Caring for your Finches
CARING FOR YOUR PET FINCHES
Finches were kept as pets for centuries entertaining their caregivers with their gently trilling sounds and songs, in endless choreographed movements. While some vocalize with a “peep-peep” (perfect for apartment dwellers) others have soft, beautiful songs! These small, lively and sociable birds are easy to care for and many are easy to breed! Finches are native to areas such as Africa, Asia, Australia, India and the Indonesian Islands. While many species inhabit grasslands, some make their homes in forests. The optimum room temperature for most finch species is 65°F – 70°F (18°C – 21°C). Finches will fit the lifestyle of just about anyone!
One Finch, Two or More?
Finches must never be kept alone. They are extremely sociable birds and need partners of their own species. If deprived of companions (whether their own species or not) they will suffer loneliness and possibly sickness. Finches will be healthier and happier with a “flock” to belong to.
This will vary from species to species. Usually a male and a female of the same species is the best match to make. Neither males nor females should predominate your cage/aviary. Unattached birds will cause problems since they will always be looking for an opportunity to find a mate.
Perch or Nest sleepers?
Finches are divided into two groups according to their sleeping habits. Perch sleepers will sleep huddled together or by themselves on a perch. Nest sleepers will build nests for sleeping; even outside of their mating season. The nest builders need to have access to nesting material and ready-made nests, otherwise they may catch cold or become panicked at night. Some finches are individuals who are exceptions to the “nest sleeper” or “perch sleeper” rule.
To provide a happy, healthy atmosphere for your finches, Petland recommends the following necessary and fun accessories. We have listed them as your new finch’s four basic needs: Environmental, Nutritional, Maintenance and Behavioural. When these needs are met, along with a loving environment provided by you, your finches can live a long and happy life. Typically, a healthy finch may live between 6-8 years.
Your Finches New Home – When purchasing a cage for your finches, keep the following in mind. Unlike hookbills that can climb around their cages, finches get their exercise by flying from perch-to-perch. Therefore, they will require a home that is wider than it is tall. Get the largest cage that you can! A roomy home with lots of area for flying, perching and sleeping is ideal. Your finch cage will need bars that are set at 1 cm (0.4 inches) intervals.
You may want to hang their cage or place it on a cage stand, but either way, make sure the room is draft free, away from heat or air-conditioning vents, and not in direct sunlight. A cage cover will allow your finches to get the rest they need. Remember that birds wake at sunrise and sleep at sunset.
Lighting – Your finches require exposure to ultraviolet light on a daily basis. Since it is not possible in our climate to have them outside on a daily basis, and placing them in front of a window only allows ineffective filtered light inside, the use of a full-spectrum light is vital. UVA and UVB is necessary to prevent calcium and vitamin D3 deficiencies which can cause a tremendous amount of health problems. As well, depriving your finches of UV light will make them colour blind. It has also been suggested that UVA light is beneficial in reducing or eliminating abnormal behaviour, such as feather damaging disorders, phobias and aggression among just a few. An avian floor lamp and UVA/UVB bulb will be a necessary part of your finches’ basic environmental needs. For more information, ask a pet counsellor for a copy of the Ultraviolet Lighting for Birds and Reptiles tip sheet.
Perches – Your finches must have a variety of perch sizes to allow their feet proper exercise. Sandpaper perch covers should be used on only one out of three perches. These covers will help to keep nails trim and are fun to pick at. They will need not only the perching that comes with your cage, but also branches which will provide them with an uneven surface. These may be purchased in plastic, manzanite wood or you may collect the following branches from outdoors, provided they have not been sprayed: fruit trees, willow, poplar, elderberry and maple. If you do use natural branches, they will need to be replaced frequently. Situate two of the perches at the same height as the seed and water dishes, not directly over them, where fecal matter could spoil the food.
It is unreasonable to expect any living thing to remain healthy when fed only one or two types of food. You must give your finches a balanced diet if they are to live long and happy lives!
Staple Diet – Fresh finch seed mix should always be available. Check their seed twice daily, and don’t be fooled by the empty husks they will leave in the dish! Blow them off into the garbage, stir, and top up as needed.
Protein Supplement – All finches need some animal protein to supplement their diet. Egg food or boiled egg that is rubbed through a sieve (must be neither mushy nor chunky) may be offered in a small cup daily. Mealworms may also be offered a few times a week. The worms should be chopped (not whole) and offered in a small dish.
Daily Salad – A healthy mix of vegetables, shredded into pick-up-and-fly pieces should be offered daily and removed within an hour or two. Fruits should be considered a treat and offered minimally.
