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
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), while in some districts of Australia the Budgerigar is known as the "Canary-Parrot."