Canaries are the famous yellow songbirds that are renowned for their beautiful singing. The male Canary has the melodic call, but the question often arises among potential owners about the females. Can female Canaries sing? Well, the answer is more complicated and interesting than you might think. The answer is yes; female Canaries can sing, but they hardly ever do!
Why Do Canaries Sing?
Male Canaries sing for various reasons, the most prominent being to attract a mate and establish territory.1 Male Canaries are prized for their singing capabilities, and many types of Canary, such as the German Roller and American Singer, are prized for their singing ability. Alongside other courtship actions such as feeding and displaying to the females, male Canaries sing a beautiful, melodious song designed to be the female’s perfect ballad.
Female Canaries have their own preferences for male birdsong; this even extends to females accustomed to the call of wild male Canaries versus those in captivity! If a Canary doesn’t sing to the female’s liking, he cannot pass on his genes to the next generation. The ability to hold a tune is vital!
Juvenile male Canaries can’t sing; they warble and tweet to practice until their song develops at around 6 months old. During this time, male Canaries can be “taught” a song by listening to different melodies of other Canaries, which they’ll copy. This doesn’t have to be live either; male Canaries can learn songs through recordings.
Do Female Canaries Make Sound at All?
Female Canaries make plenty of sounds but cannot sing as well as males do. Female Canaries make chirping and soft trilling sounds, but nearly all female Canaries don’t produce the elaborate rolling warbles of the male Canary. However, there is conflicting information surrounding how complex a female Canaries song can be; some sources state that females can sing actual songs that mimic a male’s tune, whereas others say it is impossible.
Female Canaries make chirrups and chirps to communicate with one another and participate in courting rituals. For example, a female Canary will respond to her potential mate with expressive chirps, showing her willingness to mate.
Interestingly, a study on female Canaries and their voices found that giving the females testosterone resulted in them singing highly complex songs that were actually “sexy” to other Canaries!2
What Makes a Male Canary Sing and Not a Female?
Male Canaries are prompted to sing because of their hormones. Testosterone is a major factor in male sexual development and behavior, which is why male Canaries sing elaborate songs. The testosterone levels in certain parts of a Canary’s brain are intricately linked to their song type, frequency, and quality.
A study by Johns Hopkins University involved introducing testosterone to certain parts of a male Canaries brain.3 The results showed that testosterone directly affected how successful the male was at attracting a mate with their song, but it caused changes to the size of other parts of the brain that were involved in singing.
This idea was further explored in the study that introduced testosterone in the female Canaries we discussed earlier. It showed that hormones and testosterone levels could be the main reason male Canaries sing and females don’t.
How Can I Tell if My Canary Is Male or Female?
There are some subtle differences between male and female Canaries, but that doesn’t mean they’re any easier to correctly sex! The most obvious difference between males and females is their singing, as your Canary is almost certainly a male if they can sing complex melodies.
In addition, there are behavioral differences when courting, as the female will most likely collect paper and bits of nest material while the male will sing his heart out and strut.
Other than that, the mating season in the springtime will soon tell you if your Canary is male or female. If you see a small clutch of eggs (which are laid regardless if they’re fertile or not), you’ll know you have a female! Canaries are so physically alike that it’s incredibly difficult to tell them apart just by looking.
Female canaries can sing if they have to, but they never have a reason to. As a result, their songs are simplistic and more akin to groups of trills and chirps than the flowing melody of male Canary birdsong. Male canaries are driven to sing when courting a female or defending territory, but they can also treat their owners and cage mates to a song if they’re happy. Testosterone levels seem to play a part in why males sing more than females do; if female Canaries are given testosterone, they produce melodic songs of their own!
Featured Image Credit: Terentieva Yulia, Shutterstock