The figure above is an illustration of the avian respiratory system. The translations which follow start from the upper left diagram labels and proceed to the lower left; the second set represent the terms on the right side of the diagram proceeding in the same manner: A. cervical air sac, interclavicular air sac, fork toward the humeral air sac in the wing, anterior thoracic air sac, lung, posterior thoracic air sac, abdominal air sac; B. beak, tongue, glottis, larynx, trachea, syrinx, bronchia, mesobronchia, dorsal bronchia, parabronchia, ventral bronchia.


Anatomists of renown affirm, among other things, that the special structure of the respiratory apparatus, the structure of the syrinx in particular, permits the canary to reproduce a special song. Among other things, they specify that structure of the organs is hereditary. These two points already constitute for us a valuable scientific indication. We admit, consequently, the canaries are endowed with an exceptional vocal apparatus. Man possesses a larynx; the canary has a syrinx. This latter is to be considered a tiny organ played in a delicate manner. It is placed into action by the displacement of the air that the canary holds in reserve, not only in the lungs, but also in the air sacs which are in direct communication with the lungs. Certain of these sacs are as long as the interior of the hollow bones they are found in.

He passes this reserve of air across the syrinx which is provided with membranes, these membranes are put into action by tiny muscles, and the canary is thus capable of producing notes, vibrations, melodies, in short, a complete song.

The fashion in which a bird is measured as related to its vocal apparatus may interest us somewhat. Always, the possibility of checking potential by a bird’s appearance is excluded, when it comes to the structure of this organ and deducing its capacities. But there is one certainty on which we remain dependent; on it we may ground our efforts:

If a canary produces a song of quality, this proves to us, therefore, that the hereditary structure of its vocal apparatus is fine tuned.

Let us remember, however, that a “tuned” vocal apparatus is not always a guarantee of a quality song. Other factors like: the master singer, hereditary predisposition, without forgetting the health of the canary in question, all play their role.

As it is understood, the whole vocal system is composed of many subdivisions. The structure of these subdivisions must respond to certain demands. All the possible combinations of the use of secondary parts, from the point of view of structure, give us a difference of tone, form, pitch, song direction, and ipso facto of the value of the song.

If we wish to make a comparison, we may say that each bird, taken individually, is to be considered a different musical instrument, constructed and tuned in a different fashion, an instrument which serves also in a different manner according to the capacities and possibilities of him who embraces it.

It is hard, if not impossible, to follow well defined and certain lines when it comes to structural heredity of the vocal apparatus. In effect, the variations which exist within these structures are innumerable and uncontrollable at first glance.

We know with certainty, however:

  • that a perfect song allows us to suppose a good structure of the vocal apparatus, 
  • that this structure is hereditary, 
  • that this structure can create a uniformity of song, a harmony, which is equally hereditary.

Even in the fortunate situation when we have paired canaries which are in song “harmony”, we may, all the same, anticipate some things with certainty. We increase our chances, however, when we have previously examined various different pairings and the results that may be attained there:

Let us represent the quality “good structure” by “S” which can be formulated for a canary of direct inheritance (homozygous) as “SS”. In the same way of thinking, a canary with unsuitable structure is represented by “ss”.

A Canary With a Vocal Apparatus of Good Structure x Another Canary With a Good Vocal Structure

Thus, SS x SS 

The law of uniformity allows us to understand that we will get as a result: 

  • 100% young canaries with a vocal apparatus of good structure—SS. 

A Canary With an Unsuitable Vocal Structure x Another Canary With an Unsuitable Vocal Structure 

This is, ss x ss

By the same principle we obtain: 

  • 100% young with unsuitable vocal structure—ss. 

A Canary With Good Vocal Structure x A Canary With Unsuitable Vocal Structure

This is represented by SS x ss

The results cannot be given with certainty because we must take account of the following:

  • one time the defect will be a dominant character, 
  • another time a recessive character, and 
  • sometimes even behave the same as an intermediate character

…this defective secondary part is one constituent of the whole vocal and respiratory system of the bird. Further adding to the confusion is the difference of song direction, and with this addition, the chaos of possible combinations is elevated, finally, to infinity.

Experience has proven that the breeding of bad singers is infinitely easier and less contingent than the breeding of singers of good quality. The least amount of going astray from the correct route, the least negligence in the care needed during breeding, will inevitably lead us to singers of defective and inferior quality.

We may deduce that in the domain of song, bad qualities are dominant over good ones.

C. Hereditary Predisposition for Song


The predisposition for song in the canary is comparable to that in humans for a vocation, love, possibilities, the preference and relish manifested for a profession, a sport, or likewise a pastime. 

Moreover, all these qualities are those that one tries to discover in youth in order to determine the direction one should take in future paths. We believe this applies above all to professions. 

As is the case with man—who is, in sum, nothing other than an animal developed to the highest degree—so it is the same with animals and more specifically with birds; these last which do not possess the least predisposition for song will never become quality singers, even if they possess good structure of the vocal apparatus, a good song tutor adapted to their possibilities, and enjoy perfect health. 

The predisposition for song manifests itself, not only in the love of the song, but also in the aptitude to become a good singer because a de classe singer composes his own song and interprets it at the same time. 

Reputable anatomists have expressed it in the following fashion:

Predisposition for song is hereditary. Canaries are endowed with an inherited song intelligence. From this point of view, they possess a remarkable recognition and aptitude; they manifest a certain justified determination in their love of song.

Thus, we may propose a novel indication furnished precisely with good sense, and we are able to infer defensible theories. 

The most efficacious solution for determining if a quality will be transmitted to the following generation, whether it is dominant, recessive, intermediate, or sex linked, is an investigation of the family. 

Breeders of song canaries can, each for his own line, control the passing on of a certain quality from the progenitors to the descendents of their birds, and eventually infer a guiding rule. 

From many research projects which were accomplished with care, in that which concerns human beings, it is possible to observe musical predisposition within the family of the celebrated composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The results of this investigation are very interesting and very instructive on the heredity of this predisposition: in a study of five generations, they found very few exceptions that lacked a predisposition for music; and in a direct line of ascendants and descendents among the members of the family, they found not one exception. 

One and another of these ideas gives us an almost certain reassurance of the hereditary predisposition for music. But, moving from that fact to the affirmation that this predisposition is dominant or is recessive would be, then, jumping to conclusions. 

In effect, there are still too many factors which may influence the quality of the song of the canary (which cannot be determined by merely listening) as well as other conditions through which all other exigencies for acquiring good song quality are filled. 

There remains, however, this certitude: 

Good and beautiful song betrays the possibility, capacity, relish—in a word—the predisposition for song.


Let us represent the predisposition for song by PR and the absence of the quality by pr. 

In these conditions, we arrive at:

A Canary With Predisposition x A Canary With Predisposition 

PR x PR 

This gives us, following the law of uniformity: 

  • 100% young with a predisposition for quality song—PRPR. 

A Canary Without Predisposition x A Canary Without Predisposition 

pr x pr 

With this result, according to the same principle: 

  • 100% young without predisposition for quality song—prpr. 

The product of the pairing of a canary with predisposition and a canary without predisposition, PRPR x prpr, is more difficult to determine. 

Theoretically, the result of this pairing should be: 

  • 25% young with predisposition—PRPR 
  • 50% with an aptitude, but without certitude, for the predisposition, therefore by indirect inheritance—PRpr 
  • 25% young without the least bit of predisposition—prpr. 

Nevertheless: there are also many other factors inherited from the two parents which may influence the song quality. We must recall that predisposition, by itself, is not sufficient. It would be superfluous for us to here cite anew the complete gamut of other conditions which can play a role.

Canary Basic Care Sheet

Canaries need only a few things to keep them both healthy and happy:

  • A clean, roomy, secure cage out of direct sunlight (too hot in the afternoon) or drafts (too cold)—a single bird requires a cage of about 12’’ x 12’’ x 10’’ at a minimum, and bigger is better! The cage needs to have at least 2 perches as well as food and water containers that the bird understands.
  • Clean, fresh food and water—canaries are usually very open to new foods, but be sure to include a good, fortified seed mix (i.e.: with vitamins and calcium added by the maker) at the start. This is a lot like a canary’s natural food and something it has had available at all times since fledging. Later on, you may decide to change the bird over to a pellet or crumble. For now, however, getting used to a new home will be as much change as the bird will want. If you do change foods, do so gradually, following the manufacturer’s directions. Also provide a little fresh fruit (apple, a little orange, banana, berry, grape half) and vegetable (corn, a little spinach, dark leaf lettuce, broccoli, carrot, zucchini), both carefully washed. Water should be clean and changed often. It sometimes takes more time than one would think for birds to find the food and water vessels in their new homes, so it is wise to sprinkle a little seed and offer a bit of moist fruit on the floor of the cage, just in case! If the bird looks droopy like it is half asleep, with lower eye lids half raised, and puffed up, a day or so after moving into its new home, it could mean it is dehydrated. Give it a small jar lid, etc. of water on the floor of the cage in plain view immediately! Once the bird finds its permanent source of water, this can be removed. Birds can also be given calcium blocks, cuttlebone, or oyster shell, and one of these is a must for breeding hens before and during nesting time. Breeding canaries can prove difficult, and you should read up on it before you start.
  • A clean, fairly stable environment—rooms like small kitchens and bathrooms are not usually good locations to keep birds. Temperatures can vary greatly due to hot showers or baking, strong chemicals are often present, and fumes from these or from non-stick cookware can be deadly! Rooms such as well-lit bedrooms, family rooms, or living rooms are ideal. Especially for the first week or so, the bird should be in a calm location; if the bird must be housed in a noisy, high traffic area, get it used to it gradually (cover it when it seems to be stressed or over stimulated). You will notice that lots of activity, as long as the bird cage doesn’t get bumped, will bother the bird less and less as time goes buy, and a male will actually enjoy singing along with a radio, a loud conversation, or a vacuum once he is really settled in.

Health issues:

  • Any kind of bird can become ill very quickly. They live at a much faster rate than people do, and things which could take years to hurt us could hurt them in days or even hours! In addition to the things mentioned above, the following can hurt your bird: cigarette smoke in an enclosed area, inconsistent diet or care, prolonged teasing by people or other pets, any stressful events, too much artificial light. Most of the items seem pretty obvious, but the item about light may not be. Birds’ lives are virtually run by light; when day length is around 9 or 10 hours a day in late fall and winter, canary song is at its mellow best, and the birds are sort of on standby (they have finished their late-summer molt, but aren’t ready for breeding—this is when song contests are held). When day length reaches about 11 or 12 hours, the song starts to sound a bit more strident, and hens may start carrying bits of string or even paper around. When days are about 13 hours long the song can sound downright harsh or desperate, and hens will lay eggs. At about 14 hours, canaries will begin to molt again. Birds kept at about 14 hours or more of light a day over a prolonged period may get stuck in molt; they will be constantly replacing a few feathers at a time until this wears them down and uses up all their energy. In rooms that get a lot of artificial light each day, be sure to cover the cage with a dark colored cloth once the bird has received more than about 12 hours of total light. You can, however, allow a naturally longer light period on the longest summer days to allow for a natural molt. Males will sing much less or not at all during the molt; this is natural. Right after the molt, however, every male canary sets his voice for the year. First he goes through a plastic voice period when he experiments and forms his song (this is especially true for birds going through their first adult molt). It is said that canaries are excellent mimics, and it is at this stage that your bird could pick up stray sounds or wild bird calls. Some people play recordings of good canary singers at this time to help make their birds’ songs the best they can be. However, unless a male canary has what is called song intelligence which he inherits from his parents, he will never be able to sing a complete typical song for his particular breed or variety. Each breed or variety (and sometimes even strain) will have its own proper song, and it will have an effect to expose a roller to a waterslager song or a waterslager to a timbrado song, etc. at the formative period. Later his song pattern will solidify into the notes and tours he will use for the next year. One should never attempt to train show birds or birds which will act as tutors with a recording as the song will never sound as good as one learned from a real bird which is related to the student. 
  • You should be on the lookout for the following signs of illness: puffy feathers, wheezing, sneezing, loose stool over a long period, and change of appetite. Illness can move very quickly, so consult a veterinarian, a knowledgeable bird professional, or good bird care book immediately. 
  • If given proper care, a canary may live for 10 to 15 years and continue to sing into old age.

More than one bird?

