Is a canary for me?
April 27, 2008 10:14 AM   Subscribe

First-time bird owner, wants something that is relatively easy to maintain, and has a pleasant song.

Is a canary for me? What else should I know?

This is an odd sounding question, but how much does one cost?

Any tips on finding a nice, healthy, long-living species and subsequently a member of that species is appreciated.
posted by aleahey to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here are the types of birds I've owned:

Lovebirds: Their calls are hideously loud and piercing, they seem to have a bullhorn built somewhere into their 2" frame. I've had one that was amazingly tame and affectionate (she would sit in the hood of your sweatshirt and peek out while you walked around), but all the others turned out to be little bastards who would've slit my throat if they only had the intellect and opposable thumbs necessary to invent razors.

Cockatiels: By far the best for companionship, they are most often hand fed at a young age before they're sold to you so they're bonded to humans from the start. The males make all the noise, sometimes they'll do funny things like improvise songs to your toes but mostly they're just loud. The females might sometimes twitter happily when you're scratching their head, but that's about it for noise. A cockatiel probably isn't a good choice if there are long times in the day when there aren't people around, they tend to see the humans around them as their flock and get lonely without them.

Parakeets (budgies): I kind of see these guys as the little clowns of the bird world. You have to get two so that they can entertain themselves, they're always doing funny little things and singing funny little songs with their toys (they need lots of bright colored ones). The males like to chatter...all the time. It's not at a very high volume though, as long as they aren't in the same room as where you're trying to watch TV it's not a problem. Parakeets are hit or miss if you try to tame them, so they're more likely to stay in their cage and do acrobatics than want to come out and let you handle them.

Canaries: I haven't personally owned one, but my 88 year-old grandmother does. She loves her little "Freddy" as he sings cheerful songs to her, his reflection in the mirror, the birds outside, the get the picture. Freddy is pretty low maintenance as far as birds go and she can quiet him down by covering his cage. As far as I know canaries aren't able to be tamed at all but they're the best singers of the pet bird world.

I'm not sure how much birds cost these days, ours just keep making more of themselves! There are a number of good books dedicated to keeping every species of bird imaginable as a pet, I recommend you go to the library or a bookstore and browse through a few to help you make up your mind. Once you do choose what kind of bird, those books will have valuable tips on picking a good one and caring for it once you do. Good luck!
posted by chicken nuglet at 11:33 AM on April 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

I should add that I've found the Internet to be a cesspit of misleading and outright wrong information on owning a bird so find a good book and trust it.

Many blogs contain rumors that are endlessly copied and reported as fact. Someone's bird dies unexpectedly, and they try to find something to blame and post it on their blog (see the teflon parrot poison scare).
posted by chicken nuglet at 11:58 AM on April 27, 2008

If you're not looking for something you can let fly around or sit on your hand, finches are good for just jumping around a cage, eating and singing and crapping. There is a portion of my music taste that I attribute directly to the collection of finches my grandmother had while I was growing up.
posted by rhizome at 12:11 PM on April 27, 2008

The canary sounds like a good choice for you. Be aware that only the male will sing, it is his way to attract females. If you buy a pair, the male will stop singing as his lady friend is near at hand. The baby male canary learns his song from his father, if he is removed too early, he will not know how to sing. German rollers are thought to be the best singers.

I would suggest buying a bird from one of the local bird shows. The cost of a male canary will be $60- $120. You will be purchasing the bird directly from the breeder usually at a lower cost than the pet store. Check the web for bird clubs in your area, they are usually very friendly and helpful people.

I second the idea of buying a book on you bird's care. Birds have sensitive respiratory systems. That is why they were brought down in the mines, they were the first "lethal air detectors." Burning scented candles can cause death in some birds.

Birds are easy to maintain, but can be messy with the seed hulls. They are lovely and can bring many years of joy to your household.
posted by JujuB at 12:58 PM on April 27, 2008

Do get a decent sized cage; one as big as you can afford and fit in your house. It makes for a much healthier bird, and a happier one.
posted by airplain at 1:27 PM on April 27, 2008

Sidenote: if you have non-stick pans and you overcook and burn them, the chemical vapors will give your birds a long, painful, seizure-filled death. Mrs. tacodog works in an avian clinic and has witnessed this first hand several times. Since we have eight birds ourselves (most of them rescues) we've unloaded our non-stick cookware.
posted by Tacodog at 1:58 PM on April 27, 2008

Regarding the all-day vocalization of zebra finches:

male: beep
female: beep
male: beep beep
female: beep beep beep
male: beep beep
female: beep!
male: beep!
female: beep
male: beep
(repeat nonstop during daylight hours)

It sounds a *lot* like Pong.
posted by jamaro at 2:35 PM on April 27, 2008

I bought a plain old green & yellow parakeet at PetSmart for $14.95, about 5 years ago. What costs a lot is a big enough cage to keep a bird happy and healthy. The initial outlay for the cage, toys, food and cob litter for the bottom of the cage ended up costing about $55. If I was at all handy, I would have fashioned some kind of floor to ceiling enclosure in the corner of the living room, giving the bird enough room to fly around without actually being loose in the house pooping all over everything.

I've seen bird paraphernalia on my local freecycle list a number of times, so you might try that route at first.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:47 PM on April 27, 2008

(I am a professional bird trainer and have cared for birds in the zoo field for 8 years just to let ya know where Im coming from) and I second a canary. Especially if you wantone with a "song" any thing in the parrot family is more a scream definitely not a song. Canaries are relatively simple to care for but they do have some precautions as mentioned before with their sensitive respiratory systems. They can be a little pricey especially if you want a fancy one. The red factor males are bright red and gorgeous but over 100 dollars. I do recommend going to a breeder or bird show and NOT a petstore. It may take a little more effort but you will get a healthier, bird and the places most commercial petstores get from are one step above puppy mills.

I wouldn't say that you can't tame them. With a little effort and patience and a gentle hand you could tame one to come to your hand when called etc... but they are small and flighty and it wouldn't be easy but not impossible.

They can be messy with the seeds but there are many commercially available all-in-one pelleted diets that are for finches and canaries. I feed our finches both seed and pellets. But you can do one or the other as well.

and @ jamaro... damn you are RIGHT ON with the finch talk. made me laugh...
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 7:19 PM on April 27, 2008

A little late to the game (as always) but a word of warning on finches: "easy to maintain" doesn't always mean "low maintenance".

Finches, while adorable and entertaining, are stupid. They drop their seed husks right into the food dish, so you have to winnow it often. What may look like a full dish is often 90% empty husks. I know that some other birds do this, but not to the same extent.

They seem to have a tendency to prefer to crap in their water.

Also, if you get a pair, be warned that you may soon have many finchlets if you get a male and female. They breed like, well, finches. My first-ever pair ended up being 13 within a year.

They're fun to watch, relatively quiet (volume-wise) and always on-the-go, but you need to really keep an eye on their food and water. Much moreso than other birds (in my experience).

@jamaro - heh. Dead on, except for the occasional machine noise they make (BeededeBEEPBEEP, BeededeBEEPBEEP!) and the occasional going-off-for-thirty-seconds for no good reason (BEEP!BEEP!BEEP!BEEP!BEEP!) ad nauseum.
posted by geckoinpdx at 5:06 PM on April 28, 2008

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