Island canary (Serinus canaria)

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Island canary fact file

Island canary description

GenusSerinus (1)

A popular songbird, the island canary (Serinus canaria) was domesticated as early as the 15th century, and has since been selectively bred to produce a range of brightly coloured varieties (3) (4). The plumage of the wild island canary, however, is generally an attractive greenish-yellow with olive-brown streaking (3).

The underparts of the male island canary are a dull golden-yellow, with an olive hue on the chin, throat and breast. Its upperparts are grey with dark streaking, and it has a pale yellow face (2). The tail is dark brown with pale green around the edge, and is forked or notched. The island canary has a pale pink bill and brown legs and feet (2). The female island canary is similar in appearance to the male, but is generally duller, with much more grey on the face and upperparts, and much heavier black streaking on the back and head (2) (3).

The juvenile island canary is generally pale brown with dark streaking on the back and head, and has a dull, greenish-yellow forehead and brown tail (2). The underparts have some of the yellow colouration of the adult (2).

The popularity of the island canary as a cage bird is in part due to its distinctive song, which is rich and musical, consisting of melodious fluty whistles and trills, interspersed with twitters or churrs (2) (3). The song contains both repeated and non-repeated syllables, and can last for up to 25 seconds (5).

Also known as
Atlantic canary, canary, common canary.
Length: 12.5 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: 23 - 23 cm (3)
15 g (3)

Island canary biology

A gregarious species, the island canary tends to form loose flocks outside of the breeding season, occasionally containing many hundreds of individuals (2) (3). It will also form mixed flocks with linnets (Carduelis cannabina) and goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) (2).

The island canary is mainly herbivorous, feeding on the seeds of grasses and weeds which it forages for on the ground or among short, seed-bearing plants (2). Fig seeds (Ficus) also feature in its diet, along with blossoms and the buds of leaves and flowers (2) (3). It will also occasionally supplement its diet with insects, especially during the breeding season (3).

The onset of the island canary breeding season is influenced by a number of factors, such as the appearance of fresh, green vegetation, but it is generally thought to begin in January or February, and to last until late June (3) (6). While the male island canary will sing throughout the year, its efforts are intensified during the breeding season when establishing a territory and attracting a mate (3) (7). During this time, the male performs song-flights, in which it flies a short circuit while singing in mid-air, taking off from and landing on a prominent song post (2) (3). The female island canary is thought to prefer particular male song types, probably influenced by songs heard in early life, and will choose to breed with a male that produces this song type (3).

An island canary pair occupies a small territory, with the female choosing the nest site and carrying out most of the nest construction, and the male defending the nest site from rival island canaries (3) (7). The nest is built high up in thick shrubs or trees, and is saucer shaped and usually constructed of grasses, roots and moss and lined with hair and feathers (3).

Between three and four eggs are laid in the nest, with egg-laying peaking in April and June (3). The eggs are pale blue and are incubated for 13 to 14 days before hatching. The young island canaries are then cared for by both of the adult birds (3) (7). Island canary chicks fledge at 15 to 17 days old, and become independent at around 36 days of age (3). An island canary pair can produce two or three broods per year (3).

The island canary is believed to live for up to eight years in the wild (3).


Island canary range

The island canary is native to three archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean: the Azores, the Canary Islands and Madeira (2) (3). In the Canary Islands, this species only occurs on the western islands and not on the islands of Fuerteventura or Lanzarote (2).

This species has also been introduced to Bermuda, the Hawaiian Islands and Puerto Rico (2).


Island canary habitat

Within its island range, the island canary occurs in a variety of habitats (3). It can be found in dry valleys, laurel forests, open woodland and on mountainsides with scrub and pine forest (2). This species also inhabits human-altered habitats, such as cultivated land, orchards and even gardens (2) (3). It can be found at elevations ranging from sea level to 1,700 metres (2).

The island canary is relatively sedentary, and does not undertake long-distance migrations (2). It usually breeds in habitats containing thick shrubs or trees (2) (3).


Island canary status

The island canary is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Island canary threats

Although the island canary may have a restricted range, this island-dwelling species is relatively common where it occurs and is not thought to be currently at risk of extinction (8).


Island canary conservation

There are currently no specific conservation measures aimed at the island canary.


Find out more

Find out more about the island canary:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



Having a diet that comprises only vegetable matter.
The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.


  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
  2. Clement, P., Harris, A. and David, J. (1993) Finches and Sparrows. Christopher Helm Publishers, London.
  3. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia: Brown bear - Cheetah. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York.
  4. Roots, C. (2007) Domestication. Greenwood Press, Westport.
  5. Leitner, S., Voigt, C. and Gahr, M. (2001) Seasonal changes in the song pattern of the non-domesticated island canary (Serinus canaria), a field study. Behaviour, 138: 885-904.
  6. Voigt, C., Meiners, T., Ter Maat, A. and Leitner, S. (2011) Multisensory non-photoperiodic cue advances the onset of seasonal breeding in island canaries (Serinus canaria). Journal of Biological Rhythms, 26(5): 434-440.
  7. Voigt, C., Leitner, S. and Gahr, M. (2003) Mate fidelity in a population of island canaries (Serinus canaria) in the Madeiran Archipelago. Journal of Ornithology, 144: 86-92.
  8. BirdLife International (October, 2011)

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Island canary side profile  
Island canary side profile

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