  • Even 2 males which have been raised together should not be housed in the same cage. Peace may reign for a while but eventually territorial instinct will come back and fighting will occur. The best way to enjoy 2 male canaries is to house them apart in such a way that they can hear, but not see, each other. This method will take full advantage of a canary’s natural instinct to let competing male neighbors know that he is defending a territory. In the wild, songbirds sit within their territories calling to their rivals all day long, and by this method you can get much more singing from your birds. 
  • A male/female pair can be housed together all year once they have been properly acclimated to each other. Remember a bird that has been housed alone will think of its cage as a territory to be defended, so gentle introductions will be necessary when putting birds together. Start by housing the birds next to each other in separate cages until they are used to each other. This can be quick or take days and days to accomplish. It should be noted that one of the reasons a bird sings is the need to find a mate; in this housing method that need is met, so the male may sing somewhat less than if housed alone. The pair will eventually nest, so the male and female should be of the same breed or variety to ensure that any young are of good quality. 
  • Group housing will work with canaries as long as they are not crowded into too small a space. Any squabbles will usually be fairly minor and temporary. The social interaction of 3 or more birds will usually prevent any one bird picking on any other individual for long. In this situation only one dominant bird will sing most often (not necessarily your best singer either) unless song perches or other ways of blocking the birds’ view are used. A song perch has many cardboard, plywood, or fiberboard dividers of about 4 or 5 inches square, through the centers of which a piece of doweling is run; the dividers are then set at about 3 or 4 inches apart. This will allow a number of birds to sit on the same perch and not be seen by each other. Be sure that the cage is large enough for the number of birds you are planning to keep in it.

Molting vs. Singing: What to Do About a Canary That Won’t Sing

By Sebastian Vallelunga

For those who have questions about molting vs. singing, keep in mind that canaries are almost as sensitive to light as photographic paper is! Except at times when one is following the advice below on molting and training, one should always give the pet bird only as much light as the natural day length would provide. ALWAYS COVER A PET BIRD OR HAVE HIM IN A DARK ROOM DURING THE HOURS OF NATURAL DARKNESS, UNLESS YOU ARE TRYING TO EFFECT SOME CHANGE IN HIM!

If canaries are otherwise healthy, the problem with a non-singing bird is often tied to not being exposed to the right amount of light. The same cause can lead to a bird not molting or being stuck in the molt as well. 

To encourage the onset of molt in late summer, increase the number of hours of light that the bird is exposed to (between 14 and 16 hours per day). Molt will really begin in earnest, as the number of hours per day starts to be reduced; eventually it should be reduced by nearly half (a little at a time), and, in fact, the light intensity should be reduced as well if possible. Molting birds seem to appreciate dim light and quiet. The normal molting stage can last two months, so be patient. You should also give some foods that are a bit higher in protein at this stage to help with feather growth; I've heard breeders rave about the miracles Petamine can work with feather quality. 

To encourage singing at the end of the molting season (this may not be absolutely necessary, if the above advice about molting is followed), one needs to song train. Song training is something all song canary breeders do in one way or another. This is done by keeping the bird in a dark or dimly lit area for most of the day (you can use a dark colored cloth over a pet's cage to accomplish this). One should increase the amount of darkness (in intensity and duration) over the period of a week or so. Remove the cloth or lighten the area in the morning when you give the bird his breakfast for about a half hour and again in the afternoon or early evening for the same length of time. After the pet bird has been fully dark for about a week the bird should begin singing when the lights come on (again, be patient; it may take longer with some birds). Keep the bird at this stage for a few more weeks, at least, in order to get the mellow song that this training can give and to really get him in the singing mood. If your bird is a stubbornly reluctant singer, you might try playing a bit of mellow music at this stage or playing canary song for him. 

For a bird that is stuck in the molt, be sure to provide a dimly lit, quiet spot until the molting ends, and then proceed with the training. 

If you are not happy with your PET bird's song, you should expose him to better songs within his own breed and general style (you can buy tapes or cd's on various internet sites or even find free snippets). This needs to be done at the time he is just beginning to come back into song and sounds like he is hesitantly experimenting--this is the only time of the year that his song can be influenced much. 

By the way, it is perfectly natural for hens (especially in some strains of song breed canaries) to sing almost as well as the males at about the time of the males' molting silence. Perhaps this is nature's way of ensuring that we will never be completely without canary song! 

I hope this advice helps those with questions about "jump starting" a canary's song.

Song Learning in the Canary 

By Vicente Jerez Gomez Coronado 
PAJAROS Ornithological Review 
Translated from the Spanish by Sebastian Vallelunga


The object in breeding champion song canaries has two fundamental aspects: the first consists in obtaining canaries with an adequate genotype, which means we must begin with parents of definite genotype themselves, derived from lines which were well established previously, using a process of correct pairing and selection, but once one is using the preceding process, it is necessary to implement an adequate program of song apprenticeship among young males, which enables these already young adults to, with a selected timbre of voice and notable aptitude, interpret a new and worthy song score. The knowledge that Timbrado "canariculturalists" have about this learning stage is fundamentally empirical, based on the experiments of breeders who have a diligent dedication to the birds. In essence, this knowledge is founded, in my view, in a fact accepted by all, that canaries inherit the timbre and other faculties of the voice from their progenitors; and this leads to two counterposed hypotheses: it is said that the song, with more or less richness of syllables and concrete musical norms, must be a spontaneous manifestation of genetic endowment in conjunction with the influence of the surrounding environment, while others maintain that for a song to be of high quality, it must be learned and imitated from adult examples who are their neighbors during the learning stage. The first group uses no tutors so that the song will be, as we have said, a manifestation of the genes and not of an apprenticeship, the lessons of which could be lost the following year; the second group have their young birds live near adult examples who can teach them to sing a predetermined song with perfection. 

It also seems accepted by all canariculturalists that the canary learns his song during a period that runs from birth until the month of November, and after this learning period the song "locks" and a stable song is presented. Normally, in the middle or at the end of October, the young birds are separated from their brothers and are individually caged to be listened to by the breeder, either grouped into a team or left as individuals, and trained for presentation at song contests which are held from November to January. The training consists, in essence, in keeping them in an enclosure with little light and moving them, periodically and for a short duration, to an illuminated site so they will become accustomed to singing when in the light and so to perform at the moment they are being evaluated by the judge. With some frequency, the breeders administer testosterone in the form of drops during the training period. Also with some frequency, shows are being conducted earlier, starting at the end of October to the middle of November, obliging the contestants to individually cage the birds earlier than was stated above, even as early as mid-August to mid-September, which could certainly alter the natural process of learning.

It is known that periodically, that is, once each year during the molt, sometime in the months of summer and fall, the canary stops singing with mastery in order to recuperate and to renew his song; by winter the song can be the same as that before the molt or, more or less, different from it. In relation to this same point, there also exist a difference of opinion on its significance such that those who use tutors say that if their birds do not modify their songs in successive years it is because they have heard an adult model of quality in their youths, while those who don't use tutors attribute it to the idea that the song of their canaries is a spontaneous expression of their genes, nothing learned apart from their genetic endowment. 

In the present article I seek to review and systematize the empirical knowledge employed in the song learning of our canaries. The method employed has been presented to breeders of different tendencies, accredited by means of their wide experience, for their input, and the written sources consulted were found in the MEDLINE database of the US National Library of Medicine. This article will unfold as follows: phases, hormonal control and learning, imitation of adult models, and conclusions.


It would serve us well, before entering into the polemics which follow, to review the existing studies on the form in which canaries learn to sing their song with dexterity from birth until the adult stage. 

Birds sing in order to communicate with others, establish breeding territory, and, in the case of males, to attract their mates. 

Since antiquity it has been recognized that certain birds possess the capacity to imitate sounds; nevertheless, it was W. H. Torpes who, in the 50's, demonstrated that songbirds exercise this capacity habitually, and that they have the capacity to learn to sing in a form similar to the way that humans learn to talk: imitating the models provided by adults. He observed that the pinzones learned to sing from adult models at a single stage of their lives, before achieving their sexual maturity; afterwards they lost this capacity to learn for good. This period in which learning could take place he called the "critical period" in learning. It did not, however, happen in the same way for canaries since these change their song from year to year and are, thus, "time-unlimited" learners. Each year they have their "critical period" of learning before the coming of spring: during late autumn and winter. 

The song of canaries evolves from birth until sexual maturity, passing through various phases: 

a) The first sounds which a canary emits, between birth and complete independence from his parents at the end of the fourth week, are shrill cries that move his parents to feed him. 

b) The first rudimentary attempts at song begin in the fifth week and last until the second month of life; these attempts are called "subsong". They are of low volume and variable structure, and are emitted when the bird is almost dozing: the bird is said to be "reviewing his lessons" by breeders. They seem to represent time periods and phases of vocal practice, from which eventually originates the complete song repertoire which will be used in communication. 

c) A more structured song, very near to adult song but retaining much variability, is the area of "plastic song"; it lasts about six months: from the beginning of the third month of life until it achieves sexual maturity, at seven or eight months. As we will see later, during the first half of the plastic song stage, the size of the cerebral centers that control song increase only a little, but, during the second half ( from the sixth to the eighth month of life), there is a spectacular increase in the size of the superior vocal center. In the last part of this phase, the canary can already vocalize 90% of the syllables that he will use as an adult. 

d) At the beginning of the first breeding season, the canary has transformed the syllables produced into stereotypical sound and expresses a "stable song" with a richness of concrete syllables and following fixed and typical musical norms: the "locking of the song" according to breeders. It does not seem easy to achieve the consolidation of "stable song", if we consider the many months of practice: the time of "plastic song". 

e) Without doubt, this song is not the song or definitive syllabic repertoire which will be sung for the whole life of the canary. Every year after the mating season, during the end of summer and autumn, the bird looses his learned mastery of song execution and this is exchanged for another period of instability of song, just like the "plastic song" of the young. During this period there will be dominant syllables which will be forgotten, while at the same time new ones are incorporated into a new stable song, which will be expressed in the following spring; thus, the adult male canaries can unfold a repertoire of new syllables in their songs. The transition from stable song to plastic and back again to stable, is repeated annually in the adult canary.


There are many environmental factors that can influence song learning in canaries, like heard sounds, the light intensity of the site they are in, the food eaten, the company of other canaries, adults or young, and probably other unrecognized factors as well. Moreover, this seasonal learning is controlled by hormonal balance; the phases of new syllable acquisition are preceded by lower concentrations of blood testosterone, the male sex hormone. Effectively, the canary's song is characterized by the number of sounds or distinct syllables it contains and by certain musical norms; when the canary is in the plastic song phase, it may incorporate new syllables into its song. This incorporation coincides with the augmentation of the cerebral center which controls song, and is preceded by a fall in blood testosterone levels; conversely when blood testosterone levels are high the canary is found to be in the stable song phase, adding few syllables to its song.

One may affirm, also, that the plastic song phase, which goes from the beginning of the third to the end of the seventh or eighth month of life, from approximately May to November, is the "critical period" of learning among canaries, above all, during the months of August, September, and October. During this time canaries prepare by means of a natural capacity for learning for learning syllables and musical norms, more so than at other months of the year. 

From that which was affirmed by the preceding paragraph, one may deduce that if we shorten the duration of the critical period of learning or plastic song phase, the canary would have less time to learn new syllables and consequently develop a stable song with a "poverty of syllables". If we give exogenous testosterone to canaries during the period from the third to seventh month, approximately from May to October, and raise the level in the blood to the level reached in November, we can accelerate the sexual maturation, attaining the stable song phase earlier, but this happens at the expense of learning, with a shortened duration of the critical period. Also, proceeding to the individual caging of the male birds when very young, like the middle of August or middle of September, can accelerate their sexual maturation, again shortening the critical period. These two processes, giving exogenous testosterone and early individual caging of the young, put one on a par with those breeders who are obliged to present their canaries at song contests when quite young, like the end of October or the beginning of November. But, in addition to shortening the duration of the critical period, early caging or addition of excess testosterone can counteract the capacity for learning during the most productive months of this period which are from August to October when the most syllables may be learned by the canaries. As can be seen, the convocation of early song contests can promote syllabic poverty in the songs of those canaries which participate in them. Moreover, we must be aware that the early individual caging of the young canaries creates a situation where learning at this time is realized solitarily, while those caged at the normal time, from mid-October to mid-November, have their learning period enriched with the company of other male canaries; and in the same way holding very young birds in the dark may alter the process of learning qualitatively. Nevertheless, one may hypothesize that, if one gives exogenous testosterone during the plastic song phase (solely with the objective of restoring fallen levels of this hormone), we will avoid possible deficits during the plastic song months and perhaps stimulate the growth of the superior vocal center and the nucleus of the archistriatum which will respond with a larger number of neurons, causing a song with better syllabic richness without pushing sexual maturation too far, shortening the duration of the critical period. 

