Canaries, (Their History And Management). This most highly and deservedly valued of all cage songsters is not a native bird; although from its long domestication and breeding amongst us we have become accustomed to consider it as such. It is said to have been brought originally from the Canary Isles; and the manner of its introduction into Europe at the commencement of the sixteenth century is thus related - A ship, bound for Leghorn, having on board a number of these beautiful finches, then first made an article of merchandize, was wrecked near the island of Elba, on which island the released birds found the climate so congenial to their nature, that they settled and bred there, and would probably have become completely naturalized, had not their beauty and powers of song attracted the attention of bird-catchers, who hunted them so assiduously, that after a while, not a single specimen was left on the island. It was natural that the birds thus caught should be sent first into Italy; and from that country, accordingly, we have the earliest accounts of tame canaries. There, and in Germany, they are still bred in greater numbers than in any other part of the European continent. It is from the Rhineland, and about Thuringia especially, that we now derive our principal supply of imported birds; but some of the choicest canaries are those bred in this country, chiefly by small tradesmen and mechanics.
In its wild or native state, the canary is a little greyish-brown bird, with a tinge of olive-green pervading its plumage, melting off into greenish yellow on the under parts. Some of the domesticated varieties do not depart much from this original type, and such are generally considered to be the stronger and healthier birds - delicacy of tint too frequently indicates delicacy of constitution. The jonquills, or jonques - as the golden-coloured canaries are called are indeed lovely creatures, and lovely, too, is the cheek on which the hectic of consumption plays. If you want a good, strong canary, especially if it be for breeding purposes, do not choose a pure jonque, but one in whose plumage there is a due admixture of brown or greenish gray.
They pair in February, and have five, sometimes six, broods in a season. They frequent the gardens near to human habitations ; and even their untaught melody is very delightful, having in it many notes like both the nightingale and skylark, from neither of which birds could they have acquired them, from their not being natives of the island. They moult in August and September.
Varieties of Colour, etc. The size of the canary is about the same as that of the linnet, being in length five inches, including the tail, which is two inches and a quarter long; the beak, that characteristic feature of all birds, is finch-like - that is, short, stout, and sharply-pointed; in colour, whitish ; the legs are flesh-coloured, rather long and slender. The whole shape of the bird is extremely elegant, and its motions, when in health, full of vivacity. There is not much in the female to distinguish her from the male; her body is generally somewhat more slender, although she has a longer and thicker head; the colours of her plumage, too, are generally brighter; and the yellow around the eyes and upon the temples is always so, in comparison with the rest of her own plumage.
Perhaps the most esteemed of all the varieties, as far as colour is concerned, are those birds in which the body is a clear yellow, or white, and the wings, tail, and bend, which should be crested, a rich, golden, dun colour; the pinion and tail feathers, and also those of the back, may be marked with black, but these markings must be regular, and flow into each other like the ripple of waves, or connoisseurs will not look at the bird. A golden variety, with a dark, gray, head, wings and tail, is also much admired, as is one which has a gray or yellow head or collar, and the rest of the plumage nearly black; or that has a yellow breast, a white head and tail, and a gray or blackish head, wings, and body.