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Finches

Family Estrildidae

Finches

NOTE: If you tire of caring for your pet, find a good replacement home. DO NOT release your pet into the wild. This is not a wild bird and will NOT be able to survive outside as those who were raised in the wild can. This care sheet outlines basic care instructions for all species of finches. It is recommended that extra research be done for the particular species that you will be acquiring.

SPECIES:

Some finch species that are often seen in the pet trade include: Zebra, Society, Spice, Cordon Bleu, Gold, Gouldian, Parrot, Java, Orange weaver, and Strawberry

WILD HISTORY

The finch species kept as pets range from all over the world including Australia, Asia and India. Some species, such as the society finch, never existed in the wild, but were bred in Japan.

LIFE SPAN:

Typically 5-15 years

AVERAGE ADULT SIZE:

4-6 inches

AGE OF SEXUAL MATURITY:

9 months

MALE OR FEMALE:

Some finches are sexually dimorphic, which means males and females are visually different. For instance, zebra finches have black and white barring on the breast and throat and bright orange cheek patches. However, some color mutations of the zebra finch do exist where these markings do not show. Many other finch species are not easy distinguished by their appearances, but some experienced keepers may be able to make good guesses of the sex from the behavior of the bird.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS:

Finches are small passerine songbirds. They are a relatively quiet species with vocalizations of small beeps and chirps. Finches do best in pairs or groups of six or more; however, they do breed quite readily. It is possible to keep only females, but with many species it is difficult to determine a sex upon purchase.

SIGNS OF A HEALTHY ANIMAL:

A healthy pet should be perky, active and alert with bright clear eyes, cere and “nares” (nostrils). You should observe your finches eating and drinking throughout the day, although this activity is most apparent in the morning and early evening or when you are eating. Feathers should be neat and well groomed. Feet and legs should be smooth and free of bumps and rough scales. A healthy finch should be chatty and happy!

NORMAL BEHAVIOR & INTERACTION:

Finches are energetic, sweet tempered birds. They will happily hop from perch to perch and are a joy to watch. Finches enjoy the company of other finches. Keep them in pairs or in groups of six or more. Four finches (two pair) in one cage tend to become too territorial and will fight. Obviously, cage size must increase properly as the number of birds’ increases. Finches do not enjoy being handled, although some keepers have trained them to sit on a finger. Also, please note that some species are more compatible in mixed groups than others - see information on individual species.

Doves and pigeons are intelligent, sweet, family birds. They will get along wonderfully in a home with a large family or just a single owner whether they are a single bird or a pair.

DIET:

Finches DO NOT live by seed alone! Recent studies regarding companion bird diets have revealed that seed only diets can be extremely dangerous. A seed only diet can result in nutrient deficiency and diseases such as liver disease, kidney disease, obesity and cardiac disease, all of which can severely shorten the life expectancy of your pet. Seed can be very limited in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Even the new “fortified” seed diets on the market are still lacking, as the bird will only eat the inside of most seeds, leaving the “hull” behind. Therefore, the bird never properly ingests the good nutrient coating on the outside of the seed. Finches benefit from a good quality pellet diet in addition to their seed mix. As seed can only be used as part of the diet, it should be balanced out with other offerings, such as the pellet diet, an “egg food” diet, and fresh vegetables and fruits. Pellet & egg food diets (available at Pet Supplies Plus) have been carefully formulated to meet the specific needs of the pet bird, therefore properly meeting the majority of the dietary needs of your bird. Your bird should also be offered fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens), fruit and grain as often as tolerated. Be sure to chop the greens finely for your little bird. Please see our sheet that outlines the fresh foods your pet will appreciate. Never feed your finch chocolate, sugar, fried foods, avocado, or junk food. NOTE: Be sure to remove any fresh foods that have not been eaten within a 24-hour period.

SUPPLEMENTS:

The only supplement that should be necessary if you are feeding your parrot correctly is calcium. Calcium can usually be offered in the form of a cuttlebone or calcium treat that attaches to the inside of your bird’s cage. If you notice that your bird does not touch his cuttlebone or calcium treat, a powdered supplement such as packaged oyster shell can be added directly to your pet’s food. Follow the directions on the supplement package. Also make sure your pet is getting a good intake of vitamin A in the form of red and orange fruits and vegetables. For optimal physiologic use of the calcium you are giving your bird, the bird should be exposed to UVB light for at least 3-4 hours a day (or more or less depending on the species). Please see our UVB Lighting for Companion Birds and Reptiles handout for further information about UVB light.

