Bird Food for Your Finch
Feeding finches is easy with Lafeber foods. We have known for years that birdseed is not sufficient to keep your finches in good shape. The proper finch diet is made simple with Lafeber Premium Daily Diet Pellets - we offer a comprehensive and nutritious food for your finch. Our scientifically developed pellets should make up the base of your finch’s daily diet. For a treat, try Popcorn Nutri-Berries - like a night at the movies without paying for a ticket!
The Zebra Finch
Perhaps the most popular finch due to its availability and price, the Zebra Finch(Poephilia guttata) has been kept in captivity for well over a hundred years. Zebra Finches breed readily, and are a good beginner’s bird, easy to care for and requiring a minimal time commitment. Because they are generally kept in pairs, your Zebra Finches will not need you to keep them company – merely play the radio while you are out, and talk to them when you are in – other than that they will be fine on their own. Originally from the arid areas of Australia, they can still be found in large flocks there.
The Zebra Finch is tiny, but is not the smallest of the finches. It gets its name from the zebra-like stripes across its neck, chest, and especially from its black and white barred tail. The “normal” colored male (the most commonly occurring color) is grey with a black tear drop at its eye, bright red rouge patches on its cheeks, and a bright red beak at maturity. The female is more muted in color, with its beak being a paler orange. Zebra Finches come in a variety of mutations, including pied, fawn, cream, white, and others. If you have a flock of these little guys, it’s a good idea to buy several of the different mutations – that way you can tell the pairs apart.
The male Zebra Finch does sing, but more likely you will hear a lot of “peeping” from your pair. They sound like tiny little car horns. While they will vocalize all day if they are happy, they are not loud, and their voices are quite pleasant. If you are able to keep them outside, or by a window where they can hear birds, they will often respond to the wild birds calls.
Most Zebra Finches will not want to be handled. They are not really “trainable” as a parrot type bird is. Occasionally you can find hand-raised finches, or you may have to hand raise a baby yourself. In those cases you will have a finch that is bonded to humans, and will happily perch on your shoulder and be perfectly comfortable. Never try to force a finch to be “friendly” – you will only result in terrifying it.
Many people love Zebra Fiches because they are so easy to breed. In fact, it’s difficult to stop them! Simply buy a basket nest and some nesting fiber, and place them in the cage. When your Zebra Finches are about eight to ten months old, they will breed prolifically. Make sure to give them a “breeding break,” as too many clutches raised will exhaust the parents, especially the female, who uses a lot of her energy to produce eggs. The breeding parents, and the subsequent babies, love egg food, a nutritious supplement you can buy at the store or make yourself.
Zebra Finches are usually kept in tall wooden or small wire cages. I recommend something larger, especially if you are expecting to breed your pair. Consider a large flight cage, or an aviary for housing finches – they will appreciate the space and will reward you with a lot of babies!
Finches are not long-lived birds, living only about 3 to 5 years, and if you’re really lucky, a bit beyond.
The Lady Gouldian Finch
The Lady Gouldian finch (Chloebia gouldiae), also simply called the “Gouldian,” is prized primarily for its gorgeous plumage. It occurs naturally in a variety of striking colors, and is generally differentiated in name by the color of the head. For example, the black-headed, the red-headed, and the yellow-headed Gouldian are some of the available types, though some of the other mutations are distinguished in name by body color. In the wild grasslands of Australia, where they originate, they do not vary as much in color as they do in captivity. There, most Gouldians have a black head, and only a small percentage have a red head. Approximately one percent of wild individuals have an orange head.
In 1841, English ornithologist, John Gould, named these impressive little birds after his late wife, Lady Elizabeth Gould, and decreed them the most beautiful finch in the world. It would be difficult to contradict him. The Lady Gouldian finch looks like a handcrafted statuette, with seamless feathering and brilliant, painterly hues. Six years later the species made its way to Europe, and quickly caught on with pet fanciers. Gouldians were then trapped and exported in large numbers from Australia until the late 1960s. Exporting the birds reduced the population of Gouldians considerably in the wild. Grazing cattle and the creation of farmland further challenged the Gouldian, and today it is estimated that that there are fewer than 2500 mature Gouldians living in the wild. Fortunately, they are heavily bred in captivity.
The Gouldian is dimorphic, meaning that there’s a visible difference between the genders. Males of this species have much brighter plumage than the females, making them easy to tell apart at maturity. Immature Gouldians are a drab, greenish-grey color and look as similar to their parents as an apple does to a banana. It’s difficult to sell them this way because sex and mutation are determined by the colors that emerge after the bird’s first molt, which happens at about four to six months. The babies look worn and ratty while they’re molting, and they are under a great deal of physical stress.
Gouldians are pleasant “watching only” birds – they don’t like to be held, and can even panic and die when handled. Stress is deadly for these fragile birds. They are not typically hand raised (only under emergency circumstances), and will not take well to taming efforts. They are lovely to watch, but not to hold. If properly cared for, these birds are reported to live for more than 4 to 6 years.
As with most finches, the Gouldian is a quiet enough bird that peeps and sings a little. They make a pleasant sound that is doubtful to wake you up or create a problem with neighbors, though it is persistent.
Gouldians aren’t the easiest finches to keep, being much less hardy than other popular finches, like the Zebra and Society. They aren’t recommended as first birds because they are delicate and can be overcome in extreme temperatures and are prone to a variety of ailments that a novice bird guardian may not recognize until it may be too late.
Gouldians are among the most difficult finches to breed successfully because they are not wonderful parents and have a tendency to abandon both eggs and babies, or even refuse to nest at all. People who raise Gouldians usually keep Society Finches as well to serve as foster parents for eggs and babies. Societies are marvelous parents and will be happy to foster other species. You can put plastic eggs beneath the Gouldians as the eggs are removed to be placed with the Society finches. Some Gouldian pairs do make decent parents, however.