The nucleus of the archistriatum is part of the bird's song system and will be looked at more closely in the second part of this article.

The use of exogenous hormones seems to be a common practice in some parts of the world, even though it remains controversial. So long as shows which are staged later in the season become more widespread in the US, perhaps this controversy can be avoided. The author makes it clear that there is some considerable risk in using this artificial aid (impoverished song, etc.), and a more natural period of song development is to be preferred--trans. 

Song Learning in the Canary Part II 
By Vicente Jerez Gomez Coronado 
PAJAROS Ornithological Review 
Translated from the Spanish by Sebastian Vallelunga


Although the song of the canary is executed in the song organ "the syrinx" it is the brain in which the contents of the stable song resides, with its syllabic composition and concrete musical norms and where control over the song execution on the part of the syrinx is located, as we shall see.

In 1976, Fernand Nottebohm, specialist in animal behavior and neurogenesis at Rockefeller University in New York, identified groups of differentiated cerebral cells which control song in canaries. These cells are distributed in a major center, called the superior vocal center (CVS), which sends axonal elongations to another center called the robust archistriatalis (RA); this, in its turn, sends other axonal elongations to the center of the hypoglossal cranial nerve which controls the muscles of the syrinx.

Both centers are situated in the frontal lobes of the canary which is where complete learning behavior is controlled. The CVS seems to be responsible for identifying, memorizing, and producing song; effectively, this center functions to identify perceived songs, functions as a song model memory in order to imitate it, if the bird is male, or in order to recognize and identify its family or partner, if the bird is female. This song information, stored in the CVS, is translated by means of the axonal elongations to the RA center which is responsible for causing the motor dexterity in the execution of the song by means of the hypoglossal cranial nerve, which communicates with the muscles of the syrinx. 

It has been proven that these centers are larger in those canaries with more complex songs than in those who have simpler ones; they grow in size with the administering of testosterone and in the spring when the levels of testosterone are at their highest; in the same way they are larger in males than in females; on the other hand, they diminish in size after the reproductive stage at which time there is a return to unstable song and blood testosterone levels fall drastically. 

It has been proven that the survival of regenerated neurons located in the CVS depends on the presence of sufficient levels of testosterone, enlisting these neurons by means of a neurotrophic factor derived from the brain (FNDC); we see that their survival depends on the time the canary spends singing, and the use of the motor circuits related to sing stimulate the freeing of the FNDC, affecting in this last case more neurons of the RA center. This also confirms that the hearing of sounds helps to unfold and to give power to the auditory circuits involved in the learning of the singers.

The important fall in the level of testosterone during the first months of the first year of life from May to June, coincides with the first molt and a staking in the growth of the size of the song control centers, which recuperate in the next months paralleling a recuperation of the testosterone levels which reach a maximum during November. All this happens during the plastic song stage associated with the important learning process. The size of the song centers, as has been stated, reach their maximum during spring when testosterone levels are highest.

From the second year onward and with annual periods, at the beginning of the breeding season, during the molting period which follows, principally in August, the neurons of the song regulatory centers undergo a process of regression and a great number die causing a decrease in the size of the centers, coinciding with the important fall of testosterone levels. At this phase of regression of the centers there also occurs a regeneration, by means of a process of neurogenesis with an incorporation of new neurons, which reaches a peak in November, when testosterone returns to very high levels. This process repeats itself each year in the same way.

Coinciding with these moments of crisis of falling and recuperation of testosterone levels and a regression and recuperation of the cerebral centers which control song, there is produced an instability in and modification of the song, wherein the bird may lose, incorporate, or modify song syllables. The song becomes stable once again from November to May, when the process of regeneration of the song centers is also stabilized. These ups and downs in the size of the cerebral centers are not seen in other songbirds and the original learned song endures throughout life.

Given the parallel seen between the capacity to learn and emit complete song and the size of the cerebral centers, caused by the action of testosterone during the stage of subsong and even more fundamentally during the phase of plastic song, there remains the manifestation of song dependence with respect to correct development of the cerebral centers and, in its way, the availability of an adequate testosterone level at these times.

Also with an annual periodicity, in January, there is another important drop in blood testosterone levels of an unclear significance, for which there is no accompanying song instability nor a decrease in the size of the song centers, perhaps it signifies an important increased consumption in this hormone in the fabric of the process of unfolding the sexual characteristics in preparation for the breeding season (A bird I own just went through this January period; although he had a limited song and some expected elements of his strain's typical song were missing, he did pick up one element and rearrange others at this time. Perhaps the January period acts as a sort of last minute period of adjustment before the breeding season in cases when the song is incomplete for whatever reason after November--trans.).


​It seems logical to think that, if canaries have the capacity to learn song by imitating the model of adult males, and this is the procedure that these birds follow when they live free in nature, since they live with and learn the song of their father and other adult males within the group, our canaries should also learn to sing in imitation of an adult male of quality song, seeking nature's example as our guide. This is the criterion of very good breeders like Arcadio Pavon Macho, from the city of Cazalla (Seville), who uses a tutor with his young birds so these will learn to pronounce the notes well, always given that the young are genetically disposed toward good voice. The tutor is left in the relative freedom of the flight, together with the young males, until these are placed into the individual cages (mid-October to mid-November); the tutors are "complete" canaries which have not "been covered" nor bred to excess (he seems to mean a male bird with a high degree of machismo, not having been intimidated by other more dominant ones nor worn out with breeding--trans.), because such birds keep a higher quality song. Once the young birds are removed from the flight, the tutor becomes unnecessary. It is hypothesized that song is of higher quality when it is learned from an excellent example and song defects are avoided, having been previously weeded out in the process of the selection of tutors.

Other expert breeders, like Joaquin Sandua Sanchez, of San Pedro de Mieres (Oviedo), maintain, without exception, the criterion of not using tutors so that the songs exhibited by the young are spontaneous manifestations of their genes and not a counterfeit learned expression instead; in consequence, the selection of example birds with better song is actually the selection of example birds of better genotypic quality. This is not to say that two canaries with the same genetic endowment tend to exhibit an identical song, rather the song, like the phenotypic model it represents, results from the interaction of the genes and the surrounding ambiance, in the fullest sense (other audible sounds, light level, diet, temperature, neighbors in greater or lesser numbers, the disposition of testosterone levels during plastic song, etc.), and it is almost impossible to say they will be similar when the ambient conditions seem to be the same for two birds. This method of learning without a tutor is applied until a fixed line is determined; afterwards it gives the same results weather one uses a tutor or not, so long as the object of selection has been realized and the line firmly fixed. Moreover, experience also demonstrates that a canary who elaborates a composition or song without a tutor has a higher capacity for improvisation, and in the same way his song will not be repetitive, changing from one performance to another. It is useful to house the young males by family groups, which will have a similar genetic endowment and have songs which should be of similar characteristics and avoid or limit the influence of other groupings of young males of different lines, housed in adjoining flights, that can hear and influence each other, against which one may use a radio which works as an acoustic barrier. An intermediate criterion, one more eclectic, is to use a tutor in the flight, but only until the beginning of the molt in July and the tutor stops singing; in this way the young may unfold the song learned according to their own genetic make up during the rest of the summer and autumn. A fourth possibility, also used by some breeders, is to employ various tutors of different song, all placed in the flight with each young male learning the song he likes the best or a mixture of them all. Other breeders use a mixed system: in order to draw out new floreos and new quality songs, they breed a few pairs away from the others without using tutors; if some of the young display new floreos or new songs of quality, these are used as tutors for the majority in the next breeding season.

There exist experimental studies conducted with other songbirds, like the pinzon cebra (zebra finch?--trans.), from which one may extract the following findings:

​a) A single young bird raised in captivity with his father present imitates him almost exactly, but, when various young males are raised with an adult male present, each one converts, in his own way, his brothers into tutors and diminishes his imitation of the adult model: the greater the number of young males together, the smaller the number of imitated syllables and the shorter the duration of the song learned. The young born later learn from adults quicker than older siblings, relatively speaking, and they have a more complete imitation.

​b) The young can learn from a song model presented to them in a recorded medium in a song cage, but an excessive "playback" of the model reduces imitation behavior by 33%. This restriction of imitation selectively affects certain concrete syllables not being produced at random; these can be syllables almost all of the other young birds imitated or others which almost none did (If I understood correctly, this means a young bird taught to sing using a recorded medium which is repeated overly frequently will permanently leave out a part of the song from his repertoire due to the less complete learning caused by the 33% reduction in imitation behavior--trans.).

c) The raising of young in social isolation, that is to say, alone and without hearing adult song models, can give voice to an improvised song which, although atypical, will include many normal sounds. However, this capacity for improvisation does not seem to manifest itself when even a small amount of imitation is possible due to limited exposure to an adult model.

d) When the young hear the song of another male outside of their cage, a male whom they cannot see or interact with, imitation of his song is scarce or absent.

There are no experiments, although they are being worked on, which have dealt with using various song models at the same time. The light shed by this data, in relation to the practices used in canariculture, allows us to state the following:

1) Effectively, the young bird caged with his father or another adult male imitates his song in an almost complete form. The imitation is must less complete when many young birds share the same flight and young birds born later learn the adult's song at a younger age than the older ones. The use of recordings when the young are in individual song cages leads to an leads to an almost complete imitation, paradoxically, if the young hear it seldom, no more than two or three minutes a day; if it is played more abundantly, the imitation will be incomplete.

2) When no adult model is present to imitate the young will improvise an atypical song, but one with characteristic syllables. In this case each young male will serve as a tutor to the others.

​3) The use of a radio as background, playing all day long, may produce two effects: first, to stimulate the song auditory routes, including the CVS; second, to serve as a superabundant auditory stimulus, succeeding in reducing the capacity for imitation in young birds who hear it, which would be an aid for the breeder that pursues the line that the young birds should not imitate those models which they hear. It is easy to understand the stimulating action of the sounds on the song auditory routes, placed in a location where there is a lack of stimulus, the previously referred to routes will atrophy in the same way that a deaf person's speech centers and routes do limiting the ability to speak correctly.

​4) Excessive exposure to sounds, like the use of a radio in a continuous way or the learning to sing in the presence of a large number of young birds, may put into play processes of selectivity in the attention of the young in terms of imitation, accepting some models and rejecting others. This may account for the wide range of sounds and songs encountered in singing birds, in the natural setting as well as in captivity.


There are many questions related to the learning in song canaries, and this keeps open study and experimentation, but we may draw the following conclusions:

The characteristics of faculty and timbre of voice, fundamentally depend on the anatomic conformation of the phonetic organ of the canary, which is determined to a great extent by genotype.

The musical composition or song of the canary forms part of its phenotype and, in consequence, results from an interaction of the genotype and the ambient medium, in the widest sense.

Although canaries preserve the capacity to learn new syllables throughout the year, it is during the plastic song phase or the critical period of learning when they have a greater capacity; in consequence, the shortening of this period, the acceleration of the onset of sexual maturation by means of individual caging or giving excess testosterone, can lead to a syllabic poverty of the song.

We fail to recognize many factors relating to ambience that can influence song learning, as the concrete aspect of phenotype that it is; we may place these into two groups: those which are related to auditory stimulus which may or may not serve as models and those which relate to the availability of optimum testosterone levels.

It is not accepted that in a generalized form learning with a tutor yields a song with greater syllabic richness or more musicality, although it is clear that tutored birds sing like their tutors, given the capacity for imitation of them. Learning without a tutor can lead to a song which, at least, has as much syllabic richness and musicality as that learned from a tutor, can be an aid in obtaining new floreos and songs which are a reflection of an adequate genotype, permit a genetic selection which is more certain; gives a better capacity for improvisation; on the other hand, using this system there is a larger risk of producing song of lower value with defects in its execution. One does not, however, have the inconvenience of using a tutor in a line, once it has been firmly fixed.

(All of the material on annual song learning causes one to wonder what the adaptive advantage is for male canaries to have to relearn part of their song each year when most songbirds use the same song throughout life once it is learned in youth. Is it that some songs are more helpful in defending a territory or attracting a mate in some years more than others on the Atlantic islands from which the original birds come? Does something like winter weather pattern determine spring feed quantities and therefore make it more, evolutionarily speaking, advantageous to attract a certain sort of female with a preference for one type of song over another? Does the type of song learned by males in any given year have a certain bent that most males follow? Is the type of song a subtle statement read by females about the male's health and probable abilities as a father provider? Is the relearning simply a random affair in which certain individuals change songs a lot and others a little without reason, and yet, if this is so, how did this characteristic survive natural selection among canaries when it is unknown among other songbirds?--trans.)

