Canaries were first bred in captivity in the 17th century, having been brought to Europe by Spanish sailors. This bird became expensive and fashionable to breed in courts of Spanish and English kings. Monks started breeding them and only sold the males (which sing). This kept the birds in short supply and drove the price up. Eventually, Italians obtained hens and were able to breed the birds. This made them very popular, resulting in many breeds arising, and the birds being bred all over Europe.
The same occurred in England. First the birds were only owned by the rich, but eventually the local citizens started to breed them and, again, they became very popular. Many breeds arose through selective breeding, and they are still very popular today for their voices.
From the 18th up to the 20th centuries, canaries and finches were used in the UK, Canada and the US in the coal mining industry to detect carbon monoxide. In the UK, this practice ceased in 1986.
Typically, the domestic canary is kept as a popular cage and aviary bird. Given proper housing and care, a canary's lifespan ranges from 10 to 15 years.
The birds are named after Spain's Canary Islands, which derive their name from the Latin Insula Canaria (after one of the larger islands, Gran Canaria), meaning "island of dogs", due to its "vast multitudes of dogs of very large size".
A white canary nesting
A yellow canary perched in a tree
A sleeping canary
Domestic canaries are generally divided into three main groups:
Colour-bred canaries (bred for their many colour mutations – Ino, Eumo, Satinette, Bronze, Ivory, Onyx, Mosaic, Brown, red factor, Green (Wild Type): darkest black and brown melanin shade in yellow ground birds, Yellow Melanin: mutation showing yellow ground color with brown and black pigment, Yellow Lipochrome: mutation creating the loss of brown and black pigment, leaving yellow ground color etc.)
Type canaries (bred for their shape and conformation – Australian plainhead, Berner, Border, Fife, Gibber Italicus, Gloster, Lancashire, Raza Española, Yorkshire, etc.)
Song canaries (bred for their unique and specific song patterns – Spanish Timbrado, German Roller (also known as Harz Roller), Waterslager (also known as "Malinois"), American Singer, Russian Singer, Persian Singer).
While wild canaries are a yellowish-green colour, domestic canaries have been selectively bred for a wide variety of colours, such as yellow, orange, brown, black, white, and red (the colour red was introduced to the domestic canary through hybridisation with the red siskin (Spinus cucullatus), a species of South American finch). Nonetheless, evidence of hybridization was found between the domestic canary (S. canaria domestica) and the black-chinned siskin (Spinus barbatus) in captivity.
Canaries are judged in competitions following the annual molt in the summer. This means that in the Northern Hemisphere the show season generally begins in October or November and runs through December or January. Birds can only be shown by the persons who raised them. A show bird must have a unique band on its leg indicating the year of birth, the band number, and the club to which the breeder belongs.
There are many canary shows all over the world. The world show (C.O.M. - Confederation Ornithologique Mondiale) is held in Europe each year and attracts thousands of breeders. As many as 20,000 birds are brought together for this competition.
Resuscitation cage with an oxygen cylinder serving as a handle used to revive a canary for multiple uses in detecting carbon monoxide pockets within mines
Mice were used as sentinel species for use in detecting carbon monoxide in British coal mining from around 1896, after the idea had been suggested in 1895 by John Scott Haldane. Toxic gases such as carbon monoxide or asphyxiant gases such as methane in the mine would affect small warm-blooded animals before affecting the miners, since their respiratory exchange is more rapid than in humans. A mouse will be affected by carbon monoxide within a few minutes, while a human will have an interval of 20 times as long. Later, canaries were found to be more sensitive and a more effective indicator as they showed more visible signs of distress. Their use in mining is documented from around 1900. The birds were sometimes kept in carriers which had small oxygen bottles attached to revive the birds. The use of miners' canaries in British mines was phased out in 1986.
The phrase "canary in a coal mine" is frequently used to refer to a person or thing which serves as an early warning of a coming crisis. By analogy, the term "climate canary" is used to refer to a species (called an indicator species) that is affected by an environmental danger prior to other species, thus serving as an early warning system for the other species with regard to the danger.
Use in research
Canaries have been extensively used in research to study neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons in the adult brain, and also for basic research in order to understand how songbirds encode and produce song. Thus, canaries have served as model species for discovering how the vertebrate brain learns, consolidates memories, and recalls coordinated motor movements.
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^Arnaiz-Villena, A.; Ruiz-del-Valle V.; Areces C. (May 2012). "El Origen de los Canarios" (PDF). Ornitología Práctica. 53: 3–11.
^Arnaiz-Villena, A; Gómez-Prieto P; Ruiz-de-Valle V (2009). "Phylogeography of finches and sparrows". Animal Genetics. Nova Science Publishers. ISBN 978-1-60741-844-3.
^Eschener, Kat (30 December 2016). "The Story of the Real Canary in the Coal Mine". Smithsonian. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
^"Color Canaries: Information and Sound Recordings | Beauty of Birds".
^Birkhead, Tim (2003). A Brand-New Bird: How Two Amateur Geneticists Create the First Genetically Engineered Animal. NY, NY: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00665-6.
^Diaz, L; Correa A.; Nuñez J. (2018). "Molecular evidences of hybridization between Serinus canaria domestica (L., 1758) and S. barbatus (M., 1782) (Aves: Fringillidae)" (PDF). Boletín de la Real Sociedad Española de Historia Natural. 112 (#1): 29–34. doi:10.29077/bol/112/ce03_diaz. ISSN 2659-2703.
^Hogan, Linda S. (1999). The Complete Canary Handbook: A Collection of Canary Tales. self-published. ASIN B0006RK73W.
^Burton, Catherine (1895). "Risking Life and Wing: Victorian and Edwardian Conceptions of Coal-Mine Canaries". Victorian Review. 40 (2): 143–159. doi:10.1353/vcr.2014.0029. S2CID 163033650. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
^Page, Walter Hines; Page, Arthur Wilson (August 1914). "Man And His Machines: Resuscitation Cage For Mine Canaries". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XXVIII (May to October 1914): 474. Retrieved 2016-09-19.
^"The canary resuscitator | Museum of Science and Industry".
^"1986: Coal mine canaries made redundant". BBC News. 1986-12-30. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
^Pollock, C. (2016). "The Canary in the Coal Mine". Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery. 30 (4): 386–391. doi:10.1647/1082-6742-30.4.386. PMID28107075.
^"'Plutoed' voted US word of year". BBC News. 2007-01-08. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
^"Fernando Nottebohm, Ph.D." The Rockefeller University. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
^"Neurogenesis in Birds". Neurogenesis. Archived from the original on May 25, 2017. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
^Fitzgerald, Dennis (2014). Informants, Cooperating Witnesses, and Undercover Investigations: A Practical Guide to Law, Policy, and Procedure, Second Edition. ISBN 9781466554580.
^Heaton, Trevor (21 June 2014). "How Norwich fell in love with canaries". Eastern Daily Press. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
McDonald, Robirda, Brats in Feathers, Keeping CanariesISBN 0-9730434-4-X
Miley-Russell, Marie, The Practical Canary Handbook, A Guide to Breeding and Keeping Canaries. ISBN 1-59113-851-5. Especially useful to American Singer canary owners.
Linda Hogan, Canary Tales
GB Walker, Colour, Type, and Song Canaries
David Alderton, Birds Care, You and your pet bird
Author unknown, The Canary Handbook, Canaries, Barrons