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Canary history


The actual origin of the canary as a cage bird is as obscure as is the early history of other domesticated animals. It seems probable that captive canaries were first secured from the Canary Islands, a group with which they have long been popularly associated. There are in the Old World, however, two closely allied forms from which the domesticated canary may have come.

One of these, the bird now recognized as the "wild canary", is found in the Canary Islands (with the exception of the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote), Madeira, and the Azores. The other form, the serin finch,i ranges through southern Europe and northern Africa, extending eastward into Palestine and Asia Minor. In a wild state these two forms are very similar in color and to a novice are hardly distinguishable.

If, as is supposed, the original supply of canaries came from the Canary Islands, it may be considered doubtful that the stock thus secured has furnished the ancestors of all our canaries. The slight differences in color between the serin finch and the canary would probably have passed unnoticed by early ornithologists and bird lovers. With bird catching a widespread practice in middle and southern Europe, the serin would often be made captive and be accepted without question as a canary.

In this way serins and wild canaries may have been interbred until all distinguishable differences were lost. The original canary, whether serin or true wild canary, in its native haunt was much different in color from its modern pure-bred descendant. The back of the wild bird is, in general, gray tinged with olive-green, especially on the rump, with dark shaft streaks on the feathers. Underneath it is yellowish, streaked on sides and flanks with dusky. Wild canaries from the Canary Islands, the Azores, and Madeira differ from the continental serins in being slightly grayer with less of yellowish green in the plurnage above. In addition, the rump is duller yellow and the bill is distinctly larger. All of the wild birds have the feet and legs (tarsi) horn brown, the upper half of the bill dark brown or horn color, and the lower half paler.

Both of the wild varieties inhabit vineyards, thickets, and more open country where bordered by trees. At times during fall and winter great flocks are found together. The birds feed upon various seeds and occasionally eat figs or other small fruits in season. In a wild state they nest early in spring and. again later, rearing two broods. The nest, made of plant stems and grasses and lined with hair and plant downs, is placed in bushes or low trees. The eggs are clear green in color, spotted and clouded with deep wine red and red­dish brown. From three to five eggs are deposited.