Goulds should be at least a year old before they are bred. They prefer to nest in a small, covered space, like a wooden nest box or covered basket. The box is preferred because the finch can’t accidentally catch a toe in the woven straw, and the box is also easier to access. Gouldians don’t build great nests, so put some material in the nest to get the parents started.
The finches lay between three and six eggs that hatch a little over two weeks after being laid. About three weeks later the babies are ready to leave the nest, and about a week later they are eating on their own. The babies should be served millet spray and eggfood, as well as other soft foods that they can digest easily.
Gouldians are small, but they make great aviary birds and appreciate a large, planted garden setting. If they’re given enough space, they will get along with Society and Zebra finches, but not Weavers or Whydahs, both of which can be bullies. Finches need a lot of exercise, so their housing should be large enough to allow flight. If the cage is too small, their lifespan will be reduced and the female might not get enough exercise to maintain good breeding condition, resulting in egg binding and even death. Cage bars should be no more than 1/2 inch apart, and the cage should have doors large enough for feeding, watering, and cleaning, but not so large that the finches will escape when opened.
These birds are primarily seed-eaters in the wild, so a good quality seed based diet is recommended. They should also get a rotation of grubs, greens, eggfood, and other veggies. They can have a small amount of grit and charcoal in the diet, but not much. A cuttlebone should be in the cage at all times.
The Owl Finch
The Owl finch (Poephila bichenovi), a grass finch also known as the Bicheno Finch or the Double Barred Finch, is a lively addition to a community aviary and a good bird for the novice who may not have a lot of experience with birds.
This bird’s native habitat is Australia, particularly the woodlands, grasslands, and scrublands, though they can also be found in city parks as well. They travel in groups numbering four to forty, and are active flyers.
In terms of coloration, the Owl finch can’t compete with another popular Australian citizen, the Gouldian, or even the common Zebra finch, but its distinctive markings and social disposition give it a character all its own. It stands between three and four inches in length, and has two distinct black bars above and below a whitish-beige chest, one bar circling the underpart of the “chin,” and the other rounding the bird’s underside. The wings are brown with white speckles, and the “face mask” is white. The beak is grey and the eye is black. There is one subspecies, the Black-rumped Owl finch, which has, obviously, a black rump. Because of crosses with the nominate Owl finch (which has a white rump), the rumps on some birds may be blotchy – not quite black, not quite white.
The visual difference between the sexes is so slight, even Owl finch experts have a difficult time telling the males from the females. The males are said to have thicker bands and a whiter chest, though this is not always consistent. Males do have a soft, sweet song and females do not, so separating birds and listening for the song is one way of determining gender.
The Owl finch needs generous housing, and does best in a larger space. An aviary is great, one that’s full of branches and safe foliage. They will get along with most other Australian and Old World finches, as well as canaries, but they don’t like to be crowded. Because they are closely related to the Zebra finch, these two species may successfully interbreed, resulting in “mules,” birds which can’t reproduce. This is highly discouraged among the bird community.
In an aviary or large cage, it’s essential to keep at least three pairs of Owl finches if there is to be more than one pair. Four Owl finches may fight and compete with one another, whereas six birds will be more peaceable. This is true for many commonly kept bird species, especially if they are true pairs.
Indoor Owl finches will appreciate as large of a cage as possible, at least 2 x 3 feet, longer and wider rather than taller. These birds are small, but they’re active. Females can become egg-bound if they don’t get enough exercise.
Because they can succumb easily to cold temperatures, this finch must be kept in temperatures no lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, though they prefer to be warmer. They do not like drafts, and can’t handle prolonged periods of direct sunlight unless they have a cooler shady spot where they can retreat.
The Owl finch should be fed a good quality seed and pellet based diet, along with egg food, a mineral grit, and charcoal. They will also appreciate nestling food, as well as packaged easy-to-make soft foods for birds. A cuttlebone should also be available as a source of calcium.
Owl finches relish grubs or small mealworms, and can have two to four per bird per day. Nesting Owl finches and those feeding babies should have live food available as a protein source. These birds hunt insects in the wild, so it’s a natural food for them. If these are not available, another protein source can be used, such as well-cooked hard boiled egg crumbled into a separate cup.
Owl finches will set up a nest in just about anything. They prefer a covered woven nest to a nest box. The males love to build nests and seek out new nesting sites. Nesting material is essential – short, clean string or long, soft grasses are best. Coconut fiber is okay if it’s cut into smaller pieces. Remember that a finch can become tangled in long nesting material, or can catch a toe in a woven basket nest and not be able to get out.
These birds bond for life. The female will usually lay between three and six eggs, though more is not uncommon. The babies hatch out at about two weeks and look like Zebra finch babies, a duller version of their parents. They molt into their adult feathers by about four months of age. The chicks will generally leave the nest when they are three weeks old, but stay with the parents until they are thirty to thirty-five days old. If the parents have gone back to nest and have eggs, they may become aggressive with the babies, so it’s best to move them to another cage at that time.
Owl finches can breed at six months of age, but it’s best to wait at least nine months to a year to breed them. This gives the owner a chance to get them into prime breeding condition, which is done though a varied and healthy diet and enough light and exercise.
Owl finches are generally good parents, but some can be a little too carefree with their sitting habits, or can toss the occasional baby out of the nest. It’s convenient to have other similarly sized finches nesting at the same time, such as Zebras and Society finches, who will generally willingly foster the eggs or babies. Owls that are good parents will also foster other species as well.