I preface this article by pointing out that I am not an expert on seed, and found it very difficult to get up-to-date data. I trawled the web and the libraries and found that the information available was either very old or non-existent. I would also point out that in different countries and within some countries, that names differ from the names I have used. I have used the Australian colloquial name and the botanical name where known (hoping like hell that some botanist hasn’t come along and reclassified since the reference book was written). All that aside I hope you find the following of interest and of some benefit.
The major part of the diet of all Canaries is seed. There are various types of seeds that a Canary will eat, the majority of which I have detailed below. Seed in general should only be used when it is not too old and definitely not used if it has become damp or contains rodent faeces or a dead rodent etc. Most seeds are best when they are shiny and have no musty smell or dust present. Dirty/dusty seed should be avoided, however if it is just dusty from the harvest etc it can be removed by using a sieve, or a seed winnow. Seeds are categorised into two groups “Oily Seeds” or “Cereals/Starchy” (refer table1).
It is recommended that Crude Protein for Canaries should be between 15-25% and Fat between 7-20%. If you feed Plain Canary seed by itself, your birds are not getting sufficient Fat and are bored out of their brains without variety.

Plain Canary Seed (Phalaris canariensis) This is the seed commonly known as Plain Canary seed. It is an elongated shiny seed and is a pale gold colour. It should be the main seed in Canary Mixed seed. It is the staple diet of the Canary. Canary seed is grown on most continents in particular Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

French Millet There is a plethora of different types of seed that come broadly under the heading of Millet. Millet is used in some countries in the making of flat breads and porridges. The stalks are used in the Millet Broom.
The most common used for birdseed in Australia is Panicum. There is also “Japanese” and “Pearl” and some are sold on the basis of their colour, Red, Yellow and White as shown in the photograph.
The various millets are high in carbohydrates, with protein content varying from 6 to 13 percent and fat varying from 1.5 to 5%.
Millet is used in canary mixes and will be eaten by the Canary. Millet should not be used as the staple diet of the Canary.

Hulled Oat Seed (Avena sativa) A cereal widely cultivated in the temperate regions of the world. Among the cereals, oats are second only to rye in ability to survive in poor soils. With sufficient moisture, oats will grow on soils that are sandy, low in fertility, or highly acidic.
Oats are used chiefly as livestock feed; some are processed for breakfast foods. Rolled oats are the flattened kernels with the hulls removed. Other breakfast foods are made from the groats, kernels with husks removed, but unflattened. Oat flour is not generally considered suitable for bread but is used to make cookies and puddings. Oat grains are high in carbohydrates and contain about 13% protein and 7.5% fat.
Oats are a source of calcium, iron, vitamin B1, and nicotinic acid. Oat bran is said to reduce cholesterol. Hulled oats are a cream colour, about 5mm long and 1.5mm wide.
For Canaries I feed a small amount of hulled oats in winter, the birds love it. They start on the centre of the seed and ultimately eat everything including the fine outer skin.
I am told that too many hulled oats causes the bird to become too fat and in summer causes the bird to get too hot.

Rape Seed (Brassica napus), plant of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). In years gone by Rape was often confused with some vegetable seeds such as Cabbage, Swede, Kale and Kohl Rabi.
Also known in Australia as Canola. The plant grows about 30 cm (1 foot) or more tall. Its leaves are smooth, bluish green, and deeply scalloped, the base of the upper leaves clasp the stem. The flowers are yellow and in-groups of four petals. The seeds are round and in elongated pods. These seeds, known as rapeseeds, yield rapeseed oil, or canola. The oils are used in cooking, as an ingredient in soap and margarine.
Rape is very low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fats.
Do not over use Rape as the birds’ love it, but it is too high in fat and should be only used in a mix.
Rape is for most breeders an essential part of a Canaries diet. Usually mixed with plain Canary seed as 1 part Rape, to 3 parts Canary.

Maw Seed (Linum usitatissimum) also called flaxseed. Grown for linseed oil and meal. Linseed is borne in globular capsules, each with 10 long, flat, elliptical seeds with slight projections at one end. The seeds are typically about 3 to 4 mm (0.1 to 0.15 inch) long. They are usually tan/brown and are smooth and shiny. The whole seed usually contains from 33 to 43% oil by weight of air-dried seed. Linseed oil is now mainly used in paint and in the past however, it was used in some medicines for human consumption.
Linseed seed is often found in mixed canary seeds. It is very high in oil and is often used during the moult as it is said to make the new plumage silky and shiny. When used in soaked seed, it can exude a sticky jelly like substance.
In my experience Linseed is hardly ever eaten; this is self evident when provided separately in a container only containing Linseed.

Maw Seed (Papaver somniferum) The tiny seed of the opium poppy, used as a human food and the source of poppy-seed oil. The seed is often used in breads and cakes. The seeds are small (less than 1 mm in length), and greyish blue to dark blue in colour.
Maw seed contains from 44 to 50% oil.
I have heard people say that their Canaries can get high on too much, however most literature says that Maw seeds have no narcotic properties, because the fluid contained in the bud that becomes opium is present only before the seeds are fully formed.
Maw seed is in my opinion an essential seed added to egg and biscuit. The maw seed often encourages the feeding hen to pick at the seed. Especially good when a hen is slow to feed her young.

