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Canary Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)

Wild Canary - Serinus canarius

The Canary (Serinus canaria) is well-known as a pet bird brought to Europe from the famed ‘Fortunate Islands’, from which they have obtained their name. They have since brought joy to countless homes for hundreds of years with their bright spirit and sweet songs. They have been symbols of prosperity and happiness to various cultures around the world.

They originate, and are endemic to the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the coast of West Africa as well as to the Azores and Madeira islands of Portugal. The Canary is a Passerine bird and member of the Finch family. The species has been made even more famous by the favourite Looney Tunes character of many – Tweety bird.

Being a very attractive songbird, they were brought to Europe in the 17th century and have been extensively bred in captivity resulting in both a broad spectrum of colours as well as sustained vocal powers less common in the wild. (1) Their incredible diverse vocal skills and long lifespan of 10-15, even up to 20 years, has made them highly regarded as caged birds in aristocrat courts and households for centuries. (2)

Bringing a sense of good luck and cheerfulness to all who encounter them. They are also considered to be extremely sensitive birds and have even been thought to indicate pending doom of the humans around them in various contexts. As the saying ‘canary in the coal mine’ tells, they have been symbols of protection and have helped people to be freed from literal or figurative cages in dangerous circumstances, allowing them to see the light at the end of the tunnel again. 

A connection with the Canary spirit will show fun, liveliness and optimism of character. This spirit animal has a strong sense of compassion, it knows the importance of clear communication and has a natural ability to uplift others. The Canary teaches us how to experience the sweetness of life and how to use our unique voice, both for pleasure, spiritual relationships and for protection.

On this page
Canary Symbolism and Meaning
Canary Native American Symbolism
Canary Christianity Symbolism
Canary Celtic Symbolism
Canary in Dreams
Canary Encounters and Omens
Canary Mythology and Folklore
    Native American Mythology:
    Christian/Jewish Mythology:
    Egyptian Mythology:
    Japanese Mythology:
    Greek Mythology:
Canary Spirit Animal
Canary Totem Animal
Canary Power Animal
Canary Tattoo Meaning

Canary Symbolism and Meaning

As their bright colours illuminate before us, they have come to represent the light that shows us the path in life. Flying in open air, they speak to us of freedom from entrapment and the pleasures of life, helping us put our worries aside. 

The Canary, representing the air element, is a very sensitive bird to harmful gases and polluted air conditions. With strong perceptiveness, the spirit of the Canary can support you in matters of emotional and physical safety and help you open to your soul’s path. (3)

As one of the most well known song birds, the male Canary has notable vocal skills, using his sweet voice to attract females, to mark his territory and also seemingly just for the sheer enjoyment of it! Their chattery nature has come to represent the spreading of joy and comfort but also the impulsiveness of a gossiper. The Canary reminds us to utilise the full power of our voice for the purpose of bringing happiness to others. 

If his territory is encroached however, the sweetly singing male Canary will turn sour and aggressive – preferring to live individually unless mating. By this nature, they also strongly prefer to live alone when caged. These independent creatures do not feel saddened by this isolation and continue to sing joyfully, teaching us that to be happy we must be content within ourselves.  

Orange Canary Bird. Source: Martin Terber, Creative Commons

Interestingly, with the great efforts in Canary breeding, many different colours and hues have been created that differ from the yellow wild Canaries. Thus, the bird’s symbolic meanings have also developed: yellow, signifying the positive energy of the sun, good luck and affluence; pink, implying friendship, red for passion, orange alluding to enthusiasm and success while brown signifies safety and stability. (4)

Altogether, the Canary has come to symbolise many elements of life; from happiness, safety, independence, lavishness, musicality, solitary practices, free spirited as well as love songs, the sun’s energy, uniqueness and blessings. (5)

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Canary Native American Symbolism

Although the wild Canary is not traditionally found in the Americas, being part of the Finch family does carry some symbolic meaning for Native Americans. Finches have been viewed by tribes as a positive oracle whilst golden and yellow feathers generally are highly revered as symbols of happiness, solar energy, positive mind and fertility. (6)

Canary European Symbolism

Yellow canary
Yellow Caged Canary. Source: Davidinnesperth, Creative Commons

With the historical context of the Canary as being fancy pets for the upper classes of Europeans, these birds have come to represent wealth, status and treasured possessions. (7) They were indeed a rather expensive and sophisticated feature of an elite household.

This exclusion of the Canary from common people did not last long though, as more people began breeding them their joyfulness was able to be experienced by many. The Canary became associated with exotic pleasures and the sun’s blessings of new life. 

Not only were Canaries present in European households, they also came to be famous for their use within mines. Their susceptibility to noxious gases and subsequent behavioural change or oftentimes death, alerted miners to their jeopardised safety. Thus, the associated phrase ‘the canary in the coal mine’ has come to be used for anything that tells of a threat to our health or safety. 

