Canary birds are commonly kept, but it can be quite a surprise for some to learn just how many types of canaries there are. The Portuguese Harlequin, a tiny bird with a subtly rounded chest and, sometimes, a distinctive, triangular-shaped crest atop their head is but one of the canary varieties.
Portuguese Harlequins have a true air of dignity about them and a very regal presence despite their small size. They’re also a pretty rare type of canary and can be challenging to find. In this post, we’ll share all there is to know about this elusive and special bird.
|Common Names:||Portuguese Harlequin canary, Harlequin Portuguese|
|Scientific Name:||Serinus canaria domestica (domestic canary)|
|Adult Size:||16 cm|
|Life Expectancy:||9–10 years|
Origin and History
Not much is known about the origins of Portuguese Harlequins specifically, but canary birds originated in the Canary Islands. In the 15th century, they were exported to Spain where they became popular pets for their singing abilities—particularly male canaries.
According to legend, canaries were first sold to Spanish sailors by a Frenchman called Jean de Bethancourt who had a special affinity for their singing talents. It was Spanish sailors who introduced the canary to Spain, but it’s unknown whether the Jean de Bethancourt legend is true.
They later started to make their way overseas to Italy and, eventually, to various other countries including Russia, Britain, Northern Europe, and Germany. By the 19th century, canaries were pets in many households across Europe.
Portuguese Harlequins are, as described by the Confedération Ornithologique Mondiale (C.O.M/O.M.J) standard, “cheerful birds with agile movements”. Canaries are typically delicate and reserved, often preferring to be simply observed rather than handled by their owners. Some do get used to being handled, though.
Canaries are also known for being independent and sometimes territorial (males in particular), so there’s no guarantee that two can harmoniously live together. The dominant canary can make life quite difficult for the more submissive of the two. Issues arising from keeping canaries together typically occur in the breeding season.
Speech & Vocalizations
Canary birds are natural singers, though not all are bred for singing. Unfortunately, there is no information available as to whether Portuguese Harlequins specifically are singing birds (it’s possible that they’re bred for their color rather than their singing talent), but here’s what we do know about canaries that sing:
Males are more “talented” than females in the singing department and sing to attract mates. If a male canary is housed with a female, they’re less likely to break into song. It’s much less common for a female canary to sing. A canary’s singing voice is quite beautiful and is even relaxing to some.
In addition to singing, canaries also chirp, chatter, warble, shrill, and squeak. You’re more likely to hear a canary squeaking when they’re fighting.
Portuguese Harlequin Canary Colors and Markings
The Portuguese Harlequin canary is a very eye-catching and distinctive little bird. The C.O.M standard describes this canary as “variegated” and “balanced”, with red and chalk-white lipochrome. The breed standard also mentions that artificial coloring is mandatory. This most likely refers to the special diet fed to some canaries to enhance their color.
You can see red on the head, breast, wings, and tail feathers. The wings can also have red speckling on top of a brown base.
These birds are a real mixed bag color-wise, and, in addition to brown, white, and red, you may also spot yellow and/or orange tones on the feathers. This array of colors appears somewhat irregular—part of what makes this bird so unique and interesting to look at.
Caring for the Portuguese Harlequin Canary
Many keepers and enthusiasts agree that canaries typically do well as solitary birds, so it’s not necessary for them to have a companion, though some—emphasis on “some”— pairs do manage to live together and get along. Quick tip— some breeders sell Portuguese Harlequins in pairs, so it might be possible for them to live together. Check with the breeder for more information.
According to Chewy, it’s more likely that a mixed group of canaries will live together more harmoniously during the winter period than a group made up only of males.
Chewy also mentions that some male canaries can live together harmoniously in late summer, fall, and winter for the most part, but issues tend to arise because, as a rule, every canary enters the breeding phase at different times. On the other hand, female canaries are said to often live together peacefully throughout the year.
In terms of setup, a canary needs a cage measuring at least 18 x 24 x 18 inches. The bars should have ¼ to ½-inch spaces between them. The cage should contain perches and toys and the bottom of the cage should be covered in paper that you can throw away, like newspaper.
Common Health Problems
Canaries typically live for around 10 years, with some even living up to 15 years. You can enhance your canary’s chance of a healthy life by feeding an appropriate diet and offering suitable housing.
That said, there is always the risk of certain health conditions, particularly respiratory diseases like air sac mites and bacterial and viral infections of the respiratory tract. Changes in the voice, difficulty breathing, watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, sneezing, and nasal discharge. Closed eyes and ruffled feathers are also signs.
Diet and Nutrition
In the wild, canaries eat a lot of seed, but seed alone isn’t enough to keep your canary healthy, so it should only be offered as part of their diet. In addition to a small portion of seeds, canaries do well with commercial canary pellets and a small portion of green vegetables. Suitable greens include kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and lettuce, but there are many other possibilities.
According to the Portuguese Harlequin C.O.M standard, artificial coloring is mandatory for these birds. The standard does not elaborate on this, but red canaries are often “color fed”, which means they’re given color supplements in their diets to enhance their color. This is just a heads-up if you’re considering showing your Portuguese Harlequin.
It’s a good idea to let your canary out of their cage every day to let them explore, alleviate stress, and ultimately give them a sense of freedom and happiness. It’s recommended to start slowly by simply opening the cage and letting your canary come out at their own pace.
Canaries can be pretty shy and may need some time before they feel confident coming out and exploring. Make sure the room you let your canary out into is secure and free of open windows, cats, or anything that could harm them. If you have trouble getting them to come back to their cage, try putting a special treat inside to lure them back.
Inside the cage, make sure you install perches for your canary to hop between to help keep them active when not exploring.
Where to Adopt or Buy a Portuguese Harlequin Canary
This is where things get tricky because Portuguese Harlequin canaries aren’t very common. We checked out some breeder sites and only came across a few Portuguese Harlequins for sale, though we did find a wide variety of other canary types, including red factors.
If you’re curious about the price range, we found single Portuguese Harlequins for $169 and pairs for $250 on websites. Alternatively, you can try canary adoption or rehoming social media groups or websites to see if there are any Portuguese Harlequins available.
The Portuguese Harlequin is a gorgeous and rare canary that simply radiates dignity and poise. If you are lucky enough to get one, you’ll certainly never get tired of looking at these lovely birds, whether they’re sitting on a perch in the cage or out exploring your home. They’re not for everyone, though—especially those who prefer more “hands-on” pets.
Featured Image Credit: Fernando Zamora Vega, Shutterstock