RECORD: Brent, B. P. 1860. The wild canary of Madeira (Fringilla butyracea). Cottage Gardener and Country Gentlemen (17 April): 43.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 8.2022. RN1

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[page] 43

THE WILD CANARY OF MEDEIRA (Fringilla butyracea).

I HAVE not yet met with a good description of the Wild Canary (Fringilla Canaria), of the Canary Islands; but some naturalists regard the Fringilla butyracea of Madeira, Fringilia Canaria of the Canary Islands, as identical, or, at least, very similar, possibly a description of the Madeira variety may suffice.

C. Darwin, Esq., has kindly forwarded me the skin of a Wild Canary, brought direct from Madeira. This measures – length of the beak four lines; breadth at base, two lines; and depth of base, three lines. The shank of the leg is eight lines in height; the middle toe measures six lines, and the hind toe four lines in length. The colour of the plumage is what Canary fanciers term grey. The quill-feathers of wings and tail are blackish edged with grey; the top of the head and upper parts of the body are dark grey, with longitudinal back marks between the shoulders; the throat and breast are yellowish-grey tinged with green; the belly white, with a few longitudinal dark spots above the thighs.

From a few I saw in one of the aviaries at the Crystal Palace (1859), they appeared short and rounded in form, much resembling the Norwich birds in shape.

The following description is from Dr. Heineken, "Zoological Journal," vol. v., p. 70. He considers Fringilla Canaria and Fringilla butyracea as synonymous, and he here gives an elaborate description of the bird as it appears in madeira. Of its habits, Dr. Heineken says, "that it builds in thick, bushy, high shrubs and trees, with roots, moss, feathers, hair, & c.; that it pairs in February, lays from four to six eggs of a pale -blue colour, and hatches live times (not unfrequently six), in a season. He observes that it is very familiar, haunting and breeding in gardens about the city. It is a delightful songster, says the Skylark's, but none of the Woodlark's song, although three or four Skylarks in confinement, in Funchal, are the only examples of any of these three birds in the island; and notwithstanding the general opinion that such notes are the result of education in the Canary, it is in full song about nine months in the year. I have heard one sing on the wing, and passing from one tree to another at some distance, and am told that during the pairing season this is common. Each flock has its own song, and, from individuals in the same garden differing considerably, I suspect that each nest varies more or less. After the breeding season, they flock together with Linnets, Goldfinches, & c., and are then seldom seen in gardens. The moult takes place in August and September. An old bird caught and put in a cage will sometimes sing immediately; but it seldom lives longer than the second year, in confinement. The young from the nest are difficult to rear, dying generally at the first moult. They cross readily with the domesticated variety, and the progeny are larger, stronger, better breeders, and, to my taste, also better songsters than the latter; but a pure wild song from an island Canary, at liberty in full throat, and in a part of the country so distant from the haunts of men , that it is quite unsophisticated, is unequalled in its kind by anything I have ever heard in the way of bird music." ─ B. P. BRENT.

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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 25 September, 2022