Niger Seed (Hyoscyamus niger), of the family Solanaceae which comes from Great Britain and found growing wild in waste land and on rubbish heaps. Grows to a height of 30 to 60 centimetres (1 to 2 feet) and then flowers and sets seed.
The leaves of the Niger are used commercially to make 3 seriously dangerous narcotic drugs and are used in various illicit smoking and drinking concoctions.
The seed is shiny and jet-black and can be up to 5mm long. The seed, which contains more alkaloid than the foliage, have also been used in India as a remedy for toothache. The Niger sold in Australia for birds, has been baked and will not germinate. It is with this baking that the nutrients have probably been destroyed.
Many breeders are convinced that Niger is an excellent preventative for egg binding. Give a pinch of the seed 3 or 4 times per week, in the lead-up to breeding.

Hemp Seed (species Cannabis sativa), plant of the family Cannabaceae. The seed contains about 30% oil, and the leaves and blossoms are used for the narcotic drug marijuana and hashish.
The oil obtained from hempseed can be used to make paints, varnishes, soaps, and edible oil; but the seed's chief commercial use has been for caged-bird feed.
Hemp seed as far as I am aware is not available legally within Australia, even in its baked/sterile form. The seed is large, round and greyish and has a very hard coat. Young birds are usually unable to break the outer coating. It is a fattening seed that should not be given in excess.

Canary seed by itself is not sufficient, and that many mixes and blends will do the job. My preference is to use a blend higher in fat during the winter months (Mix 2) and bring this back to a mix higher in protein for the breeding season and for soaked seed (Mix 1). Note that some seeds are not ideal for soaking, Linseed exudes a jelly like substance and Hulled oats tends to go-off quickly.
I don’t include Hemp in any mix, as its too hard to get, and I only give Niger as a tonic because it is too expensive.

Note: The following tables should be taken as a guide only as the source is quite old, and values can alter from crop to crop and the region where the crop was grown. (if you know of more recent data please advise the author). Peter@fifecanary.org
Note: It is recommended that Crude Protein for Canaries should be between 15-25% and Fat between 7-20%.
Starch equivalent figures are strictly comparable one with another as far as their powers of promoting the development of fat or maintaining of condition. Therefore linseed is approximately double that of Millet.

Name Group Water Content Crude Protein Fat Carbo-hydrates Starch Equivalent Nutrient Ratio
Canary Cereal 7.0% 16.2% 5.8% 58.9% 72.6% 1 to 5.3
Millet Cereal 7.0% 12.6% 4.2% 64.4% 63.5% 1 to 6.2
Hulled Oats Cereal 7.0% 16.7% 6.9% 58.5% 69.2% 1 to 4.6
Rape Oily 7.0% 17.6% 44.2% 20.2% 131.3% 1 to 7.7
Linseed Oily 7.0% 17.9% 41.3% 23.6% 127.5% 1 to 7.5
Maw Oily 7.0% 20.2% 43.8% 14.7% 129.0% 1 to 7.1
Niger Oily 7.0% 22.4% 39.0% 14.4% 120.0% 1 to 5.2
Hemp Oily 5.7% 22.5% 30.0% 35.8% 99.4% 1 to 5.0

Although this mix has the same nutrient ratio as mix 2, it has less fat which is more desirable during the breeding season and hot weather. Remember that when breeding you should be using an Egg and Biscuit mix, which increases the protein. You don’t want to create what is known as Protein poisoning which can happen in the first days of life.
Quantity Name Group Water Content Crude Protein Fat Carbo-hydrates Starch Equivalent Nutrient Ratio
9 Parts Canary Cereal 7.0% 16.2% 5.8% 58.9% 72.6% 1 to 5.3
8 Parts Millet Cereal 7.0% 12.6% 4.2% 64.4% 63.5% 1 to 6.2
2 Parts Rape Oily 7.0% 17.6% 44.2% 20.2% 131.3% 1 to 7.7
1 Part Hulled Oats Cereal 7.0% 16.7% 6.9% 58.5% 69.2% 1 to 4.6


Mix Total 7.0% 14.9% 9.1% 57.2% 74.7% 1 to 5.9

Slightly higher in Protein with a much higher Fat content, and starch equivalents which is preferred for Winter. Note Egg+Biscuit would not be fed every day during winter.
Quantity Name Group Water Content Crude Protein Fat Carbo-hydrates Starch Equivalent Nutrient Ratio
3 Parts Canary Cereal 7.0% 16.2% 5.8% 58.9% 72.6% 1 to 5.3
1 Part Rape Oily 7.0% 17.6% 44.2% 20.2% 131.3% 1 to 7.7


Mix Total 7.0% 16.6% 15.4% 49.2% 87.3% 1 to 5.9
Example of Mix total calculation for Fat Content = 3 X 5.8 = 17.4 + 44.2 = 61.6 / 4 = 15.4%

Encyclopedia Britannica (2003).
G.T Dodwell – The Complete Book of Canaries (1989),
Cyril Kirby -Canary Breeding in Australia,
David Alderton -The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Caged and Aviary Birds (2001)

Author: Peter Ailwood - Published 2/11/04