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the web of life in southern Africa

Serinus alario (Black-headed canary) 

Swartkopkanarie [Afrikaans]; Alario-kanarie [Dutch]; Serin alario [French]; Alariogirlitz [German]; Canário-de-cabeça-preta [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Fringillidae

Serinus alario (Black-headed canary) 

Black-headed canary male. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Serinus alario (Black-headed canary)  Serinus alario (Black-headed canary) 

Black-headed canary male, in transitional plumage. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Black-headed canary female. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Distribution and habitat

Endemic to southern Africa, occurring from central Namibia to the Northern, Western and Eastern Cape, the Free State and Lesotho. It generally prefers arid to semi-arid shrublands on rocky slopes, coastal karroid shrubland, alpine and sub-alpine grassland, perennial desert grassland with scattered trees and bushes, road verges, old croplands and Karoo village gardens.

Distribution of Black-headed canary in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.

Movements and migrations

Resident and nomadic, moving in search of areas which have experienced recent rainfall; generally it heads east in summer and west in winter following general rain patterns.


It mainly eats seeds taken from the ground or directly from forbs and grasses. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Seeds
    • grasses
      • Schismus (haasgras)
    • forbs
      • Galenia papulosa (vanwyksopslags)
      • Galenia pubescens
      • Chrysocoma (bitterbossies)
      • Felicia
      • Gazania (botterbloms)
      • Atriplex lindleyi (alien Blasiebrak)
    • garden weeds
      • Boerhavia
      • Lepidium (chickweed)
      • Chenopodium almum (Fat hen)
      • Chenopodium murale (Misbredie)


  • Monogamous and probably a solitary nester, although pairs may breed within 10-50 metres of each other.
  • The nest (see image below) is built solely by the female in about 4-6 days, consisting of a shallow deep cup of dry grass, fine twigs and bark strips from Lammerlat (Asclepias buchenaviana) and honey-thorns (Lycium) lined with the fluffy seeds of Karoo rosemaries (Eriocephalus) or other downy or cottony plant material. It is typically placed close to ground in a shrub (such as Crassula) or a small tree, often near a ditch or small rock face.
Serinus alario (Black-headed canary)  

Black-headed canary nest with eggs, Aggeneys, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is almost year-round, peaking from about July-November.
  • It lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 13-14 days (recorded in captivity).
  • The chicks are fed by both parents, leaving the nest in captivity after roughly 19-20 days.


Not threatened, although its range seems to have contracted in the Western Cape and Botswana (where it is no longer present), it is in demand for the cage bird trade and is not particularly well represented in protected areas.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.