Canaries have been kept as pets from as early as the 1500s when they were bred exclusively for the rich. Canaries have been bred specifically for their colourful plumage and beautiful songs. Male canaries are often kept singly as this encourages them to sing more. Over the years, pet canary diets have been improved by the introduction of cuttle bone.
Wild canaries originate from the islands of Canary, the Azores and Mediera where they live in patches of scrubby land that has trees and grass. Wild canaries feed on a wide variety of foods including seeds and insects and they feed on grit from the ground. Consuming grit ensures the bird gets enough calcium, which is not present in sufficient quantity in seeds. Calcium is vital for healthy bones and feathers.
Pet canaries need to be fed much the same diet as their wild cousins, but they are dependent upon their owners to make sure they have all the nutrients they need. Canary seed mix is the usual food to feed a canary as it contains many of the most valuable nutrients including fat, protein, starch and carbohydrates. However, canary seed does not contain enough calcium to ensure bones and feathers are well maintained and so a supplement is required. The easiest way to do this is with a cuttle bone.
Cuttlefish is a squidlike animal that lives in both cold and warm seas around the world. There are many different species of cuttle fish and all have a singular hard platelike skeleton called the cuttle bone. When the cuttle fish dies, the skeleton is left behind and often washes up on beaches especially after a storm. The cuttle bone is comprised almost entirely of calcium carbonate and, therefore, perfect as a calcium supplement for caged birds like canaries.
All birds, no matter what their age or species, need calcium for growth and development, and cuttle bone should always be available to them. Calcium deficiency can result in feather pecking and bone deformity. The amount of calcium a canary needs varies during its life. As canaries are small birds, you need only supply them with a little cuttle bone, but one should always be available.
Not all canaries are fond of cuttle bone and many will happily destroy it without actually seeing it as food. Other methods of getting enough calcium into your birds are available but may not be as cheap and easily available as cuttle bone. Liquid calcium supplements can be added to water drinkers and ground limestone is often found in bird grit. It is very much a case of using what your canary is comfortable with and what it will eat in order to get enough calcium.