WATER:

Fresh water must be available to your finches at all times. Because your pet will often bathe in his water, it must be checked and changed several times a day. It is recommended that the bowl be wiped clean with a paper towel at every change to prevent a slimy film from collecting on the inside of the bowl. This ‘slime’ will harbor bacteria, which can be dangerous for your bird. Thoroughly wash the bowl with a mild dishwashing detergent and water at least once a day.

All water given to birds for drinking, as well as water used for misting, soaking or bathing must be 100% free of chlorine and heavy metals. (Not all home water filtration systems remove 100% of the chlorine and heavy metals from tap water). We recommend that you use unflavored bottled drinking water or bottled natural spring water; never use untreated tap water. If tap water is used, you should treat it with a de-chlorinating treatment. Do not use distilled water, which can cause severe medical problems, since it lacks minerals that are essential to important body functions. If only tap water can be used, at least de-chlorinate the water. De-chlorinator is available in the pet store fish department.

HOUSING & ENVIRONMENT:

Finches need a clean, warm, mentally stimulating environment. One or two birds should have a cage no smaller than 18”x18”x18”. Two birds should have a cage measuring at least 24”x18”x18” inches. The basic rule of thumb is the bigger the better! Finches are very active and like to flit back & forth as much as possible. Remember that birds fly horizontally, not vertically like a helicopter! Choose a cage that allows that natural movement. The spacing between the bars of the cage should be no wider than 3/8 inch to a ½ inch. If the bars are too far apart, your crafty bird is very likely to try to squeeze through them and get stuck. The cage should be placed in a family centered room where the bird(s) will feel a part of the “flock”; however the back of the cage should be positioned against a wall to provide security. Your finch will feel threatened and nervous if it is in direct traffic. Avoid drafty areas and any placement that will get too much direct sun for any portion of the day. If your bird spends time out of his cage, make sure that any ceiling fans are off while he is out. Do not place your bird?s cage in the kitchen, as cooking fumes and even a small amount of smoke can be fatal. Average room temperature will be fine for your bird, not to exceed 78 degrees. Be careful of drafts from air conditioning, especially when bathing and misting. Perches of varying materials and types should be included in the cage. We recommend having at least three different types. Having different types will exercise the feet and prevent sores and foot related health issues. See the recommended supplies section. At least three clean bowls should be ready for use: one for fresh water, one for seed/pellets and one for fresh foods. Your bird may appreciate a cage cover for nighttime. The cover can block out any extraneous light and create a more secure sleeping place. Be careful not to use any fabrics that your bird might catch his claws or beak in, or that he might pull strings from and eat.

DO NOT USE SANDPAPER COVERED PERCHES OR FLOOR PAPER. THESE PRODUCTS ARE DANGEROUS AND CAN CAUSE SEVERE DAMAGE TO YOUR BIRD’S FEET.

ALSO, DO NOT USE “BIRD DISKS” or “MITE DISKS”. THESE ARE NOT EFFECTIVE AND MAY HARM YOUR BIRD. SEE YOUR AVIAN VETERINARIAN IF YOU SUSPECT PARASITES.

DO NOT USE BIRD GRAVEL. BIRD GRAVEL IS USED FOR BIRDS WHO DO NOT CRACK THE HULL OR SHELL OF THE SEEDS THEY EAT. IT IS MEANT TO GRIND THE SEEDS IN THE CROP OF THE BIRD. DOVES AND PIGEONS CAN BE GIVEN BIRD GRAVEL, BUT CANARIES, PARAKEETS, AND ALL SPECIES OF PARROT WILL CRUSH THE SEED OR NUTS BEFORE INGESTING THEM AND THEREFORE DO NOT BENEFIT AT ALL FROM GRAVEL. GRAVEL CAN BE SERIOUSLY DANGEROUS FOR BIRDS OTHER THAN DOVES AND PIGEONS- IT CAUSES SEVERE IMPACTIONS, WHICH ARE OFTEN FATAL.

CORN COB BEDDING CAN QUICKLY BREED MOLD AND MILDEW, WHICH IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR BIRD. BIRDS CAN ALSO BECOME IMPACTED FROM SWALLOWING CORN COB BEDDING.

ENRICHMENT:

In the wild, birds spend most of their day from morning until night foraging for their food. In our homes in a cage, their food is right at their beaks, no need to go hunting. Because of this, it is very easy for our pet birds to become bored and lazy. A cage mate and toys will break the boredom.

