Definition of canary in English:



  • 1A mainly African finch with a melodious song, typically having yellowish-green plumage. One kind is popular as a cage bird and has been bred in a variety of colours, especially bright yellow.

    • ‘The song of the canaries in a cage downstairs rings out throughout the whole restaurant.’
    • ‘In the 19th century, underground coal miners carried canaries down into the shafts as their first line of defense against poisonous gases.’
    • ‘And I will miss all of my pets - my two beloved, fun-loving dogs, my seven lively cats, my canaries, my horses, and even my chickens.’
    • ‘Finches, canaries and budgerigars do not need as much attention from their people and so may be an option for those with busy life-styles.’
    • ‘Billed as the story of the first genetically engineered animal, The Red Canary charts the obsession of Hans Duncker and his attempts in the 1930s to alter radically the genetic makeup of wild canaries to create a new species.’
    • ‘Beaming the sound of the birds' natural predators, such as geese or owls, at their roosts scares the canaries away from the power lines.’
    • ‘In the past, miners used caged canaries to tell when the air in a mine was going bad; when the canaries stopped singing, it was time to get out before the air became unbreathable.’
    • ‘She was devoted to Mrs. Smith, to Mr. Smith, to their dogs, cats, canaries; and as to Mrs. Smith's gray parrot, its peculiarities exercised upon her a positive fascination.’
    • ‘The family have always kept pets, Mrs Cotter said, and currently own cats, a dog and two parrots and some canaries.’
    • ‘Janet has been keeping exotic birds including cockatiels, finches and canaries for 12 years.’
    • ‘Small square cages are used for canaries, while thrushes are given larger round cages.’
    • ‘Along with camels, pigeons, donkeys, oxen, canaries, cats and dogs, the memorial remembers the eight million horses killed in the Great War alone.’
    • ‘Budgies, finches, sparrows and canaries are only a few of the more than one hundred kinds of birds people keep in their apartments.’
    • ‘The existence of stem cells in the brain was first discovered in canaries and this discovery upset the received wisdom for many decades that the adult brain never gained new nerve cells.’
    • ‘Scientists have really gotten interested in the brains of songbirds, particularly those birds that can keep learning new songs when they're adults, like canaries.’
    • ‘Reich had the bird breeder's equivalent of a green thumb, and was known among bird hobbyists for training canaries to sing the song of the nightingale.’
    • ‘As the names indicate, color-bred canaries are bred to attain specific colorations and song canaries for their singing abilities.’
    • ‘The pet shop clerk had been helpful, showing him an assortment of mice and guinea pigs and even a pair of canaries, but in the end, Enoch had settled on the brown-and-white hamster.’
    • ‘The smallest barrel organs were tiny instruments called sérinettes or ‘bird organs’, designed to make easy the constant repetition needed to teach canaries to sing favourite airs.’
    • ‘Avoid nesting material for finches, canaries and other small birds because they may have artificial fibers such as polyester contained within.’
    View synonyms
  • 2[mass noun] A bright yellow colour resembling the plumage of a canary.