Canary in Dreams

A Canary is considered a positive dream omen as they bring prosperity, happiness and hope. A Canary acting out of its usual cheerful character though, quickly changes the tone and may be representing a breach of trust or security in your life.  

If the Canary in your dream is outside of its cage, some kind of freedom may be waiting for you to take charge. While if the Canary is gently flying about – the sense of lightheartedness that this brings can be an encouragement to consider if your mood is being weighed down. (8) Following the way of the Canary and embodying their spirit will too bring lightness to your being.

A Canary singing loudly and clearly symbolises good, effective communication. It may be supporting your feeling that you are getting yourself across to people and that you are being listened to. On the other hand, if the Canary is singing into your ear, this is said to represent the flattery of others who may be wanting something out of you. (9)

If a Canary enters into your dreamscape, it may be indicating that you need to get out of your comfort zone. Canaries can symbolise new beginnings – different processes dawning in your life. 

When a canary sings in your dream, it can be an encouragement to share your uniqueness and project your inner self to the world. This singing also displays the creativity of the Canary as it can be a method for healing and part of letting something or someone go in your life – something that no longer serves its purpose or serves you.

However, if the Canary is ill or injured and within a cage, it may be a sign of risk and vulnerability and that you should be careful. It may also be speaking to you of an unfaithful friend – someone that has damaged trust and jeopardised your safety. (10)

A quiet Canary indicates a suppression of your own voice. You may be feeling that you have lost confidence in your song; or your power of expression has been taken and your literal and physical voice – silenced. This Canary appearance is a blessing, helping you to consider what has taken your voice so you can renew your impact in the world. 

If a strong negative force kills the Canary in your dream, this is a sure sign that somebody has done something wrong – whether that’s you or another, it symbolises guilt, shame, regret or anger at your own actions, or inaction especially if you have not been able to protect something important to you.

Canary Encounters and Omens

A Canary may show up in your life when you need it the most. Whether you are feeling depressed or aware of too many dark forces around you – Canary is there to help you to feel positive and to spread joy.

Canary in Mythology & Folklore

Although the Canary has only been exposed to a world for a relatively short period of history, myths and omens have developed across Europe mostly since the colonial times from the 17th century onward but likely even earlier.

Coloured etching of male and female canary birds. Source: Creative Commons.

European Mythology:

It was considered good luck to be able to have a Canary however this fortuitous belief could quickly turn on its tail if the bird would sing at night time. This might have meant that the Canary’s owner was destined for a short life. Even more macabre, it was said that if another person’s Canary flew into your house and fluttered in front of your mirror – this very bad omen meant that you could expect a death in your family. (11)

Christian Mythology:

It is said that it was a group of monks that were the first to breed the canaries upon their arrival to Europe. In the 17th century the monastery held the breeding pairs captive and only sold the male songbirds. These monks clearly saw the value and potential for prosperity that these birds possessed as it was a long time before others beyond the church walls were able to find females to begin their own breeding schemes. (12)

Greek & Roman Mythology:

The Greek and Roman societies believed that the Canary was able to see ghosts or spirits of ancestors. It has been told that if the caged bird began shrieking or ruffling their wings dramatically, then a ghost was nearby. The Greeks of the past even used the bird as an omen of familial death. If their song changed from joyous to melancholy, then it was likely that a family member could be expected to shortly die.

Celtic Mythology:

For the Celtic people, the Canary came to be a symbol of loyalty and courage. This association has likely stemmed from the direct use of canaries to reduce harm and death by people entering hazardous areas. In this way, Celts who were heading to battle, utilised the symbol of the canary to elicit bravery and feelings of protection for themselves and their families.

Chinese Mythology:

A Chinese legend says that the very first Emperor who ruled China had a Canary that brought him good luck every day. Other stories tell that only happy people are able to hear the Canary bird sing while others miss hearing it, consumed by their own troubles. This alludes to the idea that your life will be lucky if you pay attention to the many metaphorical Canary birds singing in your life.

Canary Spirit Animal

When the Canary appears for you, it may be trying to teach you the power and magic of sound. This is obvious, given their renowned skills as a beautiful songbird. On a deeper level, they remind us not only to utilise the power of our own voice but also that the holistic realm of sounds that surround us are critical to physical, mental and spiritual well-being. And that includes the sound of our own voice! Seeing the power of our soundscape and keeping it in check will ensure that the vibrations that activate our brains and spirits are positive ones.

If you feel impacted by or communicated to by a caged Canary – they may be reminding you to recognise your own cages – those circumstances or relationships that entrap you. They may be emotional or financial cages for many people. Either way, the Canary has likely showed up in your life to support you on your path to liberation from your shackles.

