|Domesticated canary - the 'Gloster'|
Part 1: What is a canary, exactly?
Canaries are so familiar as cage birds that people forget that they actually occur in the wild. They are endemic to the Canary Islands, from which they take their name. The name of the islands, on the other hand, actually derived from the Latin Canis, ‘dog’ – apparently the Romans were impressed with the local breeds when they discovered the islands.
|Juvenile wild Atlantic Canary|
The wild bird is not especially colourful, being a greenish-brown bird with darker streaks, especially in the female. They tend to move around in flocks like many small birds, as this provides more protection against predators such as sparrow hawks. They nest in loose colonies as well, with each pair defending a territory in the immediate vicinity of the nest.
Whether the wild canary was originally confined to the Canary islands is unclear, but today it occurs on almost all of the main islands, and also on the Azores and on Madeira. The wild population is estimated at around 150-160,000 pairs, and is listed by the IUCN as Least Concern. They are often associated with human habitation, as are many other species of serin.
The serins tend to cope well in agricultural habitats, and almost all the species are listed as of Least Concern. One exception is the Yellow-Throated Serin, Serinus flavigula, which appears to be confines to a small area of eastern Ethiopia. Part of the reason for its status is that unlike many of its relatives it is intolerant of human disturbance. The population may be under 1,000 individuals – worryingly low for a small passerine, as the typical lifespan of such birds in the wild is probably only a few years at most.
Next time: how the canary was domesticated.
(images from wikipedia)