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Singing Canaries – Ornithology

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Singing Canaries – Ornithology

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I discussed The Canary Bird earlier; here’s a bit more.

Years ago, singing canaries were popular. A radio show in the 1940’s in the U.S. featured dozens of canaries singing along with classical records. There was also a canary song training record from Hartz Mountain you could use at home to teach your canary to sing. The popularity of canaries led unscrupulous pet shop owners to inject both male and female canaries with testosterone, the male hormone that induces singing (and other courtship behavior). After a few weeks, however, the canary’s owner became disappointed at the bird’s cessation of singing as the hormone wore off.

The tradition of owning canaries for their singing abilities dates back centuries. The ancestor of domesticated canaries is the Atlantic canary (Serinus canaria), native to the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa. These islands served as an important trading hub during the Age of Exploration, beginning in the 14th century. Sailors from Spain, Portugal, and England often stopped at the Canary Islands during their journeys and were intrigued by the melodious songs of wild canaries, so they began capturing these birds and bringing them back to Europe. Over time, European breeders recognized the potential of canaries as singers, selectively breeding them for specific traits such as the bird’s vocal range, quality, and clarity of its song.

By the 17th century, canaries had become highly sought after across Europe. The birds were particularly favored in countries such as England, Germany, and the Netherlands. Canaries gained immense popularity among the upper classes and elites, leading ealthy individuals, aristocrats, and royal courts to start keeping canaries as pets. Then singing contests and competitions came to be, allowing canary owners to showcase their birds’ singing prowess.

As canary breeding continued, different breeds and varieties were developed with distinct singing styles, such as the Roller, Timbrado, Waterslager, and American Singer canaries. Each breed has its own unique song pattern, duration, and tonal quality. The roller, also called the Harz Roller, is generally considered to be the greatest singing Canary. They sing quietly with their beaks closed and their beautiful song blends into the background. The Waterslager is so named because its song resembles the babble of a brook and may have the greatest range (low notes to high notes) of all singing Canaries. The Spanish Timbrado is the loudest of all with a bell-like warble of 12 distinct notes. Being a relative newcomer to the domestic Canary world the bird closely resembles the wild Canary.

Canaries are still popular and there is even an American Singers Club, dedicated to that strain of canary which the club defines as “a Song Type Canary bred in the U.S. … to provide a Canary bird that has, ( l ) an outstanding free harmonius song pleasing to the ear, neither too loud or too harsh, with plenty of variety, (2) a beautiful shape or type, not over 5 3/4 inches long with tight feathers that will please the average home lover of Canaries.”

I learn something every day.

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