Similarly, if you are currently facing some sort of crisis, a visit from the Canary can be seen as a reminder to remain positive as these challenges will soon pass. Canary helps us to see the joy in the manifestation of each moment, with hope, playfulness and cheer. They want to encourage us to seek out our own sense of enjoyment in order to create that balance needed to get through difficult times.

Revered for making sacrifices for others during great challenges – the Canary symbolizes selflessness and compassion. This spirit animal may show up for you during a time when you may need a reminder of the important things in life – family and friends. Canary can give us this message of hope and safety which you can channel through to others in your life.

Canary Totem Animal

Do you usually feel compelled to sing in the shower? Do people listen to you intently and seem charmed by your voice? Are you strongly drawn to natural light and can’t comprehend the thought of a dark home? If you speak with a kind of rapturous musicality and love one-on-one communication, then you are certainly blessed with the Canary as your totem animal! 

The vocal skills, as well as the bright, dynamic, and joyful personality of the Canary person, are unequivocal. People will flock to them to listen to whatever they have to say. They are very persuasive speakers and their ideas – infectious! People with the Canary totem are able to show others the light at the end of the tunnel, creating a sense of safety and hope to those around them, especially in troubled times.

Those with the Canary totem are less inclined to be far-reaching roamers – rather staying within your local area that you know intimately. You avoid large groups and prefer being in close physical contact with others. You do not tend to be mysterious as you naturally communicate openly – you readily tell others what’s going on with direct intimacy. (15)

Beware though that your persuasive powers as a Canary vocalist are not used for idle gossip. Stick to your compassionate mindset and especially avoid spreading any disinformation – life is full of joy and you can see it clearly. This must remain your focal message.

Canary Power Animal

Yellow Canary
Yellow Canary. Source: Greyloch, Creative Commons.

Call on this spirit animal if you are in a depression, are feeling vulnerable and when you’re struggling to see the positive side of life. The spirit of the Canary is drawn to those individuals that need an extra spark in their life or to those who are in imminent danger. The song of the Canary is a blessing from the spirit realm that naturally uplifts and liberates those who are stuck in the multitude of metaphorical cages in life. 

This power animal can be used specifically when you need to find your voice and the confidence to use it. Especially when needing to articulate your feelings in matters of love, the Canary spirit is the ideal candidate to help you speak your truth and share your beautiful uniqueness. 

If you are having trouble opening up to others with your honest feelings, call on the Canary to assist you in asserting yourself and getting your perspective and needs across. Especially in circumstances where you must communicate clearly in order to challenge an oppressive situation or manipulative relationship.

When calling on this power animal, a sacred space can be created and consecrated through singing and chanting. (16) By inviting this spirit animal into your space, you are also inviting joy and light which will help in your healing and promote greater harmony and balance in your life. 

Canary Tattoo Meaning

The symbolism of a Canary tattoo, or any small yellow bird tattoo, is one of prosperity, happiness and the joy of life. Just as these birds are like a little ray of sunshine and cheer in a room, those who create a connection to these birds through art will be carrying their own positive energy symbol with them. Those with a love for music and a song in their hearts can feel this connection to the canary best represented through creativity and artistic expression.

A Canary tattoo identifies a person with a great deal of compassion as well as a passion for life and in sharing joy, excitement and positivity with others. This little good luck charm will certainly help you ride through uncertain or troubling times with a strong sense of hope and light that the future will bring.

As the Canary is also a historical symbol of an early warning sign of danger, they are a protection totem and show you when the path is clear by illuminating the way to safety with their bright spirit. 


The spirit of the Canary bird is one that brings great positivity to all that see and especially hear it. It is not surprising that so many people over the last few centuries have wanted to have their very own little piece of sunshine in their homes. 

The Canary has done so much for us, bringing joy to our lives, music through their song and an urgent warning of danger. We can certainly learn this kind of selflessness and optimism from the Canary. 

They encourage us to use the power of our voices and be a positive change in the lives of others, always promoting compassion and cheer. There is a great deal that we can embody from the Canary’s spirit to make our life and our world a more positive and joyous place.

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2 thoughts on “Canary Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)”

  1. Avatar

    I found a (probably escaped canary on my balcony. I feared that if I left it it would be attacked by cats or magpies or jays which abound in my neighbourhood of Athens Greece. Is it illegal for me to have made a nice big cage for him?
    Are they a natural bird of mainland Greece?
    Should I set him free?

    1. Avatar

      If you suspect it to be an escaped pet, it might be a good idea to check out some lost pet Facebook groups/forums/etc in your area. Someone might be looking! As for keeping it, look up your local laws regarding birds. Canaries are fairly common pets, so it’s probably okay, but I’d hate to get you in trouble so it’s always best to do your homework.

      — Hailey Brophy
      Writer @ WorldBirds

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