The Canary is so-called from the islands
from which it was apparently first brought. Linnaeus classified the
canary as the
Fringilla canaria. Later 19th century naturalists
classified this bird as Serinus canarius. Now in modern 21st
Century times the Canary is the Canaria species within the Serinus
genus in the Fringillidae (Finch) family|
This finch has long
been one of the most common cage birds throughout the world. It abounds
not only in the islands whence it has its name, but in the neighbouring
groups of the Madeiras and Azores. It seems to have been imported into
Europe very early in the sixteenth century. Turner in 1544 speaks of the
birds "quas Anglia aues canarias uocat"; a statement confirmed by the poet
Gascoigne, who died in 1577, and speaks (Complaint of Philomene,
32) of "Canara byrds". Gesner had not seen one in 1555, but he gave an
account of it (Ornithol. p, 234), communicated to him by Raphael
Seiler of Augsburg, under the name of Suckeruogele.
Wild Canaries are olive-green coloured, with dark
brown mottling on top, and greeny yellow below. The canary
lives mainly of seeds and insects. It has a small firm beak with
which the bird can peel seeds. Eating grit can help the canary's digestion
of these. The song of the canary can be very varied. It is generally
the males who sings extended songs, which it uses particuarly as a demarcation
of territory. It can learn and mimic the song of other birds.
The canary works particularly hard in in Spring collecting materials with
which to build its nest. It generally lays three up to five eggs.
All of the the brightly colored birds that are
kept in captivity have had their colours strengthened by careful breeding.
Not only coloration, but also the stature and build of canaries have been
changed in this way. The change must have begun early, for Hernandez,
who died in 1587, described the bird (Hist. Anim. Nov. Hisp. cap.
xxviii. p. 20) as being wholly yellow (tota lutea) except the end of its
wings (This book was not published till 1631, and of course there is a
possibility of the pasage being an interpolation, but there is no reason
to suspect it).
In the 19th Century it was found that the addition
of cayenne pepper to the canary's diet can produce an even brighter fiery
red or yellow colour. Birds which successfully underwent this forcing
process, and hence were called "hot canaries," could command a very high
price. It is said that Canaries soon become exceedingly fond of the
exciting condiment, but a large proportion were found to die under the
discipline. Precaution and vetinary advice should be sought if considering
adding anything unusual like this to a bird's diet.
As well as color strength and difference, selective
breeding has also produced feathered crests on the head, and feathery feet.
In many different parts of the world the word "Canary"
is applied to almost any small bird that is yellow, and not unfrequently
to some that are not. Thus in the Antilles the name is given to certain
species of WARBLER, in the Cape of Africa to the Cape Canary (Serinus
canicollis) and some of the Weaver Birds (Ploceidae), in New Zealand
to the Bush Canary (Mohua ochrocephala),
some districts of Australia the Budgerigar
is known as the "Canary-Parrot."