Canary Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Sep. 11, 2023
Pet canary

In This Article

Species Overview

Canary Species Overview

Native to the Canary Islands near northwestern Africa, there are over 200 known breeds of canaries that differ in color, size, and singing varieties. This care sheet outlines basic care needs for a variety of canary species, including: 

  • Yellow canaries 

  • Red-factor canaries 

  • Variegated canaries 

There are three main breeds of canaries: song canaries, color canaries, and type canaries: 

  • Song canary breeds, such as American singers and German rollers, are bred to sing specific types of songs.  

  • Color-bred canaries, including yellow and red-factor canaries, are bred to have specific feather colors. 

  • Type canaries are bred for a specific shape, size, or body type, such as the bowl-cut-like tuft of feathers on the heads of Gloster canaries. 

Male canaries sing to attract females during breeding periods, typically in the fall, winter, and spring. During the summer, when canaries are molting their feathers, males will not sing. 

While canaries can be hand-tamed with time and patience, they generally do not enjoy heavy handling in the way parrots, like budgies, do.  

Canary Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 


Average Lifespan 

Up to 10+ years with proper care 

Average Adult Size 

3­–4 inches long, head to end of tail 


Granivorous (grain-eaters) 

Minimum Habitat Size 

18” L x 14” W x 18” H 

Canary Supply Checklist

To keep a canary happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriately sized habitat (at least 18” L x 14” W x 18” H per bird) 

  • High-quality pelleted canary food  

  • Millet spray  

  • Cuttlebone  

  • Cuttlebone/millet holder  

  • Treats  

  • Habitat paper or other paper-based litter  

  • Food and water dishes  

  • Variety of perches  

  • Variety of toys  

  • Birdbath  

  • Nail clippers and styptic powder 

  • Grooming supplies 

Canary Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

The ideal canary habitat should be at least 18” L x 14” W x 18” H for a single bird. The space between the cage’s bars should be ⅜ apart or smaller to prevent the bird from escaping or getting its head or legs stuck. Ideally, habitats should be long, with a lot of vertical space, so the bird has lots of space to fly and walk comfortably. Always provide the largest habitat possible. 

Homemade habitats or any habitat made with wood or galvanized wire are not recommended. These materials can expose birds to potentially toxic chemicals that can cause serious medical problems if ingested. 

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Setting Up Your Habitat 

Canaries are comfortable in average household temperatures between 65 F and 80 F. Pet parents should be cautious of extreme temperature changes. Keep habitats in a draft-free, well-lit area that is not near an air conditioner or accessible to other pets.

Make sure that no habitat parts or toys are made with lead, zinc, lead-based paints, galvanized metal, or other potentially toxic materials. All these materials can cause serious medical issues if ingested. 

Habitat Mates 

Male canaries should not be housed together, as they will fight. Males housed separately but near enough to hear each other may sing to compete for females. Canaries are solitary birds and should be kept separately. Canaries can also be kept in opposite-sex pairs, but male canaries kept with females may not “sing” as often as males housed alone.  

If more than one canary is kept in the same habitat, the enclosure’s size must be increased accordingly. New birds must be introduced to each other slowly, in neutral territory, and under close supervision to ensure that they are compatible. Pet parents should monitor their birds for aggressive behavior and separate them if they fight. Never keep different species of animals in the same habitat.  

Bedding & Lighting 

The bottom of a canary's habitat should have a removable metal grate so droppings can fall below the bird’s feet. Pet parents should line the tray at the base of the habitat with habitat paper or other paper-based bedding. This will help keep the environment clean and minimize dust. 

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Birds need exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light to produce vitamin D in their skin so they can absorb dietary calcium. Glass windows filter out UV light, so placing a canary’s habitat next to an indoor window is not enough. Instead, birds can get natural UV exposure by spending time outside in an escape-proof outdoor cage when weather permits. Birds should never be left unattended while outside and should not be placed in direct sunlight. 

To supplement UV exposure, pet parents can shine a full-spectrum UV light designed for birds on their canary’s habitat for 10–12 hours each day. UV lights should be about 12–18" away from where the bird perches. Replace lights every 6 months, as their potency wanes over time. 

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Décor & Accessories 

Perches: Pet parents should place perches of varying sizes, heights, textures, and materials in their canary’s habitat to prevent pressure sores from developing on the soles of the bird’s feet. 

Perches should be ¼- to ½-inch in diameter. If a perch’s diameter is too wide, the bird will not be able to grip it properly. This can lead to falls and other serious injuries. 

Concrete, wood, braided rope, and natural branches all make suitable materials for perches.  

