. Pp. 14-15, 26-34, 43-51.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Canary. January 7, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at