The Canary (Serinus canaria), known the world over for its fine song, has another side – certain individuals not only become quite tame, but can also learn a host of tricks. Most of the older bird keepers I worked with at the Bronx Zoo had honed both breeding and training skills on these delightful little birds. Space for parrots was not always available to those of us growing up in NYC, and Canaries were far easier to manage.
Training Canaries takes a great deal of patience. Despite centuries of captive-breeding, they retain typical finch wariness, and are not as well-suited to training as are many parrots. However, in working with them you will develop skills that will be very useful in your future dealings with birds of all types. Hand-raised Canaries are another matter –they will readily bond to their owners, to the point of “courting” them during the breeding season!
A key point to bear in mind is that Canaries do not respond to punishment…slow, deliberate movements and rewards are absolute essentials. Training sessions of 15-30 minutes in length are ideal; anything longer will usually be stressful and unproductive.
Memories of a Talented Canary
I recall very clearly a female Canary that was kept behind-the-scenes in one of the bird exhibit buildings when I was a keeper at the Bronx Zoo. You’d never guess that the bird’s owner had not hand-reared her, for her repertoire of tricks and trusting nature were truly amazing. This Canary’s wings were not clipped, but she was extraordinarily tame…in most cases, it will be easier to work with a clipped bird.
The first trick my coworker’s bird learned was to obtain food by removing the plug from a glass test tube via pulling on a string. This trick was chosen as the first because it was very direct – the Canary could see the food within the tube. My coworker believed that allowing the bird to watch him pulling the string had hastened the learning process. I can’t say if this is so or not, but the next trick seems to confirm that the bird did indeed learn by observation.
The next trick was to teach the Canary to choose the correct container from a group of three. The treat-bearing container had a white top while the others had black tops, and the food was not visible within. After watching the container being filled with food, the Canary immediately went to over and pulled the string securing the proper cover. In time, the bird unerringly pulled the correct string when presented with containers filled outside of her presence.
Healthy, well-kept Canaries make the most responsive pets. Although they often adjust to small quarters, Canaries are really most at ease in spacious flight cages. Be sure also to provide a healthful diet comprised of a high quality Canary Seed Mix, Egg Food, Fresh Sprouts and fruit.
For more tips on hand-taming Canaries and other finches, please see Taming Canaries and Other Finches.
You can also help to improve your Canary’s song – please see Teaching Your Canary to Sing for details.
An amusing video of a Canary that crosses the line from “tame” to “bold” (He’s named “Psycho Pete!) is posted here.