Sandpaper perches, gravel perches, and sanded perch covers are not recommended, as they can cause painful abrasions on the underside of a bird’s feet. Gravel-coated perches should also be avoided because birds can pick off the gravel and ingest it.  

Do not place perches above the bird’s water or food bowl–waste droppings will land there. 

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Toys: While canaries will not chew on toys the way parrots do, pet parents should still provide their bird with a variety of toys to encourage mental/physical stimulation. 

Mirrors: Some canaries will enjoy mirrors, while others may be afraid of them. Certain canaries may become territorial if they think they’re sharing their habitat with another bird. 

Leather and fabric: Many canaries enjoy playing with leather or fabric straps, but pet parents should be mindful that fabric can fray and form threads that canaries can pull loose and entangle themselves in. 

Bells: Canaries usually love to play with toys that have small bells to make sounds! 

Swings/ladders: Most canaries will enjoy swinging on small swings and climbing small wooden or plastic ladders. 

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Water and food dishes: Dry food, fresh food, and water should all be offered in separate dishes. If more than one canary is kept in the same habitat, then each bird should have its own feeding station to discourage competition.  

Water dishes should be large enough for the canary to bathe in.  

Dishes should be washed and rinsed thoroughly each day to prevent bacterial growth. 

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Cuttlebones: Cuttlebones are an excellent way to supplement calcium and other trace minerals in a bird’s diet. Calcium is a vital nutrient that helps keep birds’ bones, beaks, nails, and feathers strong and healthy. 

A cuttlebone holder, like the JW Pet InSight Cuttlebone Holder Bird Toy, can help keep a bird’s cuttlebone in place and prevent cuttlebone debris from falling outside the cage. 

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Canary Cleaning & Maintenance

Pet parents should spot-clean their canary’s habitat daily, removing any soiled material and discarded food. Water and food bowls must be washed daily. Bedding and habitat liners should be replaced at least once a week (or more often if more than one canary lives in the same habitat). 

Pet parents should only use cleaning agents formulated for pets when cleaning their canary’s cage, as birds’ respiratory systems are sensitive to aerosolized fumes. 

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To clean a canary's habitat, take these steps

  1. Move the canary to a secure environment (such as another habitat or travel cage) in a separate air space. Remove any old substrate, bedding, and accessories from the habitat. 

  1. Use a bird habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution to wash the habitat and any accessories.  

  1. Rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells left by the cleaning agent or bleach solution.  

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new substrate, bedding, and clean accessories back into the habitat. 

  1. Return the bird to the clean habitat. 

Perches, dishes, and toys should be replaced when worn or damaged. Pet parents should swap old toys with new ones regularly to prevent boredom. 

Canary Diet & Nutrition

Canaries enjoy a range of foods, including pelleted food, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and the occasional treat. Canaries should always have access to fresh, clean water. 

Pet parents should never share food from their mouths or plates with their canary. Human mouths have microorganisms that can cause illness in birds. 

A nutritious and well-balanced diet for a canary consists of: 

A high-quality pelleted food formulated for canaries; a nutritionally complete pelleted food should make up at least 60–70% of a canary’s diet. 

Use the manufacturer's instructions to determine how much food should be given daily. Discard any uneaten pellets before each feeding. 

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Fresh fruits and vegetables, offered in limited quantities; fruits and vegetables should be chopped into bite-sized pieces. Canary-safe vegetable options include:

  • Bell peppers

  • Leafy greens

  • Carrots

  • Squash

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Pumpkin

  • Green beans

Most fruits are fine for canaries, but pet parents should not offer them avocados or any fruit seeds/pits as these are toxic to birds. 

Be sure to discard any uneaten fruits and vegetables after 10 hours, as they may spoil and cause infection if eaten. 

You may also offer a variety of seeds in very small quantities. Seeds contain fat, which is important in the production of hormones that encourage mating behaviors (like singing!) Seeds should not be the mainstay in a canary’s diet. All-seed diets are deficient in vitamins, minerals, and protein. 

Canaries remove the hulls of seeds before eating them, so they do not need an indigestible grit supplement to help them break down whole seeds. 

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Fresh, clean water; water should be lukewarm and changed daily. 

Canary Feeding Guidelines 

Millet spray can be fed as an occasional treat, no more than a few times a week. Treats (including seeds) should not make up more than 10% of a canary’s diet.  

Red-factor canaries need a specialized food or supplement that’s rich in beta-carotene, a naturally occurring red-orange pigment, to maintain the color of their feathers.  

Feeding orange and red natural foods (such as carrots, paprika, cherries, beets, and yams) can also help maintain a red-factor canary’s signature color. 

