What You Need for a Pet Canary
by Ginger Wolnik

There are many ways to keep a pet canary and there is no one absolute way. This page provides a list of what I recommend and how to find it. When I was new to bird keeping, it was frustrating to be told I could find an item "anywhere" but could not get one specific source named. So, I've created this page to help people prepare for their first canary, or upgrade what they have already.

All the items below are available from more than one place, but I've listed at least one so if you have trouble finding it, you can mail order it. If any of the listed sources are no longer selling the item, please let me know and I'll update this page.

Here is my article that you might want to read to understand why I use what I do:
Basic Pet Canary Care

Click Here to read my full article about cage recommendations.
Water Drinker
I like LiXit brand drinkers with 2 steel balls in a tube. For a single canary, use model BB-5 (5 ounce) which can last up to a week and keeps the water clean. Whenever filled, tap the ball at the bottom of the tube while the bottle is upright to remove any air from the tube and make sure the water can flow out. Available in some local pet supply stores or mail order from Woodland Bird Supply Phone: (530) 661-7460

If your bottle leaks, make sure the seal is tight. In the past I've gotten defective drinkers and had to exchange them by mailing to LiXit. You can examine the inside plastic of the bottle to see if it is round and smooth. If there is a tab of plastic that needs trimming off, that could be preventing an air-tight seal. Sometimes you just need to refill and tighten the top tightly and evenly. If there is an air leak, the water will slowly drip out and it will be mostly gone in an hour or so. Also if there is any crack in the plastic bottle, it will leak like that. As the bottle naturally empties, it will drip more and more because as the air space grows, the air cools down at night but then warms up and expands during the day, "pumping" the water out. However that takes days and it won't happen when the bottle is mostly full, but it because a problem on warm days when the bottle is half empty because it can then lose all the water in another day. That is why I clean and refill when half down, but that can take a week during the winter. If you are losing most or all of the water in one day, then there is an air leak either due to a gap in the seal, or a crack in the bottle.

Most cages come with perches that you can use. If the perches only go the long way in the cage, get shorter ones and put one at each end, keeping the middle of the cage clear for flight. A canary should be encouraged to fly across the cage, not hop from perch to perch. The best diameter for a canary perch is ½ inch. You can vary the diameters and even buy fancy perches or natural branches that vary, but have at least one main perch that is wide. The swing may be a smaller diameter and can count toward the variety for foot exercise. You can make your own perches from wooden dowels you buy at a hardware store or lumber yard. If you use natural branches, make sure it is from non-toxic wood. Manzanita is sold as a safe wood for bird perches. A short, thick branch can be screwed into the side of a cage using large washers, it does not need to reach all the way across. Do not use rope perches for a canary, they can snag their toenail in the fiber. Never cover the perch with sandpaper or anything abrasive! It does not trim their nails and is just cruel. A wide diameter smooth wood perch is a better way to go.
Any pet supply store that sells bird supplies should have small cuttlebone, or mail order from Cuttlebone Plus
Cuttlebone Holder
I use the plastic holders with perch. Available from Red Bird Products and other mail-order suppliers. This style of holder is safer than the bent metal tab holders usually sold with one cuttlebone from pet stores.
For one pet canary, any shallow bowl will do. You can order this style of bird bath from Red Bird Products
I recommend one small swing in the center of the cage. Get the type that hangs from one point, canaries seem to prefer that. It is less stable and that is part of the fun! You can order a simple wooden canary swing from Red Bird Products and other mail-order suppliers.
Cage Paper
I line all my cages with Kraft brown wrapping paper, which I cut from 18 inch wide rolls. This is the type of paper that brown paper bags are made of, so you could cut up bags to line your cage. Many people use newspaper, but the ink can stain the bird's tail feathers. I currently buy my paper from Kelly Paper in Palo Alto because it is close to me. To find a supplier near you, look in the yellow pages under "paper". This is too heavy to mail order. If you cannot find a local supplier, I recommend using newspaper. I have a paper cutter that I bought at a garage sale years ago. New cutters can be mail ordered from large stationery suppliers. One source is:
Becker's School Supplies
For a pet male canary, all they need for a complete, balanced diet is pellets and water. I currently use ZuPreem Natural Premium Daily Bird Food for Small Birds , which comes in a 2 ¼ pound bag. You can mail order from Drs. Foster and Smith 1-800-381-7179 or find a ZuPreem dealer near you. To understand why I recommend feeding pellets instead of seed, read my article, Feeding Canaries a Pellet Diet

If you buy a bird from me, it will be used to eating pellets and I will include a sample to feed the bird until you find a source. If you buy a bird from someone else, get a sample of the food the bird is used to eating and feed it that at least until the bird settles in. Convert someone else's seed eating bird to pellets at your own risk.

