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The Canary’s Relatives – Lesser Known Canaries from Eurasia and Africa

Carduelis cucullataThe Wild or “Typical” Canary (Serinus canaria) is the world’s most commonly-kept finch.  However, several of its relatives are also well-established in captivity, and some have been hybridized with the Wild Canary in order to improve its color and singing abilities.  One of these, the Green Singing Finch (S. mozambicus), is a common pet; please see the article below for more information.  Today I’ll introduce the Gray Singing Finch, European Serin, Black-Throated and Black-Headed Canaries.

Note: “Wild Canary” as used here refers to the common pet trade Canary.

Gray Singing Finch (Serinus leucopygius)

Also known as the White-Rumped Serin or Layard’s Seedeater, the singing abilities of this bird are considered to be superior to those of the Wild Canary (please see video below).  Aviculturists in search of talented songsters sometimes cross Gray Singing Finches with Wild Canaries.

This bird’s plumage is a non-descript gray in color, but few who have heard the male’s song take exception to this!  Its range extends across North-Central Africa from Senegal to the Sudan, where it occupies overgrown scrub, parks and gardens.

Black-Throated Canary (Serinus atrogularis)

Also called the Yellow-Rumped Serin, this gray and yellow canary is a fine songster, although not quite on par with the Gray Singing Finch.  Like many canary relatives, females construct intricately woven nests…I was presented with one that was so tightly knit that it seemed to have been spun by machine.

The Black-Throated Canary occupies a huge range; the 7 or so subspecies may be found from southern Saudi Arabia and Yemen through much of Africa south of the Sahara.  Most populations favor open woodlands near water.

European Serin (Serinus serinus)

This popularly-kept canary (please see photo) sometimes occurs as far north as Great Britain, where it is strictly protected.  It is also found in southern Europe, western Asia and northwestern Africa.

European Serins are attractively clad in bright to greenish-yellow and brown, and have been crossed with Wild Canaries by breeders seeking uniquely-colored birds.  They are known for their fluttering, “butterfly-like” mating displays, and are often kept in outdoor aviaries so that this behavior can be shown to its best advantage.

Black-Headed Canary (Serinus alario)

Also sold under the name “Alario Finch”, this strikingly-marked canary is, at 5.5 inches in length, the largest member of the group.  The black head, nape and throat contrast sharply with the cinnamon-red back and wings, as does the black stripe that marks the white breast.

Black-Headed Canaries are a bit more aggressive than related birds, and do best in thickly-planted outdoor aviaries.  Mated pairs are not very tolerant of company, especially during the breeding season.  Cross breeding this species with Wild Canaries was common in the past.

In the wild, Black-Headed Canaries occupy open woodlands and brushy fields in southern Africa.
European Serin

Red-Hooded Siskin (Carduelis cucullata)

This gorgeous Venezuelan native (please see photo) is of a different genus than the canaries, but can mate with Wild Canaries and produce young, at least some of which will be fertile.  Highly endangered in the wild, it is well-established in captivity and is the original source of the red coloring in “Red Factor” Wild Canaries.  Please see the article below for details.

Further Reading

European Society of Serinus Breeders – info on breeding and conserving many canary relatives; great photos.

Video illustrating the wonderful abilities of the Gray Singing Finch.

The Red Hooded Siskin

The Green Singing Finch


European Serin image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Armin Marz

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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