This Forest Canary didn’t seem to notice me sitting with my camera in a corner of the garden, and it approached really close, even drinking from the nearby birdbath before seeing me and flitting up into a tree.

Of the several species of wild canaries, Forest Canaries are the most conspicuous of those that visit our garden. They are predominantly seedeaters, and being canaries their song is attractively high pitched and warbling. I think we hear them more than we see them, but they are conspicuous when visiting the birdbaths.

2 Forest Canary Female 2

A Forest Canary drinking from one of our birdbaths. In a more natural environment they drink and bathe regularly in forest streams

3 Forest Canary male & female

A pair of Forest Canaries at the birdbath. The female (on the left) has grey cheeks and does not have the dark chin and dark facial markings of the male

Female Forest Canary at birdbath in wildlife-friendly garden

A female Forest Canary at the birdbath looking rather coy and displaying a canary version of being knock-kneed

Male Forest Canary in garden, KwaZulu-Natal

A male Forest Canary in the birdbath after drinking and just before it noticed me sitting on the ground nearby causing it to flit away

Forest Canaries, as the name implies, do prefer forest habitats. They also occur in protea shrublands and on the margins of timber plantations and in gardens bordering forests and plantations. They eat mainly seeds, taking seeds directly from a plant or finding fallen seeds. They forage in trees, shrubs, grasses and on the ground. They also eat some small fruits and flowers.

Forest Canary foraging in Pigeonwood Tree

This male Forest Canary is foraging rather athletically for ripe fruit in a Pigeonwood Tree (Trema orientalis)

Forest Canary foraging on the ground, KwaZulu-Natal

And this Forest Canary was foraging on the ground and eating what appear to be tiny flowers

Yellow-fronted Canary at garden pond, South Africa 

Only seldom do I notice visiting Yellow-fronted Canaries (formerly known as Yelloweyed Canaries). This one is visiting our garden pond. Unlike the Forest Canary that is endemic to Southern Africa, the Yellow-fronted Canary occurs as far north as Ethiopia. Their habitat includes more open areas than the Forest Canary

Yellow-fronted Canary eating grass seeds

A Yellow-fronted Canary eating grass seeds in our garden. In addition to seeds and some small fruits, they also eat insects and nectar

Brimstone or Bully Canary, South Africa

I don’t see this species of canary very often in the garden, and it turned out to be a bit of a mystery. I thought it likely to be a Yellow Canary until I found out our area is outside of its range, although it can occur here as a vagrant in winter. However, because of the heaviness of its bill, I concluded that it is more likely to be a Brimstone Canary (formerly known as the Bully Canary). Some subspecies are yellower in colour, and in this individual, probably a female, the facial markings are quite pale

So that is my roundup of wild canaries photographed in the garden. Their calls form an important part of the aural tapestry of birdsong during the spring and summer months of the year.

Portrait of Forest Canary

Sources: Hugh Chittenden, Greg Davies, Ingrid Weiersbye. 2016. Roberts Bird Guide: Illustrating nearly 1,000 Species in Southern Africa (2nd edition). Cape Town: Jacana; Roberts VII Multimedia PC Edition.  1997-2016 Southern African Birding. For details go to

Posted by Carol

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