In the 16th century, a historian praised the canary as "the bird of sweetest song," and today, the canary is the world's most popular pet bird. Canaries are grouped into three basic categories: colored canaries, which exhibit vividly hued plumage; type canaries, which have at least one unusual feature, such as an arched back; and song canaries, which are prized for their beautiful voices.
The healthiest, best-looking canaries receive consistent care and attention. House yours in the largest cage you can afford, or try building one yourself. The height of the cage is less important than its width; your canary's home should be wide enough to allow it to exercise its wings. Be sure the cage is outfitted with at least two perches that are 3/8 inch to 3/4 inch in diameter, a concrete perch to help the bird keep its talons groomed, and a cuttlebone to provide minerals.
Canaries need a good-quality seed mix, which should include hemp, rape, flaxseed, canary seed, and oats. You should also feed it a bird charcoal mixed with oyster shells; an egg food mixture; thinly sliced fresh fruit such as oranges, apples, or peaches; and greens, which can be clipped to the side of the cage. While not a good source of nutrients, a millet spray will entertain your bird as it works to pluck out the seeds.
Canaries also need a constant supply of fresh water with a daily vitamin supplement, and their water dishes should be washed out daily with soap; a good rule of thumb is to keep your bird's water and food dishes as clean as your own. Dirty dishes are a primary source of bird illnesses.
It's also important that the bird be kept away from its droppings, another source of illness. Line the tray under its cage with newspaper or dried, crushed corncobs, and wash the perches and the base weekly. Remember to keep the cage at eye level; the bird will feel more secure if it can interact with you from above your head. Because heat rises, don't hang the cage too high.
Each summer or fall, your canary will molt, but it may also undergo molting if its environment is too warm or relies on too much artificial light. This faux molting is difficult to stop once it begins (it also prevents your canary from singing -- sometimes permanently), so mist your bird with water daily; use a molting lotion, and change your bird's living conditions to address any molting problems.
The blueprint for the cage used in this segment was from the discontinued Catalog for Living. We found 1/2-inch galvanized sparrow netting from Louis Page Company (800-225-0508).
Marc Morrone, pet expert
Parrots of the World