Russian Canary

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Species group:

Other common names: Russian Singer Canary; Russian Singing Canary

Scientific name: Serinus canaria domesticus

The basics:
To North Americans, the Russian Canary is a rare and little-known song canary bred for its ability to re-create and improve on the songs of many Northern European birds.  The focus is on the male bird's ability to learn the various special songs that have romantic names evocative of old Europe such as the Triple Titmouse, Large Titmouse, Small Titmouse, Yellow Bunting, the Tee, the Coo-lee, and the Depsit. Not content to merely copy the natural songs of the Buntings and other birds, Russian Canaries were further developed to add all sorts of trills and bells to the original melodies.

The well-regarded, well-trained song canaries of the Tyrol Mountains spread east as well as west. In the 1700s, some of these German birds reached Russia, where the locals were used to keeping native songbirds as pets. Of course, people who kept multiple birds quickly realized that the new canaries were able to copy and even improve on the songs of other species. Breeders and trainers began to work to develop the Russian Canary. Instead of using musical instruments to teach the birds, as was common in Germany, the Russians used many varieties of wild birds to train them. Strangely enough, the nightingale – whose song is so highly admired in the west – was banned from the birdroom for having too loud and too sharp a song. The goal was to create an excellent and varied singer that had a gentle rather than a loud, carrying voice.

Breeders focus first, last, and always on developing the best songs, rather than size or appearance. Therefore, most Russian Canaries tend to be smallish yellow or white birds.

15 - 20 grams (0.5 - 0.7 oz.)

Average size:
11 - 13 centimeters (5 in.)

10 - 14 years

Behavior / temperament:
Russian Canaries, like all other canaries, must hear the songs they are to sing at an early age, or they will never reach their full potential. Because the Russian Canary is so little known in North America, hobbyists in the United States and Canada should consult with their breeder to find out where they can get good teacher birds or good recordings to play for their young males. You don't necessarily want the bird that sings the loudest, but rather you want a bird that sings frequent, varied melodies that hark back to the sounds of nature. Because they are bred to be very talented mimics, you must not expose young Russian Canaries to the songs of other birds or canaries unless you want them to learn that song.

Many commercial cages sold for pet canaries are simply too small. Take the time and trouble to find a cage that is at least 24”wide by 18” deep by 24” high. If you're obtaining Russian Canaries with a plan to breed for the show bench, your club can help you locate breeding cages of the proper size. You need to provide adequate perches, of varying widths to allow the bird to change its grip and prevent wear on the feet. You can include toys like bells and swings, although mirrors might cause undesirable behavior changes, like a refusal to sing. Show birds should be kept away from other varieties of canaries or other songbirds that might teach them an inferior song.

Russian Canaries, like all canaries, must be protected from mosquitoes, which can carry the deadly and disfiguring canary pox, in addition to other dangerous diseases. There is a vaccine for canary pox and if you live in an area where it's a reality that mosquitoes may get into your home from time to time, strongly consider asking your vet for this one-time vaccine.

The backbone of the Russian Canary diet is a high quality canary seed mix formulated especially for canaries, with a high proportion of canary, rape, flax, linseed, sterilized hemp, thistle, and not too much millet. Some high end seed mixes also contain freeze-dried fruits and vegetable bits, and anise may give the mix a wonderful aroma. Test the seed for freshness by soaking and sprouting. You can also buy special seeds that are easy to sprout in the home. These so-called soaking seed blends may include sunflower, safflower, and wheat that would otherwise be too large or too difficult for a canary to crack by itself, yet once sprouted, they will gain in vitamins and become soft, delicious treats that your bird will love. .

Chopped fresh greens like unsprayed chickweed, dandelion greens, and oregano are highly recommended, but any healthy greens such as the flowering heads of broccoli or chopped fruit like apples, apricots, and so on, will add vitamins and flavor to the diet. You should also be able to find some pellets formulated especially for canaries. Some people report that their canaries first learned to eat their pellets after they sprinkled them with a little apple juice.

Protein is important for the molting or breeding Russian Canary. Many people make a classic eggfood which consists of a hard-boiled egg chopped up well, with about 1 teaspoon of brewer's yeast (NEVER baking yeast) stirred into the mix. Don't leave eggfood sitting around. Remove what's left in the bowl after a couple of hours.

Written by Elaine Radford