Color-intensifying diets will not change the colors already on a canary’s body. 

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During breeding and egg-laying periods, some canary breeders feel that canaries need more protein in their diet. Particularly for canaries that are not eating a base diet of nutritionally complete and balanced pellets, pet parents should offer their canaries a commercial “egg food” formulated for canaries, small amounts of cooked egg, or live/freeze-dried insects (including crickets, mealworms, and waxworms) 2 to 3 times weekly. 

Recommended Products: 

  • Egg Food 

  • Freeze-Dried Insects 

  • Live Insects 

Do not allow canaries to ingest chocolate, caffeine, or alcohol, as they are all toxic and can cause death or serious illness. Avoid treats that are high in fat, sugar, or salt.     

Pet parents with birds should avoid using nonstick cookware and other appliances with a nonstick coating (such as Teflon™). Nonstick coatings have a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). When heated, PFTE releases colorless, odorless fumes than can kill pet birds if inhaled.     

Canary Grooming & Care

Canaries fly for exercise and should not have their wings’ flight feathers clipped. 

Bathing: Most canaries will preen themselves if water is present, so water dishes should be large enough for them to bathe in. Pet parents can groom birds that do not regularly bathe themselves by gently misting them with lukewarm water from a clean spray bottle a few times a week. 

Nail Care: Nails must be trimmed as-needed, which can range from every few weeks to months. Nails should be trimmed by a trained professional, avian veterinarian, or someone otherwise trained to trim birds’ nails to prevent injury. If bleeding occurs, a styptic powder can be used to stop the bleeding quickly. 

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Most birds will not need to have their beaks trimmed as they should stay in good condition with daily use. 

Underlying conditions, such as liver disease or deformity from trauma, can cause abnormal beak growth and must be addressed by an avian veterinarian. 

Canary Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Canaries need to be examined by a veterinarian once annually. Transport cages are available that limit space for flying or falling to prevent injury. Transport enclosures should also be protected from the elements or large temperature changes in travel. It is best to take pictures of your bird’s enclosure at home in addition to the packaging of any food, treats, supplements, medications, toys, etc., for the veterinarian to use as part of the examination.

Signs of a Healthy Canary

  • Clean, clear, bright eyes

  • Clean beak

  • Clear nostrils

  • Pink gums

  • Clean, smooth, intact feathers

  • Feet with intact skin and no bumps

  • Clean vent

  • Trim nails

  • Strong appetite

  • Curious personality

When to Call a Vet

  • Eye discharge

  • Cloudy eyes

  • Beak with bleeding, cracks, shedding layers, or debris

  • Nasal discharge

  • Pale gums

  • Discharge or drooling from the mouth

  • Oral ulcers

  • Plucked or broken feathers

  • Growths on the feet

  • Excessive droppings in feathers around vent

  • Changes in droppings

  • Inappetence

  • Lethargy

  • Lumps, bumps, or swellings

Common Illnesses in Canaries

  • Choking on seeds (sudden respiratory distress)

  • Mites

  • Feather abnormalities including plucking and balding

  • Canary poxvirus

  • Circovirus

  • GI parasites

  • GI infections

  • Cataracts

  • Foot constriction lesions: tight leg bands, keratin overgrowth, warts

  • Egg binding

  • Respiratory infections

  • Toxins

  • Fungal infections

  • Trauma

  • Fatty tumors

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Feather cysts

Canary FAQs

Are canaries good pets?

Canaries are generally considered one of the easiest bird species to keep as pets. They’re small, smart, friendly, not particularly loud, easy to clean, and fun to interact with.

Are canaries good beginner pets?

While there are easier beginner pets than birds, canaries are a great choice for beginners to bird keeping. With preparation and a commitment to spending enough time with them, canaries can be a beginner pet in the right household.

Can you hold a pet canary?

Canaries don’t like to be held within your hands. Most canaries like their personal space but they can be trained to perch on your fingers.

Will pet canaries fly away?

Canaries love flying and benefit from flying time outside of their cages. That being said, it is best to only let them fly in secure rooms because if given open space, it is likely they will fly away if they haven’t otherwise been trained. While canaries may know how to come home, they may not or they can be hurt if flying outside.

Is it cruel to keep canaries in cages?

Keeping canaries in cages helps keep them safe and gives them access to everything they need in one place. While they should have regular time outside their cages every day, keeping them in cages is typically the best and safest way to care for them in a home.

Do canaries need to be in pairs?

Canaries living in small spaces like cages in a home prefer to have their own space and do not need to be kept in pairs. In fact, it is recommended to keep them separate from any other canaries or other birds.

Featured Image: Demarczyk

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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