TOYS: Finches will enjoy small toys made of leather strips or sturdy string, mirrors, colorful plastic toys and bell toys made specifically for finches and canaries.

BATHING: Be sure to offer your bird a shallow dish (2-3 inches deep) for bathing at least two times a week. While they are drying, be sure to keep them out of drafty, cold areas.

RECOMMENDED SUPPLIES:

Clean, rust-free square or rectangular metal cage. Minimum 18x18x24 long, with bar space no larger than 3/8 to ½ inch (0.9 to 1.3 cm) apart. A selection of at least 3 different perches, such as wood dowel, natural branch type, a therapeutic perch or a cement perch. A good supply of HIGH QUALITY packaged finch diet, finch pellets and egg food diet.
At least 3 different toys. Purchasing more than 3 can allow you to interchange them in your canary’s cage to prevent boredom. Calcium supplement such as cuttlebone, calcium treat or oyster shell. Treats such as millet spray & fresh fruits & vegetables. Avoid sugary treats like honey sticks.
3 sturdy dishes. One for fresh water, one for pellet/seed mix, and one for fresh foods. Misting bottle and bird-bath. Finches often enjoy a swing to perch on.
A good Finch book. Nail clipper & styptic powder. NOTE! Never use styptic powder on your bird’s skin - ONLY nails!! A bird safe cage cover. Be careful of using towels and blankets from home, which can catch bird nails and beaks in their threads or create too warm an environment inside.
Fluorescent UVB Bulb and housing.

CAGE MAINTENANCE:

Your finch’s cage should be checked daily for any dirt that is accessible to your bird. Feces and spoiling food should be wiped clean of perches, cups and cage bars consistently to prevent health problems. Cage paper (which should be under a floor grate to prevent access to droppings) can be changed every to every-other day. Check the metal parts & bars of your bird’s cage periodically for chipped paint and rust, which can cause serious health issues if your bird chews or swallows any flaked pieces.

The entire cage should be cleaned thoroughly at least once every month with: A mild dishwashing liquid in warm water (make a weak dilution), THEN Vinegar & water (1:8) OR bleach and warm water (1:32) Cage “furniture” should also be scrubbed clean with the same dilution.

RINSE OFF ALL SOAP AND BLEACH THOROUGHLY WITH PLAIN WATER BEFORE RE-INTRODUCING YOUR PET TO ITS ENCLOSURE!!

NEVER MIX VINEGAR AND BLEACH - IT CREATES A TOXIC SOLUTION

GROOMING & HYGIENE:

All birds should be gently misted with a water bottle dedicated to this use only. The spray should be room temperature and misty, sprayed up and over the bird to replicate a fine rain. NEVER spray the bird directly in the face. In addition to misting, a room temperature birdbath should be offered to your bird at least twice weekly. Monitor your bird while he is bathing, and remove the bath when he is finished. During misting and bathing procedures, make sure there are no drafts that may chill your bird when he is wet, which can cause respiratory issues. If your bird seems to stop grooming himself and becomes dirty and unkempt, contact your avian veterinarian. He may be ill. SEE ALSO: “Bird Grooming” sheet

Be sure to take your bird to your avian veterinarian for regular nail trims.

DO NOT CLIP YOUR FINCH’S WINGS. FINCHES AND CANARIES DEPEND ON THEIR WINGS TO FLIT AROUND THEIR

IF PROBLEMS ARISE, CALL YOUR AVIAN VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY! It is also highly recommended to have your bird seen by an avian vet for a yearly exam to make sure your pet stays healthy. Birds hide illnesses well; yearly exams can catch small issues before they get worse.

  • Fluffed feathers, missing patches of feathers, feathers being purposely plucked.
  • Evidence that your bird has stopped grooming him/herself.
  • Bird sitting still and low on perch with a puffed up appearance, drooping wings - may also stay at bottom of cage.
  • Beak swelling or unusual marks on cere.
  • Nasal discharge, eye discharge, wheezing or coughing.
  • Any change in stools including color or consistency.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Favoring of one foot, holding a wing differently, presence of any blood.

© Dawn M. Trainor-Scalise

Courtesy of: Specialized Care for Avian & Exotic Pets

In conjunction with Pet Supplies “Plus”

10882 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031

Ph (716) 759-0144

www.buffalobirdnerd.com