Two Contradictory Articles

The two following articles certainly contradict one another. The first advocates making specific pairings to improve song quality in certain ways and claims that the results are predictable, just as the reults of pairings made by breeders of type or color canaries are. The second article claims that it is virtually impossible to predict the exact results of any pairing when it comes to song since there are so many unkowns involved in the genetic inheritance of song aptitude. Both articles point out the importance of training as a means of bringing that which is inherited to full flower, however.


By Ramon Jose Monfort Sanchez
Translated from the Spanish by Sebastian Vallelunga

(The following article was written by Ramon Jose Monfort Sanchez, Spanish National Breeder C-59. As can be gleaned from the Valencia Malinois Club website, for which there is a hotlink below, he has had a tremendously successful career as a waterslager breeder. He has twice placed second at the World Championship; his best ever team total was 503 points; his best bird scored 135 with an 8 in klok; his highest ever klok score was 9, his highest Bol was 6 and Rol was 4; he has twice shown teams with total klok scores of 29 --6-6-9-8; 7-7-7-8--trans.)


With this manual, which is composed of 3 well-defined parts, I only seek to help those breeders who like me feel a curiosity about such a magnificent singer. In this way, bringing the experience gained over the expanse of the years which has been joined with comments compiled by other breeders in various trustworthy documents that are both serious and full of indispensable basic knowledge, it is hoped that one will recognize the example of success that is continuously employed. This is my objective: to help those who feel doubts or think that the waterslager song canary is a delicate example of the species which requires special care, more than the other song breeds which exist, to realize that it is not so and that our subject bird only requires someone to cultivate it who, before all else, recognizes and knows what is required and when to do it.

We must not, for a moment, forget the pre-eminence of our Belgian sportsmen friends who breed their birds for excellence and pamper them, but the fact is that they have made them what they are. Many have paid a high price because of this truth. Here we speak not of mere chance, but of a culture in the service of sport. This fact could be ignored as coincidental except that from start to finish raising canaries there is a cultural sport.

Actually in Spain, thanks to the strength of the many breeders who have preoccupied themselves with waterslagers, one may already note a positive expansion and also a time of local judges (Let's not forget that in the end the judgments are not made behind closed doors. All that is required is a room which is perfectly suited and in which the birds and the judge can be seen and heard without being bothered by those in attendance. After all, until after the bird has sung his full song, it is pointless to debate the why's of giving preference to one note over another, etc.).

This is what we are actually reaching for, the unexpected heights after just a few years. There are continually more clubs formed in all of the Spanish territory. And, all can reflect, in the end, on the awards attained by Spaniards first at the 1983 World Championship in Italy-- best team, again in Italy in 1989-- 2nd and 3rd teams, in 1993-- 1st and 3rd teams at Breda, Holland, in 1994-- 1st team at Bocholt.

I believe we are on the right path but that we have, nevertheless, a lot of ground to cover, However, it is better that those who plan to cultivate this magnificent singer know, more time must be dedicated than perhaps we are disposed to give in certain stages, especially in the apprenticeship of the song, it is better for the bird that one who plans to dedicate himself to it has very clearly in mind that which is required by his bird, because to neglect it at any moment is, with certainty, to lose any strength gained at earlier stages.

We must clearly keep in mind that to dedicate ourselves we must devote sufficient time, that is to say all that we can give, operating under the premise that each case is distinct. One cannot pretend to learn in but a few hours a day what in reality takes twice as much time. If one is in need of motivation, it should be noted that dedication and commitment by breeders is directly tied to possibilities and achievements in breeding.

Needlessly breaking this golden rule assures failure and accounts for the constant lament that may be heard at competitions attended by some breeders; with the consequent disillusionment comes the later abandonment of breeding. For this reason, one who formerly recommended them, now puts all his waterslagers up for sale.

The breeding of waterslagers has known highs and lows, and in the course of the two world wars lost much of its popularity. But, starting in 1945, the breeding of waterslagers underwent a resurgence with new impetus to the degree that it has almost grown to a culminating point. Easier communication and more international relations have led to more important and more numerous contests, and this is surely not strange considering that the actual breeding occurs in the context of an international organization known as the World Ornithological Confederation (C.O.M.) which joins all the breeders and aficionados of canaries, in all their varieties, in the whole world.

By means of this organization, Belgian waterslagers have gained a world-wide reputation. Their breeding has expanded not only in Europe, but also in America (North, Central, and South).


The pure waterslager is a bird of robust constitution and of beautiful posture. The waterslager is more elegant and larger than the harz song canary. Various publications mention a size of 16 to 17 cm (6 1/2 to 6 3/4 inches--trans.). In comparison to most races of canary, the head is small, the neck a bit thicker, the torso is large and well-rounded with a well-carried shoulder. The legs are of medium size and are held slightly bent. 

An imaginary line passing from the head to the tail along the back should form an angle of, more or less, 30 degrees to the horizontal. The plumage is tight, smooth, and without splits. Concerning color, the best are from straw yellow to golden yellow. A uniformly yellow or lightly ticked bird is recommended in selection.

Green colored waterslagers are to be rejected because their color betrays a cross with another canary race. It should be evident, then, that agates, cinnamons, and isabels are also not acceptable, nor are red factors nor silver factors nor frill feathered canaries.

Some Notions of inheritance

All living things, plant or animal, carry within themselves hereditary factors which proceed from father and mother to offspring. That is to say the parents pass on, in conjunction, 2 inherited factors for each characteristic. For example, the sex is determined in the same way as in color canaries: XX is a male, and XY is a female. Since we are focusing on song canaries in particular in the present material, let us cite the following as an example for the song characteristic known as "song direction":

If a canary possesses from paternal transmission the factor "wet song" indicated with a "W" (for water), and from maternal transmission the same "W" factor, the offspring canary, as far as song direction is concerned, would be indicated as "WW". If in this case the two inherited factors are identical, we speak of a direct transmission of the characteristic, or of its inheritance being homozygous.

Laws of Inheritance

The Law of Uniformity

If we cross a song canary that carries the inheritance WW (that is to say, being homozygous in that which concerns song direction) with another canary, also a WW, then every fertile egg will carry an inheritance of W from the paternal side in combination with an inheritance of W from the maternal side, and the hatched babies will all be carriers, without exception, of the WW factors. We can depict this cross as follows:

​​WW x WW

The factors of the same characteristic are shown in the same unique way, in the sperm cells of the male or in the egg cells of the hen. This is due to the reduction which is indispensable at the moment the reproductive cells are formed (the splitting of chromosomal pairs which occurs in the production of sex cells?--trans.). When the egg is fertilized, it contains within it the two factors which refer to the same song direction characteristic. We can depict the hen's egg cells as follows:

(3) (4)

and the male's sperm cells as

(1) (2)

If these sperm cells and egg cells are arbitrarily combined, we get combinations as indicated on the following chart:

(3) (4)

(1) (1+3) (1+4)

(2) (2+3) (2+4)

This means that 100 % of the young canaries will have WW factors concerning song direction and will have a watery song. In conclusion, we can see that the descendents are uniform in this, due to a direct transmission, and from the point of view of heredity, this is called the law of uniformity.

Song Inheritance in Canaries


Before all else, it must be insisted that good health is the capital condition in obtaining a good song quality. Among others, the following are also important influences on song quality:

  • The influence of place and surroundings
  • The inherited structure of the vocal apparatus
  • The inherited predisposition for song

How can we possibly say enough about the effects of these factors? Let us approach them one at a time in order to appreciate what we may learn:

The influence of place and surroundings

What must be most especially understood about the influence of place in that which concerns song?
By "place" we mean, among other things:
firstly, a suitable tutor
secondly, a time , a place, and the correct circumstances in which the tutor can unfold his lesson.

The Tutor:

In order to understand the necessity of having at one's disposal an appropriate tutor, we must have a clear idea of that which we wish to obtain in the songs of our young canaries, that which we desire of them as an objective.

If we infuse our breeding program with this precise idea, the subsequent step will be to acquire a suitable example to carry out the job. It is logical to speak of an example at this point since what we want is the acquisition of an exemplar of song.

Concerning all males, tend toward those which possess the best song quality; seek out a clear voice and one without any fault notes which could be inherited.

Concerning hens, they must also arise from good singers of the same song direction as the males (Although the author uses the same term as in his WW example above, it seems he means something more specific here which might be better rendered as song strain or song line--trans.).

This is to say that one must acquire all birds from one song direction, from which the future tutor must also come. The importance here is that all must come, genetically speaking, from a group of individuals which have the same structure of the vocal apparatus. Luckily, in making this plan a reality, we can have the certain guarantee that the singing of the students will equal the singing of the tutor and in a few cases will even be superior to it. Where could we find a more suitable organ of song education than the father or a tutor of similar hereditary characteristics? I personally recommend that a male which is to be dedicated to tutoring the young should only be placed with a hen for a few short periods until the laying of the fourth egg. After that he should be removed from the breeding room and placed in a flight in a room apart from all forms of noise; here he will be joined by the young males until the month of August. During that month he should be separated into an individual cage and placed in a darkened spot. Now, when the molt normally appears, it is pointless to have him with the young. After the molt, listen to him very carefully again and again, because it can happen that in the time elapsed during the molt he may have acquired negative notes, and it is recommended that his song be rigorously scrutinized over a period of days before he is returned to his teaching duties.

Because of my experience in knowing the time at which to place the young into individual song cages, the manner of arranging these, when and how to tutor the young, and that once the young are placed into the individual song cages, they will unfold all of their inherited factors, I must share that:
Once the young are individually caged in the month of October, the tutor must be located in front of the students, in an individual cage, covered with a thin cloth, close enough for the young to be within the reach of his expanding sound waves and for them to have a correct reception of them. The tutor should be located about 2 meters in front of the young and at about half the height of the structure or cabinet in which the young are kept.

The reason for this is simple, using an easy and routine example, when we listen to a radio we turn ourselves toward the speaker in order to better hear. My experience, then, tells me always one in front of the other, but they should not see each other.

Any other means, whether natural or more commonly artificial, anything like records or cassettes, can bring no good, and may well do the contrary, and one should realize the consequences. Only with humane patience and with natural material, can one help at the necessary moments ensuring that the young can hear clear and valuable notes, and for that there is no better method than that already mentioned, a good selection of birds to start with and the putting into practice of a sound tutoring system afterwards.

I'm with those who hold that at some level the young learn song from the moment of their formation in the egg up until the 22nd or 32nd month. Later, all they will do is to reproduce that which they have heard during their time with the tutor. For me it is essential that the breeding males are only in the breeding room long enough to discharge their duty, that is to remain with the hen until the laying of the fourth egg. Immediately afterwards they should be pulled from the breeding room.

This point is directly linked to the effectiveness of the tutor; this is very important to keep in mind, so I'll explain it: In my case, for breeding purposes, I generally dedicate three hens to each male. That is to say, a male remains with each hen consecutively until a fourth egg is laid in each case; at other times he will alternate between two hens, being with one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, it's a matter of which plan works out. One can speak of cases which have been encountered, with exceptional males who although they have many positive song characteristics also possess nasal notes, overly strident notes, or sharp notes, or who sing too quickly to be beneficial tutors. They are very good breeders but must immediately, once they have done their duty in breeding, be separated from all other males including the tutors. Every little teacher has his little book, and for that reason each breeder runs his breeding room as he will. I think that it is a positive step to protect the young from the beginning from any stray noise or negative note. To make that point, let us remember that from the time the young are placed in the nursery flight with their tutor, they are already learning from him, and the occasional flashes of their first male song product can be experienced. Once the tutor begins his molt, it is the time that these flashes by the young singers cause them to serve as tutors to the others and successively from each link to the next the songs are passed on. It is of primary importance that they are kept from hearing extraneous noises from the start, and sometime between the time the tutor is removed to undergo his molt (August) and his return, the young males should be placed in individual song cages as stated earlier.

The Time, Place, and Circumstances of the Song Lessons:

The first attempts at true song normally begin in October. It is at this time that the young must be assisted in their efforts, and as has already been insisted, the best tutor is an example that possesses the same, or similar, genetic characteristics as those of his pupils, and if he is their father, so much the better. The pupils are to be enclosed in individual song cages which should then be located in a song cabinet. I say cabinet because this is to be preferred to a shelving system with a sliding curtain and without actual doors. All these particulars have their reasons and their importance with a view to obtaining song of good quality. From this perspective, we must therefore cage each canary individually, and the cages must be separated one from the next by means of thin wooden dividers or pieces of cardboard. This is in order to prevent fighting through the cage bars and other such dangerous games.

