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Canaries Are Endowed With Unique Song-Learning Abilities

Male canaries (Serinus canaria), long prized for their beautiful songs, may have unique learning abilities that explain their outstanding performances. Most birds acquire singing abilities by listening to others of their kind early in life…without appropriate role models, they fail to develop normal songs. Young canaries, however, seem able to switch learning strategies so as to develop normal songs even under unfavorable circumstances.

Effect of Imperfect Song Tutors

Serinus canariaResearchers at the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology exposed young male canaries to adult males that sang imperfect songs. The young males mimicked these songs to some extent, but by adulthood were singing near-perfect songs. This indicates that canaries likely have an internal “song template” that helps to correct deviations in the songs of their role models. The template seems to be activated when the youngsters hear an adult song, even if that song is imperfect.

Effect of Isolation

Canaries raised in complete isolation from adults do try to sing, but the sounds they produce bear little resemblance to a normal male’s song. Usually, birds do not modify their songs after reaching adulthood – what they learn as juveniles remains their song for life. However, when the canaries raised in isolation were exposed to a normal canary songs, they modified their own songs, despite having reached adulthood. In time, their songs improved greatly. So, unlike most birds, canaries remain able to change and improve their songs even after reaching maturity.

Human Language Development

Children raised in isolation have great difficulty in acquiring language skills later in life. It is hoped that the canary research will help us to understand human speech problems.

The Canary Song CD

As canaries seem able to learn throughout life, it’s never too late to try helping your pet to improve. A Feathered Phonics Canary Song CD may do the trick.

Further Reading


Most people are not aware of the dramatic story behind the canary’s entry into the pet trade. Please check out Shipwrecks, Vicious Dogs and Escaped Birds for details.


Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by LC-de

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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