    [as modifier] ‘villas painted in canary yellow’
    ‘a canary waistcoat’
    • ‘The feathers were flying today over ‘tasteless’ plans by a school to make its uniform canary yellow.’
    • ‘African marigold comes in yellow and orange colours in various hues such as light yellow, canary yellow, golden yellow, bright yellow, cadmium, orange, golden orange, deep orange, bright orange.’
    • ‘Contemporary black and white is seen with pale yellow, and canary yellow is flying over the trends horizon, so that's another option.’
    • ‘After passing a canary-yellow barn, we crossed a small moor with three-star grouse butts and ended up at the hamlet of Ilton.’
    • ‘The landscaping was so much better than anything around it, and despite the ugly color contrast of bright canary yellow and brown it was in very nice shape.’
    • ‘Robinson has written an unpretentious and highly readable biography of Seacole, as vivid and colourful as the central character herself, in her favourite canary-yellow dress and blue bonnet trimmed with red ribbons.’
    • ‘I replied negatively as he took off his purple hued sunglasses, fire engine-red leather jacket and canary yellow cashmere scarf.’
    • ‘We couldn't resist it from the moment we first cast eyes upon it, although it has to be admitted that the brilliant canary yellow we chose is not everyone's cup of tea.’
    • ‘From the outset, when the performers strut, bird-like, onto the stage with wonderful improvised bird-sound pipe instruments attached to their canary yellow costumes, one is drawn into the show's parallel universe.’
    • ‘In Verona, I've seen pensioners wearing Gucci shades and canary-yellow mohair suits.’
    • ‘There is nothing elegant about Monsella; it begins as it means to go on, bursting with exuberant primary colour, the canary yellow petals striped with blood red spilling over in every direction.’
    • ‘Across the fields and hills, old stone cottages are crumbling into mossy graves while canary-yellow and pastel-pink Southfork-style houses spring up, with vast front lawns and inventive stone cladding.’
    • ‘Cool aqua marine blue entwined with canary yellow and feisty pink in intricate patterns and finely detailed paintings were printed onto the scarves.’
    • ‘The opposite corner is marked by a bright spray of canary yellow broccoli flowers, from a few side shoots we left in place when we harvested the crop.’
    • ‘When we're not confronted with concepts such as the three-legged trouser or underwear-as-outerwear, we're being asked to believe that canary-yellow is the new black, or that leggings deserve a revival.’
    • ‘The flowers are small and pale, canary-yellow, showing up well amongst the dark green foliage.’
    • ‘A half hour later, Melinda was freshly scrubbed and changed, and looking very pretty in another pair of short-shorts, canary yellow this time, and a matching tank-top.’
    • ‘A strong ethnic collection, it uses vivid colours which range form burgundy and strong fuchsia to canary yellow and electric blue.’
    • ‘One of the owners, Gus, even dresses in yellow plaid sport coats and canary-yellow pants, just so you won't confuse him with the traditional blue-blazer crowd known to hang around the box seats at America's racetracks.’
    • ‘Colour has been used to denote separation and order within the building: deep red for music making, canary yellow for management, and deep blue for washrooms.’
  • 3historical [mass noun] A sweet wine from the Canary Islands, similar to Madeira.

    • ‘The yellow colour may justify the name, for not only is the canary-bird yellow, but canary wine is of a golden hue.’
    • ‘His drinks cellar would have been stocked with vast quantities of strong beer and small beer (a weaker brew), as well as a range of wines such as claret and canary.’
    • ‘He then disappeared, and presently entered with two earthen flagons, one filled with canary wine, the other with brandy.’
    • ‘Shakespeare refers to canary wine in Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor.’
    • ‘This was considered as a trial of victory among these ‘canary birds,’ or bibbers of canary wine.’


  • canary in the (or a) coal mine

    • An early indicator of potential danger or failure.

      ‘native brook trout are very much the canary in the coal mine for the health of a stream’
      • ‘The coastal communities are simply the canaries in the coal mine.’
      • ‘The disappearing logo might just be the canary in the coal mine signifying the dematerialization of music.’
      • ‘Both institutions were canaries in the coal mine of the rebuilding process.’
      • ‘They said the coastal state was the canary in the coal mine, a warning of what would happen to the rest of the country if he had his way.’
      • ‘The riskiest bonds may be the canary in the coal mine for the $1.6 trillion municipal bond market.’
      • ‘The children are the canaries in the coal mine: the most sensitive and the most likely to suffer.’
      • ‘Microsoft believes that the sites could act as canaries in a coal mine, alerting the company to dangerous zero-day exploits, before the attacks gained widespread usage.’
      • ‘The director of poverty research described the sharp rise as "the canary in the coal mine for the recession".’
      • ‘The prison guards are the canary in a coal mine of California politics.’
      • ‘To a certain extent, between and Napster, digital music has become the canary in a coal mine in terms of privacy issues and business models.’


Late 16th century: from French canari, from Spanish canario canary or person from the Canary Islands (see Canary Islands).