My personal recommendation, based on my experiences, is that during the first week the young should be allowed to see each other, but with a distance between each cage sufficient to keep them from reaching each other. They may be stacked in groups of four making little towers if you like. Beginning with the second week, they should be located in the cabinet, and it is at this point that they must be separated with the dividers already mentioned. During the third week, one should place a very thin curtain over the front of the cabinet, placing the young in partial shadow. From this point on, the young seriously begin to learn to listen to the lessons of the tutor, who is also in an individual song cage in the same room as has already been advised; the young must be isolated from any noise except the lessons provided by the tutor. During the fourth week, a slightly heavier curtain is used, and in this way the birds are already held in conditions which encourage them to give the maximum attention to the tours sung by the tutor.

Characteristics of a Tutor:​

For a tutor to be effective in what he teaches to his pupils, he must at a minimum, unite the most elemental and basic song characteristics, among others, and more importantly must have a characteristic vocal apparatus. The song of the tutor is always directly tied to genetic makeup as was discussed in the pairings discussion above. That is to say the exemplar of song must serve to conserve and pass on certain notes which are already fixed in a well-defined song line, and this works only if and when the breeder has first made the proper corresponding pairings from within the line.

In the same way, it is very important that the said tutor always begins his song repertoire with the most valuable notes, those that are the proper characteristic tours for the breed, that is to say:

  1. The Klokkende 
  2. The Bollende
  3. The Rollende

Beginning the song with these and emitting them in order, in a deep tone and well defined one from the other, will cause a probable successful outcome and is a great benefit to the pupils, and a tutor who begins his song this way, it may be supposed, would also emit other notes of indubitable value though of lesser importance.

We Must Remember:

​Under the influence of place and circumstance, a canary can come to learn certain tours which are not hereditary and not passed on to subsequent generations. One can say, in this case, that a learned tour, which is not part of the song line in question, will die with the bird that learned it.

Hereditary Structure of the Vocal Apparatus

Biologists affirm that a bird's respiratory system is special as is the structure of its voice box or syrinx. 

They definitively specify that the structure of these organs is hereditary.

These two points should constitute for us a scientific indication of definite value.

We are, then, confident in claiming that canaries are endowed with an exceptional vocal apparatus. Just as a human possesses a larynx, a canary possesses a syrinx, which is put into action by the displacement of the air that the canary holds in reserve, not only in his lungs, but also in the air sacs which are directly connected to them. Some of these sacs pass into the interior of the hollow bones. The canary pushes the air reserve through the syrinx which is provided with membranes that work by means of small muscles, and in this way the canary has the capacity to produce notes, vibrations, melodies, etc., resulting in a complete song.

It should be remembered, however, that a perfect structure of the vocal apparatus is not always a guarantee of high song quality because other factors--like the tutor, hereditary predisposition, not to mention the health of the example in question--equally play a roll in the final results. The whole vocal system is made up of various subdivisions. The structure of these subdivisions must respond to certain demands placed on them. All of the possible combinations of structural characteristics of these secondary parts bring out differences in the tone, in the form, in the length, and in the direction of the song, and ipso-facto in the value of the song.

If we would like to make a comparison, we could say that each bird, taken individually, can be considered a distinct instrument, constructed with and accorded with a distinctive style according to the capacities and capabilities which it can call on. It is almost impossible to secure, with absolute certainty, well-defined and sure lines when it comes to inheritance of the vocal apparatus. However, we can know some things without doubt:

  • That a perfect song implies a good structure of the vocal apparatus.
  • That this structure is hereditary.
  • That this structure can cause a uniformity of song, or a harmony of song, among individuals which is equally hereditary.

Experience shows that the production of poor singers is infinitely easier, in every sense, and less complicated than the production of singers with good quality song. The slightest deviation from the secure route, the slightest negligence in proceeding, and we will inevitably raise birds of inferior song quality, many of which will have song defects. We may thus deduce that, in the world of song, poor qualities are predominant over good ones. For that reason we must well remember at the times of selection to keep in mind the perfection of song. To continue, as we must keep to breeding with canaries of the same harmony of song, let us examine the distinct variations we can produce and the possible results we can expect:

Let us represent the chacteristic "good vocal apparatus structure" with an "S", and let's say this is represented in a canary as a direct transmission which, in this case, would be represented by "SS". In the same way a canary with "improper vocal apparatus structure" would be represented by "ss". If we have a canary with good vocal apparatus structure and breed it with another of good vocal apparatus structure, we have "SS x SS". The law of uniformity tells us that as a result 100% of the young canaries would have a vocal apparatus structure which can be depicted as "SS".

A canary with a good vocal apparatus structure bred to one with improper structure would be represented by "SS x ss", and all of the offspring would be represented as: "Ss".

The result in this case cannot be defined with certainty because we must keep in mind the dominating character, the constituting character of the vocal system and of respiration of the bird. If we add to this last example a difference in the song direction as well, the chaos produced by the possible combinations will stretch to infinity. For that reason, again, we must have a previously well-thought-out notion of what we definitively want from our pairings.

Hereditary Predisposition in the Canary

The predisposition for song in a canary is comparable to that in the human for talent, for love, for possibility, for the preference and taste that manifests itself in a profession, a sport, or a pastime. All of these qualities are those that we unfold in our youth in order to determine the direction we will take in our future life. This is especially true in terms of choosing a profession. The predisposition for song doesn't merely manifest itself in a love of singing without also having the aptitude to sing well, because a top class singer composes his own song and interprets it at the same time.

Biologists of the highest reputation have expressed it in the following way:

The predisposition for song in the canary is hereditary. Canaries are endowed with a hereditary song intelligence. In this particular they possess a remarkable knowledge and aptitude. They exercise a sure will justified by their love of song. From this important clue we can deduce certain valid theories. The most efficacious solution in trying to determine a quality which will be passed on to subsequent generations, whether it is dominant, recessive, intermediate, or sex linked, is to study the family. The breeders of song canaries can, all in this same way, seek to control the behavior of one certain quality, this eventually becoming a sort of rule of conduct.

​Searches have been carried out with utmost care for examples among human beings. It is in this way that we come across the musical predisposition in the family of the celebrated Johann Sebastian Bach. The results of this encounter have been very interesting and very instructive as to the heredity of this predisposition: in a study of five generations, they have encountered very few exceptions who do not demonstrate a predisposition for music, and in a light perusal of ascendants and descendents in this family no exceptions would be found. This is as may be, but what we can say is we have an "almost certain and trustworthy certainty" in the idea of the inheritance of song predisposition; to determine whether it be dominant or recessive one must delve even deeper into conclusions (jump to conclusions?--trans.). And, in effect, there are certainly other more deeply hidden factors which can influence the song quality of canaries.

We are left, however, with the following certainty:

​A good and beautiful song demonstrates the presence of possibility, of capacity, of aptitude, in other words, a predisposition for song.


Let us represent the predisposition for song by "PP" and the absence of this quality by "pp". In this case let's pair a predisposed canary to a predisposed canary: "PP x PP". That which we get according to the law of uniformity is 100% young with predisposition for song, or "PP".

If we breed a canary with predisposition for song to another without it; it can be represented as: "PP x pp". The young are "Pp"; if in turn these are bred together, the outcome is difficult to predict. Theoretically, the result will be: 25% young with predisposition for song, of indirect transmission, "PP"; 25% young without even the minimum of song predisposition, "pp". The remainder are "Pp". It should be remembered, however, that there are very many other factors which will be inherited from the parents at the same time, and these can also have an influence on song quality. That is, it should be remembered that predisposition for song alone is not sufficient to determine song quality and that other conditions can play a role.


​Concerning the term "perfect song", certain concepts must be made clear because the term can lead to confusion among breeders. Speaking of perfect song, one does not mean, at least when talking about waterslager song canaries, that the example emits every tour with perfection and therefore deserves to have the term "perfection" applied to him.

​Perfection in each and every tour, even relatively speaking, does not exist in any example's song. Better to operate within this boundary: the selection by competitive breeders must be continuously ongoing in reference to clear notes, depth, obvious force and vitality. Due to the fact that no bird is perfect, in an earlier section and in reference to the tutor, it was emphasized that at times we must use males for breeding which have a clear voice and sing many high-value notes, but, none-the-less, for one reason or another would not make good tutors. This is not to say that these birds are carriers of some major defective cause which keeps them from being effective tutors. The said cause could well be negative notes that were merely learned by the birds or tours which are simply too frequently repeated for the good of the young.

​We cannot pretend to be able to obtain birds of a certain quality if we don't use adequate methods. It is simple to deduce that whoever pursues what is "just another pretty song", will begin little by little to loose everything.

​Pairings Within the Breeding Room in Terms of Song Material

We propose to realize, in the end, the production of good singers by:

  1. The conservation of good quality song in the subsequent generation.
  2. The creation of missing tours within the certain song direction

We must always keep in mind that what we are looking for is an adequate blending of good tours: a team harmony.

​On the other hand, we must avoid that which leads in the opposite song direction. We don't intend to breed examples which reproduce every potential tour in the two song directions (dry and wet, that is to say we don't want birds that combine the songs of harzers and waterslagers).

​The breeder must fix, in every circumstance, his actions in accordance with his goals and principles. At the same time, principles set against the laws of nature in a diametrical opposition, will lead to the consequent failure of his song canary breeding efforts without doubt.

​One must definitively apply the laws of inheritance, those which conduct us along scientific paths to our final objective.

​Pairings in Order to Effect

To conserve the same song quality:
This is not an issue among those breeders who work with birds that come from a line that has the same vocal apparatus, song direction, etc.

The solution in this case is simple: one must pair examples that possess the same qualities one to the other. According to the law of uniformity, young produced in this way will uniformly inherit the qualities of the parents. We can confirm this stated thesis with many examples:

A canary with a wet song direction--W, with distinctly punctuated water drops--K, bred to a canary with a wet song direction--W, with distinctly punctuated water drops--K (latent, as this is a non-singing hen)

This will yield the following (supposing a direct transmission): 50% wet songed males with distinctly punctuated water drops and 50% wet songed females with distinctly punctuated water drops (latent):

50% WWKKxx

50% WWKKxy (latent)

To Perfect the Repertoire of a Line, or to Establish a New Line?

The creation of missing tours within the certain song direction:

When one is confronted with two birds from lines with strength in different song tours, although in the same principal song direction, we can approach the possibility of creating a new line which may unite the two principal tours.

​Here we can refer to the law of independence for a solution, always considering the difference in the song of one and the other to be caused by two different factors.

​We may encounter in the subsequent generation certain canaries possessing in their repertoire the two principal tours, and one may begin to establish, with the help of these examples, a new song line.

Let's illustrate this thesis with some examples:

A canary with a wet song, distinctly punctuated water drops, with waterrol, but without bells--W,K,R,b, is bred to a canary with wet song, distinctly punctuated water drops, without a waterrol, and with bells--W,K,r,B.

In the first generation:

WWKKrrBBxx x WWKKRRbbxy (latent)

​The yield from this mating is 50% males with wet song and distinctly punctuated water drops, but with a poor and negative waterrol and with poor and negative bells, or alternatively they will lack waterrol and bells altogether:


Also from this mating come 50% females with the same song qualities, but latently:


In the second generation:

​In order to gain positive results, we must continue the breeding by means of breeding back to the original lines (as opposed to breeding brothers to sisters). With these pairings, the reproductive cells of the males and females would have the following possibilities: 

WWKKrrBBxx x WWKKrRBbxy (latent)

WWKKrRBbxx x WWKKRRbbxy (latent)

When fertilization occurs, the distinct mutual combinations of genes present us with young singers that are represented with the following:

Mother (or her line)/son pairing 

WWKK(rr or rR)(BB or Bb)(xx or xy)

Father (or his line)/daughter paring

WWKK(rR or RR)(Bb or bb)(xx or xy)

Progress toward uniting the desired factors into one line can be made by crossing the next generation:

WWKK(rr or rR or RR)(BB or Bb or bb)

This can be shown in the following list of possible results:

















​(note: only a very small number of birds--theoretically 1/16--is likely to have both desired factors, RR and BB, and it will be unobservable in the hens due to the fact that song is latent in them--trans.)

