A canary is a domesticated songbird famous for producing complex and often pleasing trilling songs. Typically, only males sing, although hens have been known to produce songs, and the genetics of a hen play a role in the quality of song produced by her offspring, even if she does not sing herself. They can be found in homes all over the world, and in a few regions, the birds have escaped to form feral colonies.
These birds are in the finch family, and they are a domesticated form of the wild canary, a song bird that was first discovered on the Canary Islands in the 1600s. Sailors started to tame the birds and keep them as pets, and when they were introduced to the mainland, they proved to be a big hit. Initially, the birds were rare and extremely expensive, because breeders only sold males, but once females became more widely available, they became much more accessible, although they continued to be especially popular among the nobility, as numerous portraits from the 1600s attest.
Canaries are divided into categories based on their song, type, and color. Song birds are split into rollers and choppers. Rollers sing with their beaks shut, producing a melodious extended trill, while choppers have more abrupt songs, created with their beaks open. Canaries bred for a specific type display various physical traits, while color ones are bred for unusual color variations. Beyond the classic yellow, canaries can be orange, white, greenish, brown, red, and striped, with unusually colored birds often commanding a high price.
The birds proved to be hardy after domestication, living up to 15 years in captivity, and they also breed readily, making it easy to maintain stocks and to breed for especially desirable traits. The modern domesticated canary is markedly different from its wild ancestor, with domestic birds tending to be larger, and producing much more beautiful songs, as well as coming in a range of colors. Many people enjoy keeping them, appreciating their sweet songs and cheerful demeanors.
As a general rule, it is best to keep at least two canaries, if not a group. A lone bird will not always sing, because he has no incentive to do so, since there are no females around. A group, on the other hand, will be quite vocal, producing a wide assortment of songs and displaying a range of personality types. Many pet stores sell these birds, along with supplies like cages, seed, and toys.