National Geographic : 1938 Dec
CANARIES AND OTHER CAGE-BIRD FRIENDS* BY ALEXANDER WETMORE Assistant Secretary, Smithsonian Institution H UMAN pleasure in song, sprightly movement, and color-these are the basic reasons for the hundreds of thousands of small cage birds that are found in homes and aviaries throughout the world. The canary, most universally loved of these songsters, has been transported from its place of origin in the Canary Islands to every country in the world, and the vast number now found in captivity must cer tainly exceed those living in the original wild state, proof of the success of their domestication. A MID-PACIFIC ISLE OF SONG Years ago canaries are said to have been introduced by accident on the island of Elba and to have established themselves there until bird trappers caught, caged, and sold them all. Now the only wild colony of canaries that I know of on earth outside of their native islands is found on one of the isles of the Midway group of the Hawaiian chain. Midway has recently become well known as a stop on the route of the transpacific Clip per planes.t Landing at Midway from a naval mine sweeper on an April afternoon in 1923, I followed a tree-lined walk from a little wharf to the buildings of the cable station. To my delight I found a pleasant grass grown plaza backed by a windbreak of casuarina trees and ornamented with shrubs and flowers. Here was a man-made oasis of green built on an island of barren sand with fertile earth brought out as ships' bal last from Honolulu. Earth, grass, trees, shrubs, and flowers even the weeds in the vegetable garden- were introductions, and with them had come other things. As I looked about I saw many small yel low birds flying here and there-canaries living wild! But not until I heard their chorus of song at dawn the following morning did I fully appreciate that here was a true colony of these birds living in a state of nature. Dozens of them flew about in the shrubbery and over the lawns, and their sweet voices came from every side. All are believed to be the offspring of one or more pairs of yellow canaries released on the island by Mr. D. Morrison of the cable company in 1909. As they moved about, they appeared small and weak in compari son with the robust Laysan finches brought here from Laysan Island, but they seemed thoroughly established and had no enemies. All that I saw were clear yellow in color. CANARIES TAKE SINGING LESSONS German canary fanciers have long been noted for the attention that they give to the production of beautiful songsters and have developed the roller canary, famous for its notes. The true roller canary is a bird of small size that is predominantly green or mixed in color, varying from this to clear yellow. The song is a series of soft trills, so sweet and pleasing in tone as to be beyond de scription. Outstanding singers are highly prized and command good prices. Young male roller canaries are caged separately as soon as they have completed the first molt, and are kept in a quiet room in subdued light. An adult male of perfect song is kept with them and sings steadily. With his constant example the young ones practice their notes. BAD SINGERS "GET THE GONG" The birds are under close observation, and should one develop harsh notes or un desirable calls, he is removed immediately so that he may not be copied by his imita tive companions. Frequently a bird organ, arranged to play soft rolling trills indefi nitely, is used in this training. Under such conditions the young roll ers develop their notes, called technically "tours," the different trills being character ized as bell rolls, water rolls, and so on, until finally the finished songster is pro * This is the eighteenth article, with paintings by Major Allan Brooks, in the important NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE series on birds. Previous articles by outstanding authorities on the bird families of the United States and Canada are avail able in the National Geographic Society's two volume Book of Birds, together with other notable articles, portraits of 950 birds in full color, 633 "bird biographies," and more than 230 photographs and bird migration maps; $5 postpaid in United States and Possessions, $5.50 elsewhere. t See "The Chronicle of a Scientific Expedition to Little-Known Islands of Hawaii," by Alexander Wetmore, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1925.