The COLOR BRED canary is classified into two divisions: melanin and lipochrome. Melanin birds are dark colored birds. The original wild canary was of the melanin variety. Green, blue, pastel, brown, isabel, agate, opal, topaz, ino, and satinette canaries are all melanin. The lipochrome birds are completely devoid of dark color. The yellow, white, red ground, and mosaic canaries are all clear, lipochrome mutations.

Some knowledge of genetics is needed to understand the production of the different canary colors. The phenotype of a living thing is simply its appearance. When we describe a bird as white, yellow, red or variegated, we are defining its phenotype. The genotype of an organism is its genetic description. One must know either the ancestry of an individual, or do test matings in order to know the genotype. Knowing the genotype allows us to compute what color nestling any particular bird can produce. The genotype tells us why a particular specimen has a certain appearance and what traits it is carrying.

All living things are composed of cells. Within cells are located pairs of chromosomes. The chromosomes are the genetic blue prints of living things. When viewed under a microscope, the chromosomes are seen to be pairs of tiny strings. On each chromosome of the pair are spots that, together, control some aspect of the organisms health or physical makeup. These spots are called traits or genes. Imagining any particular spot, two possibilities exist: both are the same or they are different. How the genes interact with each other is the subject of genetics.

The reproductive cells are an exception to the rule that chromosomes are found in pairs. The unfertilized eggs in the hen and the sperm cells in the cock bird contain single strands of chromosomes. These single strands are produced from cells with the usual double strands. These cells divide, evenly parting the genetic material, generating reproductive cells. When the egg is fertilized by the sperm cell, in the resulting fertilized egg, or zygote, the single strands combine to form a pair. Thus each nestling receives a set of genetic material from its father, and a set from its mother.

Knowing the genotype of any pair of birds, knowing what genes they are showing and what genes they are carrying, that they are split for, allows us to predict the appearance of the young. We count all the single genes that come from the father, and all the single genes that come from the mother. Charting all the possible combinations, we can then list the probability of any particular color being in the nest.

The wild canary produces melanin, the chemicals that cause the dark colors in the feather, from the proteins in its food. Melanin is deposited in the feather giving the green phenotype. The production of melanin is defective in the lipochrome, clear canary. This mutation is classified as an incomplete dominant. If a bird possesses two genes for lipochrome, it will be a clear canary. If it has one gene for lipochrome and one for melanin production, it will be variegated. If both genes are for melanin, the bird will be dark..

This knowledge allows us to figure out what varieties of young any pairing will produce.

+ – denotes melanin, the wild, normal type.
L – denote lipochrome, the mutated variety..

L/L – is the genotype of a clear bird.
Here we have a gene for lipochrome on each chromosome.

L/+ or +/L is the genotype of a variegated bird. A variegated bird has a gene for lipochrome on one. chromosome and a gene for lipochrome on the other.

+/+ – is the genotype of a green bird.
A green bird has the normal genes on each chromosome…
All living things pass their chromosomes onto their offspring. Thus if we mate two variegated birds together:..

L/+ X L/+ produces the following percentages.
25% L/L Clear birds.
25% +/+ Dark birds.
50% +/L Variegated birds.

These percentages come about because each parent produces the factors L and + in equal parts. L combines with L to yield L/L. + combines with +, giving +/+. L can combine with + in two ways:L/+ or +/L. L/+ is equivalent to +/L, so we combine the probabilities.

If we mate two clear birds together, all clear young are the result. If two dark birds are paired, only melanin nestlings will be in the nest.

The mating of a clear bird to a variegated gives the following:
L/+ X L/L.
50% L/+ Variegated.
50% L/L Lipochrome.

There is no good reason to produce variegated canaries in the COLOR BRED. Variegated birds are attractive in the TYPE, ROLLERS, and AMERICAN SINGERS, but they cannot be exhibited as COLOR BRED in the United States. Some, who should know better, write that it is necessary to cross the lipochrome birds into melanin stock in order to avoid a loss of vigor and to maintain depth of color in the clear line. This is not true. Healthy, brightly colored strains of clear canaries can be bred without any cross into melanin. Pairing lipochrome to melanin or variegated unleashes many problems. Many of the clear birds bred from variegated X lipochrome pairings will have tic marks and dark patches on the legs and feet, making them unfit for exhibition.

