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Canary varieties

Variation among domesticated canaries began early, as Hernandez, in 1587, speaks of the canary as wholly yellow in color save for the tips of the wings. The various forms have had their origin in distinct geographic areas, and though some are almost extinct at present, all at one time or another have had a devoted following of fanciers. At present at least 14 distinct strains, with a large number of varieties, are known.

The common canary is reared primarily for its song, and from it probably came the roller, or song canary, a great favorite in Germany and England. In rearing song canaries attempt is made to produce males with clear, soft, pleasing songs with long rolls or trills, and no attention whatever is paid to other characters. These birds, therefore, are usually nondescript as regards color and appearance, but care is taken in mating to secure males that are good singers and females from good stock.

The young birds when fledged are put in rooms with birds noted for their soft. song, and here, through imitation, they develop their own vocal powers. Careful watch is kept over them, and any bird developing harsh notes is removed at once to prevent his corrupting the purity of tone in the song of his brothers. A mechanical instrument known as a bird organ, that produces liquid trills, is frequently utilized in training, usually when the adult birds are silent during molt. Ordinarily the room where these birds are kept is darkened, and frequently the cages containing the young birds are screened with cloth to lessen a tendency to objectionable loudness of song. In six months or less, their education completed, these songsters may be sold or in their turn utilized in training others still younger.

It is common to teach these birds some simple strain or air, through its constant repetition by whistling or by means of an instrument. Well-trained birds bring high prices, and a fair number of these find their way each year. In the great class of exhibition birds perhaps none, is more striking than the Belgian canary. Formerly known as the "king of the fancy," it was reared extensively in Belgium. The typical Belgian canary is a large bird with a small head, long, slender neck, large shoulders, and a long, tapering body. It is primarily a bird of "position." When examined it hops up on a perch and throwing its shoulders up brings the head down well below their level. The back and tail form a perpendicular line and the feet are held close together.

Another bird of position is the Scotch fancy canary. This variety resembles the Belgian, but when in position throws the tail in under the perch until its outline in profile is almost a semicircle. Another well-marked variety is the cinnamon canary, one of the earliest forms to appear, but one whose origin is wholly unknown. Its true color is a dun or dull brown that has been likened to cinnamon. In exhibition birds the color is usually intensified by color feeding.

In addition to the body color the cinnamon canary is peculiar in possessing red or pink eyes, a character that denotes cinnamon blood even in a yellow or buff bird. The cinnamon inheritance is transmitted only by the male; young reared from a cinnamon mother and a male of any other form lacking cinnamon blood never show signs of their cinnamon parentage.

Among the old-established varieties that now are in decadence none is more striking than the lizard canary. Lizard canaries are known as gold or silver according as the body color is yellow or silvery gray. The wings and tail are black and the back is spangled with numerous somewhat triangular black spots. The crown in pure-bred birds is unspotted and light in color.

The crested canary is another unusual form, with a long crest extending down around the head below the level of the eyes. The frill or Dutch frill canary is a large bird with long curling feathers. The Lancashire is the largest of known varieties of the canary, standing head and shoulders above all others. These "giant" canaries may be crested or smooth headed. Other forms that may be mentioned are the border fancy, a small bird, and the Norwich, or Norwich plain head, from which come many of the common canaries.

It must not be supposed that the number of varieties of canaries enumerated covers the entire field. For each of the main forms there are almost endless groups or divisions that have been developed on color peculiarities. To obtain pure-bred birds requires constant care and supervision, and with any slackness of method a host of mongrels appear. Interbreeding between the various forms, differing so widely in color, results in reversion to the original type, which was a spotted or striped greenish bird, certain proof of the common origin of all.