This brings us to our objective singing bird:


​This bird has the following characteristics: wet song direction--WW, distinctly punctuated water drops--KK, waterrol--RR, and bells--BB. It is with this product and similar birds that we may build our new line, "wet song direction + distinctly punctuated water drops + waterrol + bells" and in this way we will have achieved a more complete song, this in accordance with the laws of heredity. Let us proceed, in the same way and based on the same principles, to examine other combinations.

​Another Pairing Example

To better explain, let's use the following example with our desired goal being "staaltonen" (metal sounds). The breeding material is as follows:

A male which we are sure possesses strong inheritance to sing metal tones from both his father and his mother and, in addition, this male also produces metal sounds or staaltonen himself, and he can be represented by "MM".

​A female who lacks the inheritance for metal sounds or staaltonen, represented as "mm".

The pairing is represented: MM x mm

The results can be calculated and listed as follows:





100% of the young waterslagers have an indirect transmission which, when it comes to staaltonen, is represented as Mm. There is no well-defined rule about middle ground between the characteristics M and m; therefore, at best we will obtain intermediate staaltonen or we may get degenerate staaltonen.
In a subsequent pairing we could breed a male Mm with a female Mm. This would be the application of the law of separation; however, this pairing of brothers and sisters is not recommended because: this pairing would cause consanguinity and usually degeneration; the result would only be 25% MM, the desired objective. In effect, the calculation of MM x Mm gives us a much better result:





(note: this can be achieved by breeding back to the father or his line as in the previous example--trans.)

The Backcross 

Some of the birds employed in the breeding examples, based on scientific principals which we have talked about in the preceding sections, were products of the year prior. However, it is not always this way in practice because, in order to get to the planned goal in a faster and more profitable way, experimental breeders apply the backcross. This is the crossing to previous generations as in the case in the preceding section when, at one stage, offspring are mated back to a parent. It is useless to further insist on the utility of the backcross. We should also add that other factors may play a hand in things. These other factors act according to the same rules of inheritance and follow identical laws. Many experimental breeders hold that the backcross should not be attempted with birds related any closer than the second generation because it could lead to a degeneration in the descendents, giving us birds that are less robust, fragile, and without any resistance to disease.

(Some of the "tables", actually lists in this version, have been modified to improve their clarity for an American audience. This also required a reworking of a bit of the text in order to keep the flow--trans.)


Efrain Valerio-Charpentier, biologist and Breeder of Harzer Rollers 
Translated from the Spanish by Sebastian Vallelunga

(This article, in two parts, is based on almost the exact opposite premise as the one found inApplied Genetics. Once a breeder begins with a good line, according to Valerio-Charpentier, he can do little else to positively influence the genetic make up of his birds in terms of song. Selective breeding for song is a fantasy because the genetic inheritance of song aptitude is too complex and too little known, from the observable scientific standpoint, for a breeder to have much beneficial impact on his birds' songs through selection, beyond breeding from a well established song line. In addition, other factors such as song training and the birds' health and condition have an important role to play--trans.)

Part I

In relation to the inheritance of the feather color of the canary, melanin or lipochrome, much is known. The laws of total and partial dominance, recessive, sex-linked, and other inheritance, are nimbly applied in the practices of selective breeding. Even if one knows only a little about genetics, it is enough to know some basic points in order to obtain predetermined results. Any good breeder of color canaries: with but a few basics (more if one includes technical assessment) has the capacity to obtain the colors he desires, assuming he begins with adequate material. With the help of a few elementary symbols, one can construct correct formulas of combination (inheritance charts?--trans.), applicable to one's pairings, to depict agates, isabels, etc. There are other aspects of color such as the quality of the lipochrome color or the pattern of melanins; more factors are involved in issues of size, proportion, specific form, and others, which are another matter with a more diverse and complex inheritance--to a great extent unknown--even though in practical terms the expert breeder does not have difficulty obtaining results. With patience and perseverance, a breeder in any time period may obtain birds of quality.

Unfortunately, it is not the same with the songs of the three internationally recognized breeds of song canaries (American singers are not generally bred outside of America--trans.). We don't understand practically any of the binomial genetic base in reference to the cerebro-syrinx system, and the base is the origin of the tours and the inherited phenomena involved. The most technically advanced canariculturalist breeding for song, who has a strong basis and produces miracles, is working blind, on things which are totally unknown. He supposes that the canary has some capacity for song and for learning, but to what extent this capacity is genetically determined escapes his understanding.

This assumption alone can be affirmed, in the end, that over many years of selection, we have accumulated in each song race a genetic patrimony, of unknown characteristics, whose phenotypic manifestation is a certain form of song. There is much of which we are ignorant in the inheritance of song, and no matter how technically knowledgeable we are, we can never be certain that a certain pairing will produce that which we seek. Frequently, the young we breed are quite different from what our plan says they should be. That which we do is, above all, speculation, giving ourselves a "white cane" to keep us from blindly falling.

There is no set form: the profound hohlrollen which we like in our rollers, the notable klokkende of our malinois-waterslagers, the floreos which cause an emotional outpouring in us when it comes to our timbrados, none of these are reproduced as easily as we would wish, transmitted from fathers to sons. We well know that the descendents of our favorites do not all sing equally well and that surprises are abundant, to the extent that only some birds achieve even satisfactory results; it is pure chance. We seek hens of the same line, to ensure that some degree of consanguinity will make our task easier, but we have no idea whether the song capacity is inherited from father, from mother, or from both; this, too, is pure chance. In this way we proceed, hoping for possible good results. And, when the song is more complex, the possibility of achieving what we want is so much the lower. The kinds of questions a breeder usually ends up asking after a breeding season are: How did this nasal tone end up in my stock? What is this ugly "ee" sound where there should be "o"? Where did the rasping sound I thought I had eliminated from my birds come from? How is it that, when I proceed as does Paco, and my stock is from the same bloodlines, that my birds are not as good as his? How is it that the canary which is my pride and joy has produced these shrieking and undesirable sons? Where is the fault, in me, or in my birds?

With such limited knowledge--who knows what is correct to say with so much uncertainty--of the fundamental effects of genes on song; where do we look for the domains of selection and of training canaries?

Let us proceed by stages. We can be sure that the intense selection practiced, based more on intuition than anything else, has formed a genetic basis which determines a fundamental song form, as, for example, a certain ability in varying the parts of the song and thereby introducing by this means new elements into the song. Said another way, a certain inheritance is possessed which gives the canary the capacity to form its own proper song, including the faculty of learning and thereby improvising at times. In a few words, the manifestation of a free genetic combination of a particular mode. Let us suppose we are speaking of a potential of the canary to learn individually. The development of the potential in effective song depends on the stimuli that the bird receives from its surroundings, which act as "reactives" to which the bird responds. With luck, with adequate stimuli, with socialization with other males of the species, the song develops in a particular manner. The singularity of the song of each male is that which explains that in all groups of young canaries each individual has his own proper stamp, even when split into groups by the common traits they have, in general terms, the characteristics of each race. Perhaps we have caused our canaries to sing in the manner we prefer, but it is impossible for us to obtain song uniformity and a single quality. It is well known that if the young birds lack adequate stimuli, their song will not develop well, although it can be improved later, including some very surprising modifications. Here we are speaking of a completely different binomial, that of learning inheritance: stimuli develop that which is sustained in inheritance, including the capacity to vary, modulate, imitate, etc. (to learn). This last idea is of great importance; the breeders of any song breed know that each breed must be raised separately; otherwise, the canaries of one breed will acquire syllables and tours which are foreign to its song from the other. Timbrados, for example, easily learn the sweet warbles of the gloster and the shriller notes of the color canary. After owning him for ten years, I had a malinois waterslager that imitated with mastery the watery song of an intruding bird (a Zonotrichia capensis--the Andean sparrow, allied to the song sparrows of the US--trans.) which he heard each day through a window. Fortunately the canary lost this tour the following year. And here we must point out that the annual fluctuations of the song indicate in a significant way that song heredity is a potential, inasmuch as the hormonal changes of the canary, particularly during molt, provoke modifications of their song patterns; in the next year, the canary keeps a certain basic framework, but the flourishes and details are modified (1). From that point conditioning takes over so that the canary, in its own time, recuperates, by means of what is possible, the song that we train for. The three song breeds diverge greatly in tours, vowels and consonants, rhythm, tone, modulation, and other important details, even though all of the emissions are modifications of the distant ancestral song. The canary will not invent anything which does not have a genetic base of some type; even the capacity to vary and improve his song is itself inherited. All this seems to indicate, and this is only an interpretation without a scientific basis, that the harzer roller and the timbrado, as to the preceding, have a great genetic uniformity in relation to song, since if the variety is great, the commonality of traits is higher. This indicates that the criteria of selection have been related due to a community of like tastes and objectives. In the malinois waterslager the variability of the song is very great and indicates a greater genetic dispersion due to the diversity of the selection criteria, (2) which in turn are indicative of distinct tastes and tendencies.

Might not one say that the existence of such exigencies as song standards, and the eagerness of breeders to have their birds conform as closely as possible to the ideal song, are restrictions? Certainly they are because the song of a breed must correspond to pre-established criteria, because breeders want their canaries to sing in one way and not in another. Without exception, within this conventional limitation, within which they have intensely labored to select and train, and which is none other than a cooperation with the rules of the game, there exists an ample possibility of developing song, conditioning it, perfecting it, avoiding its contamination with undesirable elements, etc., all according to the abilities and tastes of each breeder in order to seek, when possible and according to his own understanding, song in reference to the ideal principles. Selection and training constitute, equally, the same bases in each race of song canary. Spontaneity, the absence of song tutors and of preoccupation with improving the song by means of certain techniques and according to accepted criteria, conducts one for the most part to anarchy, to the impossibility of establishing a line judged as meritorious, let alone canaries that actually sing well. Taking into account that which happened with the American singer, a magnificent song canary produced by U S breeders which is a free singer without standards; each breeder selecting as he chooses without a particular qualifying song form, and song contests are not really possible in these conditions. As long as standards exist which reflect the pursuit of a conventional ideal, the practice of conditioning of our canaries is ensured. And, moreover, this is practiced when we come to recognize the genetic foundation of the song we prefer. Inheritance? Yes, we must develop the individual possibilities of each canary to the maximum. Training? Yes, we cultivate a breed and this breed is subject to pre-existing criteria, one must return to the objective model whenever possible. These are the basic norms implied by the cultivation of a song breed. If at any moment it has not been thus, that which we hear from our song cages will be the song of the ancestral type, any breed characteristics having been lost.

Author's Notes:

(1) The studies of successive modification of the song have been conducted mainly with captive birds. In wild birds such investigation is a truly scarce (by reason of the difficulty of seeking out, year after year, the same chosen male) and refers for the most part to species which stand out in their capacity for mimicry. Beyond that, most other observations are anecdotal. In this category rest my observations of a male of a species of tropical American thrush, the Turdus grayi (called the yiguirro in Costa Rica) which lived in the orchard of my house and which was easy to identify by means of some albinistic characteristics. The first year he appeared, he sang magnificently, but in successive years, until his sudden disappearance, he varied his song very much, and never returned to singing the same way.

(2) For example, there are true fanatics when it comes to Klokkende Waterslag; Klok is their lives, everything else is secondary (a friend of mine said: "Wow! What Kloks my malinois have! Have you ever heard anything more perfect? Mine are superior." But, his canaries sing almost nothing else); others cultivate a good Klok, but they are crazy about Bollende, or some other tour, to the detriment of other parts of the song. One or another tour causes him to mold his breeding program in one direction. Among the admirers of the harzer roller, there are those who dislike water glucks, so much so that they expend much energy to rid their canaries of them and are obsessed with this.

Part II

​A few days after having written my previous article, in re-arranging a drawer, I came across a copy of Italia Ornotologica which I had assumed was misplaced and which I had not read; number 11, November 1997. In it Signore Francesco di Giorgio--who had had been a prolific contributor to the magazine and who had taught us all a lot--published an article titled "Malinois and Harzer", in one of those paragraphs one may read, in relation to the song quality of both breeds, what I translated as: "Genetics plays a role of about 50% in song; the talent of the singer contributes about 15%; tutoring about 15%; hormonal activity about 10%. The culminating selection of pairs and the clarification by means of song tutoring and training are the guarantee of quality song." I disagree with this saying as I have disagreed with many similar sayings in Italian and other languages, including my own Castilian, in the past, because it lacks a scientific foundation. It is very possible that he, with his long years of experience, has reached--as is usual in all good and persevering breeders--certain conclusions. But as respectable as these are, in our actual state of unknowing when it comes to genetic inheritance of song in the canary, the assertion of Signore di Giorgio must be called into question; it is not based on investigation, does not have properly stated results, nor can its conclusions be extrapolated upon for these reasons. I take advantage of the occasion, then, to comment on his assertion, one which others have also made in different ways for decades.