If you feed pellets, you don't really need to provide fresh greens, but canaries love them so provide as you wish. Raw broccoli seems to be their favorite, but they also like dandelion, leaf lettuce, kale, spinach and chard. Wash thoroughly before serving. Organic vegetables need to be washed very well because they tend to be higher in bacteria, which may be spread by insects and other pests allowed in organic fields as well as the use of "natural" fertilizers. You can soak greens in a mild bleach solution and then rinse well before serving to kill bacteria. Sprouts tend to be especially high in bacteria and should be avoided. Vegetables such as carrots and peas are usually safe raw but can also be served cooked. Raw or cooked sweet corn is relished by canaries, but makes a sticky mess on their feet and can attract ants to the cage. Avocado and chocolate are toxic to birds, click here for other toxic food info.
I do not recommend routine treatment with antibiotics, that causes bacteria resistance. If your canary becomes ill, it is always best to take the bird to an avian vet experienced with small birds for a confirmed diagnosis and prescription. If your canary develops diarrhea but seems otherwise healthy and singing, it is probably a bacteria infection, perhaps from eating spoiled food or contaminated greens. The antibiotics sold over-the-counter at pet shops tend to be ineffective because bacteria have become resistant to them. You can try SulfCox from Abba Seed which may be available from local dealers or mail order from them. Abba lists Red Bird Products as a dealer but it is not on the Red Bird website yet.
My favorite canary book is Colored, Type & Song Canaries By: G.B.R (Geoff) Walker, Available from Red Bird Products
Nail Clipper
You can buy one specifically for birds, but I find this human nail clipper to work best for canaries! Buy at your local drugstore in the cosmetics department, or mail order from Walgreens.com

Toe nail growth is influenced by genes and how active the bird is. Some birds never seem to need trimming, others need it every few months. A wide, smooth perch may help wear the nails naturally, but is no guarantee. Rough perches won't wear nails any faster but may cause foot sores, so never use sandpaper covers. If you don't want to learn how to trim your bird's nails even with the help of another person, you can take it to a vet or a pet groomer who does bird nails. Make sure the vet or groomer has experience with canaries or finches, not just large parrots.

Steptic Powder
If you trim your bird's nails, keep steptic powder handy to stop bleeding from over trimmed toenails. Available from any pet supply store, or pet mail order supplier such as Red Bird Products
Carrying Cage
It is a good idea to have a small extra cage to use for picking up your bird, taking it to the vet if necessary, or just use for temporary housing if you want to clean the main cage thoroughly. The cages that most pet shops sell for canaries are too small to use for permenant cages, but make great carrying cages. A carrying cage should have at least one perch and 2 cups, one for food and one for water. Do not put a swing in the carrying cage if it is being used for transport. Cover the carrying cage with a towel when taking outside or sitting in the car to shade from sun.
Cage Cover
A cage cover is only needed if you keep the cage in a room that has lights on when the sun is set. In other words, if the bird is only exposed to natural daylight or lights on a timer that follow the natural sunrise and sunset, then no cover is needed. Since most homes today are not drafty, the only purpose of the cover is to keep the bird in the dark, not to keep the bird warm. Exposing a canary to artificial light in the evening anytime after sunset may cause him to molt (lose feathers) and he won't sing for months. The molt naturally occurs in the summer when the days are long, but can happen anytime during the year to a canary kept indoors and exposed to evening lights or irregular light and dark periods. So if you keep your bird inside, either keep him in a room that is not used after sunset, or cover the cage after sunset and uncover when you go to bed or in the morning. As a reminder, hang the cover over the light switch!

If you need a cage cover, you can use a large, dark towel. If you want to spend money and get fancy, you can mail order a cage cover from various online pet suppliers such as Drs. Foster and Smith

Cage Stand
Some cages come with a stand or an optional stand made for that cage may be available. I've found that a microwave oven cart can make a great stand, with the convenience of shelves for storage! You can always find good, used microwave carts on Craig's List

