Old World Aviaries: About finchesó

General care

by Fenton Mereness
E&F Birds

We have covered some specific types of finches in past articles. This month we will discuss general care of pet finches in a home or aviary environment. Because of differences in approach when dealing with a larger breeding setup, I suggest contacting a breeder of the finch type you are interested in for type-specific information. Experts have talked to the club, and others are available.

Finches have evolved or were created in an environment that matched their needs. Therefore, each variety has individual idiosyncrasies, likes, and dislikes. Fortunately common needs exist that, if properly addressed, will allow the pet caretaker to be successful. We will discuss housing, light, water, food, and health.

Housing: The bird needs enough room to fly. Exercise is necessary for health. As you read you may find that finch care and people care is very similar. I know of no formula for square feet per ounce of bird, but the more room you can furnish, the better. An enclosure of 18" long x 18" high x 12" deep for a pair of Zebra finches is a starting guide.

Finches need a temperature range similar to their native climates. Drafts, cold, and rain are not recommended. Some finches winter well outside in the Austin area. But you need to furnish a sheltered area, and pick your finch type with care.

Keep the house clean. If the floor is dirt or a similar substance, it should be periodically raked and cleaned. And give some thought to preventing rodent and snake visitors. If the bottom is paper covered, it needs changing. How frequently? I have been told that some necessary vitamins are found in bird droppings that are used in proper food utilization, but I suspect most readers will opt for vitamin supplements! I am sure more birds suffer from insufficient cleaning than from over cleaning.

Light: Without getting into hormones, amino acids, and other reasons why light is needed, simply stated, all birds need a source of natural light or they will require more than the usual vitamin supplements to flourish. Window glass filters out some of the good stuff in sunlight. However, direct sun without a shaded area is not a good idea.

Artificial sunlights, such as Vitalite, are available. I recommend them if practical in your setup. The number of hours of light play a part in breeding and molting cycles and vary by finch type. However, if you emulate natural Austin timing, your birds will do fine.

Food: Your finches need seed, greens, bird vitamins, probably grit, and some additional protein. As in cage cleaning, it is difficult to get breeders to agree on a diet. (Emily and I don't always agree, but Emily is always right.)

We feed a basic finch mix that contains several types of seeds. Some feel that oil seeds should be avoided because the birds will get too fat. I feel that, given room to exercise, finches can eat pretty much what they want, and I let the birds choose from a variety of seeds. I let my birds have as much canary seed as they want. And spray millet is a fine treat.

We do not use vitamin-enriched seed. Because finches husk seed, we don't feel they get the benefit of the added vitamins. We feed Petamine in a separate cup and add Nekton S to our protein food.

Most books and experienced breeders recommend live food or processed live food. I have tried it, don't like it, and have developed an egg-based food that seems to work well. Other breeders use a mixture containing dog food. One friend, who breeds more Zebras in a month than I will ever breed, uses game-bird starter as a sole source of additional protein.

Greens are not only essential but can furnish an opportunity for interactive quality time. Most finches will learn to interact with you when you furnish the greens.

Health: If your bird looks lethargic, if it fluffs up, if its vent is soiled, or if the paper in the cage bottom shows signs of loose or unusual droppings, you likely have a stressed bird. Hopefully, you have a good general finch book or a book specific to the type in question. Refer to it.

Ensure the bird is not in a draft. Furnish a heat source, a small wattage lamp in close proximity or a heating pad set on low under part of the cage. Watch the bird closely and have the phone number of a good avian veterinarian handy. Be prepared to transport the bird to the vet.

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