There are two kinds of white canaries:dominant whites and recessive whites. With the dominant white only one gene is needed to give the white phenotype. This is what is meant by a dominant gene. A canary cannot be a carrier of the dominant white factor.
W – the Dominant White Factor.
y – yellow ground.
W/y – A dominant white canary.
y/y – A yellow ground canary.
W/y X y/y gives the following:.
50% W/y Dominant White.
50% y/y Yellow Ground.

It is generally believed that the dominant white gene is a semi-lethal. This means that if the dominant white trait is located on both chromosomes, if two dominant white birds were paired together, the young bird would die in the shell.

Many dominant white canaries show slight shading of yellow in the flight feathers and, occasionally, elsewhere. For show, the purest white birds are to be desired. Dominant white birds should never be crossed with red factor canaries, as this will intensify the color in the body. Similarly, dominant whites should never be color fed. The amount of suffusion can be limited by selective breeding. Selective breeding is the pairing of the best birds over a number of generations.

In the recessive white canary two genes are necessary to produce a white bird. This is the definition of a recessive trait. IT is possible for a bird to be a carrier, to be split for, the recessive white gene.
y – Yellow.
w – Recessive White (note that here I use the lower case w). w/w – Recessive White canary.
w/y – Yellow canary, carrier of recessive white.

Most breeders breed recessive whites by mating recessive white canaries to yellow carriers of recessive white. This pairing gives 50% recessive white, and 50% yellow carriers of recessive white. These canaryculturists assume that the mating of recessive white to recessive white will cause a decline in the health and vitality of the offspring. Whether this is founded on observation or superstition is difficult to discern.

Many breeders claim that recessive white canaries require vitamin supplements to survive. Given the proper care that all canaries require, these birds are as healthy as any others.

The recessive white mutation deletes all color from the feathers and skin. Recessive whites can be color fed and they will remain pure white. These birds can be crossed with the red factor canaries. It is possible to develop a strain of deep red birds that would be carriers of recessive white.

Many years ago, the recessive white was used in Red Siskin crosses. It was thought that the recessive white had no genes for the production of yellow. This cross showed otherwise, for here the red was still diluted in the first cross progeny. This shows that the recessive white gene masks the genes for yellow. The genes for yellow, or red, are still present. The recessive white gene makes the other genes inoperative. Dominant white canaries show slight shading of yellow in the flights.


  1. How can you obtain or breed a cinnamon Norwich canary
    Is it for example by pairing a blue to green or a white to e green
    Please let me know

    1. Cinnamon (Brown) is a distinct melanin color. You can’t get Cinnamon by “blending” other colors. Cinnamons can be and of the Lipochrome ground colors — Yellow, Dominant White, Recessive White or Red. In Norwich, Cinnamons will almost always be Yellow ground, but Dominant White are possible.

      Cinnamon is a sex-linked trait; males can carry the trait — not show it themselves (be Green or Blue), but produce Cinnamon daughters. Hens either are Cinnamon or they are not. Female canaries can’t be carriers of Brown.

  2. If breeding recessive white to dominate white is the lethal factor eliminated? and do you get more white than yellow birds?

    1. According to my knowledge. There would be no risk of dead eggs or chicks pairing dominant to recessive white as there would be with two dominant whites.

  3. Can someone please explain to me the genetics of a brown canary.
    1) What is its official colour name
    2) I have a hen on its way to me showing totally brown, does this mean a double factor present.
    3) What colour cock do I use to increase my brown stock. She is the only brown I have.
    The canaries I have are Raza Española (Esp’añoliltos)
    Please try and help

  4. Hello. My blue fife hen is sitting on a clutch of eggs right now. The cock is a clear buff cock(yellow). I’m trying to figure out what kinds of the colors would come out of it.

  5. Hello. My orange hen is sitting on a clutch of eggs right now. The cock is a clear yellow). I’m trying to figure out what kinds of the colors would come out of it.


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