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Canary

Canary Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

 

This care sheet covers a variety of canary species, including: 

  • Yellow canaries 
  • Red-factor canaries
  • Variegated canaries

Overview 

Serinus canarius domesticus

Canaries are well known for their beauty and varied colored feathers. Originally from the Canary Islands, there are now more than 200 breeds of canaries that vary in appearance, feather color and song. Male canaries are loved for their operatic-like singing. Canaries do well when kept singly or in opposite-sex pairs.

Typical canary appearance & behavior

  • Male canaries are known for their singing; females typically chirp rather than sing
  • Male canaries sing best after 6 months of age, when they are sexually mature, as they sing to attract females
  • Singing canary breeds (such as American singers and German rollers) have been bred to sing specific types of songs, while color-bred canaries (such as yellow canaries and red-factor canaries) have been bred to produce specific feather colors. Type-canaries are bred for certain body types (such as the mop-like tuft of feathers on the heads of Gloster canaries)
  • Male canaries sing to woo females during breeding season. They typically sing during the fall, winter and spring and do not sing when they are molting in summer
  • While canaries can be trained to be hand-tame, they are generally appreciated more for watching and listening and not for handling
  • Canaries use seasonal cues such as day length to determine when to breed (and therefore when to sing most). This behavior can be problematic when trying to encourage pet canaries to sing, as they are typically exposed to all-day periods of artificial lighting
  • While canaries can live happily with others, they can be territorial and may attack other canaries who threaten their territory, especially during breeding time. Therefore, it is best to house canaries—especially male canaries— individually

 

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Beginner
Average Life Span Up to 10+ years with proper care
Average Adult Size 3-4 inches long, head to end of tail
Diet Omnivore
Minimum Habitat Size 18”W x 14”D x 18”H for one canary

Habitat 

Habitat size

A habitat approximately 18"W x 14"D x 18"H, with metal bars spaced no greater than 3/8" apart so that their head doesn’t get caught, makes a good home for one canary, although it is best to provide the largest habitat possible. A habitat large enough for flight is ideal. 

Building your habitat

Canaries acclimate well to average household temperatures that do not fall below 65°F or exceed 80°F. Be cautious of extreme temperature changes. The habitat should be securely locking, off the floor, in a well-lit area, away from drafts, and safe from over-inquisitive predatory pets such as cats and dogs.

  • Perches - Should be ¼ to ½ inch in diameter. A variety of perches of different diameters helps prevent pressure sores from developing on the soles of the feet. Sandpaper covers on perches are abrasive and are not recommended. 
  • Bedding - A metal grate over the droppings tray enables waste to fall away from the bird’s feet and helps keep the habitat cleaner. The tray in the habitat bottom should be lined with habitat paper or other paper-based substrate to ease cleanup and minimize dust exposure
  • Food dishes - Provide separate food dishes for dry food, fresh food and water. To avoid contamination, do not place food or water containers under perches 
  • Birdbaths - Provide a birdbath or dish that is large enough for bathing. Fill with lukewarm water 
  • Enrichment – While canaries do not chew on toys the same way that parrots do, they do require mental stimulation and enjoy certain kinds of toys. When providing toys, ensure that there are no habitat parts or toys with lead, zinc or lead-based paints or galvanized parts, as these can cause serious medical issues if ingested by your bird. Suggested toys include:
    • Mirrors - Some canaries enjoy them, while others may be afraid of them and attack them. Your bird may become territorial if they think they’re sharing their habitat with another bird  
    • Leather and fabric - Most canaries enjoy chewing on leather or fabric strips. These are generally safe, as long as the fabric doesn’t fray and form threads that can get caught around legs or toes 
    • Bells - Canaries typically love to use their beaks to tap on toys adorned with small bells to make sounds 
    • Swings/ladders - Canaries generally enjoy swinging on small swings and hopping up and down on small wood or plastic ladders
  • Lighting - Birds need exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light to make vitamin D in their skin and absorb dietary calcium. UV light is filtered out by glass in windows, so placing the habitat next to a window is not sufficient. UV lights designed specifically for birds should shine on the habitat 10 to12 hours per day and be changed every six months as their potency wanes

Cleaning your habitat

  • Spot-clean the habitat daily, removing discarded food and droppings on perches. Thoroughly wash and dry food bowls daily. Replace substrate or habitat liner weekly or more often as needed, especially if the habitat houses more than one bird. Regularly clean and disinfect the habitat and perches by:
    • Moving pet into a secure place (such as another habitat or travel carrier) in a separate air space
    • Washing habitat, perches and toys with a bird habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution, being sure to wash off all trace amounts of habitat cleaner or bleach so there is no residue to which birds could be exposed
      • Do not use any cleaning agents around the bird, as birds’ respiratory tracts are very sensitive to anything aerosolized, and cleaning product fumes can be harmful
    • Thoroughly drying habitat and décor before placing anything back into habitat
    • Returning bird to the habitat when the habitat is dry and free of all cleaning product odors
  • Replace perches, dishes and toys when worn or damaged. Rotate new toys into the habitat regularly to help prevent boredom

Feeding

What to feed 

A well-balanced canary diet consists of:

