Most likely due to heightened sense of hearing the birds would be able to detect when a cave in was going to happen before it actually did. It would not always be with a lot of time to spare, but the canaries would begin to freak out at any sign of significant rock or earth movement, usually indicating a cave in of rubble.
The above answer isn’t exactly right.
Canaries were used in mines because they are particularly sensitive to methane gas and carbon dioxide.
Miners brought canaries into the mines, and if the birds died, the mines were determined to be unsafe.
In 1986 in Britain, canaries were made redundant by modern technology.
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