Vitamin/Mineral/Amino Acid Supplement – In the wild, birds are free to fill all of their nutritional requirements, but in a cage/aviary environment, they are not. To make sure your finches are getting the vitamins their bodies require, we recommend the addition of a high-quality powdered vitamin. This may be administered on top of their daily salad or sprinkled on their millet. A liquid vitamin may be used instead of the powdered if your finches snub the vitaminized foods you are offering. The liquid vitamin is added to fresh water daily. Watch your finches to make sure they are accepting the vitaminized water since you do not want your birds to go without drinking for any length of time.
Cuttlebone – Cuttlebone is a convenient way to supply your finches with calcium, phosphorus and other minerals necessary to keep them in optimum health. Hang it in their cage, out of the way from droppings, which could soil it. Change it every two months, as they are very porous and absorb smells and tastes in the environment, such as smoke and cooking fumes. If your finch does not show any interest in his cuttlebone, grind it up into powder and mix with his salad or favourite treat.
Iodine Block – Provides Iodine, copper, and many other minerals in small quantities that are insufficient in a seed staple diet. The iodine block is fun to chew, tasty too.
Spray Millet – Millet is the only food available for birds that they would typically find in the wild. When you bring home your finches, you should provide spray millet for them on a daily basis. This may be the only thing that your finches will feel comfortable eating in the beginning. Once your birds have adjusted to their new home, offering them spray millet once or twice a week is fine.
Treats – Packaged seed treats, honey sticks, egg biscuits, and spray millet are great options. Treats will keep your finches busy picking and gnawing, while giving them a tasty alternative to staple foods and salads.
Bird Bath – Rainfall and early morning mists are missing in the companion bird’s life. Treat your finch daily to a misting shower, or if he prefers, a bird bath consisting of a large shallow dish of warm water(supervised). Bird misting may be offered by using hot tap water and then sprayed from a clean water spray bottle (intended only for that use), resulting in a warm morning shower. Spray from over your bird’s head if he does not enjoy direct misting. These baths encourage preening and grooming, and will provide your bird with an enjoyable pastime, similar to what they experience in their natural habitat.
Additional Food Cups – Plenty of food and water should always be available for your finches. Hooded cups may seem threatening to a bird accustomed to open cups. If your finches are not readily eating and drinking, remove the hoods from the cups. Replace the hoods for a few hours a day until they are used to it. Your finches will need one additional cup for salad, another for seed treats, and one more for egg food.
Substrate – Cage paper is easy to remove and will not become a soppy mess like paper towels or newspaper when water is inevitably splashed onto it. Bedding such as Eco-bedding or CareFresh® may be used if there is a grate overtop to prevent the finches from close contact amongst their feces.
Nail Clipper and Coagulant – Your finch's nails will grow continuously. If your finches' perches are too thin and smooth then their nails will have no chance to wear down (see Perches; Environmental). Nail clippers made especially for birds must be used to manage the length. Take care not to over trim or cut into blood vessels running through each nail. Have a blood coagulant waiting and ready to use. If you prefer, ask your pet counsellor to make an appointment to have this done for you.
Toys – In the wild, finches spend much of their time foraging for food, preening (generally after a rainfall), building a nest, rearing a family, defending their nest site and so on. Domesticated finches, if left to their own devices within a barren cage, will grow bored. To alleviate this boredom, fighting and picking at themselves and each other will be a natural activity to fill the void. Your finches need activities available to them that encourage their natural habits. A pacifier toy is fashioned to encourage preening. Small rope toys with bells, and beaded toys and mirrors may also be appreciated. Hanging plastic plants serve as hiding places, which help make your finches feel more secure.
Nests/Nesting Boxes and Nesting Material – As mentioned at the beginning of this pamphlet, some finches are perch sleepers and others are nest sleepers; however, nests and nesting materials should be provided for all of them. Not only do they give the finches an activity (collecting and lining the nest), but a nest will provide a sense of security. One or two nests per pair is ideal. A nesting box may be used if you have decided to try and breed your finches, although some finches will breed even without the nesting box!
Please ask your pet counsellor what other items pertain to your finches’ needs.
Attention: Certain cookware, aerosols, incense, aromatic candles and household cleaners may be harmful or worse to your bird’s health. Ask a pet counsellor for a copy of the Safety Tips & Household Hazards tip sheet.
Cleanliness and Safety
All pets can potentially carry diseases that may be contagious to people. Young children, infants, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk of infections and should use caution when in contact with pets or their environments. Regular cleaning of your pet’s environment with a pet safe cleaner may help avoid the spread of contaminants.
Hygiene procedures such as washing your hands before and after handling your pet and/or after having any contact with their habitat, is a necessary routine. Children should be assisted with hand washing and always have adult supervision when interacting with pets.
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