What You Don't Need

I haven't supplied any grit to my canaries for almost 20 years. Recommendations to feed grit to cage birds came from nutritional studies of poultry and pigeons, which swallow seed whole. Even if you feed seed to your canary, it does NOT need grit because it shells the seed. Grit normally won't hurt a healthy canary, but if it is not feeling well, it may over eat grit and the crop will get impacted, resulting in the death of the bird. Many a vet has discovered this when performing a necropsy. Since they don't need it and there is a risk, it is my recommendation to not give any grit to canaries, never, ever!
Feeding pellets is a complete diet, so providing seed will unbalance your bird's nutrition. It will not hurt to occationally give some seed as a treat, but most days there should not be seed in the cage if you are feeding your bird pellets. If you buy a bird from someone else that only eats seed, that is a different problem, my advice here is based on buying one of my birds, which are raised on pellets.
Like seed, supplimental vitamins are not needed if you feed pellets. Putting vitamins in the water or sprinkling on food could result in an overdose of some fat-soluable vitamins since the pellets contain all they need. Most seed mixes also contain vitamins, so even if you feed seed, it is a risk to add more vitamins.
I never feed pro-biotics and my birds are healthy, fertile and win at shows! Most pro-biotics are formulated for mammals even if sold for birds; canaries have been known to actually get sick from the bacteria in the pro-biotic supplements. Birds will get the natural bacteria they need from the environment, even after antibiotic treatment, so you don't need to provide this commercial cocktail of bacteria. If you think your bird is sick, take it to an avian vet for a confirmed diagnosis and correct treatment. Don't waste time guessing because symptoms such as wheezing can have various causes with different effective treatments. Persistent diarrhea is usually caused by bacteria infection and should be treated with antibiotic, not pro-biotic. A vet can prescribe a more effective antibiotic than those sold in pet shops which many bacteria have become resistant to. Clean water, food and cage bottom are the best preventatives. Ironically, organic and "sustainably grown" greens may contain more harmful bacteria due to natural fertilizers and pests that are tolerated in the fields. Thoroughly wash all greens because canaries are more susceptable to bacteria than healthy people are. You can soak greens in a mild bleach solution and then rinse well before serving to kill bacteria.
Male canaries are territorial and solitary, so they don't need or want company. If you put a mirror in the cage with a male canary, it may cause him to sing more at first, but it will be an angry song because he is trying to drive the intruder out! Before long, your bird may stop singing because the other bird just won't leave and therefore must be more dominant, so your bird will give up and sulk.
Live Plants as Decoration
Canaries love to eat greens and will quickly destroy any live plant in their cage, so don't bother to try to decorate a cage or aviary with live plants if there is a canary in it! Also be aware of placing a plant next to the cage, if a leaf is reachable, it will get trimmed off. Toxic plants like poincetta must be kept well out of reach.
While not harmful, it is completely unnecessary to feed fruit to your canary. Fruits are good for people because they mainly contain water, fiber and vitamin C, but your canary doesn't need these like we do and can give him diarrhea. In fact, only humans and guinea pigs need vitamin C, birds and other animals make their own internally! I've found that canaries tear and scatter fruit into small pieces which not only make the cage messy, but may attract ants. If you want to give your bird a safe treat, provide a piece of broccoli top instead!
Sandpaper Perch Covers
Anyone who puts these in a bird cage should be forced to walk around with sandpaper inside their socks with the grit side next to the bottom of their feet! See the info on perches above to find out what to provide for bird foot health.
"Cage Protector"
Many pet shops sell a metal disk containing moth balls (para-dichlorobenzene) that is supposed to "protect" the bird from mites and lice. These are completely useless. An indoor pet bird is unlikely to get these pests, so people who think they work don't realize the bird never would have had a problem anyway!

To find out if your bird has external mites (eg. the Northern Red Fowl Mite), cover the cage overnight with a white sheet and check the sheet in the morning for tiny red dots crawling around. If you get them, they can multiple rapidly, so don't waste valuable time trying to get rid them with a moth ball disk, it won't work. It is better to completely disinfect the cage and fumigate the entire room with a flea bomb while the bird is taken in a carrying cage to an avian vet for proper treatment.

The most common way these mites get into a home is from wild birds who nest or feed near an open window, their mites can crawl through screens to get at your bird. So, don't put a wild bird feeder or bird house near a window by your pet bird! Wash your hands after handling anything that a wild bird might have come in contact.

Free Flight Loose in the House
If you get a large enough cage, then there is no need to allow your canary to fly loose in the house for exercise. There are so many dangers, such as crashing into windows or mirrors, falling into an open toilet or pot of water boiling on the stove, escaping out the door when someone goes in or out, getting trapped behind furniture, getting a toenail snagged in a curtain or screen and having a toe ripped off while trying to get free, just to name a few. Your canary will be much safer kept in a large flight cage all the time.
Handling and Petting
Male canaries are territorial and solitary, so they don't need or want company. If you want a small, tame, pet bird that will sit on your finger and enjoy getting its head scratched, get a member of the parrot family, eg. budgie, cockatiel, parrotlet, etc. Canaries can be tamed, but it takes a lot more time and patience and they will never be as much fun to play with as a parakeet. Never keep a canary and a parakeet or other hookbill in the same cage.
A Friend or Mate
Male canaries are territorial and solitary, so they don't need or want company. Many people have a hard time understanding this because most of us enjoy companionship and most of our pets are herd or pack animals that will bond to us. Even cats, which are solitary by nature, can transfer their kitten bond with their mother to a human and retain that for life. Canaries are a different type of pet, though.

Your canary will be happier and under less stress if he is not forced to share his space with another bird. I don't even recommend getting him a mate unless you want to breed them and even then, they should only be together during the spring breeding season. Otherwise he is less likely to sing because she may harrass him when he does. There are exceptions, but to prevent injuries and ensure no energy is wasted on fighting, keep your male canary in a cage by himself.

Imagine a family looking at their canary and feeling sorry for him because he is all alone in his cage. However, the canary looks out at the people and feels sorry for them because they have to share their space with other people! The point is to understand each species for its own characteristics and not to impose what we want on other species.

I suspect that pet shops and other sellers who try to sell canaries in pairs are just trying to make a bigger sale. If a singing pet is what you want, just get one guaranteed male. If you feel sorry for the seller who is stuck with extra unwanted hens, then get a separate cage if you buy another bird. Hens get along better with each other, but even they will fight until they work out a pecking order. If you get hens, be aware they may pluck each others feathers out during the breeding season in an attempt to build a nest. They may die of egg binding if not given enough calcium, so always keep a cuttlebone in a cage with a hen.

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