  • Nutritionally complete and balanced pelleted food formulated for canaries making up 60 to 70% of their diet
  • Fresh vegetables and fruit, including bell peppers, leafy greens, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and green beans, as well as apples, melon, grapes, kiwi, banana, papaya and mango. All fresh produce must be shredded into small pieces to be manipulated by tiny canary beaks
  • Clean, fresh water, changed daily
  • Small amounts of seed. While nutritionally incomplete, seeds contain fat that is important in the production of hormones that drive mating behaviors such as singing. Canaries in nature eat a variety of different kinds of grass seed, including niger, canary, hemp, linseed and rapeseed. Pet canaries should be fed a small amount of a variety of seeds, but seed should not be the mainstay of their diet
  • Red-factor canaries need specialized food containing beta-carotene (a red-orange pigment) that is critical to maintaining the color of their feathers
  • During breeding and egg-laying, canaries require higher amounts of protein in their diets, which can be provided by offering commercially available “egg food,” small amounts of cooked eggs, or freeze-dried or live insects such as crickets, mealworms and waxworms two to three times per week.

Things to remember when feeding your canary:

  • Fresh food and water should always be available
  • Vegetables and fruits not eaten within 10 hours should be discarded before they spoil
  • Millet spray can be offered as an occasional treat a few times per week
  • Do not feed birds avocado, fruit seeds, chocolate, caffeine or alcohol, as these are toxic and can cause illness or death
  • Although birds are social and like to eat when their flock-mates eat, never share food from your plate or your mouth, as people have microorganisms in their mouths that can cause serious illness in birds
  • Do not feed canaries undigestible grit or gravel, as these are required only by birds who ingest seeds whole, including the hulls, and need to grind up whole seeds in their stomachs; canaries discard the hulls as they ingest seeds. Canaries can be offered digestible grit such as oyster shell or cuttlebone as a source of calcium when they are egg-laying
  • Treats should not exceed 10% of their diet

Care

  • Bird pet parents should avoid nonstick cookware and appliances, as they can release colorless, odorless fumes when heated that can kill birds once they inhale them 
  • While male canaries often fight when housed in the same habitat, housing them in separate habitats in the same room where they can see and hear each other may stimulate them to sing more to compete with each other
  • Canaries housed singly may initially be skittish when approached by their pet parents but can become comfortable and bonded to them over time
  • Canaries typically enjoy bathing. Provide clean, lukewarm water in a birdbath or bowl that is separate from their drinking water to allow daily bathing. Remove the water when birds are done
  • Birds need regular grooming, including nail trimming, every few weeks to months. Nails should be trimmed by a qualified person to prevent injury to the bird. Canaries should not have their wings clipped

Where to buy 

Canaries are available for purchase at your local Petco location. Please call ahead to check availability.

Supplies

Habitat mates 

Do not house male canaries together, as they will fight. Male canaries housed with females may not sing as much as males housed alone. Canaries can be housed singly and bond closely with their pet parents. Different types of birds should not be housed together.

Health 

Signs of a healthy bird

  • Active, alert and sociable
  • Eats, drinks and passes stool throughout the day
  • Dry nares and bright, dry eyes
  • Supple skin on feet and legs and smooth beak
  • Clean, dry vent
  • Smooth, well-groomed feathers

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)

  • Fluffed, plucked or soiled feathers
  • Sitting on floor of habitat for an extended period of time
  • Wheezing, sneezing or coughing
  • Open-mouthed/labored breathing and/or tail bobbing
  • Regurgitation/vomiting
  • Runny, bloody or discolored stools or no stool production
  • Straining to pass droppings
  • Favoring one foot when not sleeping
  • Eye or nasal discharge
  • Red or swollen eyes 
  • Crusty skin around face and feet
  • Persistently closed eyes/sleeping during the day
  • Loss of appetite

 

Common canary health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Diarrhea Fecal portion of stool (versus solid white urine portion or clear liquid urine) is not formed. Multiple causes, from diet change to bacterial or viral infection to internal parasites. Consult your veterinarian and ensure correct diet.
Lice or feather mites Restlessness, scratching, feather picking. Consult your veterinarian and clean habitat.
Mites(scaly face and leg disease) White crusts on eyes, beak, legs and feet. Typically not itchy Consult your veterinarian.
Avian pox Swellings or dry, crusty scabs in mouth or on eyes and face. May also cause difficulty breathing and sudden death without any lesions. Isolate bird and consult your veterinarian.

 

FAQs

  • How long do canaries live? Canaries can live up to 10+ years with proper care.
  • What do canaries eat? Canaries eat a nutritionally complete pelleted diet made for canaries with smaller amounts of shredded fresh vegetables and fruit, plus a variety of small-sized seeds. Treats should not exceed 10% of their diet.
  • Can canaries talk? Canaries do not speak recognizable words but are known for their operatic-like singing.

Additional care sheets

 

Notes & sources 

Ask a Pet Care Center store employee about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee. 

Because all canaries are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as chlamydiosis, always wash your hands before and after handling your canary and/or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of diseases. Work with your avian veterinarian on protocols to treat your bird should the bird contract infections such as chlamydiosis.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing and/or caring for a canary and should consider having a pet other than a canary. 

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about birds and disease.

The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.