​First, I reiterate here, in another way and with more detail, what I have already said: while we have complete security, verified by experience, that there exist gene pairs which explain melanistic and lipochromatic color and for which we may use symbols, and, with the use of an elementary symbolism, we are in a position to foresee the results of any pairing of colors because it involves an inheritance which is almost entirely mendelian (and even more so when some inherited characteristic is sex linked or dependent on some other complement), we only more distantly encounter the power to do the same with song traits. Here we are not dealing with an elementary inheritance; we don't know what genes take part, nor how many there are, nor how they interact, nor which are dominant and which are recessive; nor what the possible phenotypes are for any combinations for two or more genes, etc. For all that, we can't even assign symbols to them. And although such assignments are capricious or random, built on a hypothetical or fictitious base, none of us is in any position to say that if one pairs a male which sings a tour of "ru-ru" with a hen that is the daughter of a male which sings "ro-ro", that one will obtain young which sing "ru-ru" or "ro-ro" or "ru-ro" (undulating), etc. To all breeders of harzer rollers (and of other song breeds) it is evident that song inheritance is very complicated, as is all inheritance related to behavior; biologists know this well. But, as I have already stated, we tend to ignore this fact about the reality of inheritance in the song of the canary. In the question of pairings, for the most part, we must proceed with a system based on trial and error, as did Heinrich Seifert previously, and as have so many after him (along with others like Wilhelm Trute, a founder of the modern roller breed; he worked in the mining village of St. Andreasberg in the 19th century--trans.). That is to say, concrete results may be obtained in a tour, but with a great investment in time and effort; and, even if one gets results, fixing them in a line is very difficult, and there is no way to be sure that all of the canaries of a line will emit the tour in the same form and with sufficient quality. Let us well remember the history of the schockel as a case in point.

​Let me reiterate also that we can only affirm that selection has provoked, on the basis of pure chance, a certain accumulation of unknown genes in each breed, genes which are expressed phenotypically in the particular way of singing of each breed and in the capacity for learning and for improvisation. Up to the present, we lack investigational data which might shed light on this assumption.

​Well then, what weight does song inheritance actually carry? 50% as stated by Signore di Giorgio, 60% as has been stated by another author, whose name escapes me? There is simply no data which comes from real investigation. Psychologists and etologists (also: ethologists—those who study animal behavior—trans.) know that inheritance alone is not capable of determining, in itself, nor explaining, a behavior or ability, but the existence of surrounding stimuli cause genetic potentials to unfold and manifest themselves. They also know that the genes of both parents can combine in any way within the young and yield, as a result, characteristics which were absent in the progenitors; for example, two persons of average intelligence may produce a child genius; two canaries of unclear song may have descendants that are very good singers; in both cases the subjects are examples of exceptional potentialities, and that which actually motivates such potentials to develop are adequate stimuli. But, we are always required to question statements about the relative weight of inheritance vs. learning. Scientists who study human behavior can make interpretations based on the foundations of numerous studies; etologists can do so less easily because the accumulation of scientific data is less, although it is being added to at a fast rate. But, in song canary material, all we have is a variety of breeder observations, on the one hand, diverse and minute in detail; on the other, unsystematic, loose, without strict method, the like of which make it impossible to infer results or conclusions. Thus, assigning a determined weight to inheritance alone is merely wishful thinking. Next, let us explore the idea of the “talent” of a canary. It is improper to speak of talent in canaries, except in such a way as to describe the ability, greater or lesser, of the bird to learn to do that which we like. But, such an ability is part of the genetic “package” that is received from ancestors; the manifestation of the whole depends on the quality of the surrounding stimuli. It is not possible to split the genetic inheritance of song tours and the capacity for learning variation, modulation, etc.; these go together inseparably. Canaries of good lineage (that is, those lines which have a demonstrated a capacity to comply with our song exigencies or song codes) have received a genetically inherited potential that must be allowed to unfold in the hands of a conscientious breeder, under the action of the training stimuli. From that circumstance, it is not valid to assign a percentage of weight to a supposed “talent”, as if it were separate from the “other” aspects of inheritance, those which determine the tours.

​Next comes the reference to song school. Let us simply say that experience demonstrates, without any doubt, its importance. The better the school (the quality and variety of stimuli, the opportunity of training, the period of the “elective course” [plastic song?—trans.], the general ambient conditions, and other aspects we might indicate), the better the result. Without this schooling, song will be inferior. Period. However, at present we hold that a school of song learning or relearning acts upon concrete inheritance and cannot go beyond a stimulation to unfold what is there already; it is not a miracle worker. Without a good genetic potential in the canaries, the best school will go to ruin. Next is the role of the hormones. And, here the role of sex hormones comes into view. It is well known that in order for song to develop, there must be adequate levels of testosterone, acting as an internal chemical stimulus. It is well known that if a hen is injected with testosterone, she will develop a song (along with other male characteristics), proving that song faculties (and behaviors in general) are actually potentialities. On the other hand, the hormonal mechanisms which provoke molt, induce very important physiological changes; the testosterone levels drop, metabolism is accelerated, and the bird enters a regressive state that puts, in reference to song, him in a stage which is similar to that of a young canary in such a way that, during the molt, we may observe how the canary once again passes through the phase of plastic song to that of stable song; This has been well and succinctly explained by Miguel A. M. Espada in a note from his article on canary song inheritance, published on the ACE webpage (The phases make possible, by the way, an annual reconditioning or relearning of song, inasmuch as our canaries have the bad habit of forgetting each year, at least partially, that which we have taught them). It is not thought, however, that the higher levels of testosterone and the fall of molt-related hormone levels guarantee that our canaries will once again sing well. Finally, there is the view that the culminating joining of training and practice or drill will guarantee quality song. Here one may say only, in order to avoid being redundant, that if the canaries that we breed don’t represent a meeting of adequate genes, it will be of little utility to train and drill. Certainly, “that which nature does not give, the song school cannot bestow.” Don Francesco puts aside the diet and health of the canary, but it is necessary to mention them because a lot of confusion rests on the general state of the bird. It is useless to hope that your canaries which are undernourished, starved, dirty, lousy, etc. will give you good results, despite the fact that your line is the same as the birds of Paco.

​In a manner of speaking, we must tease out a few conclusions. If we speak of inheritance, learning, hormones, etc., it is to outline the complex nature of our canary, with a clear didactic end in mind, but none of these factors act separately; they are all indispensable foundations in the singular reality which is represented by each of our canaries. Each canary is a unity. Its integrity is derived by the dynamic and complete interaction of the factors which come into play in creating its unity. Consequently, we cannot in any way evaluate the percentages of responsibility of the diverse factors, above all if we ignore practically all of them; nor speak of each one as an isolated element, effectively treating each one as separate in practice. We conclude with the two following issues because they are both very important and they allude to the unique reality represented by each singer. The first is that of canary selection; the song race has been carefully decided upon and a “team” is possessed that one is pleased with, at any rate, one which now deserves one’s undivided attention; this is one’s BEST COMPLETE OPPORTUNITY, within which each one of the canaries can optimally develop its own singularity within the general mark of the song of the chosen race and the characteristics of one’s line. The second is to preserve the line in its maximum purity.

(Although the two preceding articles have a number of points in common (the importance of an adequate training system, an emphasis on selecting the right birds for breeding, the idea that quality song is developed because of a number of factors, etc.), there is a strong disagreement when it comes to the predictability of the genetics of inherited song ability and development. While Monfort Sanchez assumes that genetic factors for song operate in the same way as those for size, shape, feather texture etc., even including genetic symbols and tables of inheritance for certain waterslager tours, Valerio-Charpentier insists that this is not the case and that, in fact, song genetics are so complex and so little known as to be completely unpredictable beyond the knowledge that breeding within a proven song line will give one the best chance at positive results. My own reaction based on the disagreement of two such experienced and knowledgeable song canary breeders is to plan on making every pairing selection as if it were the most important factor, to make every training decision as though it were the most important factor, to make every diet or housing change as if it were most important, etc…This seems to be the only way to have a chance at success—trans.)

Appearance in Song Canaries

Sebastian Vallelunga

There are many breeds of canaries available today.  From the posture and position canaries, the frills, the crests, to the color-bred canaries, there is something for everyone.  However, what first attracted the Spaniards to these birds back in the 1470’s was their song.  It seems likely that the Spanish sailors and merchants encountered them as cage birds which had already been appreciated by the natives of theCanary Islands for generations.  When these birds were imported back to Europe, they started a song bird craze and the various styles of canaries have been tremendously popular around the globe as themost popular singing cage bird ever since.

There is a substantial part of the canary hobby that still looks at song as the quintessential element of a good bird.  I can’t help but agree.  Appropriately, I have written many articles and essays describing the songs of various breeds of canaries and attempting to teach about song learning and training in these breeds.  There is nothing more beautiful than a song canary singing its proper song to a high degree of perfection, with a pleasant musicality, a multilayered variety, and a correctly modulated diction.  In this case, the color and shape of the bird fades into secondary importance.  Our very best song-contest-winning birds fit into this category.  On the other hand, it must be remembered that as breeders, we also have a public to please, a public that takes our extra birds off our hands at the end of each contest season.

What many of the members of this public are after is a home songster, one that is pleasing to the eye as well as the ear.  Insofar as it does not interfere with our higher calling to produce the very best song, I think that it is wise to give them what they want.  Of course, doing this doubles our responsibility as breeders of quality birds.

The Correct Appearance of the Various Song Breeds

Before talking about each breed specifically, it is important to say a bit about some general rules when it comes to song breed appearance. Feather texture in song canaries is limited to that found in wild birds, with one exception which will be noted later. Every description or standard of the recognized song breeds rules out any hint of curled or frilled feathers. Whenever such feathers appear, there is the suspicion of an unfortunate crossbreeding with one of the frilled breeds which are known for their awkward and honking songs and calls.  Obviously, such crossbreeding is to be discouraged at all costs.

All wild canaries have a medium feather texture somewhere in between that of the hard feathering (also called “yellow”, intensive, or jonque feathering) and the soft feathering (also called “buff”, non-intensive, or mealy feathering) of the type and color breeds. The hard/soft mutation resulted in the feather edge being slightly shorter in the hard feather and slightly longer in the soft feather. Since the edge is white on all feathers, this causes the hard feathers to appear more brightly colored and the soft ones to appear less brightly colored because of the larger white edges which have the visual effect of softening the color. The mutation is not linked to the sex of the individual and either males or females can be hard or soft feathered in type and color canaries.

It is believed that song canary breeding as a branch of the canary fascination broke off from the mainstream long enough ago that it was before the hard/soft mutation first occurred among type canaries and that this branch of the hobby developed in isolation from the other since the three recognized European song breeds have only the wild feather texture represented in their numbers.  In wild feathered canaries there is a slightly harder feathering than the average among males and slightly softer feathering than the average among females. The difference is often easy to recognize among adults of the same strain or line.  It causes the males to appear a brighter yellow than their mates.

The exception to wild feather texture for song canaries appears in a few members of the American singer breed.  Because American singers are a composite breed originally based on a cross between rollers (a song breed) and Border fancies (a type breed), a few individuals display hard feathers.
It should be noted that in song canary breeds white means the dominant white mutation.

​The various colors of song canaries can be seen on the attached tables:  LINK TO TABLES


The oldest and newest breed of officially recognized song canary is the Spanish timbrado.  It is the oldest because it is essentially the same bird as the original import bird from the Canary Islands, especially in its small size and tinkling-bell voice, although some strains have slightly larger birds in them.  It can also be considered the newest breed because wild canaries from the islands are still being crossed into the breed today and it wasn’t until the 1940’s and 1950’s that it was officially recognized by international breeders and the COM (World Confederation of Ornithology). The goal for timbrado breeders is to achieve a sweet and lyrical voice, usually in the tenor range and with a metallic accent. Timbrados come in a continuous version (singing lots of rolled tours), a discontinuous version (singing no rolled tours), and an intermediate version (singing a few rolled tours).

The song stance or posture of the continuous timbrado is fairly upright with a medium distension of the throat while the discontinuous timbrado bends low over the perch as he sings.

