Song Canaries in the U.S.
by Ginger Wolnik

First published in "Finch and Canary World" volume 1, number 1, 1994.

All male canaries sing, but only some are bred for song. This greenish-brown finch native to the Canary Islands was originally domesticated to be a singing pet. However, when the yellow mutation arose, some breeders got more interested in color and appearance. Many different kinds of canaries have now been developed and they fall into three catagories: colorbred, type, and song. Colorbred canaries come in many different solid shades like yellow, orange, rose, cinnamon, and white. They are larger and more attractive than wild canaries and are mainly judged on feather coloring. The type breeds have been selected for size, shape, feather texture, posture, or other unusual mutations. Type canaries often come in different colors, but they are judged on their type characteristics.

Song breeders have concentrated on developing birds that sing more pleasant and freely (i.e. more often) than the wild canary. Some people are surprised that song can be bred, but it is inherited just like color and size. Canary song is also influenced by their environment, similar to how size can be influenced by nutrition. The ability to sing certain notes is inherited, but a young male canary may need to hear these notes sung by an older bird to learn them properly.

Both male and female canaries can start to sing as early as four weeks old, but it is a weak "baby" song. Females do not usually sing much after they become about six months old. When a hen does sing, it is not the full toned, long song of the adult male song canary.

The desirable characteristics for any song canary are freedom, length, variety (i.e. diversity), dynamic range, and good tone. Faults include short song, cutoffs (abrupt stops), harshness, shrill notes, and monotony. There are personnal preferences, but a good song canary should always sound nice.

There are shows for canaries where they are judged on their singing ability. Standard show cages are used and birds are entered by number so the judge does not know whose birds are being evaluated. Canaries like to sing at daybreak, so this natural behavior is used to train the birds for show. The birds are kept in dim light while waiting to be judged. When put under brighter light, they usually perform if properly conditioned!

In the United States, there are now four breeds of song canaries available. The oldest is the Roller, which was developed in the Hartz Mountains region of Germany. This breed has been popular around the world for a couple of hundred years. Rollers can come in just about any canary color, but most are green, yellow, or variegated (large dark markings). The modern Roller has a very low, quiet voice and sings with its beak closed. These birds have several types of songs (called tours) that may sound similar to the novice. Most can be considered "rolls," but the higher pitched tours can sound like flutes. Louder notes sung with the beak open are considered serious faults. Because their song is so soft, the Roller is not a bird for those with hearing problems.

The Waterslager canary is from Belgium and has become very popular in Europe. These birds are usually clear buff (light yellow) and often have tick marks (small dark areas). They sing many of the same tours as the Roller, but also have their bubbling "water" notes after which they are named. True Waterslagers can imitate the sound of a slow, babbling brook. They can speed the song up until it is a "boiling" sound. It is important to realize that if a bird cannot sing the water tour, it is not recognized as a Waterslager, regardless of its pedigree. Although much of the Waterslager song is sung with a closed beak, this bird is allowed to open up for occasional louder notes. However, like the Roller, you will not be able to fully appreciate this bird in a noisy household.

The American Singer canary was developed in the U.S. and is not available elsewhere. They are very popular in the East and Midwest. This breed was deliberately created by crossing Rollers with Border canaries, one of the large type breeds. The goal is to develop a good song bird that was also attractive. American Singers can come in any color, but most winning birds are green like wild canaries, or variegated. There is not a fixed standard for their song. They are allowed to sing Roller tours, as well as louder notes of the type canaries. Some breeders have crossed Waterslagers with their birds so that water tours may also be heard. The goal for the American Singer is to be a very free-singing canary that has a lot of variety, good tone, and is pleasant to listen to.

The Spanish Timbrado is the newest song breed available in the U.S. It was developed in Spain by mixing their best local singing birds with wild canaries. Its characteristic is a high-pitched bell sound that is louder than other song breeds. However, a good Timbrado is very pleasant to listen to with its variety of clear, metallic tones. They can also make a chattering sound like castanets. Timbrados can be green, yellow, white, or cinnamon and are often variegated.

Individual birds of every breed vary in their abilities and many deviate from the standards. It is best to visit the breeder and pick out a bird that you have heard yourself. If this is not practical, then it is important to find out on the phone what the breeder's goals are. Breeders who exhibit their birds in song shows are more likely to have the correct sounds. Breeders who frequently win or are judges themselves are better yet.

To obtain a good song bird, phone breeders and first ask them to describe the songs of the birds that are available. The breeder's answers will reveal if they are primarily breeding for song and whether they listen to their birds. Be sure to notice whether they can give specifics of what is unique about particular birds instead of generalizations on what is typical. Later, when you have established that song quality has priority, you might casually ask about available colors. But avoid asking about appearance first if you want to be taken seriously about getting a good singer.

Comparison of Canary Song Characteristics
BreedVolumePitchTrademark Sounds
German Roller soft low to medium rolls, flutes; must sing with closed beak
Belgian Waterslager soft to medium low to high bubbling water
American Singer medium to loud medium to high lots of variety
Spanish Timbrado loud high bells, castanets, metallic notes

Copyright © 1994 Ginger Wolnik and Finch & Canary World (Seacoast Publishing). All rights reserved.

Updated Contacts

Oakland International Roller Canary Club
For Roller canary enthusiasts anywhere, most members are in Northern California. Web site at

The Southern California Roller Canary Club
Web site at:

Northwest Roller Canary Club (Washington State)
Web site at

Western Roller Canary Association (West Coast)
Web site at

American Waterslager Society
Web site at:

American Royal Waterslager Club
Web site at:

Western Waterslager Club
Web site at:

American Singers Club
Web site at:

United Spanish Timbrado Fanciers, Inc.
Web site at:

American Association of Spanish Timbrado Breeders
Web site at:

Canary Song Examples on the Web
(not part of original article)

The following WAV files on the web are large and may take a while to access, so their sizes are shown. Click on the breed name to start each download.

BreedWAV File SizeLengthSource/Credit
German Roller650 Kbytes29 seconds The Hartz Roller Canary Page
Belgian Waterslager128 Kbytes16 seconds Western Waterslager Club
American Singer 700 Kbytes32 seconds American Singers Club
Spanish Timbrado1.1 Megabytes75 seconds American Association of Spanish Timbrado Breeders

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