Few birds are as famous for their color and song as the canary, or as easy to keep as a pet. Measuring 4 3/4 to 8 inches long, canaries live between 10 and 15 years, and their plumage ranges from the famous yellow through yellow-green and orange to red. They're friendly to humans but aggressive with other birds, so suit solitary living. Only male canaries can perform their celebrated song.
Canaries love to fly in open spaces, and need a cage at least 24 inches wide and 18 inches tall, with bars no more than a half inch apart. Canaries fly across, not up and down, so fix at least two softwood perches, three-eighths to three-quarters of an inch wide, at either end of the cage. Lining the bottom of the cage with newspaper makes it easier to clean. Canaries' cages should be placed in a light, airy position at least 3 feet from direct sunlight and drafts, about 6 feet off the floor. Placing the cage close to a wall helps canaries feel secure.
Canaries' health benefits from a wide-ranging diet and continuous access to water. Canaries can't survive more than 24 hours without water, so fix a water bottle to the side of their cage and change the water daily. Commercial canary seed and pellets are available, and are vitamin-coated to supply essential nutrients, but canaries also benefit from additional healthy foods such as dandelions, spinach, celery, apples, oranges and grapes, cut into small pieces. Canaries eat about a half a tablespoon of seed a day. Spreading it out thinly in a wide dish helps prevent seed being covered by seed shells. A cuttlebone is essential for calcium and a strong beak and bones.
Canaries' care needs are simple. Keep their cages clean by changing the cage paper and cleaning their food bowl daily. Once a week, wash the cage throughout, including bars and perches, with warm soapy water or bird cage disinfectant. Dry with a clean cloth. Canaries should have their cages covered at night to maintain their natural sleeping patterns and protect them from drafts. Fumes, such as smoke from cigarettes or scented candles, are bad for bird health. Never cook with Teflon or other non-stick pans, as their fumes can kill. Canaries who are too cold puff their feathers up for long periods. If they're too hot, they hold their wings away from their body and pant. Canaries need to have their toenails clipped. Your vet can show you how this is done.
Often content to fly back and forth for most of the day, canaries can also play in their cages with one or two simple toys, changed weekly for variety. A cage cluttered with toys limits their freedom to fly. Another activity canaries enjoy is bathing in a shallow dish of lukewarm water or wet dandelion leaves. Young male canaries learn to copy sounds they hear regularly, such as a doorbell. If you plan on letting your bird have exercise outside his cage, you will need to train him, which takes considerable time and patience. When handling canaries, the bird's back should lie against the palm of the hand, with thumb and forefinger gently holding the sides of his head.
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A graduate of Leeds University, Jenny Green completed Master of Arts in English literature in 1998 and has been writing about travel, gardening, science and pets since 2007. Green's work appears in Diva, Whole Life Times, Listverse, Earthtimes, Lamplight, Stupefying Stories and other websites and magazines.