Timbrados can come in crested and non-crested versions. The typical timbrado crest is basically triangular in shape, fitting the head like a small three-cornered hat.  The front of the ideal crest parts slightly at the beak to form one corner; it then sweeps back without covering the eye to points above and behind the ears on each side of the head forming the other two corners. In the best examples this produces a tight and neat look to the crest. The crest can be in any color but is often seen in a grizzled or “interrupted” dark on an otherwise clear bird.  The crest mutation in canaries is said to go back to the mid-1700’s. Two crested birds should never be bred together according to long held belief; otherwise, either a lethal or bald factor can occur.

Timbrados are allowed in green, variegated yellow-green, cinnamon, variegated yellow-cinnamon, yellow, blue, variegated white-blue, fawn, variegated white-fawn, and white.  Birds are also allowed in fouled and ticked versions which means that they are mostly dark with a light spot or mostly light with a dark spot. Note that fawn is a label used for cinnamon on a white ground.  Males with a yellow ground will be slightly more intense in color (in the yellow range on the attached tables) and hens with a yellow ground will be slightly less intense (in the buff range on the attached tables).

All of the above colors can come in crested or non-crested versions.


The German roller breed is based on a mutation which originally happened about 300 years ago. At this time breeders in Germany and the Low Countries were attempting to create a nightingale voiced bird by tutoring. The mutation which caused a deepening of the normal canary voice aided their efforts greatly.  Subsequently, German breeders, especially in the Harz Mountains, selected the smoothest voiced birds and eventually ended up with the hollow and mellow roller  sound we have today.  Traditionally, the roller was a small bird, but modern strains are getting larger.

The roller’s song stance is bent low over the perch which has been called the “roller hoop”.

Rollers are said to come in a crested variety which is claimed to be one of the foundation breeds for the Gloster fancy and to be the ancestor of the domestic hartz topknot.  I have never actually seen a crested roller and assume that they are now rare or non-existent in the United States.

Rollers are allowed in green, variegated yellow-green, cinnamon, variegated yellow-cinnamon, yellow, blue, variegated white-blue, fawn, variegated white-fawn, and white. Birds are also allowed in fouled and ticked versions which means that they are mostly dark with a light spot or mostly light with a dark spot. Note that fawn is a label used for cinnamon on a white ground. Males with a yellow ground will be slightly more intense in color (in the yellow range on the attached tables) and hens with a yellow ground will be slightly less intense (in the buff range on the attached tables).

Rollers are also said to be the foundation canaries for the breeding experiments which led to the red factor canary. The experiments involved the hybridization of the roller canary and the red siskin (Carduelis cucullata).  Red ground rollers are sometimes shown in song-color classes at COM shows in Europe where they compete first as songsters and then as red factor canaries. Red rollers are rare in theUnited States. I have seen one alleged pair in a bird shop, but the male never sang in my presence to prove his roller lineage. Red rollers would follow the color patterns shown in the attached tables for red ground birds.


​Waterslagers were developed as a result of the same mutation that gave us the roller. The breeders of the Low Countries selected their birds in a different direction, and by 1713 a French traveler going through Belgium wrote about the watery voiced birds he encountered there. According to some accounts, these early songsters were then bred to a large yellow bird of the region called the Old Dutch or Great Yellow canary and this had an influence on its later appearance. This gave the waterslager its coloring and somewhat larger size of about 6 3/4 inches, although many fall a bit short of this today. At some point another mutation which increased the waterslager’s throat size and elasticity occurred, allowing it to produce deep bubbling and dripping notes.

The traditional song stance of the waterslager is much more upright than that which is commonly seen today. It mostly sings in a semi-erect position or even bends over the perch at times.

​At one time, I am reliably informed by a Belgian judge, there were crested waterslagers, but these have presumably died out.

There are two Belgian associations dedicated to waterslagers. One prefers to judge the birds in closed cages which are traditional and the other uses the open song cages used by roller and timbrado breeders throughout Europe. The closed song cages don’t allow the birds to be seen during judgment and this group allows “variegated” birds to compete. The other federation insists on clear or ticked birds only.

Waterslagers are allowed in yellow ticked, yellow, white ticked, and white according to the KNBB. They are also allowed in “variegated” versions according to the KBFK; although, by custom here in theUS, the variegated birds are generally called heavily ticked.

American Singers

The American singers were developed by crossing the roller with the Border fancy canary in the early 1930’s. The ideal proportion of roller to border blood was about 69% to 31%. The goal was to create: “a canary that has (1) an outstanding free harmonious song, pleasing to the ear, neither too loud nor too harsh, with plenty of variety and (2) a beautiful shape or type not over 5 ¾ inches long with tight feather that will please the average home lover of canaries.” Since that time some breeders have also incorporated bloodlines from other song breeds. Red factor whether from roller, Border, or other sources is allowed, but color feeding is forbidden if the bird is to be shown.

​Although crests are not specifically forbidden, one noted judge stated that such a bird would constitute a marked or breeder-identifiable bird which would break the show rules.

American singers are allowed in green, variegated yellow-green, cinnamon, variegated yellow-cinnamon, yellow, blue, variegated white-blue, fawn, variegated white-fawn, white, red-green, variegated red-green, red-cinnamon, variegated red-cinnamon, and red.  Birds are also allowed in fouled and ticked versions which means that they are mostly dark with a light spot or mostly light with a dark spot. Note that fawn is a label used for cinnamon on a white ground.  Males with a yellow ground may be slightly more intense in color (in the yellow range on the attached tables) and hens with a yellow ground may be slightly less intense (in the buff range on the attached tables).  However, a few American singer lines come in hard and soft feather variations which inherit independently from gender.

A Recipe for the Most Beautiful Song Canary in the World?

A number of my friends and acquaintances among song canary breeders have made a sort of hobby of expressing their ideas about what would constitute the most beautiful song canary, one that would appeal to the most home pet buyers. What follows is my fantasy version, a version I don't seriously expect to happen.

I’d call it the California poppy.  It would be allowed in any ground color that California’s state flower comes in; namely, white, creamy buff, yellow, golden, apricot, orange, or red (with the typical orange preferred).  It would be allowed in self, foul, ticked, or variegated versions in both normal and cinnamon.  A crested version would be called “poppy” and a non-crested would be called “plain-head”.  As for song, the variety espoused by American singer breeders would be sought, including a preference for water notes, bells, deep rolls, complex multi-syllable flutes, and as many pleasant wild bird notes as possible in a medium volume.

Larger birds would be preferred and color feeding would be allowed but not manditory.  The birds would be judged on both appearance and song with seperate scores for each.  The two scores would then be combined to give an overall total in a way similar to what is done with American singers, but also in a way that reflects the judge's perception of the beauty of the combination of the physical characteristics and the song of the individual bird and its consequent suitability as a pet songster of attractive shape, size, and color.  The confirmation score of an American singer has pretty much been reduced to a basic determination of soundness and condition without appraisal of the bird's beauty or suitability as a cage bird; this would be something that goes a bit farther.

To read more on the proposed California Poppy, click here

5.  Ramon Monfort Sanchez: "Applied Genetics"--translated from Spanish

6.  Efrain Valerio-Charpentier: "On the Inheritance of the Song Canary: Parts I and II"--translated from Spanish 

7.  Appearence in Song Canaries

8.  Bird Art

Excerpt from Notions on the Heredity of Song Canaries

By G. Lelievre
Translated from French by Sebastian Vallelunga

NOTE:  If you find this excerpt helpful, the entire work is on sale as a fundraiser for the Western Waterslager Club; follow this LINK

III. The Heredity of Canary Song


We have already insisted in the preceding chapters on the fact that perfect health is a capital condition in obtaining good song quality.

Moreover, the following factors also influence this quality:
A. The influence of the milieu or surroundings
B. The hereditary structure of the vocal apparatus
C. The inherited predisposition for song

How we can expand on these factors is by approaching each successively, in detail, in order to arrive at, in the end, a general appreciation of that which we must remember.

A. The Influence of the Milieu

1. Overview

In the course of the preceding chapters, we have already had the occasion to touch a bit upon the subject of the influence of the milieu within the different domains. 

What must we understand more especially by this idea of “influence of the milieu” concerning song? 

Among other things, we understand by the term “milieu”: 

  • in the first place, an appropriate master-singer 
  • also, the time, the place, and the circumstances in which the master-singer must play his role
2. The Appropriate Master-Singer of the Same Song Tendency as the Young

To better comprehend the necessity of having at ones disposal a master-singer (and therefore a tutor) which is appropriate, we must have a neat and clear idea of that which we want to obtain in the song of our young birds, so that, in some fashion, we may attain our desired goal.

If we approach our breeding with this idea held precisely in mind, the necessary condition, the sine qua non, will already be prepared within the genetic material of our breeding programs:

  • these posses within them the best song quality when it comes to the males; 
  • as for the females, they must also derive from good singers.

The logical element that ensures this is that the father who possesses the qualities of a master-singer is designated as tutor of his own young; these we desire to obtain a song of at least as good quality, if not better than his own song.

The second goal we envision is to approach harmony among the songs of the young. It follows, therefore, that if the young have as their tutor their own father, the song which they learn will be near to the same direction.

We want, in effect, to study the possibility of our young canaries learning to sing in the same sense, that is in harmony, and we cannot do better than using a master-singer which possesses the same vocal organ, or at least a similar vocal organ.

Or, can we find this inherited organ more easily than within the father?

We need not search very far; the conclusion that will be arrived at is that the father is the dream tutor of his own sons.

This axiom also poses other precise solutions that automatically ensure certain matters that we must avoid because they can have a fatal influence on song quality:

  • If the circumstances prevent us from employing the father as song tutor, we must avoid at all costs the use of another from a song direction which is all different from that of the young and that which they are derived from. In effect, we thus arrive at a demand placed on our young to do something which is not in their nature, and we force them in this way toward something they cannot attain, and instead they give us a song which is neither one thing nor the other. 
  • We must not have recourse to artificial tutoring methods such as records, magnetic tapes, and the like. Otherwise, the sounds of the mechanisms of these instruments will intermix with the sound of the song and fatally teach tours like “tsiet—tsiet”, “riet—riet”, “piep—piep”, etc. 
  • We must absolutely avoid having our young hear dissonant sounds, in order to eliminate all possible risk of our young singers learning not only negative tours but also a hard, nasal, or shrill song. In this regard, we think, in the first place, of the noise of machines and motors, of squeaky wheels and creaky doors, of squawking parrots, of songs or music from the radio or TV, and of many other sounds.
3. The Time, Place, and Circumstances of the Song Lessons

The desire to sing starts, no matter what the song bird, immediately after the molt. With the canary this molt generally happens during the course of the month of September. The first attempts at song follow, then, during the month of October. It is at this moment that the young must be given aids in their efforts, and we have already insisted on the fact that the best tutor will be their own father. We, therefore, cause the hereditary factors to come into play, and so encourage a reprise of the song of the father—tutor.

We place the young males into their own individual cages and put these within an armoire. This armoire is closed, preferably, by means of a sliding curtain on a rod and not by the sliding or hinged doors. All of these particulars have their reasons and their importance with a view toward obtaining a high quality song. If it were otherwise, we would do better, then, to place the birds within a large aviary which is well ventilated and well lit. Their physical development could not find a better situation. But, we must produce song birds, and it is precisely the qualities of this song which we must select for and improve.

From this perspective, we must therefore:

  • ​Enclose each male canary in an individual cage. These cages must be separated one from another by means of plywood boards or cardboard. This has the goal of eliminating mutual squabbles or untimely games. 
  • Place the young singers around their tutor in order to permit each of them to hear and to imitate the song of the master-singer. 
  • Cover the pigeon holes or armoire with a curtain because within an armoire closed with sliding or hinged doors the birds would not enjoy the constant renewal of the tainted air which is poor in oxygen.


It is to be noted that under the influence of the milieu (that is to say the influence of the master-singer) a canary is capable of learning and imitating certain tours without these tours being inherited by the following generation. In other words: a purely learned tour, one that doesn’t appertain to the song direction in question, will die with the bird that had learned to sing this tour.

B. The Hereditary Structure of the Vocal Apparatus

We yellow singers
Cheer your heart.
We bring harmony and felicity
​Singing to you of love..!


1.  G. Lelievre:  Excerpt from Notions on the Heredity of Song Canaries

2.  Canary Basic Care Sheet 

3.  Molting vs. Singing: What to Do About a Canary That Won’t Sing 

4.  Vicente Gomez Coronado: "Song Learning in the Canary: Parts I and II"--translated from Spanish

General Info

The place for song canary information!

The place for song canary information!