1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Canary

CANARY (Serinus canarius), a well-known species of passerine bird, belonging to the family Fringillidae or finches (see Finch). It is a native of the Canary Islands and Madeira, where it occurs abundantly in the wild state, and is of a greyish-brown colour, slightly varied with brighter hues, although never attaining the beautiful plumage of the domestic bird. It was first domesticated in Italy during the 16th century, and soon spread over Europe, where it is now the most common of cage-birds. During the years of its domestication, the canary has been the subject of careful artificial selection, the result being the production of a bird differing widely in the colour of its plumage, and in a few of its varieties even in size and form, from the original wild species. The prevailing colour of the most admired varieties of the canary is yellow, approaching in some cases to orange, and in others to white; while the most robust birds are those which, in the dusky green of the upper surface of their plumage, show a distinct approach to the wild forms. The least prized are those in which the plumage is irregularly spotted and speckled. In one of the most esteemed varieties, the wing and tail feathers are at first black—a peculiarity, however, which disappears after the first moulting. Size and form have also been modified by domestication, the wild canary being not more than 5½ in. in length, while a well-known Belgian variety usually measures 8 in. There are also hooped or bowed canaries, feather-footed forms and top-knots, the latter having a distinct crest on the head; but the offspring of two such top-knotted canaries, instead of showing an increased development of crest, as might be expected, are apt to be bald on the crown. Most of the varieties, however, of which no fewer than twenty-seven were recognized by French breeders so early as the beginning of the 18th century, differ merely in the colour and the markings of the plumage. Hybrids are also common, the canary breeding freely with the siskin, goldfinch, citril, greenfinch and linnet. The hybrids thus produced are almost invariably sterile. It is the female canary which is almost invariably employed in crossing, as it is difficult to get the females of the allied species to sit on the artificial nest used by breeders. In a state of nature canaries pair, but under domestication the male bird has been rendered polygamous, being often put with four or five females; still he is said to show a distinct preference for the female with which he was first mated. It is from the others, however, that the best birds are usually obtained. The canary is very prolific, producing eggs, not exceeding six in number, three or four times a year; and in a state of nature it is said to breed still oftener. The work of building the nest, and of incubation, falls chiefly on the female, while the duty of feeding the young rests mainly with the cock bird. The natural song of the canary is loud and clear; and in their native groves the males, especially during the pairing season, pour forth their song with such ardour as sometimes to burst the delicate vessels of the throat. The males appear to compete with each other in the brilliancy of their melody, in order to attract the females, which, according to the German naturalist Johann Matthaüs Bechstein (1757–1822) always select the best singers for their mates. The canary readily imitates the notes of other birds, and in Germany and especially Tirol, where the breeding of canaries gives employment to a large number of people, they are usually placed for this purpose beside the nightingale.  (A. N.)